Lutfur Rahman: now let’s see Labour’s ways of working change

by Rob Marchant

It is surely hard for any Labour member – okay, Ken Livingstone excepted – to shed a tear for former Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman.

The man who was yesterday unceremoniously turfed out of office, after an unequivocal judgement against him in an electoral court, has become the subject of arguably the worst scandal in local government since Westminster council leader Dame Shirley Porter’s conviction for gerrymandering two decades ago. Criminal charges may yet be brought.

But as we look at it, we have to ask ourselves: what have we learned? It would be good to think that the party leadership is right now taking a few moments to reflect, thinking “how can we make sure this never happens again? How did we ever get here?”

It seems, sadly, that the reaction seems more likely to be “phew – good job he left the party before all this”.

But although Rahman created his own vehicle, the “Tower Hamlets First” party, he was a clear product of the Labour Party as it was in the 2000s (let’s not forget, he was Labour leader of the council for two years before he was an independent mayor). A monster we created. We cannot just congratulate ourselves that we – partially, at least – dodged the bullet.

Think about it. Logically, we can draw three possible conclusions.

One: that he was a one-off. That his rise and fall is a product of his particular personality and not symptomatic of a wider problem in the way Labour deals with ethnic and religious communities. Looking at the problems Labour has had in twelve other constituencies where electoral tampering has also been alleged, previously documented by Labour Uncut, this seems unlikely.

Two: that he was not a one-off, but that things have now changed and we have no need to change our behaviour. This seems unlikely as well. No visible changes seem to have been made in party strategy, or circumstances. Indeed, it seems the opposite, we are now talking about the possible introduction of all-ethnic-minority shortlists: in other words, the exact kind of identity politics which pits communities against each other. The exact kind of divisive identity politics which Rahman nurtured in Tower Hamlets.

Three: that he was not a one-off and the problem is still there. Hmm.

It’s not brain surgery, is it? Rahman was a direct product of our way of cuddling up to self-appointed ethnic community fixers and sewing up votes and selections. It is still going on and this will not be the last time. We will continue to turn a blind eye as the politics of a less enlightened state apparatus – in this case the village politics of Sylhet, Bangladesh – is imported into our local government.

The answer is not, repeat not, keep doing the same thing and then just ensure the resulting leaders we have nurtured leave the party before they do something which really embarrasses us. Which is what happened here.

When are we going to learn that we need a fundamental change in the way we interact politically with ethnic and religious groups?

When we have someone else just like Rahman, running a Labour council somewhere else?

Or when we have ten Rahmans?

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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25 Responses to “Lutfur Rahman: now let’s see Labour’s ways of working change”

  1. Michaelworcs says:

    Excellent article and warns Labour executive to look for other Rahmans on councils

    might I suggest looking at Birmingham and try to find how below was approved whilst the number of opening days on the central library was cut–claims-9897005.html

    The BME representation of Labour in Birmingham council is 27 Pakistani heritage Sunni Muslim men (plus one Sikh), no women no Christians no Hindus. the BME representation of the MPs for Birmingham is 100% Sunni Muslim (father and daughter). Many people feel Labour has been captured as it was by Militant tendency and no longer represents them.

  2. John P Reid says:

    Apparently Wayman Bennett of Unite against fascism,has said his removal is racist and islamaphobic,and banning him will let racists get in,as he’s innocent.
    Is this really the sort of person labour should be working hand in hand in, to stop Ukup?

  3. More than anything, the case of Lutfur Rahman illustrates that directly elected mayors are wholly out of place in this country. We ought not to have them.

    The next Government ought to abolish them forthwith, as well as requiring that councils return to the traditional committee system that, to his limited but real credit, Eric Pickles has at least permitted to be resumed voluntarily. The abolition of delegated planning decisions is also desperately needed.

    But aspects of the Rahman judgement are worrying.

    It is now Common Law intimidation merely for identifiable supporters of a party or candidate to congregate on a pavement near a polling station on polling day. As for playing the race card, what about UKIP?

    The revival of the old law of “undue spiritual influence” ought to be laughed out. But is it going to be applied in Northern Ireland, or in the West of Scotland, or on and around Merseyside, and elsewhere?

    Is it going to be applied in Brent Central, or in Finchley and Golders Green, or in Hampstead and Kilburn, or in Harrow East, or in Harrow West, or in Hendon, or in Hornsey and Wood Green, or in Hove? There, we are talking, not merely about a deity who for political purposes may or may not exist, but about voting on 7th May in the interests, and even under the direction, of a foreign state the very lively reality of which is most certainly not in any dispute.

