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andy erlam

Election court petitioner Andy Erlam

John Biggs is to be congratulated for winning the re-run Tower Hamlets mayoral election.  The result was a clear rejection of Rahmanism and of Rahman’s proxy candidate, Rabina Khan.

We now expect John Biggs to ruthlessly root out the rest of the corruption at the town hall within the three years left in his mandate. If he starts to do this, he can be sure of my and many others’ co-operation.  But he and the Labour Party must also now reflect on the fact that it was Labour that created the crisis in the first place.

That is why Labour was so hostile towards the Election Petition initially and made various attempts to sink it.  Biggs himself was a very reluctant witness who had to be coaxed for months to provide an adequate statement for the court. Almost all other local Labour “leaders” looked the other way.  One allegedly actively dissuaded people from giving evidence.  What is the point of leaders who lead from the back?

There remains a question hanging in the air.  Everyone knew that election corruption was rife in Tower Hamlets. It’s been going on for years, so why didn’t anyone, apart from Ted Jeory, Andrew Gilligan and Mark Baynes, do anything about it? Remember, Rahman was, and in many ways still is, a Labour man.  So the choice in the election was really between Labour and Labour. Return of the One Party State of Tower Hamlets.

Rahman claimed in the election court that senior Labour officials such as Keith Vaz, Ken Livingstone and Len McCluskey had met him and his deputy Alibor Chaodhury and that they had agreed a “pathway” with the party leadership for Rahman to get back into the Labour fold. The Labour leadership has never denied this dirty deal behind the backs of both the Labour Party membership and the electorate. In my view, the only thing that stopped it being implemented was a spanner in the works in the form of the Election Petition.  My reading of Biggs’ victory speech last Thursday was a hint at some form of reconciliation with Tower Hamlets First group councillors. Too eager, too much, too early.

John Biggs

Mayor John Biggs with Labour supporters

Last year Labour decided not to take an Election Petition itself against Rahman, even though it suspected that he had, once again, committed industrial-scale fraud in the mayoral and local elections.  Maybe it was because historically Labour has also been involved in similar tactics? Rahman learnt his skills from Labour.

It’s all very well to talk about “drawing a line”, as Biggs does, but the body will only stand a chance of recovery if all the cancer is cut from the ailing body and we now know that election corruption was and is only the tip of the iceberg as regards corruption within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.  The cancer of corruption is still there.

Intimidation and violence in local elections has not stopped in Tower Hamlets either. A few days before this election a Labour councillor was badly manhandled and bruised outside a mosque because he refused to support Khan.  In typical style, he appears not to be pressing charges “on advice from the elders”.  So supporters of Khan can get away with a potential crime?  And you want these people back in the Labour Party?

It’s my belief that numerous fraudulent and invalid votes were also cast again in Tower Hamlets and the police are investigating. If Khan is seriously considering her own Election Petition, who will it be directed at? My advice to her is: save other people’s money.  It will fail at the first hurdle and “be laughed out of court”.

The police have acceded to my request to extend their enquiries to include the local councillor elections and the courts have agreed that ballot papers must be preserved a further six months.  Complaints can be made direct to the Met at: SETelections@met.police.uk as soon as possible and before November at the very latest.  I hear that local Labour leaders are already advising disappointed 2014 Labour candidates to leave matters – i.e. not co-operate with the police.  And we wonder why so many local police enquiries run into the sand?

If people are now being discouraged from making formal complaints to the police about last year’s local councillor election fraud, they will live with the terrible consequences for years to come.  Incidentally, it has never been clear why Chris Weavers, Labour’s then election agent and local Party chair, failed to challenge any of the poll counts on May 22 2014 at the time. Looking back, was his inaction wise?

It will also be especially interesting to see whether Biggs will root out corruption connected with local land deals.  Scotland Yard is actively examining allegations of very serious fraud and misfeasance in public office on this aspect.  It will be interesting to see if the new mayor opens up all the books to a serious and robust police investigation or concentrates on “reputational” issues like a public affairs consultant for FIFA. There is also the small matter of the fraud issues coming out of the PriceWaterhouse Coopers’ investigation. Why is Scotland Yard turning a blind eye? There must be a reason.

The only aggravation I had on the streets was from a few self-styled Biggs aides who criticised me for ‘splitting the Labour vote’.  No vote belongs to Labour.  Like respect, every vote has to be earned.  Such arrogance has destroyed the ethical power of the Labour Party.  It is anti-democratic and indeed illegal to seek to pressurise voters and candidates. Don’t they know?  I take it as a badge of honour.  Remember Labour created Rahman.

Furthermore, the spectre in the election campaign of both Peter Golds openly boasting in public meetings that he would “lend” second preference votes to Labour, and of Biggs “lending” Labour’s second preferences to the Tories beggars belief. Have these people learnt nothing?

