The real reasons Ken wants Lutfur back in the party

by Jessica Asato

It is clear that, despite trying to arm-twist some quite senior members of the Labour party into allowing Lutfur Rahman back into the fold, Ken Livingstone has failed the new mayor of Tower Hamlets for the time being. Instead of pushing the issue at the next meeting of the NEC, Ken has recently rowed back – having had the riot act read to him by Victoria Street – and said there’s no timescale. Though the ambition is still there. Earlier this week Ken said “there is a lot to be said for letting this all calm down and seeing how Lutfur performs”. So why has Livingstone gone out of his way to find such common cause with Rahman?

When I last wrote about the Mayoral election, some commenters suggested that Ken was merely being politically pragmatic by supporting Lutfur. This was not an endorsement of Lutfur’s ideological position, but instead a calculated partnership with an eye on the future. They pointed out that his vote doubled in Tower Hamlets during the 2008 London Mayoral election, arguing that the East London mosque and the Islamic forum of Europe (IFE) were key to his success. By siding with the Labour candidate three weeks ago, Livingstone might have alienated these two important lobby interests in the borough, which could create a mass desertion of Muslim voters from Labour’s cause across London ahead of 2012.

As someone who believes that Labour winning is almost always the most important objective in an election (though please refer back to my piece on negative campaigning), I too am mostly pragmatic when it comes to building coalitions of support. After all, we find ourselves with strange bedfellows in politics all the time. I was interested in whether the right course for the party was simply to let sleeping dogs lie and quietly readmit Rahman. So I gave some people in Tower Hamlets a call. What I learned was that Livingstone’s actions were more likely to be based much more on his own history and affiliations than on his impending election campaign.

As Ken admitted in an interview with the Daily Politics this week, he has history with Helal Abbas. Some of this stems back to the time when one of his advisers, Kumar Murshid, was accused of stealing money from a youth organisation. Abbas is said to have been involved in implicating Livingstone’s now ex-adviser. We know from previous cases that, once crossed, Livingstone does not forget a betrayal lightly. Perhaps his actions in Tower Hamlets were more about settling old scores than shrewd politics?

The second weakness in the “pragmatism” argument is that the East London mosque and the IFE are not, actually, likely to be pivotal in winning for Ken. This year’s Parliamentary elections proved that. Rushanara Ali and Jim Fitzpatrick were emphatically not backed by either, but still won in May. Had Livingstone backed Abbas, there may have been initial fallout, but in a contest against Boris it is hard to see the Bengali population in Tower Hamlets voting for anyone except Ken. If anything, it is the white working class population in the inner city which Ken lost at the last election. His BAME vote increased significantly.

So, what exactly is driving Ken? One answer may lie in his comparison of Rahman’s situation to his own in 2000. In his interview with Andrew Neil, he stated that he felt the NEC were wrong to impose a candidate and that there were “real shades of me ten years ago”. One councillor I spoke to felt that Ken wanted to be seen as the person who would stand up to the national party, whatever the cause. Another suggested he was trying to marshal a show of strength as part of a bid to reposition the party in London to the left.

Whatever the reasons, it looks like Tower Hamlets Labour party is not budging in its opposition to Rahman rejoining the party in the short term. In a recent motion they agreed that no Labour councillor would join Rahman’s cabinet or act as an adviser, though they have been clear that they will work with him on issues where they find common cause.

Rahman has responded by only appointing four people to his cabinet, leaving four portfolios up for grabs, perhaps to woo Labour councillors with the extra money which goes along with them. But apart from this, Rahman doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to make amends to Labour. He appears non-committal about who he is supporting as the candidate for his own council seat, for which there will be a by-election. You would think he would leap to support the Labour candidate.

It is clear that Tower Hamlets Labour party will continue to be embattled and besieged by problems unless something can draw a clear line under the wearisome politics of the last decade. The NEC should instigate a detailed and independent investigation into the Labour membership of Tower Hamlets and lessons which should be learnt from the failed selection processes which led to this sorry pass. It should concentrate on the practical measures which the local party can take to rebuild a Labour movement in the area, develop the talent of new and prospective councillors and reconnect with communities.

Whether Lutfur is eventually readmitted or not, the challenge will be to grow membership in Tower Hamlets based on Labour values, not the egos of over-ambitious politicians.

Jessica Asato is a social media consultant and Islington councillor.

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10 Responses to “The real reasons Ken wants Lutfur back in the party”

  1. Stuart Madewell says:

    You only spoke to your adoring fans in Tower Hamlets Jessica and your understanding of what is going on is therefore warped. Allow me to enlighten you.#

    1, Kumar Murshid is not a member of the Labour Party he joined Respect after the court case. He was found not guilty. He has played no part on current developments in Tower Hamlets.

    2, Ken has supported Lutfur Rahman since he became leader. He has good relations with a number of councillors including those you spoke to. He doesn’t get on with Michael Keith and Abbas that is true mainly because he doesn’t swallow the nonsense from Andrew Gilligan.

    3, You falsely claim that Tower Hamlets Labour Party is not budging in its oposition to Rahman. THAT IS A LIE. The local pazrty has been prevented by the Regional party from meeting since the Mayoral election. The Regional organiseer has INSTRUCTED that NO meetings can take place until after the Spitalfields by-election on 16.12.10.

