Labour Briefing spoke to Lutfur Rahman, Labour’s candidate for Tower Hamlets Mayor.Lutfur Rahman
Christine Fraser reports: It was a historic moment. On Saturday, 4th September, on the steps of Tower Hamlets Labour Party’s Bethnal Green rooms, London Regional Labour Party Director Ken Clark announced that Cllr Lutfur Rahman had been selected by Tower Hamlets Party members and was the Labour Party’s candidate in the first election for a directly elected Mayor of the Borough.
Lutfur had won 394 first preference votes out of a total of 880 (44.77%) on a 72.6% turnout of eligible members – considerably ahead of the pack (John Biggs was second on first preferences, with 182 votes). The fact that a Labour Party member of Bangladeshi origin can win an open selection contest from a shortlist of seven should be a welcome sign that the Labour Party is a place where black and Asian members are at last on a level playing field.
Unfortunately, a few party members (and a couple of candidates) have been reluctant to accept the result and have alleged that some of the support for Bangladeshi candidates must have come from personators (non-party members claiming the identity of party members who were away). The London Region supervised the voting and all members had to produce photo-ID before they could vote, precisely to guard against such allegations: the Region should publicly dismiss these slurs on their ability to vet photo-ID.
Islamophobia is alive and well in the media, chiefly the Telegraph, whose London editor Andrew Gilligan has made a string of racist assertions about Lutfur and the Labour Party which have been repeated in the local press. That the media can attempt to divide the community is shameful.
Why did you want to be Labour’s candidate for Mayor of Tower Hamlets?
I’ve lived in this borough for most of my life and I’ve experienced the gains made under Labour – as well as the human cost when services don’t deliver. I will fight tooth and nail to stop Labour’s improvements in housing, education, community safety and community cohesion being lost to the swingeing cuts already being made by the ConDem Coalition, which is being driven more by reckless ideology than economic necessity.
You were leader of Tower Hamlets Council for two years, up to last May. What were your achievements?
It was still a priority to run an efficient administration, but what I tried to bring to the Council was an understanding that when Labour Group had a political priority, we wanted officers to help us implement it. For example, the Council had been trying to sell off the Bancroft Road Library building, which would have left our local history resources homeless – inspiring a strong, popular campaign to save the library. I felt we should listen to that campaign, and we found a way to keep the library in public hands. We also made our lifesaving Telecare alarms free for pensioners, and we were the first Labour Council to implement the London Living Wage.
We invested in schools and youth services, which led to a massive improvement in CGSE results as well as giving young people positive ways to spend their time. We also invested in housing, resulting in hundreds of overcrowded families being rehoused. We did all this while also freezing Council Tax increases for 2009-10.
How did the community react to these new priorities?
In May’s election, Labour won 41 out of 51 seats (up from 26 seats in 2006). I think this shows that East End people back this kind of progressive, social democratic agenda. They certainly prefer it to the cuts now being made by the ConDem Coalition. Neither David Cameron nor Nick Clegg uttered a word during the General Election about increasing VAT, capping housing benefit or slashing the Council’s budget – yet that’s what the Government has done.
The mayoral election, on 21st October, will be a referendum on that programme. The new Mayor of Tower Hamlets has to lead the public campaign against these cuts, made up of our own coalition of Labour Party members, trade unionists and our community.
A directly elected Mayor must ensure the Council’s own services improve and deliver better value for money. However, the Mayor must also have a mandate to defend other public services too.
We have had some inspiring labour movement figures in Tower Hamlets: Annie Besant, Will Crooks, Keir Hardie, George Lansbury and Clem Attlee, who stood up for the East End and wrung concessions from reactionary Tory and Liberal governments. That is what Labour will have to do again today.
STOP PRESS: Since giving this interview to Briefing, Lutfur has been removed as Labour’s candidate by Labour’s NEC, who have imposed their own stooge candidate instead. See Newsflash below.
Other highlights of our October Labour Party section include:
Fighting the Con Dem Coalition’s cuts
Two Labour Councillors contribute a view from the Town Hall. The Isle of Wight’s Geoff Lumley, in the second year of his second term as a left Labour councillor, having been re-elected in 2009 with an 11% swing to Labour, writes about building strong community campaigns. (Follow Geoff’s work on http://geofflumley.blogspot.com/) Newly elected Andy Walker writes about the surprise of being propelled to victory in an unwinnable seat in the London Borough of Redbridge on the wave of the General Election turnout, writes about his first impressions of organising community campaigning as an elected councillor.
Unity and political direction – a strategy for resistance
Owen Jones, Hackney North & Stoke Newington CLP, argues that the building of a mass movement against the cuts requires a coherent political leadership.
“With Labour the only game in town, any movement that emerges must be directed towards to it,” Owen concludes. “We must argue for Labour to provide an alternative for working people against a Government vandalising the country’s social infrastructure. Polling evidence showing that it was working class, rather than middle class, voters who have abandoned Labour since 1997 should be at the centre of our arguments. It is not a strategy with any certainty of success: but, as over a century of failed sect-building has shown, it is the only chance that the left has.”
Bringing the Party into disrepute
Marshajane Thompson argues that Phil Woolas should be facing a challenge over his conduct from within the labour movement, not just the Election Court, for his racist and inflammatory General Election leaflets.