The Tower Hamlets election trial verdict and the events that followed…

A glorious day for some and a sad day for many. Thursday 23rd April 2015 many received news which tarnished their view of democracy. Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman and his cabinet member for resources, Councillor Alibor Choudhury, were banned from office with immediate effect. The verdict at the Tower Hamlets election trial caused a political earthquake and sent shockwaves through the country. For a week it seemed that supporters were mourning the death of a great leader.

Supporters of Lutfur were not expecting a result like this and nor were the petitioners. The argument supporters of Lutfur were making was that had he been of another faith or no faith and of white skin; we may have seen a very different story in the media.

Lutfur is the only BAME mayor in the country and many have found mutual grounds with that argument.  Some say, racially motivated allegations led to a verdict that caused the demise of Lutfur Rahman and has undermined 37,395 voters. Allegations to remove Lutfur and Alibor are as follows:

  • Accusing opponent of being a racist (John Biggs was accused of being a racist after he referred to all Bengali males as Abdul and made complaints about Lutfur working with Bangladeshis)
  • Grants handed to Bengali run organisations (which is said to be in the most deprived areas in the borough which also catered for all backgrounds)
  • Undue spiritual influence – letter by 101 local imams (an accusation which has insulted many Muslims in the borough and is thought to be used as a tool to silence Muslims)

Just when you thought it was over… The electoral commission made this statement:

“Following the court’s judgement in the Tower Hamlets election petition on 23 April, the Commission has concluded that Tower Hamlets First can no longer remain registered as a political party.”

In a nutshell: We have two democratically elected politicians banned from office over allegations thought to be racially motivated by many Lutfur advocates and BAME leaders. Two more commissioners sent in by Eric Pickles, totalling to four will now run the council until after the upcoming by-election to find a new mayor. The Tower Hamlets First party has now also been banned.

One might wonder how UKIP and the BNP survive with members who carry racially divisive views through banning culture. Justice? Lutfur and his legal team are challenging the decision and seeking a judicial review.

Exactly a week after the Tower Hamlets election trial Lutfur’s supporters held a rally “Defend democracy in Tower Hamlets”. There were many voal supporters who spoke up for Lutfur including: Christine Shawcroft (Labour NEC), Abu Tahir (Voice for Justice), Andrew Murray representing Len McCluskey (Unite the Union, officially backing Lutfur) and many others. There were also video messages from Ken Livingstone (former London mayor) and George Galloway (Respect). In the meeting Lufur said “I may be fallen but I’m not broken”. The crowd exploded with emotion at one of the most powerful points during the night.

Lutfur also declared his candidate for the mayoral bi-election. Welcome councillor Rabina Khan, cabinet member for housing. Rabina is Tower Hamlets First’s cabinet member for housing and has been chosen by the local party to replace Lutfur as mayor. Rabina’s ambitions fit well for the role, apparently beneficial to Lutfur and a lifeline for the group. If elected, residents of Tower Hamlets will gain from her experience as a councillor and her experience gained as the cabinet member for housing. Rabina’s selection by Lutfur was a counter to any rhetoric that the group were dominated by men and hence chose a capable woman to lead. Someone at the rally said “this will serve as a slap in the face of the establishment and any colonial engineering”.

Lutfur & Rabina at the “Defend Democracy In Tower Hamlets” event.

Rumour has it that Tower Hamlets First has been going through competent activists considering to run for Alibor Choudhury’s seat in the Stepney Green ward. A good idea to start with someone who can relate to post millennium issues as well as longstanding concerns of the borough. It’s a position that couldn’t have been compromised and needed someone able, with a diverse range of services on offer. I hear it was a struggle choosing between candidates who had lots to offer.

The now banned Tower Hamlets First group made a decision. Twenty-four year old Abu Talha Chowdhury, known to many as simply Talha, will run in the Stepney Green by-election. Observations of Talha suggest he is a charismatic and well educated young man, working at grassroots in recent years. He was raised in the local area, played football for a local team and has close relatives who live in the ward. A professional individual who can deliver in different circles even when challenged. Sounding like a breath of fresh air too many.

A “Vote Abu Talha Chowdhury” flyer

The “Lutfur brand” has been closely affiliated with religion to assume that it favours Muslims. Rabina is a Bangladeshi born Hijab wearing woman who resides in Tower Hamlets. Many residents suggest the influence of racial bias and superiority play a role in hot aired questions. However, it was also easy to see the diverse support Lutfur gained despite accusations. When looking around the room non-Bangladeshi faces were scattered all around – some who had given moving speeches. When allegations against Lutfur and Alibor are compared with the works of UKIP or BNP you may be left with unfathomable thoughts due to the double standards of society. For example, we see UKIP on a daily basis take advantage of socioeconomic issues in working class Britain, which in many cases has racial tension thriving. Two things the Tower Hamlets First group have in common with Islam are that they are followers of the religion and that they have been accused of using it as an influence. The ethnicity of those running organisations in Tower Hamlets and the religious influence that Islam had in supporting Lutfur’s election, were used in court to pressure a decision into banning Lutfur and Alibor.

Under Lutfur’s leadership, Alibor’s lead on resources and Rabina’s cabinet member housing experience, the borough was awarded £50m by central government. If elected, Rabina will lead with the backing of Lutfur. Her dominion will last until the candidate for the next generation is ready, or as I hear until Lutfur’s ban from politics is lifted.

There are whispers that Azmal Hussain an election trial petitioner, millionaire tax evader and a restaurant owner on Brick Lane has made plans to go back to court. Perhaps to explore ways of stopping Rabina from standing as a mayoral candidate.

Tower Hamlets is diverse and a place that has great networks. It seems that this is no longer about Tower Hamlets First or Lutfur. It’s about the welfare of residents and now for many, a war on racial bias.

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