The voters have decided and that decision must be respected. I would like to thank the 1,768 people who voted for me, the many others who (I am told) wanted to but didn’t and the many more who put me down as their second preference.  Many wish to keep in touch and can do so at: andy@redflagac.org

We will now see if Labour will clear up, or cover-up, the mess of its own making.

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Thanks to ‘Working Mum’ for highlighting this video on the comments section of this blog yesterday. I think it’s worthy of its own post.

It’s a video of Rabina Khan’s campaign launch featuring among others Lindsey German, of the Stop the War Coalition and former member of the SWP’s ‘Central Committee’.

They all get very excited and praise Lutfur Rahman’s “integrity” before the Great Man himself makes the late entrance of a Grand Dame from stage right to express righteous indignation at the consequences of the legal process: he singles out disqualified Alibor Choudhury, apparently standing at the back of the room, for a special shout-out.

The audience are all very excited by this stage but when it comes to Rabina’s speech, they look a bit bored: Lindsey German can be seen picking imaginary fluff from her jumper in the way people do when they’re irritated and distracted.

Meanwhile, you can also see Oli Rahman and Shahed Ali – the former speaks and the latter claps – and I wonder what those two now feel about having joined in the political charade.

At the time of the PwC report and as soon as the Election Court verdict came through they and one or two others had the chance to choose wisely and break away from the Tower Hamlets First Muppet Show.

Instead, they chose…..poorly.

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IMG_0664John Biggs delivered a far more generous victory speech last night to the Tower Hamlets First brigade than they perhaps deserved.

It wasn’t what he said precisely but the tone he used. I suppose it’s easy and better to be magnanimous in victory than to be crowing and churlish but he congratulated Rabina Khan for her campaign (who, by the way, didn’t reciprocate in her speech – she forgot to say well done and instead focused on the ‘me, me’ parts) and he promised to recognise the fact she polled so many votes. She won almost 26,000 votes on the first round, 1,500, or less than 2 per cent, behind John.

He said we shouldn’t forget that “a lot of bad things have happened” but that we should now move on.

He said he would hold office as a Labour mayor but in also praising Peter Golds he hinted at possible cooperation to come.

Peter, in his speech, struck a more wary tone. He said John won by “borrowing” votes from the other parties. As he said this, John raised a somewhat surprised eyebrow, but given the comments on this blog and on Twitter during the past couple of days, as well as the feedback John’s opponents were getting on the doorstep, I think Peter was doing no more than stating the bleeding obvious.

Peter polled 5,940 votes, or 8.7 per cent of the first round total. This was almost the same as Chris Wilford achieved last year in percentage terms (he got 7,173 votes in total) but far below the 20 per cent the Tories achieved only last month in the general election for the borough’s two constituencies.

And in second preference votes, there were a huge number of Tories who put Labour second yesterday.

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 13.59.56For sure, this was an election in which Labour found friends in other parties.

I know that had John won last year he’d been planning to create an administration reflective of the rainbow nature of his support. It would be very surprising were that not the case this time.

The Government commissioners (who like almost all senior council officers will have been relieved by the result) will surely leave once they see functional politics at play again.

This is why Peter was right in his speech at the ExCeL centre to warn about the consequences for THF of last night’s defeat. Where do their band of jokers go now? Labour and the Tories will need to watch their backs when it comes to future candidate selection for councillors. More about them in a future post.

But more immediately, John now has to create an administration. He has already appointed three deputy mayors in Rachael Saunders, Shiria Khatun and Sirajul Islam, but there will be others wanting some reward. It was noticeable that Abdal Ullah, no longer a councillor, was the man who escorted John into the count last night.

There’s now a cabinet and other appointments to be be made. Some in his Labour group will have to bide their time. Will John take a Sir Robin Wales approach and dish out special responsibility allowances like confetti?

And how will he thank the Tories and in particular Peter Golds? Not so long ago, I suggested he’d make an excellent council Speaker. I think he’d love wearing the civic chains and ensuing order in the council chamber. Offering that role to him for a year would seem a wise choice. After that, I’d put him in charge of transparency and anti-corruption: a mini-Eric Pickles.

And then there’s Rabina. Could John offer her something? Would he? Would she accept? A role to encourage more women into politics? It would certainly create a split in the group of 17 “independents”. Or would she prefer to lead their group as Opposition leader. If the latter, she will need to formally join them and then take on Oli Rahman who has assumed that role.

And there is some talk about Rabina’s team examining a possible election petition against John’s win but how serious that is and on what grounds, I’m not sure.

I took some videos of this morning’s speeches and I will publish them once they’ve finished uploading in two hours’ time…

Lastly, congratulations to Labour’s Sabina Akhtar for winning in Stepney and to Andy Erlam and the other petitioners. Andy polled 1,768 votes yesterday – less than 3%  – but his fans are of a far, far higher number than that.

