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Whoever wins in Tower Hamlets, it’s time for Labour to heal the rift

United East End darkeningUntil today, I have avoided writing about the hard-fought election in Tower Hamlets in which Labour’s John Biggs, who I backed to be Labour’s candidate in this election, hoped to unseat as Mayor the incumbent, Lutfur Rahman, who I supported as Labour’s candidate four years ago. As a loyal Labour Party member who also wishes to see Lutfur Rahman readmitted to the party which I believe was responsible for a miscarriage of injustice against him, I’ve not participated in any campaigning in the borough in which I live.

It’s been a hard-fought but nasty fight (albeit not as nasty as it might have been) with accusations of racism flung by both sides, as was always going to be the case. Everyone has always known that the Bengali community would come out overwhelmingly for Rahman, and that their turnout would be what primarily gave him his victory if that was the outcome. And the Biggs path to victory depended on the white working class vote turning out, and quietly winning everyone else’s transfers.

Any such contest in solid Labour territory with such a clear racial divide will involve race cards being played. In the long run, such behaviour will undermine Labour support amongst BAME communities in and beyond Tower Hamlets. It must not be allowed to happen again, whoever wins.

For anyone unaware of the history (regular visitors should skip three paragraphs), Lutfur Rahman was initially kept off Labour’s shortlist in 2010 but, following the intervention of m’learned friends, was selected overwhelmingly by Labour Party members as their candidate. Shortly before nominations closed, however, he was dumped as their candidate by Labour’s national executive on the basis of a last minute dodgy dossier of old rehashed accusations and alleged membership irregularities later found to involve no wrong-doing. He was later replaced by his accuser against whom similar accusations were made in last year’s selection process.

Like Ken Livingstone when he was stitched up in the selection of London’s first mayoral candidate, Rahman decided to stand as an independent candidate, and he was elected by an even wider margin. No proper inquiry into the remaining accusations against Rahman has ever taken place. But by January 2013, in spite of informal contacts with Lutfur Rahman about the possibility of re-admitting him and his supporters to the party, and the fact that that most of its members realised  that they had acted improperly, Labour’s NEC decided to proceed to select a candidate for 2014 without considering Rahman’s treatment further.

None of this happened by accident or misunderstanding. The fact that the candidates imposed by party officials in 2010 ensured that Rahman (then Labour Group leader) would lose his majority, that he was kept off the imposed shortlist for Labour’s Mayoral candidate later that year, that the dodgy dossier was presented to the NEC at the last possible moment but not too late for his accuser’s nomination papers to be presented in time, all point to a covert arrangement (aka a conspiracy) between party officials, certain councillors and party members opposed to Rahman and the two local MPs.

I do not believe that it is a coincidence that before the borough elections in both 2010 and 2014, there have been TV programmes which make poorly substantiated accusations against Rahman. In 2010, it was Channel 4’s Dispatches which argued that there was a Militant-style attempt by the Islamic Forum for Europe (IFE) to secretly infiltrate the party in order to turn Tower Hamlets into a “caliphate” governed by sharia law, in which Rahman was allegedly infiltrated, “guilty” by association with the wrong people. Neither the caliphate nor any evidence of mass infiltration (in spite of a full membership audit) has since emerged. John Biggs rightly describes the idea that Rahman will convert the borough into an Islamic Republic as “rubbish” and nor does he believe the IFE are involved in any conspiracy.

In 2014, it involved BBC Panorama alleging fraud and financial mismanagement. “No credible evidence of criminality” was found by the Metropolitan Police in what the BBC had found, but PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), appointed to conduct a thorough review by Tory minister Eric Pickles, will conveniently not report until the end of June.

Nor should anyone think this has been a contest between Labour loyalists and those who simply do not have Labour values at heart. Nor one between secularists and communalists (let alone Islamists) or left and right. Defection between parties is commonplace in Tower Hamlets in all directions, and Labour officials have been content to impose candidates who have done so. Both Labour and Tower Hamlets First (Rahman’s slate) backed secular Muslim candidates as well as candidates whose base of support is closely associated with particular mosques – though Rahman’s supporters appear “guilty” of being far more successful at winning support through those mosques.

As Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Rahman’s policies have been those of a progressive Labour Mayor, seeking to mitigate the effects of government austerity on local people.  His cabinet has comprised  only Bengalis for two reasons: firstly because only Bengali councillors were prepared to defect from the Labour Party to back him, in spite of the backing or at least willingness to co-operate from many non-Bengali councillors and members. And secondly because the Labour group, whose leadership were fully signed up to the conspiracy against Rahman from the beginning, not only refused to participate in his cabinet or to cooperate with him in any meaningful way, but vehemently opposed virtually everything he did even where it meant severely disrupting the council’s activities, for example by leaving the council without a head of paid service for an extraordinary period.

