Ken Livingstone, who has developed a healthy respect for Ed Miliband, told the BBC Today programme earlier this week that his only criticism of the Labour leader was that he paid too much credence to “discredited Blairites”. There are a number of reasons as to why Labour did well in London, yet Ken Livingstone lost, and one of the reasons is that a good number of unreconstructed Blairites either refused to work for Livingstone, or worse still refused to vote for him or indeed voted for anyone but Livingstone.
Had Livingstone lost by a large margin, the refusenik New Labourites wouldn’t have counted for much. But it was a narrow loss, and Livingstone’s loss is Labour’s loss and London’s loss. In the London Borough of Tower Hamlets for instance, it has been reported that Livingstone leaflets went undelivered and that some of the Labour councillors did little or nothing to help the Mayoral campaign.
Instead, resources and effort was poured into a local by-election, because the Weavers ward by election, held on the same day as the London Mayoral election, was seen as a trial of strength between Labour and supporters of the Independent Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman.
This parochial row has deep roots, and Livingstone’s support for Rahman is frequently cited as the reason why some in Tower Hamlets Labour Party appear to hate Livingstone more than Johnson. One, a former CLP chair had been quoted as saying; “I’d rather stick hot needles in my eyes“, than canvass for Livingstone. This whole debilitating row, which should have been put to bed long ago, probably helped – along with other factors – helped to ensure a lower than expected turn-out for Livingstone in Tower Hamlets and contributed to his defeat.
Rahman was auto excluded from the Labour Party by the NEC after running as an Independent against the imposed Labour candidate, who Rahman had beaten into third place in a selection contest. There are plenty in Labour’s high command – along with Livingstone – who had wanted Ed Miliband to draw a line in the sand over the Tower Hamlets farrago and order all of the warring parties – once back inside the party – to get on with the job of delivering for people in London’s poorest borough. But sadly, it appears it is back to business as usual.
The latest row surrounds the appointment of Aman Dalvi OBE as Chief Executive of the Borough, in what should now be a formality since an independent panel had come to the conclusion that Dalvi, already the interim Chief Executive, was a head and shoulders above the rest.
Dalvi, if he is confirmed as Chief Executive in a meeting of the full council on Wednesday evening, would be the East End of London’s first BME Chief Executive – a milestone achievement and at a time when the Olympic Games will showcase East End boroughs such as Tower Hamlets for the richness of their cultural and ethnic diversity. Except that this appointment is now in jeopardy from one or two local Labour figures including the leader of the Labour Group, Joshua Peck.
Peck blames the borough’s interim Chief Executive for the unravelling of a local political deal which would have had him – rather than the Mayor – joining the London Mayoral Development Corporation, which oversees much of the development of the Olympic Games site. Quite how Peck imagined he would be representing the borough on the MDC, when adjoining Newham is being represented by elected Mayor, Sir Robin Wales, is a moot point.
Nor is it the case that Dalvi ever sought to unravel a political deal that Peck has made with others in the Labour Party, since he had no knowledge of it. But in advance of Wednesday’s crucial meeting to decide whether Tower Hamlets can have a highly respected Chief Executive confirmed in office or go back to the drawing board, frustrated ambition is threatening to turn the meeting into a farce.
Sensible members of the Labour Group, who despite their differences with Rahman and his administration do not want to see Tower Hamlets turned into another laughing stock like Doncaster, are increasingly concerned that personality politics and ambition are now getting out of hand. Yet some will also be worried that should they break any order to vote Aman Dalvi’s appointment down, they could face de-selection by the party machine.
Can we but hope that sense prevails and after welcoming every new community to Britain since the 1700′s the East End finally will have its first BME CEO?