Meanwhile, here are some photos of last night’s fun.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

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A day to go and even Radio 4’s Today programme has got in on the act, having just given the Tower Hamlets election its second prime time slot just before the 8pm news.

The tenor of her report was plus ca change: John Biggs facing false allegations on the doorstep that he will close down mosques; accusations by Andy Erlam of possible vote fraud; returning officer John Williams again telling the world we can be confident in the process; Rabina Khan, who has promised to be more transparent than Lutfur, refusing to be interviewed; and every single Bangladeshi voter in the vox pop asserting that Lutfur had been stitched up and that he hadn’t been corruptly elected.

I’m sure Richard Mawrey QC would have been listening with exasperated but unsurprised sighs. Might he be put to work again?

It’s not just Rabina’s campaign which has courted controversy. Peter Golds has been thoroughly enjoying himself but has been let down by a supporter who appeared on one of his leaflets. Rabina’s supporters have unearthed a Facebook posting by a Glen McCarty last year when he felt the need to vent some racist poison after apparently fearing for his wallet walking through Whitechapel. Here’s the posting and and leaflet.

glen mccarty

Perhaps he should have a word with Tory activists Ahmed Hussain and Dr Anwara Ali, who pays their taxes. Peter Golds says he’s appalled by it and has asked for an apology. If a Rabina supporter had written something equivalent there would be justifiable fury and that’s the case here as well.

Meanwhile, Rabina yet again failed to attend a hustings last night, this time on the Isle of Dogs. Here’s the seat that was reserved for her:

rabina chair

She has proved to be a crushing disappointment in this regard. She promised to be more accountable than her boss, Lutfur Rahman, to be more transparent, but she’s simply copied his tactics. This is, I suppose, not surprising when her campaign is being run and managed by Lutfur and his former advisers, including Mohamed Jubair of Channel S (remember his name, I think we’re going to hear a bit more about him soon, I reckon).

She claims she’s going to be her own woman if she’s elected. She hasn’t demonstrated anything like that thus far.

John Biggs has been successful getting out Labour’s big guns to campaign: Tessa Jowell has been a regular; Dan Jarvis came last night, Andy Burnham tonight. Less successful has been the party’s attempt getting out hordes of local activists and perhaps this is a reflection of rising rents in Tower Hamlets where there has traditionally been a flow of students to help at times like this.

One final thought for now: Rabina has just been on BBC London radio boasting about her housing record. But during her time as cabinet member for housing, service charges for Tower Hamlets Homes leaseholders in my old patch of Bow have risen by 30%. A significant reason for this has been the costs dumped on Tower Hamlets Homes by the council for various management services and contracts.

I’ve previously asked her about this, but guess what: no response.

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John Biggs

John Biggs

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.

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This is a guest post, by Cllr Rabina Khan, formerly of Tower Hamlets First and now an independent candidate for Tower Hamlets Mayor.

Rabina kahn, tower hamletsThe first thing I will do if elected as Mayor of Tower Hamlets is sit down with the Department for Communities and Local Government’s Commissioners. While this council continues to be recognised nationally as a high performing authority leading in many key policy areas, last year’s report by PriceWaterhouse Coopers identified governance failures in certain areas and addressing these must be our first priority – along with restoring confidence in our institutions and processes – so that we can move beyond recent challenges to best protect local people facing a wide range of adversities in difficult times.

I want to be a mayor for women, a mayor for housing and a mayor who stands up against austerity. Women need more role models in public life. Of the seventeen directly elected mayors in Britain, only four are women. I hope that I can be part of breaking that evident glass ceiling, following the recent influx of record numbers of women to Parliament and an election which for the first time saw female party leaders – Nicola Sturgeon, Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood – take the stage and arguably totally transform the debate.

Every study has shown that austerity, and before it the recession, have hit women harder than men. Women’s unemployment, and particularly BME women’s unemployment, is a serious concern. That’s why I’m pledging to establish a brand new Women’s Employment Hub to ensure local women are presented with job opportunities and are equipped with the skills needed for the workplace.

Under my leadership as cabinet member for housing for the last five years, Tower Hamlets has seen more than 4000 social and affordable homes built – more than any other council in Britain as recognised by central government repeatedly awarding us the highest ‘New Homes Bonus’. We’ve established the landmark Preventing Homelessness Fund, refused to pass on cuts in council tax benefit and said no to Bedroom Tax evictions. But the housing waiting list continues to grow, so I’ve drawn up detailed plans to build 5,500 affordable homes by 2018.

Tenants know I’m someone who has always been on their side – and I’ll hold social landlords to account to make sure they promote real tenant leadership and decision-making. I’m also promising a better deal for Leaseholders – capping punitive charges and making our system fairer.

