Defend Democracy in Tower Hamlets: meeting report

Rachel Godfrey Wood and Pete Green report.

On Thursday April 30, Tory local government minister Eric Pickles (who spent half a million pounds on his chauffeured limousine) announced that his unelected commissioners were taking control of Tower Hamlets council until a new mayoral election in June. That day also saw up to 2,000 residents of the borough pack into the main hall and an overflow space in a conference centre on the Mile End Road for a ‘Defend Democracy in Tower Hamlets’ meeting.

Speakers came from the local community, including community activists and the secretaries of the local NUT and Unison branches, as well as national campaigns which the deposed mayor Lutfur Rahman has supported such as Stop the War and Unite Against Fascism.

Andrew Murray from the Unite union bought a message from its general secretary Len McCluskey that he condemned the accusations against the Tower Hamlets First mayor and his associates, which smelt of racism and elitism. Christine Shawcross, a teacher and a member of Labour’s national executive committee who lives in the borough, called the judgement ridiculous and led the appeal for funds for a further legal challenge. George Galloway and Ken Livingstone both spoke on video links to denounce the judgment, and the role played by media such as the Evening Standard.

Salma Yaqoob came from Birmingham to speak about her own experiences of prejudice as a councillor and stress that what is at stake is a matter not just of Islamophobia but of austerity and poverty – and that Tower Hamlets council is under attack for its resistance to the cuts imposed by the coalition. Speaker after speaker denounced the double standard evident in the judge’s denunciation of ‘undue spiritual influence’ being exercised by local imams in a way that would never be applied to Christians or businesspeople.

In a rousing finale, Lutfur Rahman asserted his innocence of the accusations of corruption, and called on the people there to support councillor Rabina Khan for Tower Hamlets First in the June 11 mayoral election.

Not least Glyn Robbins, who is standing as a joint Left Unity – Trade Unionist and Socialists candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow, made a stirring speech evoking the memory of the battle of Cable Street against the fascists of Oswald Mosley back in the 1930s, and today marching arm in arm with Lutfur Rahman to stop the English Defence League storming through Tower Hamlets on three occasions. He noted that Labour candidate Rushanara Ali has refused to comment on what’s happened. As Glyn wrote in a leaflet distributed to the meeting:

“Anger and resentment are rising in Tower Hamlets following the election court decision on 23 April. Even people who didn’t previously support Lutfur Rahman recognise the ruling as a hypocritical, state-sponsored attack on local democracy, with strong racist and Islamophobic under-currents… The election court judgement is an attempt to intimidate and neuter political dissent and shore-up the political establishment.

“Lutfur Rahman’s administration has reinstated EMAs, maintained Council Tax Benefits and celebrated 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.

“We need a united, determined campaign to defend our community against cuts and direct rule by Westminster on the form of Eric Pickles’ government commissioners and to demand a better future for Tower Hamlets… On May 7 the people of Tower Hamlets have another chance to tell the establishment ‘we’ll decide who to vote for and who runs our borough’.”

Anyone who wants to support Glyn’s campaign can come down on Saturday May 2 to Altab Ali Park for 12noon where there will be mass leafleting and a procession down Brick Lane – or check with turner.jackie@outlook.com if you are available next week.



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