John Rees on the outrageous dismissal of Tower Hamlet's first elected Muslim Mayor
The Tower Hamlets electoral fraud trial was a political event from the beginning. Indeed, everything you need to know about the decision of High Court Judge Richard Mawrey to declare void the election of Britain's first Muslim Mayor is contained in his summary judgement. In it he said that Muslims in Tower Hamlets are 'not a real minority' because, apparently, there are so many of them in the borough.
Like the rest of his remarks it will fuel every racist stereotype that has ever been uttered about Tower Hamlets, and it will legitimise the long and disgraceful war by Tories, Lib-Dems and the local Labour Party to stop the rise of Bangladeshi representation in the area.
Let's think about the judge's remark for a moment. Does he imagine that discriminatory stop and search by the institutionally racist Metropolitan police ends at the boundaries of Tower Hamlets? Does he think that the Bangladeshis have left behind the poor housing and the run-down estates and are now living in the converted warehouses on the Thames or in Canary Wharf? Perhaps he fantasises that the rocketing figures for hate crime against Muslims only happens in country towns and not on the streets of Tower Hamlets?
Perhaps he might have stopped to ask himself why it is that Lutfur Rahman is the first elected Muslim Mayor. And, as a matter of fact, Bangladeshis are just 32 percent of the population in Tower Hamlets, and many of them are not registered to vote.
The judge's view is so baseless that perhaps we should not be surprised that he is refusing to issue the executive summary of his judgement that he read out in court.
And what of the main charge that Lutfur Raham used 'spiritual influence' to gain votes? The judge obviously imagines that Muslims are so backward and superstitious that they cannot make their up their minds how to vote without religious guidance, or to ignore such advice if they wish. How confusing it must have been for those Muslim electors in wards where the front-runners were both Muslims!
And in any case in every Tower Hamlets election Muslims vote for Labour in large numbers as well as for left of Labour candidates. The Mayoral election in which Lutfur Rahman became Mayor (for the second time) was no different.
And if the use of 'spiritual influence' in elections is enough to declare them void then there's going to be a few other results declared null...in Northern Ireland where the influence of Protestant and Catholic churches will remain enormous at the coming general election for instance. Perhaps the most amazing aspect is this spiritual law under which the judge issued his verdict is archaic, first introduced by the British in Ireland to stop Catholic preachers rallying the Irish! One doesn’t need much imagination to see how this legal relic will be used against Muslims.
Even more staggering is the judge's accusation that Lutfur Rahman 'played the race card'. Actually he played the anti-racist card against a Labour Party establishment which has long abused the loyalty of its supporters in Tower Hamlets.
And if 'playing the race card' is grounds for declaring an election void are we now going to see other candidates judged by this standard. Will UKIP councillors or MEPs be held to account? Or perhaps it’s only an accusation that applies to people who suffer racism.
The other ground for reversing the decision of the electorate was that there had been physical intimidation on polling day. But even this judge, reluctantly, had to agree that there were insufficient grounds for this accusation to be upheld.
That leaves the only meaningful charge being that of misusing funds. Yet that would have to be proved in the case of every single councillor for the election as a whole to be re-run, even if it could be agreed that this is grounds for re-running elections rather than a slap on the wrist that expense fiddling MPs receive.
The judgement comes after the stage had been set by Eric Pickles' decision to suspend some council functions to non-elected, government appointed commissioners. That was a declaration by the political establishment that it was open season in the hunt to dismiss the only effective left
of Labour council in the country. The general climate of Islamophobia (the Daily Express is already gloating) makes any accusation half believed even before it is investigated.
It is of a piece with the mounting establishment hostility to the SNP. The old system is fraying and any challenge to it is being met with a full force tide of reaction.
If the establishment gets away with removing one of the few councils that came to power by fighting racism and austerity, that has an admirable anti-war record, then the whole left will have suffered a setback and every racist in the country will be rejoicing.
We should not let that happen.
John Rees will be speaking at a public forum Why the election just go interesting: Scotland, austerity and Trident, 7pm tonight (Thurs 23 April), The Indian YMCA, 41 Fitzroy Street, London, W1T 6AQ.
John Rees is a writer, broadcaster and activist, and is one of the organisers of the People’s Assembly. His books include ‘The Algebra of Revolution’, ‘Imperialism and Resistance’, ‘Timelines, A Political History of the Modern World’, ‘The People Demand, A Short History of the Arab Revolutions’ (with Joseph Daher), ‘A People’s History of London’ (with Lindsey German) and The Leveller Revolution. He is co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition.