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Tower Hamlets Labour, which side are you on?

Two weeks ago, the Campaign for Labour Democracy’s AGM passed a motion calling for Lutfur Rahman, the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, to be readmitted to the party and for a full investigation into events since the disastrous 2010 selection process that led to this former Labour council leader standing as an independent and winning against an imposed Labour candidate – Helal Abbas.

The investigation was promised by the NEC back in 2010 but has never happened. Although Ed Miliband and Iain McNicol have made it clear that the debacle would never have happened on their watch, party members are still waiting to find out how a candidate that secured the Labour candidacy in a landslide party members contest (433 votes to second placed John Biggs’s 251) was deselected after being smeared by third-placed Abbas.

Local Blairites have been so eager to suppress the goings on in Tower Hamlets that they used procedural obstacles to prevent a motion being raised at the last NEC that, with the support of Unite and other unions, would have seen Rahman back in the party.

So what has been going on exactly? Well, on Thursday night the council will hold a second budget meeting – the second meeting is needed because the opposition Labour group is threatening to block Mayor Lutfur’s budget.

‘How could they?’ I hear you cry. Haven’t they kicked half of the Labour group out for supporting Lutfur? Don’t you need a 2/3 majority to block an executive mayor’s budget?

Well, in Tower Hamlets, the opposition Labour group don’t need a 2/3 majority because they have formed a voting pact with the David Cameron’s Tories. Working closely with the local Tory leader and Boris’ muck-raking hack-for-hire Andrew Gilligan, they’ve repeatedly joined forces to scupper Labour policies just because Lutfur’s the one proposing them.

As a Labour party member, I found the first budget meeting an embarrassing spectacle. Outgoing Labour Group Leader Joshua Peck spoke of runaway spending and black holes in the budget: rhetoric we hear every day from George Osborne attacking the Labour Party, as he proposed to put money earmarked for the elderly and disabled back into the reserves.

To make things worse, the meeting descended into chaos (“scenes reminiscent of The Thick of It” is how the local paper put it) when it became clear that Cllr Peck couldn’t command his group to vote for their own budget amendment.

Evenually, after slagging-off the Council’s returning officer (someone they appointed just a month ago) they got their act together.

So what were they fighting for?

Well, they want to follow Eric Pickles’ lead and cut the council’s free paper. They’re also attacking the Mayor’s staff and events for the elderly and disabled. As for the newspaper, Peck is on record defending it while Labour were still in charge and the council claim that it runs at zero net cost.

Apparently half a dozen jobs are on the line if the paper is cut: the trade unions are furious.

And the Mayor’s team? Well, there’s no doubt they’re easy targets – nobody wants to spend on back-room staff over the front line. But you get the feeling they’re using the cuts as cover for a spiteful attack on the people that beat them in 2010.

Lutfur is the first ever black elected Mayor. Under him, and with the help of that very team whose jobs the opposition want to axe, there have been only 25 compulsory redundancies since 2010, no closures of libraries (unlike Brent which closed six) or youth clubs (unlike Haringey) or children’s centres – in fact Lutfur’s opened children’s centres, youth clubs and libraries.

Tower Hamlets is almost alone in Britain as a council still offering free homecare for the elderly and vulnerable, and in having absorbed the cut in council tax benefit rather than passing it on to poor ratepayers. Universal free school meals for infants. 100% of social housing will be brought up to Decent Homes standard by 2015, and they’re building more homes than any other council in Britain. Hey, they’ve even brought back Aim Higher and the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA).To me it looks like an ambitious fightback: proof that progressive councils can stand up to Tory austerity. But for some reason, the national party is letting our local mob wreak havoc.

The council meets again on Thursday to go over the budget again. I know I’m not the only party member who wants to know which side my councilors are on and whether they’ll work with the Tories again to block what looks like a solid progressive budget.

17 Comments

  1. Dave says:

    “Working closely with the local Tory leader and Boris’ muck-raking hack-for-hire Andrew Gilligan, they’ve repeatedly joined forces to scupper Labour policies”

    No surprises here – the Labour Right are on the attack.

    Comments from the ambitious Jim Murphy* on the importance of winning the Tory vote are part of the same assault on Labour. For Labour’s Right there is a strange recursive logic about this approach: don’t offer an alternative but instead become like those you oppose – side with Tories.

    * http://labourlist.org/2013/03/jim-murphy-attacks-lazy-labour/

  2. George says:

    Labour in TH are on the side of the residents. Lutfur is just on the side of himself.

    I’m really bored with purported leftists banging on about Lutfur all the time. On what grounds is he meant to be some hero of the left? He manifestly has no principles over and above making himself look important at residents’ expense. Fleets of taxis, advisors, chauffered Mercs, policitcal ads on TV, lavish office refurbs, splurges of cash for religious groups; all paid for by things like a recruitment freeze on social workers putting severe pressure on those working with the most vulnerable people in the borough, and slashing grants to respected advice services that fight benefit changes throwing people into destitution.

    The reason Labour opposed his budget is that his flurry of pre-election spending means a £45m shortfall in revenue as soon as the reserves get used up, meaning ginormous cuts in services equivalent to a 1/3 rise in council tax in 2015. In what possible sense is such recklessness in the interests of residents?

    His housing claims are particularly laughable. Lutfur has built exactly ZERO homes. The council’s new homes bonus recepits come from private developers and RSLs housebuilding – none of it had anything to do with the mayor. He was only prevented from selling 12 desperately needed family houses by the work of Labour cllrs.

    That Rahman’s opponets are Blairites is a bit of a weird slur, when Rahman embodies many of the same atributes of superficiality, spin and averice as Blair. I certainly couldn’t stomache joining the party until after Blair left.

    And I’m not sure what his ethnicity has to do with the price of fish. Is the implication that Labour members, including Bengali members, are against Lutfur on racist grounds? Or you have different standards you’d hold people from different ethnicities to?

    Whatever you think of the last selection, what’s the sense of picking over it all now? The NEC will take a view if and when Lutfur reapplies. In the mean time, wouldn’t it be a better use of people’s energy to campaign against this malevolent government, or to work out practical policy to make people’s lives better? It seems like a waste of anger, just turning it in on ourselves.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      George:

      Lutfur is just on the side of himself” – How do you know? How can anyone know this? I tend to think that virtually all elected politicians, including Tories, have some kind of underlying commitment to public service, to their community. Why is it necessary to resort to a personal attack on unknowable grounds? If some politicians are overly concerned with their status – though I have no reason to accuse Lutfur Rahman of this – it certainly includes some Labour politicians I have met.

      On what grounds is he meant to be some hero of the left?” Who says he is? So far as I know, he voted for David Miliband to be Leader in 2010. As far as I’m concerned, that does not make him a hero of the Left. The point about Lutfur is not that he is perfect, nor that he is some kind of hero, but that he is the victim of a miscarriage of justice. He was selected as a Labour candidate, in spite of repeated attempts to prevent him being so, and then he was de-selected on the basis of flimsy (my judgement, based on reading them) last minute accusations from people with a vested interest, one of whom was them imposed as the candidate. To the extent that they have been investigated (in relation to alleged membership irregularities), they have been found to be groundless. But they have not been properly investigated, although I understand that no-one on Labour’s national executive in January pretended that the executive had handled the matter well or properly.

      Why should an investigation wait until Lutfur reapplies? If he has been unfairly accused, he deserves an apology and an invitation to re-join. But Labour also has good reason for its own sake to resolve the division of Labour’s ranks in Tower Hamlets. We stand a very good chance of losing the election yet again next year. We will, in any case, distance ourselves from many thousands of people who will vote for Lutfur, seeing, as I do, a Mayor who is implementing a whole range of progressive policies, policies indistinguishable from Labour polices, most of which were Labour polices, but ones which we are now opposing. Unfortunately, we appear to have missed the opportunity to avoid another damaging contest between people who are essentially on the same side.

      When it comes the election next year, I will, as a Labour Party member in Tower Hamlets, campaign for Labour Party candidates. I will, however, be giving my second preference vote in the mayoral election to Lutfur Rahman. Since I believe I am allowed to do so under Labour Party rules, I plan to urge others to do likewise, and I cannot understand how any Labour Party member could justify doing anything else.

