In less than a week our borough has a chance to draw a line under the controversy and division of recent years by electing a mayor whose sole focus will be on the things that matter most to local people.
For too long our borough has been dragged through the headlines for all the wrong reasons. A farcical election count, a damning auditor report, a Government intervention, a mayor removed for election offences.
The former Mayor Lutfur Rahman not only divided the community with his patronage based politics but his mismanagement of the Council led to Government interventions of the kind we rarely see in this day and age. In both respects it is the people of the borough who suffer.
None of this was about one community or another. Everybody in our borough lost out as their council and leadership was focused on itself and not delivering the things people expect of their council. But make no mistake that the consequences of his actions have been very divisive, creating mistrust that politicians are not there for the public good, but for some dodgier purpose. I get fed up with the public cynicism that says all politicians are ‘corrupt’. Thankfully it is only a very select few who are. But when we find them we must comprehensively work out how to stop it happening again.
And so this election is a chance to put the council back on residents’ side. It requires us to move forwards but to do this we must also admit that things were wrong. It therefore boggles my mind that the Lutfur Rahman candidate, Rabina Khan, is in almost complete denial that anything was wrong, or that she had anything to do with it. Her constant refrain is ‘we must look forwards’. We must, of course, but we cannot ignore recent events. To do so is a bit like a burglar selling you back your tv and accusing you of being backward looking in asking where it came from.
My manifesto, my contract with residents, focuses on policies which will benefit every corner of the Tower Hamlets. Building the first new social housing in years, cracking down on anti-social behaviour, creating new jobs and restoring the reputation of our borough. But to move forwards we must comprehensively deal with the last of these. The Mayor model can work – just because someone crashes a car it doesn’t mean nobody else can drive again – but we must introduce a culture of transparency, of bridge building and of checks and balances if we are to move forwards credibly.
On day one I will scrap the mayoral car and the army of advisors. I’ll end the biased coverage in East End Life and review how the council should best communicate with residents, and how the Mayor should be accountable to the Council as a whole. Maximum transparency, and a willingness to explain all decisions, will be the foundations. In the first months we’ll implement the recommendations in the PWC report to make the council more open and accountable, we’ll appoint a new Chief Executive and get cracking on making good on my manifesto commitments. I will redesign a Mayor’s office that is lean and I will develop a proposal for transparency, and regular meetings with the wider public. We want no more headlines about scandal and corruption, just ones about knuckling down to make things better, and then positive ones about the great things that local people achieve.
Whilst there are many candidates standing in this election last year showed us that the choice is between Labour or more of the same under Lutfur Rahman’s candidate. There will be many people reading this who are not natural Labour voters and who may not agree with everything I say or propose to do. Whether those people use their second preference or not may decide the result. To those voters I pledge a culture of openness and a good administration that listens, and explains, and does ot neglect the voices of any part of our community.
I am happy to write more at a later date about the challenges on housing, skills, employment, development, education, budgeting and so on. However, the simple fact is that this is an election like no other. It’s about getting our borough back on track and moving on from the divisive past we’ve seen under Lutfur Rahman. If elected, that is exactly what I intend to do.