Lutfur Rahman revisited

When I wrote about Lutfur Rahman in April I had lots of ‘hits’.  This made me a bit grumpy because it suggested that more people are interested in the small world of Tower Hamlets politics than the much bigger issue of housing.  But the Lutfur story has taken another twist, so I thought I’d revisit it and plug my new book (which I haven’t written, but watch out for something next year!).

Last night I was outside Tower Hamlets town hall, as I have been on several occasions recently, taking part in a demonstration against the cuts in services that are currently threatening local nurseries, day care to people with disabilities and support for adolescents with mental health problems.  This is the essential background to the announcement on Tuesday that Eric Pickles is sending in ‘commissioners’ to supervise the running of our Council.  The justification comes from a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) which found some procedural irregularities in the use of public money, leading to accusations of ‘cronyism’, although as Lutfur has been quick to point out, there is no evidence of the systematic political or financial corruption that has previously been alleged.

There’s no excuse for dodgy grant funding or disposal of public assets, but the moral outrage directed at Lutfur form various parts of the establishment is a laughable gathering of people in glass houses throwing stones.

Let’s take PwC to start with.  They were complacently predicting a rosy outlook for global capitalism just before it plunged over the cliff and have been criticised by MPs for setting up tax avoidance schemes for big business.

Attacks from New Labour rely on everyone forgetting what happened when they controlled Tower Hamlets, but here are just a few things I remember:

  • They appointed an ex-New Labour councillor on a big salary as head of a department to oversee the proper use of public money.  He had such high moral standards that he once recorded a private, informal conversation I had with him and used it to try to get me sacked because I was critical of housing associations taking over public buildings.
  • Some of those same housing associations were allowed to run amok through Tower Hamlets and were headed by people who were not only former Council employees, but Labour Party members.
  • The Rich Mix arts centre was bailed out from a financial crisis by using money from council tenants’ rents.  The leading Board members were New Labour councillors.
  • Under their watch, several people (some of them Labour Party members) went to prison for abusing regeneration funds.

When the Liberals were in control of the Council they virtually gave away Bethnal Green town hall.  It’s now a luxury hotel and worth millions.

Eric Pickles is criticising incompetence in Tower Hamlets the week after his government again failed to find a Chair for an inquiry into child abuse because they couldn’t see that having the Lord Mayor of London – who is also a social acquaintance of an ex-Tory Minister who has ‘lost’ crucial papers relating to the case – might be seen as an establishment stitch up.

The demonisation of  Lutfur Rahman is a hypocritical (and at times racist) political attack, but there’s a ‘but’ coming.  Lutfur and his administration have not done enough to lead a campaign of resistance to the cuts that would transcend these smears.  Comparisons with Poplarism in the 1920’s are sometimes clichéd, but do convey an important lesson that Lutfur has failed to learn.  The Poplar councillors became local heroes by making individual sacrifices, but they had helped build a community-wide movement of thousands opposed to a central government trying to balance their books on the backs of the poor.  When the councillors were imprisoned, the people of Poplar supported them and demanded their release and a fairer distribution of government funding.  They won.  By contrast, Lutfur has cultivated an image of political respectability designed to appease the establishment in the misguided hope that he will be rewarded for doing their bidding.


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9 Responses to Lutfur Rahman revisited

  1. sybil says:

    Thanks Glyn. brilliant

  2. tim Sanders says:

    Brilliant piece Glyn. Bang on the money! !(as it were! )

  3. Well said Glyn. The right wing have created a racist and Islamaphobic smoke screen which they have rolled out to hide the real issues impacting on our community. Indeed Lutfur needs to be working for the people of Tower Hamlets and stop being Mr Nice Guy to the suits in the city..

  4. Hi,

    I don’t understand this article – it basically says that Labour and the Lib Dems were terrible so Rahman shouldn’t be criticised?

    Shouldn’t everyone be criticised for being terrible (including Rahman)? The jab at PwC is also rather irrelevant. They’ve clearly done some things which aren’t ideal (I’m particularly exercised by tax avoidance) but does that mean the report they wrote on TH is incorrect?

    • Glyn Robbins says:

      Hello Chris, thanks for this. I’ve never had a conversation on my blog before! Not sure if that’s good or bad. I am certainly not saying that Mayor Rahman should not be criticised. On the contrary, as you say, all politicians should be held to account, but by their local electorate, not firms of consultants (at a cost of £1 million incidentally) and not by government ministers driven by a hostile political agenda that panders to racist stereotypes. The point I’m making about PwC is that an organisation that advises some of the richest people in the world about how to avoid tax are not really credible when they come to one of the poorest boroughs in the UK to investigate corruption. Moreover, having failed to find what their pay-masters were hoping for, they allege a level of maladministration that anyone who, like me, has worked in the sector, knows is present in every local authority in the country. That doesn’t excuse it, but I repeat my point about people in glass houses. If real evidence of political or financial corruption emerges then Lutfur, like any other elected politician, should be answerable for it to the people of this borough. Until then, yes, he should be criticised, but for the right things, which I indicate in my final paragraph. He is not perfect, but I haven’t yet met the politician (or person) who is, but nor is he ‘terrible’. On the contrary, he had done some progressive things in Tower Hamlets that I am absolutely certain would not have been done by other political parties. All the best, G

  5. Curious Cat says:

    By contrast, Lutfur has cultivated an image of political respectability designed to appease the establishment in the misguided hope that he will be rewarded for doing their bidding.
    Precisely what establishment ? The Bangladeshies ?
    P.S. I share your revulsion at council homes going to private companies where directors’ salaries and perks are indecently high. But I blame Labour. I also blame all governments for failing to ensure local authorities are run efficiently and effectively for their customers’ benefits – not for the personal benefit of sub-standard public parasites, meaning some council staff, including the top tiers, and councillors.

    Curious Cat

    • Glyn Robbins says:

      I was actually thinking of the political establishment i.e. the government, civil service and mainstream parties. ‘The Bangladeshies’ isn’t really a term I recognise in this context because it implies a monolithic bloc defined by ethnicity and this is one of the misunderstandings that underlies a lot of the coverage of Tower Hamlets politics.

  6. Dave Roberts. says:

    I think you should be a little more forthcoming about your politics Glynn. you were a very senior member of Respect in Tower Hamlets as well as in the SWP. Like many other far leftists you shifted your allegiances to Rahman when Respect collapsed because of your paranoid hatred for Labour which you seem to detest more than the Tories.

    You are in complete denial about Rahman and is corrupt regime because you cannot admit that you got it wrong.

    • Glyn Robbins says:

      Morning Dave. You’re jumping to several incorrect conclusions. Yes, I was Chair of Tower Hamlets Respect, but I don’t feel the need to preface everything I say with that piece of information. Since leaving Respect in 2007 I’ve not been a member of any political party, including the SWP. I don’t have any allegiance to Lutfur Rahman, but this is not about me or him. The real issue is the imposition of unelected bureaucrats to run my local Council by a Tory government that is simultaneously driving through cuts that will cause great damage to our community. There is no evidence of the ‘corrupt regime’ you refer to, unless you know something that PwC don’t? To the extent that he has opposed the cuts, I support Lutfur, but as I’ve made clear, I would like him to do more. My only personal experience with him has been in relation to the threat of the EDL, when he took a far more courageous and principled position than his Labour Party predecessors. Indeed, this whole discussion needs to be framed with reference to the role of the Labour Party. During 13 years in government and 16 years in control of Tower Hamlets it made a pact with the neoliberal devil and the forces of imperialism which I see no signs of it breaking.

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