In spite of their culpability for ostracising Britain’s only directly elected Muslim mayor and only directly elected black mayor, elected with an overall majority of first preferences, the Labour group proceeded to condemn him for allegedly focusing primarily on his own  community whilst they claim to speak for the “whole community”.

In the context of increasing Islamophobia and anti-migrant abuse, fanned by the current government’s actions, it is not surprising that Rahman and his supporters respond with accusations of dog-whistle politics.

The continuing recriminations and atmosphere of hatred between the two sides is not healthy for maintaining a cohesive community in Tower Hamlets. It is entirely destructive to Labour’s desire to provide a political voice for BAME communities in Britain. And yet in policy terms, the two sides are not significantly different.

My conversations with Lutfur Rahman convince me that he is entirely Labour at heart. John Biggs was, in my discussions with him until 18 months ago, willing to act as a conciliator. To his credit, he had been the only Tower Hamlets Labour politician willing to canvass with me in the ward campaign I ran single-handedly during the London Mayoral election. The rest deliberately downgraded the Livingstone campaign to concentrate their energies on defeating Rahman’s candidates in two borough by-elections that would not alter in any way the balance of power within the borough.

Both Lutfur and John, irrespective of who is Mayor tomorrow, should now work to reunite the Labour family in Tower Hamlets. The winner should resist the temptation to further ostracise their opponents in their triumph.

I know that reconciliation would be hard and unity will not be achieved quickly. Labour’s executive must be urged to assist the process, including by investigating the original accusations made against Rahman which led to his removal as Labour’s candidate. In the event that he is cleared by that investigation and the PwC audit – which I fully expect – he and all his supporters should be readmitted to the party. Any outstanding complaints against anyone still within the party should also be fully investigated.

A failure to do this will see Tower Hamlets  Labour continue to be a polarised, dysfunctional and ineffective party. Although many Labour Party members worked hard in this election in good faith, others were motivated by a level of hatred which has no place in a democratic party. That must stop.




  1. James Martin says:

    Oh dear Jon. The problem is that there are so many accusations about the man that it is very hard to take your article seriously, particularly as I have not actually spotted any references to things like socialism (you remember that, don’t you?). Instead we have lots and lots of references to religion, muslims, mosques blah di blah di blah. I’ll be honest. I hate religion, all religion. And I’m an equal-opportunities hater as I do not discriminate between any of the reactionary god-squadders. But it appears to me that the problem in Tower Hamlets is not that we have a mayor who happens to be a muslim (I don’t give a monkeys what superstitious nonsense people get up to in their private lives), but that the muslim badge is at the very heart of his position and why he is where he is now. Doesn’t that worry you just a little Jon? Or is thinking about such matters make me guilty of ‘islamaphobia’ (although I regularly attack the catholic church as being the worlds largest paedophile ring, so I assume I must also be guilty of catholicaphobia too if that’s the case).

    But here’s the thing. Last year the Telegraph published a rather handy list of all the allegations against Rahman, and boy is there a lot of them – – and this was updated the other day -

    Now of course we can all accept that the Torygraph has its own agenda, and Gilligan in particular has a certain form. But that is one hell of a long list and if even a small fraction of some of those things are true (and the allegations are horrific) then it is clear that Rahman has no place whatsoever in the Labour Party.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      James: I’m an atheist too but saying “I hate religion, all religion” is one thing (going too far in my book), hating believers, not defending people’s right to believe is quite another. Religious muslims, catholics, jews and hindus are all capable of supporting socialist candidates in elections, and I’m not one for abandoning the attempt.

      As for accusations, they are thrown around in Tower Hamlets like confetti, but it doesn’t make them justified. Serious accusations certainly should be investigated – but you and the Labour Party have condemned Lutfur without doing so. His removal as Labour’s candidate was undoubtedly a miscarriage of justice. As I say, an investigation is part of the reconcilation proceedings because he’s certainly entitled to one. And more than a simple apology of he’s cleared.

      1. James Martin says:

        But the allegations have not been answered Jon, in particular the ones concerning large numbers of council grants to various community groups who all appear to be muslim.

        But this is the problem, too many socialists are when faced with this sort of nonsense at heart Guardian reader guilty liberals, scarred of probing too deeply for fear of being called racist or an islamophobe – and it is noticeable how often those two words are thrown around by Rahman’s supporters (often against the Labour Party) in this recent election.

