A bad night for Labour in Tower Hamlets

Labour badly beaten as Respect-backed Lutfur Rahman becomes first elected mayor.

In the end, the Tower Hamlets mayoral election wasn't as close as we'd all expected. Labour was beaten – and beaten badly. Lutfur Rahman, who ran as an independent after he was removed as the party's candidate, won on first preferences with 51.76 per cent of the vote (23,283 votes) on a turnout of just 25.6 per cent. Labour's Helal Abbas finished a poor second with just 25.01 per cent of the vote (11,254 votes).

The Respect-backed Rahman becomes the first-ever elected mayor of the East End borough and wins control of its billion-pound budget. It seems as if anger over his deselection, rather than any mass enthusiasm for his candidacy, played the decisive role.

As I've explained before, Rahman was removed by Labour's National Executive Committee after criticism of his alleged links to fundamentalist Islam and concerns over the "eligibility of participating voters". He was replaced with Helal Abbas (who submitted a dossier on Rahman to the NEC), a controversial choice not least because he finished third, not second, in the original contest. Christine Shawcross, a member of Labour's NEC, suggested that they "put forward Abbas so as not to leave themselves open to the charge of deselecting a Bangladeshi and replacing him with a white man".

In the event, it made little difference. The Bangladeshi community, which makes up a third of the borough's population, swung behind Rahman from the start and was angered by the NEC's manipulation. Meanwhile, Ken Livingstone and others from the left of the party flirted with expulsion by openly campaigning for Rahman.

For Labour, the result is a major reversal of fortune. The party performed well in the East End at the general election, with Rushanara Ali winning Bethnal Green and Bow back from Respect, Jim Fitzpatrick seeing George Galloway off in Poplar, and Respect losing all but one of its councillors.

Labour's London MPs and party grandees, including Harriet Harman and Neil Kinnock, threw their weight behind Abbas and all have lost face as a result of his resounding defeat.

Rahman, as the Guardian's London blogger Dave Hill notes, won "despite being accused of being incompetent, corrupt and beholden to local businessmen and shadowy Muslim extremists". But after one of the most divisive and vicious election contests London has ever experienced, there's already talk of Rahman eventually returning to the Labour fold. One imagines he will be seeking advice from his friend Ken Livingstone on that front.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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