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Tower Hamlets Labour Party on brink of implosion

October 28, 2009

The following post is from Socialist Unity. We are reposting it here as we believe it will be of interest to our visitors.

The Labour group on Tower Hamlets council split apart two days ago over the attitude to take toward a reform of the system of local government in Tower Hamlets. The council is facing a choice between adopting a “New Style” leader and Cabinet system versus a directly elected mayor, used in Newham, Hackney and the GLA and recommended by the government!

A petition containing 10,000 names to trigger a referendum on the system was delivered to Tower Hamlets Town Hall on Friday by George Galloway and Councillor Abjol Miah. The effect of this on the Labour group is outlined below in an anonymous report written by a Labour councillor present at the Tower Hamlets Labour group meeting this past Monday.

1. Deputy Leader Joshua Peck brought an emergency motion to the Labour Group to endorse option A (new style leader and Cabinet as opposed to mayor) – in the Council Leader Lutfur Rahman’s name; the Council Leader did not see it before the meeting therefore did not support the motion. Peck said that this was in response to the consultation results below and the threat Respect posed with the referendum petition. A very brief debate started with Councillors Lutfur Rahman, Ohid Ahmed and Marc Francis saying that rushing into this was unhelpful and the community’s views [via any referendum] were important before any decision was made. Cllr Carli Harper Penman prevented others who supported Lutfur Rahman from speaking by taking a vote on whether the debate should continue. This was upheld by one vote after Cllr Rania Khan left the room.

Option A (Leader and Cabinet): 496 responses plus a dodgy Labour Party driven petition with 1393 names = 1889; Option B (Directly Elected Mayor): 205 responses plus a petition containing 10,000 names; Neither option: 9 responses

2. Ken Clark, Labour’s Regional Director, turned up to the Group meeting without warning (invited by Deputy Leader Peck) and told the Labour Group which way to vote. Cllrs Wais Islam, Shafiqul and Rajib voted against despite promising to support the Leader’s recommendation to delay deciding the Group’s position. Cllr Khan walked out to avoid voting – she had been advised by Peck and Clark to do this prior to the meeting. The Leader along with 11 others voted for an amendment put forward by Cllr Marc Francis that said: a) the group resolves to analyse the consultation responses in detail and to examine the arguments for and against each Executive model and b) to hold a formal debate and vote at our next meeting on 23rd November. This was rejected by Ken Clark and Cllr Carli Harper Penman without reason. They ruled it illegal but failed to outline the grounds. Clark continued to intimidate the Group. He went on to say that although the Mayoral model was promoted by Central government is was not suitable for LBTH because of political instability – in other words, Bangladeshis could not be trusted to lead.

The anonymous Labour councillor concludes: “Once again, the unelected autocrats of the Labour Party move against the will of the people. This is exactly why we want the mayoral system.”

This is a little hard to follow for those of us who have not been following the detailed politics of Tower Hamlets, and its group of Labour councillors; but what seems clear is that there is deep division over the question of whether or not the group should support an elected mayor; and the arguments opposing a directly elected mayor are in this case based upon factional political considerations, and perhaps a certain amount of contempt by the London Labour Party for the Bengali population of Tower Hamlets.

The shenanigans above include the deputy leader, Joshua Peck, introducing a emergency motion in the name of the council leader, Lutfur Rahman, without first consulting councillor Rahman.

It also shows that bureaucratic manoeuvres used to thwart the desire of the councillors to have more time for consideration; and although the leader of the Labour Group and 11 other councillors wanted a delay, this option was ruled “illegal” on the dubious advice of an apparatchik of the London Labour Party.

This is a serious division, because councillors who hold a democratic mandate, and who are responding to the wishes of their electorate do not appreciate being pushed around by tricks and wheezes reminiscent of the worst aspects of Student Union politics.

This story may run and run.

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