        Put it like this. If a evangelical mostly (or 100%) white Christian group started to influence the selection and election of candidates how would we react? Would we allow them to talk on behalf of the ‘white community’ or ‘christian’ community? Would we shrug and say, well, religious leaders are important to work with? Or would we actually be horrified and put of a fight for secular socialist values?

        Because you see I see no fight from you or others for secular socialist values when it comes to Rahman and his iffy supporters like IFE. We need to take religion out of politics, not turn a blind eye to its poisonous influence because the religion in this case happens to be islam, and yet this is precisely what happens isn’t it?

        Like I say, I don’t give a stuff what nonsense people believe in terms of made up gods and goddesses, but I do care when the influence of religion is so obviously massive in terms of politics and that numerous socialists allow it to continue.

  2. John Reid says:

    Livingstone failed to be selected in 2000 by block votes ,being worth more than others, that was a system To y Brnn used in 1980 to decide labour policy, Luftur was deselected after Acussations of impropriety, when Livingstone left and stood as an independent, it was his choice not to back Labour for the assembly or endorse us at the 2001 election, regarding not supporting BaME candidates, did you back Oona for mayor in 2012′ and I recall Labour had a BaME candidate for their choice of Tower hamlets mayor in 2010′ of all the accusations against Luftur, turning a blind eye to proven homophobia, is ridiculous,

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      John Reid: I don’t turn a blind eye to accusations of homophobia. In Lutfur’s case, I know them to be false. I don’t believe in guilt by association. I’m happy to work with religious leaders in a campaign against the EDL – as we did in Tower Hamlets – even if I strongly disagree with them on many things. Yes, there are examples of homophobia in much teaching in many communities of Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Protestants etc. But there are also examples of tolerance alongside them.

  3. Andy Newman says:

    “he and all his supporters should be readmitted to the party.”

    I agree with this Jon, but am I right in thinking that Lutfur has to actually as to be readmitted?

  4. Matty says:

    A good article, seems particularly prescient in the light of what seems to be the actual result. As for Gilligan, this article is illuminating

    1. James Martin says:

      Illuminating in what way, it answers none of Gilligan’s charges against Rahman, but instead seeks to make play on how much he (Gilligan) is allegedly paid. And I am meant to take this seriously in what way, precisely?

      1. Matty says:

        Because Gilligan’s stock-in=trade is smear, innuendo, and distortion. I wouldn’t trust him an iota. For a further example, look at the end of this article You wrote earlier “the muslim badge is at the very heart of his position”. Really? I took quick look at his website and it seems not much different from a typical Labour one

        I don’t live in Tower Hamlets so it is difficult for me to say 100% that Luftur is a fine man or not, but I would trust Jon’s judgement far more than Andrew Gilligan’s.

      2. Matty says:

        I thought it would help illuminate how Mr Gilligan distorts things wildly. He even did the same to the mild-mannered journalist Dave Hill. Check out the last paras of

        1. James Martin says:

          Is that honestly the best you’ve got Matty, a bit of wet liberal Guardian nothingness. Again, I cannot see any of the charges against him being answered.

          As to the issue of religion being central, look to his supporters. The IFE website last time I looked had a logo on their website modelled on a Labour Party election poster (same font, design, colours) with two words on it – racist and islamophobic. The message appears pretty clear to me. But perhaps you need to ask yourself why it is that with most other politicians religion is not in the frame at all (when I think of, say, Sadiq Khan I never think of his religion, just his often iffy politics, same goes for the sometimes Jewish Miliband), and yet it appears to constantly play a central role for Rahman.

          1. Jenny Fisher says:

            Matty refers to Dan McCurry’s article. A reply to that article can be found on:

            (While you are there, you are invited to check out:
            so that the women he verbally abused can get a proper police investigation – thanks.)

          2. Matty says:

            Thanks Jenny for the link, a very good article which quite rightly lays into John Ware. Far preferable to read something from people who have a good amount of local knowledge.

  5. Ian Ilett says:

    Congratulations on a superb balanced piece Jon. From Ooona on the Blairites have been a disaster for Tower Hamlets Labour – and are in danger of entrenching divisions in the community as a whole. Labour needs to act swiftly – and eat some humble pie on the way.

  6. Jenny Fisher says:

    Jon, I agree with the conclusion of your well written article, but not with all of the article leading up to it – but this needs a longer reply than a comment here.
    A less well written article (produced at around 24 hours into the Count) on this question is available on
    In any event, Labour has to come up with some honest answers about why the election strategy in which they had such supreme confidence ended in electoral defeat.

    1. Dave Roberts says:

      Jenny. The home page of East London News lists you as the editor.

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