The following are my own opinions, posted on my personal blog. I am not writing on behalf of Left Unity or TUSC, the two organisations I’m representing in the general election.
Today’s outcome was a judicial political assassination. I sat and listened to the judgment with a growing sense of the British State stamping down on uppity natives. Someone said to me as we left the court ‘nice day for a show trial’. That’s probably an overstatement for a case that took six weeks to hear and arrived at a 200-page judgment, but this was a verdict of the establishment, by the establishment, for the establishment. The one point made by the judge that I do agree with is that the real losers are the people of Tower Hamlets.
This is clearly a personal disaster for Lutfur Rahman and others, but we must make sure it doesn’t become a political disaster for Tower Hamlets. Under-pinning the judgment is a caricature of our community that I reject. The impression created is of Bangladeshi people (and by implication Muslims) as political zombies. The judgment was full of references to ‘insular’, ‘isolated’ and ‘traditional’ communities easily manipulated, like children, by unscrupulous authority figures. This is precisely the narrative of Islamophobia exploited by the establishment and media to explain everything from child sexual abuse to Isis.
Another proposition implicit in the judgment is that Bangladeshis in Tower Hamlets will only vote for other Bangladeshis and that this, in itself, disadvantages the Labour Party. This is clearly nonsense. The local Bangladeshi community has been firmly established for over 40 years, during which time there have been several MPs, most of them Labour, two of them Jewish and only one Bangladeshi-Muslim. The town hall has mostly been controlled by Labour and before them, the Liberals. But this is just one of several examples of gross double-standards and hypocrisy on display at the Courts of Justice today.
The judge says Lutfur Rahman used grants, patronage and communal links to win votes. I don’t know how true this is, but would this be the first politician to ever have done so? Of course not. Such practices have been used by politicians in all places, of all parties, religions and ethnicities. This was as true for the many years that the Labour and Liberal Parties ran our borough as it has been since their grip was broken. But in the end, this is the real message today’s judgment sends: the political establishment demands the restoration of compliant politics in Tower Hamlets.
The judge made great play of what he interpreted as the false allegation that John Biggs is a racist, but such attacks are hardly exceptional. There are many people, including me, saying that Nigel Farage – someone who blames foreigners for traffic jams – is a racist and people shouldn’t vote for him. Am I now breaking the law?
Tower Hamlets First stand convicted of using ‘undue practices’ to win votes, at a time when establishment politicians and their big business supporters are in a frenzy whipping up ‘project fear’ against the Scottish National Party. Is this undue influence?
Or is it only illegal if you challenge the establishment, especially if you’re Asian and Muslim?
I’m not prepared to be an apologist for Lutfur Rahman, but I’m not prepared to join a lynch mob either. The portrayal of him in court is not one I recognise from my limited personal experience of him. The suggestion that he is, in effect, only interested in serving one section of our community is false. He has used his administration to reinstate EMAs, maintain Council Tax Benefits and celebrate St Patrick’s Day and LGBT culture. In stark contrast to the Labour council leader who preceded him, Lutfur Rahman took a courageous and principled position to oppose the EDL. If he and his associates have done things they shouldn’t, they should be held accountable, but so should all the other politicians who are guilty of similar things i.e. nearly all of them!
Finally, while all this is going on, there is a concerted attempt to destroy our Welfare State and drive through cuts that will severely affect people living and working in Tower Hamlets. Lutfur Rahman has not done enough to oppose this Tory onslaught. The Labour Party is actively conniving in it. We need a united, determined campaign to defend our community against cuts and direct rule by Westminster in the form of Eric Pickles’ Government commissioners and to demand a better future for Tower Hamlets.