    Last week, I heard every candidate here in North West Durham tell a hustings that they were in favour of assisted suicide, apart from Pat Glass of Labour, who explained why she would vote against any such proposal. Who may not refer to that this side of the Election, and to whom? Whatever happened to equal citizenship?

    I must emphasise that I carry no candle for the David Miliband-supporting Lutfur Rahman. He has certainly committed many serious offences. I hope that John Biggs is as anti-austerity and as anti-war as Rahman has at least affected to be. Just as I hope that Naz Shah is as anti-austerity and as anti-war as George Galloway. I have every reason to expect that she is. Come the next Tower Hamlets Mayoral Election, Galloway might very well be looking for a new challenge.

  4. paul barker says:

    Thank you for an honest look at this, if only your Party was listening.

  5. Tafia says:

    Many years ago I was a member of and activist in the Anti Nazi League in Oldham at the time of the riots and the BNP surge. I met Weyman Bennett at a gig in Stoke as UAF came to the fore with him as head and the ANL under Julie Waterson and Debbie Jacks was eclipsed. I thought Bennett was a f**king tit at the time but I slowly grew to realise that in fact he was a big f**king tit. Why the decision was made to do away with the ANL I’ll never know – it was far more effective at street level than UAF has ever been.

    That Julie Waterson – a fearsome campaigner and outstanding orator and a sad loss. I consider it a privilage to have served her in my pub and stood alongside her at anti-BNP demos all over northern England in the early noughties.

  6. Rahman would easily have been cast down for treating and all the rest of it.

    Labour’s Catholic, Muslim, and black-majority church bases must demand that the “undue spiritual influence” law be repealed. Labour’s Catholic and its old school Temperance Methodist bases ought to have done so a hundred years ago. Indeed, that law criminalised the very foundation of the Labour Party by, especially, Methodist preachers acting as such. The wonder is that it was never enforced. Labour would have been strangled in the cradle.

    Meanwhile, over to the Labour candidates at Brent Central, Finchley and Golders Green, Hampstead and Kilburn, Harrow East, Harrow West, Hendon, Hornsey and Wood Green, and Hove. Get your petitions ready for 8th May if Labour does not win those seats. And it is time to look into “undue spiritual influence” in certain wards that voted Labour for the Greater London Assembly, but which voted on the same day for Boris Johnson rather than Ken Livingstone as Mayor.

    Although, speaking of Livingstone, he managed to remain a member, not only of the Labour Party, but of its National Executive Committee, while campaigning for Rahman against John Biggs, Labour’s candidate. Just as several Fleet Street types managed to retain their party cards (even if one of them has since given it up his over Syria, of all things) while using their columns to advocate a vote for Johnson against Livingstone, Labour’s candidate.

    The London Labour Party is a complete and utter shambles.

  7. TNL says:

    The point isn’t about racism, or Islamaphobia, or even Ken Livingstone (and if anyone is still listening to him these days they want their head examining.) The point is that all parties need to be able to accept a wrong ‘un when the evidence suggests that they are a wrong ‘un. The comparison with Porter is an apt one; some people have and some people will abuse the system, whatever that system might be, for their own ends. Ethnicity, religion, or party affiliation should not matter. It is what they, as individuals do, that is the issue.

  8. Dave Roberts. says:

    David Lindsay can be dismissed as he knows nothing about Tower Hamlets and has probably never been there. I was born and grew up there and still go back to see relations and have drinks down the Bethnal Green Rd where I was yesterday.

    The whole thing can be summed up in Nick Cohen’s excellent article in today’s Observer, it’s on line at The Guardian. Nothing more deserves to be said about the cowardice of the left over the whole matter. They are totally bankrupt and have no morality or credibility.

    Tafia. I also knew Julie Waterson and can give you some detail as to how she waas sacked and what happened to the ANL. From time to time, as needed, the SWP would revive the brand name ANL to take advantage of whatever political situation was occurring. It’s last appearance, Mk 3 to my recollection, ended in 3003 with the announcement that UAF had been formed.

    This was a backroom deal between Ken Livingstone’s Socialist Action and his all black National Assembly Against Racism and the SWP. The rise of the BNP was seen by both sides as a way of recruiting members and pulling in cash from the trades unions. The unions wouldn’t fund the SWP openly as they were always causing trouble but would fund a Livingstone backed front. Livingstone, at that time the darling of the left, could also supply Londoner’s cash through a variety of ” race” and ” equality” schemes.

