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Below is a letter that Labour’s John Biggs has sent to a few local papers in which he criticises Ken Livingstone’s support for Lutfur Rahman.

John lost of course by some 3,000 second round votes in May to Lutfur. He remains a London Assembly member for the City & East constituency.

He is also likely to be called and cross-examined as a witness for the Tower Hamlets election petitioners in the forthcoming court hearing.

That hearing, by the way, is likely to start at the end of January. It could well last between two and three months, which would mean any mayoral election re-run taking place after May’s general election.

It’s not at all certain, of course, who would contest such a re-run. Were Lutfur to lose the hearing he might be barred from office. It could be, however, that the judge rules the actual count unlawful, but that it was not Lutfur’s fault. In that case, Lutfur might be free to stand again.

Would John Biggs want to contest a re-run anyway? Would the party locally or regionally want him to?

Would Lutfur want to stand again?

He seems to be trying to raise/improve his national profile at the moment as a darling of the Left. He’s changed his Twitter photograph to show a more workmanlike down-to-earth image: tie loosened, shirt sleeves rolled up.

lutfur rahman, twitter

And the people who write his Tweets for him are concentrating far more on national, as opposed to local, political and social issues.

I’ve written on here a few times about the internal battle within his Tower Hamlets First party over who might stand against Rushanara Ali in Bethnal Green and Bow next May.

Speculation has previously centred on Abjol Miah (who still encourages people to “vote Respect” on Twitter), Rabina Khan and possibly Ohid Ahmed.

But I wonder whether Lutfur himself might be interested?

[He has wanted to become an MP for many years. It was during his campaign to become Labour’s PPC for the seat in 2007, when Rushanara eventually triumphed, that he fell out with his “friend” Helal Abbas. Here’s a letter he wrote to my former paper, the East London Advertiser in March 2007.]

Lutfur Letter March 2007

Were Lutfur to stand next May, it would mean campaigning during the period of the Election Court…when his expensively assembled legal team could be making headlines for him.

Curious and curioser…

Anyway, here’s Jogn Biggs’s letter:

I have great respect for the achievements of Ken Livingstone, and was proud to have worked alongside him for eight years at City Hall. His vision for London is, in my view, unmatched.

The Olympics, massive transport investment, and a focus on policing which helped to restore public confidence, would not have happened without him.

His focus on the plight of those on low incomes, and on helping people to get the skills they need for employment and to help themselves, was a vital part of his work too.

While not everything he did was right, a lot was and his successor, Boris Johnson, has coasted on his achievements, unwisely reversing some while, as with the Olympics, Crossrail and police numbers, brazenly trying to claim credit for others (even while, in some cases, undermining them).

Ken’s genuine passion for our City made him, in my view, a great and visionary London Mayor.

And I pay great respect also to his work while at the GLC. In particular he will be remembered for his work on equalities, challenging discrimination and disadvantage faced by many simply because of their race, gender, sexuality, physical ability or the disadvantage or poverty of their background.

At the time he was attacked as dangerously left wing and ‘politically correct’. Nowadays those views are generally seen as part of proper mainstream thinking – not about a free lunch, but about a greater fairness.

Again, not everything he did was right but his legacy is solid.  

However, he is absolutely wrong in his recent comments about Tower Hamlets politics.

Politics is about passions, strong opinions and different priorities. However, his representation of Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman as a victim of a stitch up is just plain wrong.

I and others am proud to have played a part in helping East Enders from different backgrounds and cultures to have access to power.

But we are in a different age now – people who are in power have a duty to act properly, and high standards apply to everyone.

The local Mayor, who has, I am sure, many positive qualities, has seriously failed the East End and Ken does nobody a service, in any community, by pretending it is someone else’s fault.

While Ken Livingstone and a small minority of those who claim to be on the Left, believe Lutfur Rahman is a victim, in my view, and that of many, many others, it is the people of Tower Hamlets, including in the Bengali community, who are the victims of his misuse of power in the Town Hall.  

I am proud to have worked with Ken but disappointed that he is unwilling to see this. He is at risk of the classic error of the Left, of fighting internal battles and living in the past.

We need to move on from this.

John Biggs AM (and 2014 Tower Hamlets Labour Mayor Candidate)

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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.

listen to ‘Tower Hamlets, Mayor Rahman rally’ on audioBoom

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During my three years at the East London Advertiser, I spent a fair amount of time with George Galloway’s aides in the Respect party.

