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Archive for June 25th, 2015

In 2007, a balding George Galloway and a few other bald men fought over the comb that was the imploding Respect/SWP “the Unity coalition” party. Due to a spat with the SWP about who owned the rights to the precious Respect name, Galloway’s main rump called themselves Respect Renewal. Separately, a gang of four councillors, largely cheesed off with the way their group leader Abjol Miah was running the show, split off to form a new group called Respect (Independent).

Eight years later and history is (kinda) repeating, albeit with some different faces and the musical chairs moving in different directions.

Back then the gang of four comprised Oli Rahman, Lutfa Begum, her daughter Rania Khan and Ahmed Hussain. Not long afterwards, Ahmed joined the Tories, where he is still well regarded, while the other three were bought off/recruited by Labour.

This morning the group that used to be called Tower Hamlets First and which is now known as Independents suffered its first split. Abjol Miah, upset at not retaining his paid position as a member of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee (instead, and incredibly, the job of scrutinising council business falls to grants king Maium Miah and the Prince of Narcissism Mahbub Alam), texted a couple of colleagues and then emailed John Williams, the council’s head of democratic services, to say he was quitting the group.

His move took some by surprise, not because he was defecting but because he was doing it alone. In the background there had been discussions about a few of them forming a new group. These talks had been taking place not just in the wake of Rabina Khan’s defeat, but also before it. What the disgruntled councillors had in common was a shared frustration at the way Lutfur Rahman (yes, him) was still effectively controlling things.

Last week, according to an insider, the Deposed Dear Leader met his former THF councillors to declare that Rabina would remain his candidate for mayor in 2018. Apparently his word was final, just as it had been when he selected her after his Election Court humiliation in April. No discussion, nada.

This, I’m told, was too much to stomach for some. To them, he was the cause of their current predicament – so how dare he not suggest an open and transparent selection process (ie a vote).

Lady Jane GreySo a number of them set about planning a split. I’m told that those planning to do so are the Independents’ group leader, Oli Rahman (the six day Acting Mayor and the Lady Jane Grey of Tower Hamlets politics); Shahed Ali; ex-deputy mayor Ohid Ahmed; Shafiqul Haque; and Mohammed Mufti Miah.

The first four were all Labour councillors. Whether Abjol would join them to make a group of six is not clear. bigpic

Were this to happen, their initial task would be to choose a name: Independents First? Independent (Independent)? Independent Renewal? Choices on the back of a postcard please.

More substantially (and I use that word advisedly), there would also be implications for the system of proportionality. The main Independents group would drop to 11 in number, while the new gang would have possibly six members. The former would lose entitlement to some committee positions, while the latter would gain some.

For the most part, and I think Abjol is the exception here, the possible defectors would like to return to Labour. Were that to happen, there would be so many dead bodies left in Labour the calls for a Tower Hamlets cemetery would become irresistible.

That said, it’s clear Lutfur is planning a long term comeback and that Rabina is working hard on strengthening her grassroots support. Labour is likely to have a fight on its hands in 2018, and by 2022 Lutfur will be eligible to stand as mayor again (in fact he could try for a vacated councillor position in 2019…if he’s not bankrupted by court costs, of course).

John Biggs at Labour iftarSo the aim of the game for John Biggs (and at an iftar for the Labour group on Tuesday night, pictured left, he made clear he’d want to stand again, although some tell me they’d like to see Sirajul Islam given a chance) must be to secure re-election, as well as running a decent council.

His hand is strengthened by weakening those of his opponents. Oli et al, believe it or not, do carry some votes. Deals that fall short of re-admittance to Labour can always be made.

Murky, but that’s politics I suppose.

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