One veteran of the Respect party said to me as I was leaving last night’s rally at the Water Lily centre in Mile End: “It’s just like the old days again.”
Depressingly, in many ways he was right. Lots of pretty tedious and predictable speeches, a few cheap and several offensive jokes about Eric Pickles’ weight. It’s strange how the so-called Left get off on making these remarks about a man’s appearance.
But how the audience giggled! …And then cried racism against the man one not-so-svelte union official called “the fat controller”.
They also mocked DCLG’s spending on limousines. But failed to mention Lutfur’s four years of travelling around the borough in a chauffeured Mercedes.
The lack of self-awareness and introspection was and is frightening.
The audience was huge. I’d guess easily upwards of 500.
The theme was “Defend Democracy in Tower Hamlets”, but that was a bit of a smokescreen. In reality, it was an election rally of the Left against the Tories.
I understand that Cllr Abjol Miah orchestrated it. The former leader of the Respect group and a serial failure in his attempts to become MP wants another crack at Westminster. He wants to challenge Rushanara Ali in Bethnal Green and Bow.
So too do Cllrs Rabina Khan and Ohid Ahmed.
Galloway, whose aides used to rail against Lutfur when he was in Labour, warned that if Tower Hamlets First didn’t field a candidate, Respect would. Some interpreted that as he would stand again but even he knows he’d be laughed out of the borough again.
His underlying message, I inferred, was he’d endorse Abjol as his candidate. Rushanara is said to be anxious but I think she’s safe.
As for Ken’s input last night:
1. He said he and fellow Labour NEC member Christine Shawcroft (who made the most boring speech of the night, and that’s saying something) would submit a motion at their next meeting calling for Lutfur’s re-admittance into the party. (He really does have a dry sense of humour, doesn’t he?)
2. He called on Lutfur’s hot-headed supporters to find the home addresses of the three Government Commissioners when they arrive in Tower Hamlets, and then protest outside “to make their lives intolerable”.
That remark prompted this response today from Local Government Minister Kris Hopkins:
I am appalled at Ken Livingstone’s comments which run the risk of stirring up a lynch mob mentality in Tower Hamlets.
The borough is already riven by the politics of intimidation and division, and stupid remarks like his will only worsen community tensions.
We will not be intimidated from taking any action necessary to ensure a free and fair democracy operates in the borough.
As for the PwC report, the only person to make more than a passing reference to it last night was in fact Lutfur. He said he would learn from the process failures and that the council would “embrace the Commissioners” when they arrive.
Well said, but let’s see.
Radio 4’s Today programme was there last night as well. Their reporter Zoe Conway broadcast this excellent report this morning.
Listen to how she puts Ken on the spot, how he flounders; how she puts Galloway on the back foot; and how she reduces Lutfur to robot mode, monologuing his usual mantra about all things One Tower Hamlets.
A nice hat-trick.