Labour Briefing press statement on the Labour Party National Executive Committee’s decision to impose a Labour candidate in the election of Mayor of Tower Hamlets
Labour Briefing readers were surprised and dismayed to learn that the Labour Party NEC, meeting on Tuesday, 21st September, took administrative action to remove Cllr Lutfur Rahman as Labour’s candidate for Mayor of Tower Hamlets and instead imposed Cllr Helal Uddin Abbas (formerly known as Abbas Uddin) to be the candidate.
The three person shortlist for Labour’s candidate had been drawn up by the London Regional Labour Party: in what was widely seen as a move to stop Cllr Lutfur Rahman from being selected by Party members, he was not included on the shortlist. After legal action was taken, the Labour Party extended the shortlist, with Cllr Lutfur Rahman among the new names included.
Party members in Tower Hamlets voted to select a candidate on Saturday, 4th September. To be eligible to vote in the selection, members had to have been members of the Labour Party in Tower Hamlets for at least six months before the day of the referendum (6th May). A ballot box was installed in Tower Hamlets Labour Party Rooms under the supervision of London Labour Party Regional Director Ken Clark. Mr Clark was present throughout the day and was assisted by four other members of Regional Labour Party staff. Members had to produce their Labour Party membership cards and photo ID before they were allowed to cast their vote.
Cllr Lutfur Rahman was duly selected – by a large and convincing margin.** Ken Clark duly announced to those present at the Count that Cllr Lutfur Rahman was Labour’s official candidate for the Tower Hamlets Mayoral election. He repeated this statement shortly afterwards on the steps of Party Rooms, in front of waiting Labour supporters, press and TV crews.
Cllr Lutfur Rahman’s campaign as Labour’s candidate began on Tuesday, 14th September at a launch meeting attended by over 1,000 Labour members and supporters. Local MP Jim Fitzpatrick (on holiday in Peru on the day) sent a video message of support for Cllr Lutfur Rahman, saying what an excellent Mayor he would be.
The Labour Party NEC met on Tuesday, 21st September. The first substantive item was an emergency item on Labour’s candidate for Tower Hamlets Mayor. A number of complaints about Cllr Lutfur Rahman’s success were tabled. Cllr Lutfur Rahman had not been given notice of these complaints, nor chance to answer them. The NEC decided that the complaints should be investigated, that Cllr Lutfur Rahman should be suspended as a candidate during this investigation, and that as nominations close on Friday, 24th September and the investigation would not be concluded by that time, they would select a new candidate. There was a vote between whether that new candidate should be John Biggs (Greater London Assembly Member, who had come second in the selection) or Cllr Helal Uddin Abbas (who had come third).***
The NEC decision is widely seen in the Borough as the final attempt by the Party machinery to find a way of imposing their own candidate, on whom they can rely, and there are the following major concerns.
a) Cllr Helal Uddin Abbas was the author of the main complaint which the NEC considered and on the basis of which it took its decision. The NEC does not appear to have taken his “conflict of interest” into account when making him the beneficiary of his own complaint. This creates a dangerous precedent whereby future second or third placed candidates in selection contests can be expected to see putting in a complaint as a way to over-ride selection contest outcomes.
b) The NEC took account of the published views of Andrew Gilligan in taking their decision, thus putting greater weight on the views of a non-Labour Party member than local members.
c) Cllr Lutfur Rahman was a popular choice in the local Labour Party and in the wider community. The Labour Party NEC cannot guarantee that their choice of imposed candidate will win – indeed, it is highly like that Cllr Helal Uddin Abbas would come third if he accepts the position as the Labour Party NEC’s candidate and would find it impossible ever to be elected again in the Borough (a fate which befell his predecessor as Group Leader, Michael Keith, who has been defeated on three consecutive occasions at the polls; as well as former MP Oona King, who lost her seat to George Galloway MO despite an alleged £250k of investment from the Labour Party and who has not been seen in the Borough since her defeat).
d) Labour’s NEC is playing a risky game. Labour’s new Leader is to be announced at its Party Conference on 25th September. The Con Dem Coalition will announce further budget cuts at its Comprehensive Spending Review on 20th October – the day before the Mayoral election. In the NEC’s script, 21st October will see the new Labour leader shaking hands with a new Labour Mayor and starting Labour’s fight back to office. With the NEC’s candidate unlikely to secure victory, there will be no ringing electoral endorsement of Labour.
*A referendum was held on 6th May, at the same time as the General and Local Government elections in Tower Hamlets, on whether the London Borough of Tower Hamlets should have a directly elected Mayor to run the Council. Electors voted in favour of having a directly elected Mayor. The first elections are to be held on Thursday, 21st October.
***The NEC’s official statement
“Tower Hamlets Mayoral Election: Labour Candidate Selection
“Having received a number of serious allegations concerning both the eligibility of participating voters and the conduct of Lutfur Rahman, the NEC has decided to investigate the allegations made.
“As a result, administrative action has been taken to remove Lutfur Rahman as a candidate pending the investigation. Nominations for Tower Hamlets mayor close this week and in the circumstances the NEC had no option but to impose another candidate.
“The NEC has voted to select Helal Abbas Uddin as Labour’s candidate.”