With the Tower Hamlets mayoral election round the corner, Dilly Hussain questions whether another ‘coup’ awaits Lutfur Rahman’s successor
A fortnight ago, mimicking similar moves against the then Mayor Lutfur Rahman, a rather mean-spirited letter was sent by a resident from Tower Hamlets to Eric Pickles at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). The letter asks the Minister, who now directly runs Tower Hamlets council, to disqualify Rabina Khan as a mayoral candidate for the upcoming elections next month on the grounds of “ineligibility”. The letter appeared on the Love Wapping website, which also published “new” allegations of corruption against Rabina Khan. With a misogynistic tone, uppity white privileged Mark Baynes called Rabina a “puppet”.
The Love Wapping website, along with local journalist Ted Jeory, were instrumental in bringing the former Mayor Lutfur Rahman down. Both websites published allegation after allegation, which with the admission of the electoral court judge, Richard Mawrey, helped him form a picture outside the evidence presented in the court. It is worth noting that the same group of “concerned citizens” were silent during the years of alleged Labour corruption under Michael Keith, and the openly bigoted administration run by Jeremy Shaw of the Liberal Democrats in the 1980s.
The illustrious Ted Jeory has recently asked his readers and “informants” to provide him with information with regards to the financial dealings of Rabina Khan and her husband Amirul Khan. For good measure, he linked Rabina’s husband to the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), his phantom nemesis. Knowing the poisonous nature of Tower Hamlets politics, and given the fact that both Rabina and her husband were former elected party members of the Tower Hamlets Labour Party, it is a dead certainty that emails and data, alleging all sorts of misdemeanours, will be finding their way to Ted Jeory’s email box. There is a notional truth to the Green Party’s quite gutless and whitewashed dismissal of the coup as an internal Labour problem gone awry.
With regards to a potential electoral petition against Rabina, a petition could be filed by any four residents. As we saw over the recent court case, there are plenty of politicians and business people with axes to grind and interests to cultivate.
It is likely, given the current grumblings against Rabina Khan from the establishment and her opponents in the borough, that a petition, or related lawfare would be filed against her should she win the election. An (in)famous example of this unfolded in 1961, when Tony Benn was removed from an elected office after he had won, when it was successfully argued that he was “ineligible” to stand.
Mayoral informal primaries hotting up
In the meantime, community organisations and activists are actively debating potential unifying candidates, free from allegations of corruption and racism. Ajmal Masroor’s proposed candidacy is causing much stir, prompting both hope and fears of a vote split that would empower Labour for four more years of business as usual. It is reported that Masroor is steadily garnering support, prompting calls for Tower Hamlets First to approach him and come to a compromise. Even the timing of the court judgement and mayoral election reruns are insidious, paralysing Tower Hamlets First’s parliamentary ambitions, and giving their disenfranchised voters very little time to debate, consider and nominate candidates.
Local Labour Party activists are unhappy with John Biggs being enforced on them without a formal local selection process. Biggs is seen as a controversial figure even within the Labour Party. Just a few days before polling in 2014, Labour’s Sadiq Khan and his team of volunteers pulled out, leaving Biggs to rely on Robin Wales in Newham, to bus in canvassers of ‘colour’ to help him with his campaign.
One name that was being touted as an individual that could heal the wounds was Shiria Khatun, current Labour councillor. She grew up locally and has been active in working with social landlords on local issues. Given the treatment the Labour Party and establishment has given to the last ethnic minority member who defied their will, it's a sure bet she will not be raising her head above the parapet.
Another name that has been mooted is that of Danny Boyle, of Slum Dog Millionaire. Boyle has a long relationship with the borough, maintains an active interest in it and has the support of local activists and third sector organisations.
Whoever captures the throne in Tower Hamlets in June, it is an undeniable fact that they will have an enormous task at hand in uniting the feuding stakeholders for the betterment of the borough.
On a more specific note,the dismissal of London's first elected Muslim mayor by the Election Court should be a warning sign for aspiring Muslim politicians that the slightest inkling of disloyalty to the secular liberal establishment, can lead to the lightning end of one's political career.
Dilly Hussain is the deputy editor of British Muslim news site 5Pillars. He is also a political blogger for the Huffington Post, a features writer for Al Jazeera English specializing in human rights, and contributor for the Foreign Policy Journal. He regularly appears on Islam Channel, Russia Today, BBC One, BBC Look East, BBC South and BBC radio stations discussing Middle East and North African politics, as well as domestic stories concerning British foreign policy, Islamophobia and the war on terror.