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The strange behaviour of Tower Hamlets Labour Group

Last week Tower Hamlets Labour group, myopic in their perpetual factionalism, joined forces with local Tories to vote down the annual budget proposed by the former Labour council leader and now independent mayor Lutfur Rahman, who of course was removed as Labour candidate by the National Executive Committee in the run up to the 2010 mayoral election, despite having been selected by a majority of local party members.

Lutfur’s budget was probably the most progressive of any council nationwide. It absorbs the Tory cut in council tax benefit rather than passing it on to poor ratepayers. It introduces universal free school meals for infants. A homelessness fund will mean that unlike in neighbouring boroughs, poor people will not be shipped out of London as a result of housing benefit changes. Lutfur’s administration is building more housing than any other council in Britain. Only Tower Hamlets has reinstated EMA and Aim Higher, scrapped nationally by the same people who Labour group leader Councillor Joshua Peck stood shoulder to shoulder with in the vote on Thursday.

The rationale offered by Peck was pure George Osborne; claiming runaway spending and a budget black hole. He couldn’t attack the council for cuts – since Lutfur has made fewer cuts than any other council – so they attacked him for not making cuts.

A leaked memo from Joshua Peck complained, “reading [Mayor Lutfur’s] budget papers, it’s as if we are still in the glory days of a Labour government.”

Surely that’s a good thing? A council protecting residents from Tory austerity?

Thankfully, the joint Labour-Tory amendment left precisely 99.97% of Mayor Lutfur’s spending plans intact: what clearer indicator could there be that this is not a disagreement on substance, but a mere opportunistic stunt?

But it still could mean job losses – most of them women, including two currently on maternity leave – and the council’s free newspaper, which keeps residents informed of social housing opportunities and other council services in a borough where many do not have the internet, is also under threat.

The local trade unions came to the meeting with a deputation, and Mayor Rahman urged the Labour group in vain to allow the shop stewards to speak.

The local tradition that gave us Attlee, Lansbury and the Poplar Rates Rebellion now puts two fingers up to Labour-affiliated trade unions and stands with the Tories to vote through job cuts.

Could there be a more depressing state of affairs?

One Comment

  1. Dave says:

    Standing shoulder to shoulder with Tories? It won’t be long before Peck gets his reward and is parachuted into a safe Labour seat.

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