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On Ken and Lutfur and winning London

“Under Ed Miliband, Labour lost Scotland. Now under his leadership, Labour has lost London”. This could very well be one of the top lining political stories in a year’s time, and while it is easy to look into a crystal ball and easier still to paint a bleak picture, Labour is facing a much tougher battle that it thinks to depose Mayor Boris Johnson next Spring.

For a start there are the irreconcilables. The assorted  figures from the ancient New Labour regime who have never accepted that their candidate Oona King lost to Ken Livingstone. They aren’t reconciled to the fact that Ed, not David, is leader of the Labour Party. For them simply proving a point by sitting on their hands will be enough to say in a year’s time “We told you so!” Their eye is on the next Mayoral elections when if they have their way Labour will field a candidate to their liking. And that candidate, at the moment at least, is Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham. In the months ahead they will be doing as little as possible to help Ken and Labour. Their political bedfellows north of the border in Scotland have shown them how to lose, and how to lose so badly that it may take a generation for Labour to regain its place as the voice of Scotland.

Then there is Boris Johnson. Labour people may scoff and pour scorn on the tousled haired toff, but a good part of London – especially young London – appears to have come round to him. Labour people may ask what he has done for London, and others may have difficulty in finding an answer. But somehow, even as Boris Johnson has his eye on a bigger prize in Downing Street, the mood music runs in his favour.

And then there is Ken Livingstone, still popular, still the vote winner that Labour for so long didn’t seem to want when Tony Blair was in his pomp. Older now, and wiser, his appeal remains powerful. But this time around, Ken needs Labour rather than Labour needs Ken. Officially the party is standing four square behind Ken, but so far the campaign seems strangely muted. The question is; does Ed Miliband realise just how much the future of his leadership hangs on Ken beating Boris?

There are lots of groups Labour needs to mobilise if it is to take power in London again. One of those pivotal groups is the BAME communities of inner and east London and the satellite boroughs. Ken Livingstone remains popular especially in the sizeable British Bangladeshi community and amongst Muslims in general. Traditionally their support is both solid and sizeable. Many community leaders want to work for Livingstone and raise funds, and yet there is an elephant in the room that is thus far preventing them in the shape of the party bosses who have yet to declare the open season on Britain’s first elected BAME Mayor, Lutfur Rahman, over.

Rahman is a talismanic figure in his community. Many are proud that he defied the odds – and Labour’s creaking old machine – to become Britain’s first Muslim Mayor of inner city Tower Hamlets. But he and his supporters are still banned from the Labour Party whose attempts to police and control the borough have now so signally failed, and after well over a decade of trying. Rahman has become a useful whipping boy for the far Right. As far as they are concerned he could carry on wearing a thousand armistice poppies and attend Royal Wedding parties till the end of time, but for them this essentially politically moderate figure is an Islamic extremist. Playing second fiddle to them are local politicians who should know better and figures such as Harriet Harman, who apart from anything else haven’t computed the Mayoral election number game.

Rahman and his supporters matter, as they can bring with them tens of thousands of votes from across East London and beyond. Despite still being expelled from Labour, recently Lutfur and colleagues flooded Leicester and helped ensure a Labour win at the by election and for the new city Mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby. They would like to do the same for Ken, but until they are allowed to return that is not going to happen.

Politics, as always is local. In a tightly fought contest, the votes of London’s BAME minority could prove crucial. Other groups of voters are just as crucial; it is just that Ken, Labour – and Ed Miliband need them all.

Ed Miliband wants Labour to win London back, but in order to do so he is going to have to start showing some real leadership. He needs to galvanise Labour’s supporters in the capital and he needs to make it clear to the irreconcilables that he expects them to work hard for Ken and Labour. He needs to be seen out on the streets more with Ken. He also needs to make it clear that the days of the party overplaying its heavy, clumsy hand in places like Tower Hamlets are over.  He could begin by showing Mayor Rahman the hand of friendship and let him and his supporters return to Labour.


  1. Forlornehope says:

    Wasn’t it Kinnock who said “Everybody likes Ken, except those who actually know him.”?

  2. Dan McCurry says:

    Everyone in Tower Hamlets thinks of Lutfur as being the Labour bloke. The fact is that politics got out of hand and it created a mess. It’s about time we cleaned it up. Let’s have him back.

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