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Labour & Tower Hamlets: Patronising – or just plain racist?

It’s over a decade now since the last time Labour members in Tower Hamlets were last allowed to properly select their council candidates so we should not be surprised at another stitch-up. However, the latest shenanigans takes it all to a higher, more dangerous level.  For the selection of the candidate for Mayor of Tower Hamlets, the shortlist imposed on local members includes only three names: two from the local Bangla community, seemingly chosen to minimise the chances of selecting a Bangla candidate, and one white. Both the current Leader of the Council and his predecessor, both from the Bangla community, were both excluded.

In the last round of council “selections”, local party members had no role: the panel was chosen by regional party appointees, and then allocated to wards by the Regional Director.  Councillors were often allocated to wards other than the ones in which they lived or represented, and in some cases only shortly before the close of nominations. Normally regional interference in council selections is designed to remove any voices critical of the council leadership but in this case, the whole exercise was designed to topple the then Leader of the Council, Lutfur Rahman, who was the runner up in the parliamentary selection in Bethnal Green and Bow.

Lutfur stood accused of being a little too closely associated with the East London Mosque, which is, amongst other things, the headquarters of the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE) which, alleges local MP Jim Fitzpatrick, is a fundamentalist group committed to the creation of an islamic state that “has been infiltrating and “corrupting” Labour like Militant did in the 1980s.” For good measure, the IFE is alleged to have helped George Galloway and Respect too. Andrew Gilligan has outlined various allegations against the IFE in the Daily Telegraph and a highly cntroversial and unconvincing Chanel 4 Dispatches, although Ken Livingstone,dismisses them out of hand:

This furore smacks of racism and Islamophobia. Of course Tower Hamlets council is not infiltrated by Islamists. Just because some people are Muslim and go to the mosque is not argument enough that they are Islamists.

Although Tower Hamlets is not without membership and voting irregularities, allegations have been made (but not necessarily substantiated) in many directions – including against Shiria Khatun who is one of the lucky shortlisted candidates for Mayor. Lutfur Rahman, a university-educated partner in a respected local law firm who had been happy to describe himself as “New Labour”, has been accused (publicly at least) of nothing more than associating with people who have themselves been accused of no crime. The first beneficiary of the selection shenanigans was Councillor Helal Abbas who duly became Leader after Labour’s spectacular council victory (the best result since the landslide of 1994 at the height of the then Tory Government’s unpopularity).

Meanwhile, the borough had voted to have a directly-elected Mayor. Labour’s policy (decided by the regional/national party without consultation locally) had been to oppose but, in Respect’s one victory of the night, the vote had gone in favour. Cllr Abbas would have been a strong candidate to be the candidate (indeed reports suggest that he has been announcing himself as such to community groups for some weeks) as would Cllr Rahman. The party bureacracy was clearly intent on stopping both. That decision is a disgrace.

In a borough in which only 42% of the population is white British and where Banglas are the clear majority of the rest, many people of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds feel that Labour should be standing a Bangla candidate – especially when Labour’s support among Banglas is so fragile and in the face of the continuing presence of Respect in spite of their recent defeat. To impose a shortlist of only three and deprive party members of the chance to select either of the two most prominent Bangla candidates is a clear attempt to prevent the selection of any Bangla candidate. No-one is fooled by the inclusion of two lesser known and less experienced Bangla candidates, Shiria Khatun and Sirajul Islam. At best, it is manipulative and intensely patronising of the Bangla community; at worst, it is simply racist. Former Council Leader and current London Assembly member, John Biggs, who is the third person on the shortlist is not implicated and will almost certainly win the selection ballot to be held on 17 July. The circumstances of the selection, unfortunately, will not help him win the election.


  1. Robert says:

    I was watching England V Bangladeshi cricket, during the break the TV went over to Tower Hamlets to show the pride and joy of the local community, Bangladeshi cricket teams, it was stated it was hoped that some of these players who now play in the Bangladeshi cricket would end up playing not for England but Bangladesh, he did say to wards the end mind you oh yes some lads might play for England, he then said we hope to have a London wide Bangladeshi cricket league up and running soon.

    I just thought if i was to try and run an English only cricket club I would be told I cannot do it, when I was running a local football club we were told to make sure more Asian were given a chance to play, which we did, now we have an Asian football league, and you have to be Asian to play for it.

    We talk about people integrating yet we have this.

  2. Masoom Ali says:

    This course that the Labour executives are taking is plain and clear racism, if Bengali people get involved with local democracy, and other people don’t then its only right they should have a fair chance to take up positions in that democratic process. This is the only borough where the members are not allowed to choose their labour party candidate. It was only because of RSPECT party that we have a Bengali MP, George Galloway promised to stand down after one term and allow a local person run for MP. This forced all other parties to put up worthy Bengali candidates, unlike what the Conservative and Lib-Dem were doing for years putting up the likes of Farook and Dulu. Labour put up a new face like Ali who was naturally going to win on the labour ticket. It seems the Labour Execs do everything they can to short-change the Bengalis. ITS NOT ON!!! ITS RACISM!!!

  3. kare says:

    I live in tower hamlets and can tell you now, it is a very different place to the one i grew up in. when I left school some 25 years ago there were 3 girls in my class who had been born in bengladash. They all wanted and did intergrate into society, none of them wore face covering or even a headscarf for that matter. Now it seems to me that people do not want to intergate and adopt a more western attitude. White British people feel very alienated in this borough there are lots of activities that are only for certain groups. Any club or group should be open to all .. exclsusion is wrong. I do not think that phone lines and forms should be in two languages as this again is discouraging people from learning english. Nearly all jobs advertised working for tower hamlets council require bengali speaking applicants, this again is wrong and very racist to the rest of the community. It is very unsettling and very worrying and I am also told that unless you are a bengali you have no chance of even being able to join the labour party in tower hamlets.

  4. Abdul says:

    Muslim have been more then happy to open the door of their Mosques community centres, especially East London Mosque, to non-muslims but its this mosque that gets the most blame.

    Yes there is segregation between the different communities you cant just blame the Bengalis for that. The likes of Andrew Gilligan et al are also responsible for driving a wedge between the muslim community and the non-muslim

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