    NAAR headed by Lee Jasper and another Livingstone shyster Kumar Murshid, were running ” black leadership” of the anti fascist movement on the grounds that all whites were racists and were rich from the benefits of slavery and “imperialism”. Their demand was that the new movement must be black led and Julie was duly sacked by the SWP. No appeals, no discussions, that’s it. The sacking was done by accused rapist Martin Smith.

    I know this because she told me. I bumped into her in a pub in Hackney one Sunday not long after she was dumped. She was devastated but remained a loyal party member. I think it all contributed to the cancer that killed her. It certainly couldn’t have helped.

    In as ” organisers” came Weyman Bennett and a Sabby Dhalu. I heard both of them speak and agree that thick is the word to describe them. Unprincilpled scumbags will find that these things will always come back to bite them and that is certainly happening now. Respect and the whole Tower Hamlets shambles has destroyed the Marxist left in this country for a generation and maybe forever. Good!

  9. Dave Roberts. says:

    Tafia. Just had a look at that obituary. Disgusting. It says all anyone needs to know about the SWP.

  10. Mike Stallard says:

    I am a Catholic. I can tell you that in our Church there has been absolutely no influence on my voting except for a rather vague letter from the bishops. In no way did it support any political party.
    Once again, the Muslims have bu**ered the whole thing up. Factories producing postal votes, for example.

  11. swatantra says:

    It has to be the Anti-Facist League, or now Unite Against Facism, of all kinds, for example Islamofacism. and the EDL, so I’m ok with the name change.
    Wayland Bennett is only doing his best in putting forward is views because Facism is an ugly many headed hydra. There must be less influence from any religious or denominational groups in Politics in the same way that the politics of Pakistan should not be brought onto the streets of London or anywhere else in the UK. There is no place for religion or clannish behaviour in politics. The London LP could well undergo the same kind of implosion as the Scots LP, if LP HQ don’t get a grip. And the CLPM in Cities like Birmingham and Manchester, need to be cleaned out.
    Ken is an absolute disgrace for campaigning against official LP Candidates; he’s a serial offender and needs to be kicked out of the Party

  12. Dave Roberts. says:

    I agree with Mike Stallard from experience. In the fifties when I was growing up in what is now Tower Hamlets I can remember discussions about good Catholics who voted Communist against the church’s wishes and in defiance of Sunday sermons.

  13. Tafia says:

    Dave Roberts – cheers for filling in the background. I’ve always thought something murky went on and UAF was never as effective in northern England as the ANL had been – which reinforced my opinion of it being a retrograde move because northern England was where the BNP were most active. Lots of people that were involved in the ANL in northern England just couldn’t be bothered once it morphed into the UAF because of a mix of loyalty to Julie and Debbie and because it became obsessed with students whereas the ANL was more trades union oriented (at least in northern England). I lost touch with it all in late 2003 when I moved back to Wales.

    Great days, great adventures, great comrades (even when my flat got firebombed by the far-Right LOL).

  14. Mike Stallard, I am just in from Mass myself. The original legislation related and relates only to what Irish Protestants thought (and English atheists think) that Irish Catholics believed. No properly formed Catholic ever could have believed that he would go to hell if he did not vote as directed by the bishop or by the parish priest, or even by the Pope. And Islam, especially the Sunnism to which Bangladeshis and Pakistanis overwhelmingly adhere, is a great deal less hierarchical than Catholicism.

    Dave Roberts, Nick Cohen certainly has some front. These were mainstream Labour voters until the Iraq War that he cheered on. He is also one of the Fleet Street types who have managed to retain their Labour Party cards (even if one of them has since given it up his over Syria, of all things) even after having used their columns to advocate a vote for Boris Johnson against Ken Livingstone, Labour’s candidate.

  15. madasafish says:

    There is no place for religion or clannish behaviour in politics.

    So ban the SNP. And Plaid. And Sinn Fein.

    And of course, Trade Unions could be said to be “clannish”.

    So where do you stop?

  16. Dave Roberts. says:

    As regards Catholicism and politics you are in agreement with me. I remember that the attitude of the Catholic hierarchy to dock strikes in the fifties was that the dockers were being led by godless communists and that they should go back to work, they didn’t so it was possible to be a good Catholic and not obey every edict. It is clear that this isn’t the case with Islam.