I’m fairly confident in saying that had the PwC report been written about the Labour administration in Tower Hamlets back then, they’d have milked it for all its worth.

They were as scathing about the then council leader in 2008, Lutfur Rahman, as they were about his predecessors, Denise Jones and Michael Keith. In particular, they disliked what they believed to be the whiff of cronyism…in both the awarding of grants and also the appointment of useful mates to political positions.

In fact, Respect’s decision to organise successful petition that heralded the directly elected mayoral system in 2009/10 was an attempt to end such a culture, they argued.

So it’ll be interesting to see if Galloway, or Glyn Robbins, the former chair of Tower Hamlets Respect, or John Rees, a founding father of the party, refer to any of this when they address the following rally the Water Lily centre in Mile End tomorrow tonight:

george galloway, lutfur rahman

Lutfur has sent this email to his Tower Hamlets first supporters:

Dear supporter,

You’ll probably have heard by now that Secretary of State Eric Pickles has ordered officials in to undermine local democracy in Tower Hamlets, and it’s local residents that are paying for it (sic). You also may have heard that despite Pickles’ decision to send in the attack dogs, the report he ordered found no fraud or corruption in Tower Hamlets. 

He’s seized on any flimsy excuse he can find to shut down the 37,395 voices that voted for Mayor Lutfur Rahman and for a council that stands up to the cuts and invests in education, affordable homes and our future. 
 
This is Pickles versus the people. And it’s up to all of us to stand up to him. 
 
Here’s some simple things you can do
 
– Sign the petition to stop the witch-hunt of Lutfur
 
– Join me at a rally with Ken Livingstone and other national leaders at the Waterlily, 69 Mile End Road on Weds 12th November at 6pm to discuss how we can stand up for democracy. (link to event page)
 
– Tweet and facebook your own opinions about all this under the hashtags #towerhamlets and #respectourvotes
 
– Get in touch with any ideas you have
 
Thank you so much for your help. We haven’t got big banks or corporate newspapers on our side, so every little thing you do really does count.
 
In solidarity, 
 
Tower Hamlets First

The petition they refer to is here, and at the time of writing has 675 votes.

Note its name: ‘Respect our democracy and treat councils equally!’ And note the Twitter hashtag supporters are being urged to use: #respectourvotes.

The word ‘respect’ is popping up a lot.

So of course Galloway won’t lash out at Lutfur for his policy and process failures: they’re merely “flimsy excuses”.

Lutfur is now a convenient “Pickles versus the People” general election tool. Convenient for Lutfur, too, of course: posing the bigger question acts as a smokescreen for the criticisms.

But that’s politics.

There’s even some talk among his supporters that Lutfur may call a mayoral by-election to re-establish his authority. I’m not convinced he would press that nuclear button and in any case, I’m not sure when he would press it.

The Election Court hearing is due to start in mid-late January and it could last until March. Even then, the verdict may be reserved for some weeks.

If he emerges from that victorious, I’m not sure why he’d want or need to hold a by-election (although he could emerge victorious but tainted and damaged).

Who knows what his priorities are.

Certainly, he didn’t prioritise Remembrance Sunday again this year.

He was again a no-show at the wreath-laying ceremony at Tower Hill on Sunday, when there were huge crowds in the area observing the ceramic poppy display in the Tower of London moat across the road.

Lutfur’s reserved seat next to the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of London, Commander John Ludgate, remained empty.

I asked the council’s press office for an explanation and this was their reply:

The Mayor was regrettably unable to attend the Merchant Navy Memorial Service on Sunday due to a long-standing commitment to attend an (sic) young people’s education awards ceremony outside London. In his absence the Mayor asked Mickey Ambrose, former footballer and Duke of Edinburgh Awards ambassador to represent him and lay a wreath on his behalf.

‪Mr Ambrose said: “I was honoured to be a part of such a moving service and pay my respects to the courageous men and women who have served our country.”

‪The Mayor attended a Remembrance Service on Friday at City Hall with other Mayors and Council leaders, and is looking forward to the Armistice Day event on Tuesday at the Town Hall. The Mayor will also host a reception for war veterans after the event.

Mickey Ambrose stood and lost as a Tower Hamlets First candidate in Bow East in May. Quite why Lutfur asked him to deputise and not any of his elected councillors is a mystery.

I also asked the council what this longstanding awards ceremony commitment was, when it actually took place and where it was held.

They’ve declined to reply.

Anybody know?

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