    4, The Spitalfiel;ds branch of the Labour Party has rejected the imposed candidate chosen by your friends since they were not consukted and did not get to see all the possible candidates.

    5, Since the Tower Hamlets Labour Party is in special measures the Regional party has had ample opportunity to investigaste the memebership. However, your friends wish to conduct a McCarthyite witchunt based on guilt by association. Anyone can be accused of being an ‘Islamist sympathiser’, all non-muslim white working class Labour members who supported Lutfur because he was the members choice are currently being expelled from the Labour Party.

    6, You claim that the Labour Group ‘they have been clear that they will work with him on issues where they find common cause’ THIS IS ALSO A LIE. The Labour Group has agreed to totral non-cooperation and yur friends have personally refused to co-operatre in areas where they agree with Mayor Rahman.

    Please check your facts before spoputing more nonsense about Tower Hamlets. Please support the right of local members of Tower Hamlets Labour Party to discuss what has happened instead of receiving diktaks from on high

  2. I see you agree with Lutfur then. He grew the TH membership quite significantly when leading the local party, and all he got in return was an accusation of entryism!

  3. Londoner says:

    “But apart from this, Rahman doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to make amends to Labour. He appears non-committal about who he is supporting as the candidate for his own council seat, for which there will be a by-election”.

    Wouldn’t you if you were him? My dear Jessica, when are people like you going to try and fully understand how it feels to be stitched up, smeared and abused by your own party, the party you love and have served all your life? Do not think it won’t happen to you, Jessica, because, one day, if the Lib Dems or some internal and jealous enemy you have in the Labour party makes up a load of crap about you, you too will not be able to understand why you’ve been ostracised without the national party having made any attempt to actually hear your explanation of the allegations or bother to investigate any rumours against you impartially. Lutfur Rahman is currently too good for the Labour party and I predict that in less than a year they will be begging him to rejoin. Lutfur should make those “I love stitching up members of my own party” members of the leadership (especially Harriet Harman) make several big, grovelling public apologies before he goes anywhere near the Labour party again.

  4. Dan McCurry says:

    I think it’s a good article, Jessica.
    The reason Stuart Madewell (above) is so supportive of Lutfur is because he got to be Campaigns Officer at the last AGM before the mayor selection. It was between Abbas’ man, Mosabbir, and Stuart, so Lutfur’s people voted for Stuart to keep Mosabbir out.

    LONDONER is just another anonymous nobody.

    My general view of LBTH is that Lutfur is keen to be seen to behave himself. Ken’s advocacy for Lutfur would have been a liability for him, so it’s best for him to keep a low profile.
    I think at some point Labour Councillors will be permitted to join Lutfur’s cabinet, but I don’t envisage defectors, inc Lutfur, being brought back into the party any time soon.
    It’s all to do with the precedent when we brought those Respect people into the Labour party a couple of years ago (most of the defectors were former Respect councillors). That was Jim’s initiative because he wanted to build support in the run-up to his general election and it contributed to his terrific success, but it sent a bad message. Labour people who openly campaigned for Lutfur were quite surprised to find that they were kicked out of the party. Hmmm!


  5. Mike says:

    See, all the talent in TH labour party left with the Mayor. Not! Stuart Madewell was the worst Campaigns Officer ever – he even pissed off his own band of crazies.

  6. Anatlus says:

    Interesting points raised- I think Tiem is te best jusdge in term so f what will happen. but i agree with Stuart the Labour group have taken a policy of toal non coorporation which will not work and will gradually fall apart becuase in effect theya re workign agasins the community. Will they also be voting against labour policies?

    They can do but they will be going against their own policies so lets see how long this lasts.

    Ken has taken a stand to support Lutfur becuase he cna see the NEC and Abbas stiched lutfur up, and as the labour members choie he was going to win which will have been an embarrssment to the labour party. Lutfur is more left leaning so it makes sense for him to support Lutufr.

    Lutfur also has left four positions vacant because its important to have the right peopel in those positions whether they eventually come from the labour group or elsewhere. I thought it was silly to talk about it like a carrot hanging over peoples head, to see which one dropped first. 3 councillor have openly agreed to work with lutufr and not one of them has been offered a cabinet position.

    Time will tell what happens.

  7. Dan McCurry says:


    What exactly is left-wing about Lutfur?

    And what do you mean by none of them have been offered a cabinet position? Every single Labour councillor, bar Abbas, has been offered a cabinet position.


  8. Jon Lansman says:

    “It looks like Tower Hamlets Labour party is not budging in its opposition to Rahman rejoining the party in the short term”.

    Just how did you judge this Jessica? Not only has the party not met, as Stuart says, but only a few months back, the GC voted without dissent to oppose interference in selections, and went on to select Lutfur by a considerable margin over his nearest rival (John Biggs not Helal Abbas).

  9. Londoner says:

    “LONDONER is just another anonymous nobody”.

    What a shame Dan McCurry is unable to deal with the substantive points I raised. This is why Labour in Tower Hamlets is now screwed. There are party supporters like me all over Tower Hamlets who are disgusted with the Labour party’s treatment of Lutfur Rahman. You may wish to try and ignore that fact but a fact it is.

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