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Archive for September 26th, 2014

rushanara aliAs many of you will have heard, Rushanara Ali resigned from the Labour front bench this afternoon so she could abstain from the Commons vote on military action against ISIS in Iraq. She was Shadow Education Minister and had been enjoying her brief.

She’s rated by the Labour leadership and it’s likely she’ll be given a frontline portfolio if Labour secure a General Election victory next May.

That’s if she retains her Bethnal Green and Bow seat, of course. And that’s becoming a bigger if.

She’s genuinely worried about the threat of Lutfur Rahman’s Tower Hamlets First machine…and, in particular, one of his key cabinet members; in fact, his only female councillor.

Step forward Cllr Rabina Khan.

Rabina Khan

It’s well known in Tower Hamlets political circles that Rabina, who was expelled from Labour for backing Lutfur as an Independent in 2010, covets Rushanara’s seat.

After Lutfur’s re-election victory in May, she was dissuaded from formally declaring her candidacy. Lutfur was keen to have her as a negotiating pawn in his attempts to rejoin Labour.

However, I understand her ambition has developed a life of its own. Rushanara knows this and has been extremely busy raising funds for her own re-election campaign.

In that well-established arena of foreign policy debate, the Tower Hamlets council chamber at Mulberry Place, Rabina has been a very vocal critic of Britain’s military interventions abroad. No doubt she would also be against bombing ISIS.

And Rushanara, who watched her former boss Oona King fall prey to George Galloway in 2005 after she had voted for the 2003 Iraq War, is wary, to say the least, of treading that same path.

A little over a year ago, her fellow Tower Hamlets MP, Jim Fitzpatrick, quit his front bench role as Shadow Transport Minister over Labour’s cautious position on Syria back then. Not because it was cautious, but because it wasn’t cautious enough. “I’m opposed to military intervention in Syria, full stop,” he said in August 2013.

I don’t think he was at the debate today (I know he was overseas during the week), but he had the same dilemma as Rushanara: vote to bomb and (inevitably) kill Muslim civilians and risk waving bye to your Commons career. Moral principles also played a part, of course. I’m confident Jim supports Rushanara’s decision.

So politically, Rushanara has been wise.

Note she abstained, rather than go one further against Ed Miliband. It’s likely she discussed her move with him beforehand: EdMili understands the dynamics of Tower Hamlets politics.

But will it be enough to stave off the Rabina threat? What of her?

For newcomers to the blog, she is a children’s author who on has described herself thus:

I am a Writer, Producer and Creative Consultant, living and working for many years in Tower Hamlets, London. I’m involved in a range of writing, speaking, film, moving image and creative projects and I enjoy what I do. 

Over the years my writing and creative work has developed into film treatments, script writing, film making and managing commissions.

As a councillor and as a performer in the council chamber, I rate her. Confident and articulate, she is head and shoulders above her Tower Hamlets First colleagues in that particular arena, and I include Lutfur in that (although my friend Oli Rahman is also very good!)

Senior Labour and Tory figures in Tower Hamlets disagree with me on this. They perhaps know her better. They say she’s wooden, that she’s not good at thinking on her feet, that her answers are always read from a script.

However, constituents who have dealt with her rave about her. The great John Wright regularly comments on this blog to that effect.

She’s the cabinet member for housing and development. She’s said to be “passionate” about her job, so much so that I understand she turned down Lutfur’s offer to become deputy mayor in May: she felt combining the two roles would have been too much, so she chose the former.

So all good. However, when you Google her name the fifth item down returns this:

rabina khanOh dear. The full story is here. Unlike Oli Rahman, I don’t think she ever apologised for her part in that scandal. Maybe she had good explanations, but they were never passed to the media. Maybe that’s another good quality–you never know..

UPDATE 9.50pm

The exchange of letters between Rushanara and Ed Miliband are here:

Dear Ed,

It has been an enormous privilege to serve on the Shadow Front Bench in two different roles in the past four years.

It is therefore with great regret that I tender my resignation as a Shadow Minister in advance of the vote today on military action in Iraq against ISIL. I understand the case that has been made and will not be voting against the motion. But I am unable in conscience to support the motion and I will make a deliberate abstention.

There can be no doubt that the actions of ISIL are horrific and barbaric, and I share the revulsion that everyone in our country feels towards them. However, I am not confident that this military action will be effective in the short-term in just targeting the terrorists and not harming innocent civilians. Nor can I pretend to have confidence that there is a credible long-term strategy to build up the capacity of the Iraqi army, or that the potential impact on radicalisation in the UK has been properly thought through. Despite good intentions, too many mistakes have been made over the last decade and far too many people in conflict zones have had to pay a high price for misconceived actions by the UK and other countries.

I appreciate the sincerity of Members of Parliament from all sides of the House who today support military action against ISIL. I know that British Muslims stand united in the total condemnation of the murders that ISIL have committed. However, there is a genuine belief in Muslim and non-Muslim communities that military action will only create further bloodshed and further pain for the people of Iraq.

Once again, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to serve in the Shadow Government. There is no doubt in my mind that the plan you set out for our country this week is the right one, and it has all the hallmarks of your leadership to date: bold, fair, serious about the UK’s long-term needs, and unafraid of vested interests.

I remain totally committed to your leadership and I look forward to you becoming Prime Minister in eight months’ time. I will play my full part from the backbenches and in my constituency to ensure that outcome.

Yours sincerely,

Rushanara

Dear Rushanara,

Thank you for your letter.

I regret that you feel unable to support the motion. I know that you have thought long and hard about this. I respect your decision and accept your resignation.

You have served with real distinction as a shadow minister, both in the Shadow Edication and International Development teams. You are someone with great ability and talent.

I know you will continue to work tirelessly for the people of Bethnal Green and Bow and play your part in helping Labour to return to government at the General Election.

Yours ever,

Ed

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