Over the last four years Tower Hamlets has blazed a trail on behalf of local people, fighting austerity and latent child poverty that continues to blight the East End. We’ve restored education maintenance allowances scrapped by central government, introduced universal free school meals in primary schools and introduced university grants to ensure that poverty cannot be a barrier to achievement.

We were the first council to pay workers the London Living Wage. Now I’m campaigning for a Living Rent. My brand new Mayor’s Employment Board and enterprise strategy will deliver 20,000 sustainable jobs and training opportunities, along with 8,000 new apprenticeships. As a working mum I understand what a juggling exercise life can be, so we’ll provide more nursery places to help parents into work. I’ll also abolish charges for bulk-waste collection.

Some have tried to make this election about the recent court judgment. Former mayor, Lutfur Rahman has made clear his intention to appeal. But that is his battle and this is mine. This election cannot be about the past, when the future presents such stark challenges to the poor and the vulnerable. We need to start a fresh chapter in our politics, opening up local democracy and leaving no-one outside. My People’s Question Time events across the borough will enable local people directly to hold me to account, along with key officials from the council and – I hope – partner organisations such as the police and the health service.

I’ll extend filming to all council committees, answer questions in full council, cabinet and the scrutiny committee. I’ll hold a regular press briefings. There will be no mayoral car. Grants will be determined in an open and transparent manner. I’ll review the council’s relationship with Rich Mix, and launch a brand new culture strategy to engage with all the rich spectrum of culture and talent throughout the East End. And anyone who knows me will tell you I’m my own woman.

The general election has returned a reactionary Conservative government hellbent on rolling back the state no matter the human consequences. At the same time we have a Labour Party bashing immigrants and backing the lowering of the benefit cap as its leadership candidates compete to see who can lurch most to the right. Even locally John Biggs has refused to guarantee lifeline policies such as the EMA. This area needs a mayor who can be relied upon to be on local people’s side. I hope you will put your trust in me to be that mayor.

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This, by Lib Dem Elaine Bagshaw, is the next in the series of guest posts by candidates for the Tower Hamlets mayoral elections on June 11. John Biggs and Rabina Khan have also promised articles although they have yet to materialise.

elaine bagshaw

I’m running for Mayor because we need to build a better Tower Hamlets that works for everyone.

Forty-nine per cent of our children live in poverty. We live in the shadows of the City yet have second highest unemployment rate in London.

Why is it that if you are born in Tower Hamlets you are expected to live five fewer years than someone born in the City of London?

I’ve been proud to call this borough my home five years now, and I want to deliver for people in this borough so that everyone gets the same opportunities I had. I was the first person in my family to go to University, and through a shared ownership scheme in the borough I’ve had the chance to own my own home. I currently live in Poplar, near Westferry station. I ran for the Parliamentary seat of Poplar & Limehouse in the General Election, and the Blackwall & Cubitt Town by-election in 2014.

The last five years have been difficult for the borough. Yes, there have been some improvements such as the results at our local schools, the introduction of the London Living Wage payment for staff, and the cleanness of certain areas, but they don’t go far enough, and they’ve divided our community. We’ve collectively lost faith in the office of the Mayor, the Council and its arms-length organisations such as Tower Hamlets Homes at exactly the time when they are needed most.

The previous administrations of both Labour and Tower Hamlets First have left us this legacy, and it is simply unacceptable. This can’t be allowed to continue. It is time for a change with local people leading the way. The borough needs new leadership and new ideas so that we can move on from the feuds of the past and together build a united community that delivers local solutions.

If elected mayor I will:

  • Make sure that there are affordable homes for working families
  • Ensure that a minimum of 50 per cent of a social housing development has to remain as social housing once it has been redeveloped
  • Protect our social housing provision by making sure that like-for-like replacements of the lost social housing are built in the borough
  • Housing developments are built alongside infrastructure such as schools; doctors surgeries and transport links so that they are additions to our community
  • Identify all empty homes in the borough and make them fit for use as social housing
  • Ensure no social housing tenant in the borough is living in a home that is unsuitable for human habitation
  • Investigate the treatment of leaseholders, putting an end to charging for unnecessary work and systemic overcharging of residents
  • Deliver new local facilities such as more GPs and better local transportation needed to support our community.
  • Save £1.5m by scrapping the council newspaper and use this money to create apprenticeships for young people in Tower Hamlets that pay the London Living Wage
  • Have zero tolerance on corruption

I’ve spent just over six years working as a regulator in the borough on Canary Wharf. As a regulator I have held banks to account, and supported those who fell victim to the scandals of payday lenders. I’ve also worked as a youth worker helping get young people back into education and into work.

I know what needs to be done and how hard it can be. But I also know that I can deliver for our community.

A vote for Elaine Bagshaw is a vote for a better Tower Hamlets.

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