    Nick Cohen is one of the best journalists this country has produced and has, over the last few years, produced excellent work on how the left has lost any right to be regarded as having a moral base. His ” What’s Left” should be required reading for anyone and everyone trying to understand why the left of centre movement in this country is the most disorganised and demoralised in Europe.

    You are parroting the usual loony left slogans about Iraq which, apart from the fact that people are concerned about our servicemen and women nobody, apart from the likes of you, gives a toss about. You trot out the usual Trot mantras about this and that and ignore the truth.

    I am sick of arguments with lefty types who berate certain journalists because they write for The Telegraph, The Spectator or whatever and have got to the stage with some of them where they actually say that it doesn’t matter what the content of an article is, if it’s in the wrong publication it can’t be true. Disgusting, like Livingstone.

  17. Dave Roberts. says:

    All praise to the editorial team on this blog for allowing this discussion. Jon Lansman at Left Futures, Sunny Hundal at Liberal Conspiracy, Operation Black Vote and all of the others who have defended Rahman are either silent or censor comments.

  18. John P. Reid says:

    Dave Roberts has put what is widely ,accepted a out UAF,
    So for Swatantra to call Weyman Bennett doing his best putting his views against fascism, misses the point, they way through intimidation Bennett tries to shut down free speech, because he decides si wine he disagrees with ,has different views than his,so must be a fascist, shows how thick he is

    David Lindsay, Nick Cohen didn’t actually endorse Boris,in the Standard,he just put anti .ken stuff,which ashamed,t,turned out to be true, as for Dan Hodges saying Vote Tory for mayor labour for assembly in 2012′ yes he did leave labour a year later, Livingstone twice backed Luftur for mayor, was he kicked out,

    Regarding Catholacism, Irish acatholics, may gave had it drummed into them that the .labour party of the 40’s was the one for them, but labour was a Socialky Conservative party 70-40 years ago, and some remain now, many Asians are Catholics,some have an allegiance with Labour,

    Dave it’s not only the bloggers who supported Luftur who are quiet, when labour put up their candidate for mayor, willLivingstone and Christine Shawcroft back the labour one.

  19. swatantra says:

    @ madasafish Even in a ‘Clan’ you’d expect a bit of freethinking and differing political views
    For the sake of an example it would be wrong for the Pope to suggest his followers vote against Pro-Abortion Parties. Similarly it would be wrong of the Chief Rabbi to suggest his followers vote for Pro-Israeli Parties. And wrong for the Ayatollah to send out Fatwahs to neurtralise Salman Rushdie just because he had a go at Allah.
    Unfortunately some countries are not as developed as ours so we don’t expect the Scots to all vote for the SNP or Welsh for Plaid; but I wouldn’t include the Irish in that.
    They’ve still got a` long way to go.

  20. John. P Reid says:

    Our NEC member Christine Shawcroft,is gong to share the stage with Rqhman,and criminal Way,an Bennett at a Lufthur is innocent rally,

    Shouldn’t she be campaigning for us?

    Like Livingstone, seems that Labour is obsessed with inner London,and the metropolitan Liberal elite, I appreciate there many de me members in inner London who aren’t part of the Karen Buck,Harman ,Abbot ,Emily thornberry,snobbery brigade. I don’t think at this rate it’ll even deliver us victory in the 2016 Mayoral election.
    It may get not just be Scotland that goes SNP, we may lose the North to the Tories

  21. Dave Roberts. says:

    John P Reid. It’s a bit difficult to follow your arguments and logic some times but I am sure that very few Bangladeshis are Catholic.
    As for Livingstone and Shawcroft as far as I know they are both behind Rahman on this. Shawcroft has issued a statement to the effect that all the allegations are lies and that it’s all Islamophobia.

    Both, particularly Livingstone are a total embarrassment to the party and should be expelled.

  22. John P Reid says:

    Any one who tells people to vote for anyone other than the labour candidate should be expelled, end of,

  23. John P Reid says:

    Now,Len Mckluaky our biggest pay master and Unite Union , back Rahman

  24. John P Reid says:

    I see Christine shawcroft says Tower Hamlets should have the Mayor they voted for ‘thats the point,it was ballot rigging,so they didn’t vote for Luftur

    And Aaron Kiely is sailing close to the wind endorsing a independent backed by Lufthur to be the replacement, not the labour candidate, he like others should be expelled if they don’t back the labour candidate,

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