Politics in Tower Hamlets is rarely dull. No sooner does one election campaign end than another begins. Following Richard Mawrey’s decision of 30th April, a new borough Mayor will be elected on 11th June. Rabina Khan is standing as an independent, backed by Lutfur Rahman. John Biggs, a ‘star witness’ in the election court case, is standing for Labour. In a two-horse race (although among the ten other candidates, intriguingly, is one of the people who took the case against former Mayor Rahman), the election has local and national significance. At stake are competing visions for the future of our borough, one (Rabina’s) representing new, progressive political forces outside and to the left of Labour, another (John’s) a default to the political status quo. Moreover, the voters of Tower Hamlets have an opportunity to conduct a citizen’s ‘judicial review’ of Mawrey’s judgment and challenge the government’s autocratic suspension of local democracy.
The myth of a robotic ‘Muslim vote’ was again exposed for the insulting nonsense it is on 7th May. The surge of support for the Labour Party in Tower Hamlets combined pan-London anti-Tory feeling with a degree of disillusionment arising from the verdict against Tower Hamlets First. Presumably the ‘spiritual influence’ was switched off! It’s possible a similar sentiment will swing the result to Labour on June 11th, but based on what I saw earlier today, I doubt it.
There’s a determination, enthusiasm and confidence within the Rabina camp that I don’t think Labour can match, particularly as they lick their wounds from the dismal national general election result and their even worse reaction to it. The selection of John Biggs as candidate reflects the myopic state of the party and the over-cautious, uninspiring, political detachment that has seen it go from red to beige. John ran unsuccessfully for Mayor in 2014, but as in Scotland, the Labour Party appears unable to recognise the sands of political time shifting beneath its feet.
There are some aspects of Rabina’s campaign that I have reservations about. I’m sceptical about some of the claims around housing and as with Lutfur’s operation, I worry that it’s too narrowly based and overly personality-driven. But these doubts are vastly out-weighed by the potential of an energetic, youthful, progressive force fired by righteous indignation and capable of sending a resounding retort to the political and judicial establishment. Rabina for Mayor!
(I’ll be watching the result from afar – New Orleans to be exact. Next Wednesday I’m off on a six-week, nine-city tour of the US to do the research for some writing I’m going to do about the struggle for decent housing in the US and UK. My blog will revert to its original purpose – housing Americana.)