Archive for January 15th, 2013

The mayoral elections may be more than 15 months away but the starting gun has been fired in the race to be Labour’s candidate for May 2014. Actually, ever since Lutfur Rahman pummelled Labour in the October 2010 polls, the party has been wondering how to stop him the second time around.

Labour pitbull John Biggs is seen by many as the front runner, and he’s desperate for a shot at one last big job in London politics, but he is likely to have two main rivals.

Helal Abbas, who disappointed last time round, has has been sounding members out for another stab at it; politics being politics, of course, Abbas has heard a lot of people saying, “Yes, go for it–I’ll back you… .” Even Shiraj Haque, the millionaire housing association tenant who backed Lutfur with cash, insults and smears against Abbas in 2010 has been encouraging his former foe after falling out with the Mayor.

And then there are some who think that Mile End East councillor Rachael Saunders will have a go. I hope she does: she’s an excellent networker who has done a superb job of promoting young people, particularly young women, to get involved in Tower Hamlets politics.

The Labour group leader, Josh Peck, is also being encouraged to put himself forward, but I suspect he’d see the mayoralty as a possible block on a Westminster career.

And then there those who want to see Lutfur become the Labour candidate.

One of those is Ken Livingstone, and at a meeting of the Organisational sub-committee of the party’s National Executive Committee today, the emphasis was very much on the word ‘one’. I understand that during an agenda item to set the timetable for the selection of Labour’s mayoral candidate in Tower Hamlets, Ken suggested a delay to give Lutfur a chance of getting re-admitted. Former NEC member Luke Akehurst reported on Twitter tonight that Ken was in a “minority of one”. I understand this committee comprises 28 of the 33 NEC members and that even Dennis Skinner laughed Ken’s proposal out of the room. (Lutfur’s ally from 2010, Christine Shawcroft, does not apparently sit on the committee.)

Instead, they agreed the following dates:

February 22: closing date for applications

March 4: interviews for shortlist by a panel that will also decide how many are shortlised.

April 4: polling of Tower Hamlets party membership.

The Labour membership list has been fixed as six months before January 15, ie July 15, 2012.

So all this leaves Lutfur very much in the cold again but because he controls the levers of power and money, he’s in a strong position. His latest wheeze, reported by the East London Advertiser here, is the creation of 17 “community champion coordinators” who will be selected to manage pots of £10,000 in each of the 17 wards, every one of them earmarked for “community projects”. Whether this is another localised vote-buying operation in the run up to May 2014 is yet to be seen: we need to know who these champions will be and how and by whom they will be selected.

The explanation of all this was included in a letter from Lutfur today. I’ve copied the text of it below, but I would just draw your attention to the sixth paragraph, which reveals the curious evolution of Lutfur the mere council leader in the early part of 2010 to Our Mayor and Dear Leader in 2013. Yes, we taxpayers in Tower Hamlets are now his citizens…Hail to the Chief! (Hat tip, Peter Golds)

Dear Sir/Madam,

In May of 2012 I wrote updating you on our Local Strategic Partnership, outlining the changes we made in order to meet the new economic climate and the changing brief from the government.  In the letter I made assurances to update you further on our new local governance structures once these were formulated further.

Over the latter half of 2012 we have been working hard to develop a local structure that is truly bottom up and provides our residents with a genuine community offer.  I am delighted now to be able to provide you with further detail on these developments.

A true community offer has to be more than words on a plan and has to have buy-in from residents and service providers, to enable us all to be strong now and for the future. The focus on the new structures has been on “local”, trying to think more deeply about what is meaningful to those that live here; the boundary that encompasses local schools, places of worship, the physical environment where people live, work and play in and a place that is meaningful to their daily lives.  As well as the place it is important to consider how those places work for our residents as cohesive communities in which we deliver the very best public services.  The new structures will create a greater ability to tailor services to the particular needs of a local area, with clearer criteria for prioritising services in the context of reduced spending and more services run by residents on behalf of residents, creating community ownership.

Today I am delighted to be launching the Mayor’s Community Champion Coordinators as part of our launch of the Local Community Ward Forums (LCWFs). There will be 17 Local Community Ward Forums – one in each of the borough’s wards – which will replace the 8 Local Area Partnership Steering Groups.

Each LCWF will be meeting 3 times per year.  These meetings will be public meetings which are open to all residents and run by residents.

The overarching aim of the new structure is to create a new relationship of accountability; this is both greater accountability with myself and my citizens of Tower Hamlets and between the citizens and their public service providers.  The first meeting will be for local residents to set local priorities, the second to co-produce solutions against those priorities and commission activity, and the third meeting will be to check the outcomes of these priorities and activities.  The community offer is about doing things differently; the responsibility on the residents is to be active participants and for public service providers to respond effectively.

The LCWFs will be co-ordinated by local Community Champion Coordinators who will act as local organisers for their communities.  Unlike elected members they will not represent their communities but be active community facilitators with a passion for creating change and prosperity for their communities.  We were very successful in recruiting over 100 volunteers for the Olympics over the summer and these residents played a critical role in ensuring a smooth games time for our borough, welcoming visitors and showing the passion we have for Tower Hamlets. In December 2012 we were delighted to receive the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Volunteering Award 2012 for our Olympic and Paralympic Community Champions, a great recognition of their efforts and hard work.  I have every confidence that we will recruit further volunteers to become Community Champion Coordinators to support our local structures.  If you would like further information on how to apply to become a Coordinator or are interested in getting a better idea of the role then please visit www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/volunteer.

The public sector has to make extraordinary levels of savings and there is no better time than now to ensure that our citizens are not only empowered but given the support to take more control and grow their own ideas and solutions to local problems.  With this in mind I am extremely delighted to be able to announce that every one of the 17 LCWFs will receive a local budget of at least £10k that will support residents to commission activity in the LCWFs through Participatory Budgeting.  This is closely linked into our desire to co-produce local solutions to local issues.  Local people know best what their own areas need and often have fantastic ideas about how to shape where they live.  By giving funding to local people, I hope that we’ll build a better borough for everyone.

In April 2013 we hope to be able to host the first of our Local Community Ward Forums and I welcome your support in making this a great success for Tower Hamlets.

Yours sincerely,

Lutfur Rahman

Mayor of Tower Hamlets

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