  3. Stuart Madewell says:

    George’s comments shows both his ignorance and his xxxxxx. As far as Housing is concerned NO Local authority has built any homes because of the Tory government. All housebuilding is bring constructed by Private developers or RSL’s working together.
    Lutfer’s claim to have built 3000 homes is a fact in the sense that those are the homes RSL’s have constructed in agreement with the mayor.#
    The mayor negotiates with RSL’s to get the maximum number of social housing units built in any development.
    RSL’s can only build the social housing required by developing and selling other housing units which then cross subsidise the social homes.
    Thats the way anyone builds homes under a Tory government.

    The problem is that the Tory Government and Boris Johnson are trying to pressurise councils like TH to build more properties for sale and less social housing and they are also pressurising the RSL’s to rent out their social homes at 80% of the market rent.

    TH council has a policy (which Labour proposed) opposing the Tory version of ‘affordable rents’ . This is what Tory minister Brandon Lewis is opposed to and why he’s attacking our council.

    For the TH Labour Group to now be joining forces with the Tories is bizarre and is precisely the point the article makes.

    Finally, an observation to the moderator of Left futures, the battle in Tower Hamlets is not a left vs Right dispute. There are people on both sides

  4. George says:

    Thanks for your comments Stuart.

    Regarding Lutfur’s claims to have built 3372 homes in 2011-2012 – that is the total for all homes built in the borough. Only 294 were any sort of affordable homes. So in what way can Lutfur take credit for the rest? He’d even given you the impression that these were all his doing. Don’t you think that this kind of, erm, lack of clarity, is at all problematic?

    Obviously he’s working in a context of extreme cuts to everything, and harmful Boris meddling, but Islington have built 23 council homes, and Southwark are going to build a thousand!

  5. Stuart Madewell says:

    £165m was obtained in January which is going to be invested in the council’s stock. 8000 homes will receive decent homes work in the next 3 years.

    Approximately 20 new council homes have been built on some sites in the borough.

    I dispute George’s figure of 294. However it is very difficult to obtain accurate information as the definition of ‘affordable’ varies from scheme to scheme.

    George’s claim that grants to advice services have been cut is false. His claim about a vacancy freeze is true.

    George and his friends can work themselves into a lather about the wasteful expenditure. And yes it is wrong that money was wasted on taxi fares and IMHO it should be paid back. But that does not justify the Labour Group joining forces with the Tories.

    George also calls for us to work on practical policies to make peoples lives better. How about supporting TH Energy co-op supported by the Mayor and opposed by Labour.

    Or free school meals for all primary children from next September. Proposed by the Mayor dismissed as a pre-election stunt by Labour.

    Or replacing the EMA brought in by Labour, cut by the Tories and reintroduced in a modified form by the Mayor. Dismissed as yet another publicity gimmick by Josh Peck and the Labour Group

  6. Robbie Scott says:

    Jon Lansman : “The point about Lutfur is not that he is perfect, nor that he is some kind of hero, but that he is the victim of a miscarriage of justice”.

    Well he’s just going to have to live with being a victim of a miscarriage of justice then. His position would be far more credible if he didn’t stand against the party. Given the controversy over the selection lets for arguments sake let him off because of his ‘miscarriage of justice’.

    Why did he campaign against the Labour party and openly back not one but two candidates who stood against the Labour party last year? A Respect candidate and a ‘Independent candidate’ ? If there was a case for letting him back in in 2010 he’s kind of blown it don’t you think ? Or should we forgive him those transgressions too?

  7. Imran Khan says:

    I am assuming that this article has been written by Jon Lansman although there is no claim to it. Why he and the obscure far left are still supporting Rahman is anyone’s guess. When Livingstone recently tried to get him back in the Labour fold he was laughed out of the NEC and rightly so.

    Rahman has been exposed since before he took office as pawn of the Islamic Forum Europe and a gang of corrupt local businessmen. This is beyond doubt, not that facts have ever seemed to bother Lansman and co.

    Tower Hamlets have not built a council house since the 1970’s. All social housing is built by ALMOs and housing associations with Rahman claiming the credit. Look on the website of Spitalfields Housing Association where he turned up to the opening of one of their new blocks and claimed the credit for it.

    Very large numbers of councils across the country have held down council tax and maintained services, Rahman has been slashing services in order to fund the extremist groups that turn out the blocks of votes that propelled him into power.

