This is a guest post by John Foster, who is standing for the Greens in Thursday’s election.
Having attended the coronation of Rabina Khan by outgoing mayor Lutfur Rahman, I felt a bit sad that the perpetual factionalism of politics in the East End is still alive and well in Tower Hamlets. Despite a parade of supporters queuing up to vouch for the integrity of Luftur Rahman, the appeal he and his supporters made was still to a narrow part of our community. We need to go beyond this.
I think that a Mayor of Tower Hamlets needs to represent every part of society, I am passionately against the divisions that the politicians of all flavours in this election are trying to artificially impose and exploit in the Borough. There are so many dog whistles being blown by Ukip, the Conservatives, Labour and whatever Tower Hamlets First evolves into, that the people of Tower Hamlets will be plagued with the yapping and howling of strays long into the night over the next 40 days.
Regardless of who wakes up on 12 June as the new Mayor, they must remember that the majority of people in the Borough did not vote for them, in fact – if this by-election follows the pattern of other by-elections in the UK – the majority of voters would not have even bothered to vote at all. It will be fantastic if we can change this, just as a start. Re-engaging people in Tower Hamlets with the political process will be tough, but it will reap its own rewards.
Whoever becomes Mayor will still have to govern in an unbiased way for the good of all the people of Tower Hamlets and will inherit a fractured council chamber and represent what for many in the Borough is a discredited office. If that person continues or accelerates the politics of division and the pattern of factionalism they will have failed all the people of Tower Hamlets and failed democracy.
Which brings me to another point: A lot of the rhetoric at Rabina Khan’s coronation was about democracy – or the denial of it. But fundamentally the office of the mayor and the confrontational system that it establishes is in itself anti-democratic. I’ve never agreed with elected mayors as in my opinion they just add another level of costs and create another opportunity for graft and corruption; they also dilute the power of the Council and councillors which is also anti-democratic.
That’s why I’ll act a Mayor for all residents in Tower Hamlets; and work to bring our communities closer and try and salve the poisonous nature of politics in this Borough. I know – if elected – I won’t have a ready-made faction on the Council chamber to force through legislation, and this is good. It’s good as I’ll have to compromise with all sides to make things happen, and I’d want to work with the best and the brightest elected officials from any party to craft the best of legislation for all the people of Tower Hamlets.
It’ll also give me the opportunity to strengthen the committee system in the Council chamber with an eye to the dissolution – through referendum in five years’ time (the earliest statutory date possible under the law) – of the office of elected mayor and a return to a more direct and democratic cabinet system based on a democratically elected Council.
But in the next five years I’d come with the Green’s own ideas and initiatives. The development of the London Chest Hospital for example is something I’d aim to turn to the benefit of the wider community. We’re losing a core health facility, and are in danger of getting another unaffordable soulless apartment complex for rich, non-resident investors. I’d look to turn this into social and council housing – we’d also work with the local residents affected by the Bishopsgate Goodsyard to find sustainable alternatives.
I would support the residents of Holland Estate and other tenants in the Borough being forced out of their homes and work with a cabinet to drive down unfair leaseholders charges; control rents on social rented homes; and deal with blights on our housing including abandoned scaffolding.
Health would be a priority in any Green administration I was involved in and I would fight to protect our GP surgeries from closing; challenge the government on PFI schemes with a view to suspending any new PFIs; and invest in local social care for elderly and vulnerable residents.
I’d also have at the core of my administration the ethos of community – our greater community – and unite all of our residents in opposition to austerity and protect and expand successful community initiatives including Rich Mix.
The kind of Green Mayor I aim to be would champion small local businesses over large multinational corporations. I’d encourage local content and local suppliers and sustainability to all Council businesses where possible and ensure that all businesses in Tower Hamlets become good corporate citizens, encouraging and supporting businesses established by young people and women.
I hope that this election is fought in good spirit and honourably. The issues need to be addressed. We need to look into problems to do with ballot rigging that have haunted Tower Hamlets since at least 2005. I’d love to be involved in a democratic process that is held up across London and the UK as exemplar and hope the other candidates will stand with me on that.