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.

Getty
Show Hide image

David Cameron softens stance: UK to accept "thousands" more Syrian refugees

Days after saying "taking more and more" refugees isn't the solution, the Prime Minister announces that Britain will accept "thousands" more Syrian refugees.

David Cameron has announced that the UK will house "thousands" more Syrian refugees, in response to Europe's worsening refugee crisis.

He said:

"We have already accepted around 5,000 Syrians and we have introduced a specific resettlement scheme, alongside those we already have, to help those Syrian refugees particularly at risk.

"As I said earlier this week, we will accept thousands more under these existing schemes and we keep them under review.

"And given the scale of the crisis and the suffering of the people, today I can announce that we will do more - providing resettlement for thousands more Syrian refugees."

Days after reiterating the government's stance that "taking more and more" refugees won't help the situation, the Prime Minister appears to have softened his stance.

His latest assertion that Britain will act with "our head and our heart" by allowing more refugees into the country comes after photos of a drowned Syrian toddler intensified calls for the UK to show more compassion towards the record number of people desperately trying to reach Europe. In reaction to the photos, he commented that, "as a father I felt deeply moved".

But as the BBC's James Landale points out, this move doesn't represent a fundamental change in Cameron's position. While public and political pressure has forced the PM's hand to fulfil a moral obligation, he still doesn't believe opening the borders into Europe, or establishing quotas, would help. He also hasn't set a specific target for the number of refugees Britain will receive.

 

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

Our Partners