    Neither neighbouring mayor from Hackney or Newham will have anything to do with him as will neither of the two local MPs one of whom is of Bangladeshi origin.

    The blog by a locally based journalist Ted Jeory is a litany of Rahman’s incompetency and corruption as story after story reveals how he has turned the borough into a corrupt third world style dictatorship.

    The response of the far left has been to claim that it is all a New Labour/Tory/Islamophobic/racist conspiracy. No wonder and thank God that the far left are so marginal in our society.

  8. Gerry says:

    Lutfur Rahman – what a polarising figure!

    Is he?
    a)
    Extremist self-publicist and not-so-secret-Islamist, backed by vile jihadis like the Islamic Forum of Europe?

    Or
    b)
    Brave democratic socialist holding back the austerity mongers in Tower Hamlets?

    Noone can deny that much of TH’s politics is influenced by the Bangladeshi secular vs Islamist struggle which has existed since Bangladesh’s independence in 1971 (which the Islamists opposed and committed war crimes like rape, mass murder and torture to try to keep Bangladesh as part of Pakistan)..and it is also clear that the heirs of political Bangladeshi Islam in the very extreme form of the Islamic Forum of Europe who control the East London Mosque, all these groups overtly back and support Rahman: fact.

    This alone should make any Labour or left or even merely progressive person wary of hitching a ride on his chauffeur driven taxi.

    Conclusion? Those – like Respect and Lutfur Rahman – who directly or indirectly use religion and religious extremism to get into power..should not be supported by ANY progressive left or centre left party.

  9. John Reid says:

    The idea
    That Blairites don’t want the left rejoining the party , reminds me of Blair wanting living stone to rejoin and Gordon brown, kinnock ,Denis skinner and Michael cash man not wanting him to rejoin,

  10. Gary Elsby says:

    I had to laugh at the opening comment that under Ed Miliband, ‘It wouldn’t happen on his watch’.

    For those who know very little, his watch spanned the many years preceding Labour’s demise in 2010.

    Oh, and by the way, it wasn’t him or Ed Balls who dropped the 10p tax and caused a fiasco.

    Ed and Ed where advising who, on what, prior to 2010?

  11. oldford1 says:

    Terry (Imran Khan)

    We’ll take no lectures from you – you’ve been convicted in a British court for using words like n***** and p***.

    Why are you so obsessed with Muslims?

  12. Tower Hamlets Underground says:

    What a xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. The bit where it says Lutfur is the “first elected black mayor” made me laugh. So he’s “black” now. Right. Okay then.

    This isn’t about race but Lutfur and his allies are desperate to make out that it is. There is no common ground between what Lutfur is up to and typical “black” issues. This is about politics. It is about the misuse of public money and political fraud. It is about the poisoning of young minds. It is about the dodgy friends Lutfur keeps, the use of public money to pay for partisan broadcasts and propaganda newspapers to assist his re-election and it is about the systematic and racist redistribution of public money

    To divert attention there is this vast exercise to confuse the issues using increasingly desperate smoke and mirror exercises. Hence the use of the word “black”.

    It is not working Lutfur. It is all unravelling. The politically aware know what you and your pals are up to – you’ve been rumbled. Just saying.

  13. Gerry says:

    Tower Hamlets Underground – very true!

    Lutfur Rahman is playing exactly the same sectarian, racist game as Galloway’s Respect do..allying with hard-right islamic fascists, putting them in positions of power in the borough,

    How can any person who calls themselves a socialist line up with and even vote for this horrific mayor and his jihadi friends, who explicitly have said that their primary goal is to “spread sharia” and hardcore Islamism as far as possible in Tower Hamlets?

  14. oldford1 says:

    Sorry Gerry,

    what positions of power has he put hard-right islamic fascists into?

    and where have his ‘jihadi friends’ ‘explicitly said’ that their primary goal is to “spread sharia” and hardcore Islamism as far as possible in Tower Hamlets? could you give us a link?

  15. Imran Khan says:

    oldford1. Could you explain that strange contribution?

  16. Matty says:

    The stuff from the anti-Lutfur people looks a bit rabid. Lots of assertions but no evidence to back it up. Let’s see if oldford1 at 1:45pm gets a serious answer.

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