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Labour versus Labour in Tower Hamlets

Ken Livingstone, Labour candidate for London Mayor and leading member of Labour’s national executive, was in Tower Hamlets today, campaigning with a Labour candidate for mayor of Tower Hamlets. The candidate selected by Labour members in Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, that is, not the one rejected by Labour members in Tower Hamlets, Helal Abbas. Mr Abbas, you may remember, was the one who came third but is the “official Labour candidate”. All credit to Ken — on a day a poll shows him neck and neck in the battle for London, he’s still sticking his neck out for a cause that he believes in even though the party is reported to have expelled eleven people for doing the same.

Ken said Labour had made “a big mistake” in removing Mr Rahman as its candidate:

It took five years to put the Labour Party back together after George Galloway defeated Oona King down here. All that was blown away in a moment of madness by Labour’s NEC.”

Ken’s view is in direct contradiction to the appeal of local MP, Rushanara Ali, made last week headed Uniting the East End: A call to action in Tower Hamlets. Rushanara described Labour’s victory last May, electing two Labour MPs and a Labour council, seeing off Respect (although some former Respect councillors had been imposed by regional officals as Labour candidates) as:

the people of Tower Hamlets rejected the politics of division and joined with us backing our Labour vision of a united East End”

The reality is that the unity of the East End has been shattered by party officals and local MPs  interfering in the selection of a mayoral candidate by local members. Respect supporters, having been returning to the Labour fold, are once again moved to oppose an “official” Labour candidate. Labour party members are demoralised. The majority supported Lutfur in the selection and continue to do so. Some of those who didn’t support Lutfur are still demoralised by what has happened and have refrained from involvement in the campaign.  Other members have loyally campaigned for a candidate they don’t support. Lutfur and all his supporters remain essentially loyal to Labour and hope to be allowed to return. They have no interest in any party outside Labour.

The constituency secretary, Stephen Beckett, a member of Tower Hamlets Labour Party for thirty years, has himself, it seems, been expelled from the party for supporting Lutfur (though no-one from the party has seen fit to tell him). He points out the unanimity of opposition to outside interference in the selection of a mayoral candidate:

On 22nd July (the last time the party’s GC was able to meet), it passed  without dissent an emergency motion of no confidence in the London Labour Party’s conduct of the shortlisting process. At this well attended meeting, delegates expressed their frustration with those handling the process – not a single delegate spoke against the motion which was then sent to the NEC calling for an investigation. No reply or acknowledgement has ever been received.

He also throws some light on what he thinks lies behind   that interference:

For years I have heard members whisper to me that “the Bangladeshis” do not want to participate in the life of the party and are only interested in packing the membership with votes to support their favoured candidates. Yet when they do participate, they are then accused of having a secret agenda – dammed if they do participate and dammed if they don’t!

Stephen sent a statement to local members when he heard news of his own expulsion.

The sensible thing in the face of such division is what Ken Livingstone previously called for:

I hope both Helal Abbas and Lutfur Rahman will ask their supporters to use their second preferences for each other to demonstrate that it is possible for politics in this borough to move forward following the election.

A united Tower Hamlets ought to be the objective of everyone – we should not allow how Labour’s NEC has handled this to divert us from this objective.

As with my election as an independent in 2000, there must be no wave of expulsions of those who have campaigned for Lutfur Rahman’s candidacy. I want to see the door left open for those councillors who have resigned the party whip to return so that whoever is elected can be sure that there is a strong Labour group that will work with the Mayor to ensure the needs of Tower Hamlets comes first and we reunite the local party once the dust has settled.”

4 Comments

  1. Jon Lansman says:

    Readers might also want to follow this debate at Liberal Conspiracy and at Luke Akehurst’s blog.

    At LibCon, Sunder Katwala of the Fabians, whilst being critical of Ken, predicts that no action will be taken against him. Luke Akehurst argues that “if you don’t get selected, however unfair you think the process or decision has been, you take it on the chin.” I disagree with that and ask in whose interest and on whose instructions have party staff been acting in Tower Hamlets to exclude Lutfur at every stage?

  2. Darrell says:

    On this I have a mixed view. How the central Party and others have behaved is deplorable and in that sense Ken is right. However, its wrong that he is not subject to the same rules as the rest of us and for him to act like he is because he knows they cant touch him.

    Still if it strikes a blow against this silly meddleing by the party in local selections I guess the double-standard is a price worth paying…

  3. Labourvoter says:

    Ken’s contribution is welcome because it shows that there are some in the Labour Party who do respect democracy and are principled.
    Happily the field hasn’t been left to the careerists and manipulators; if there is to be a Labour renewal then the participation of those like Ken will be vital.

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