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Government ministers and their New Labour candidates

February 16, 2010


We are facing the rather sad and pathetic spectacle of a succession of government ministers visiting Tower Hamlets over the next few weeks in the vain hope of trying to boost the Labour candidates chances in the forthcoming general and local elections. Angela Eagle, the pensions minister, was here only last Thursday at a press conference for the all but invisible Labour candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow. Hopefully she explained why so many pensioners have had such a tough time over the last few years struggling to stay warm in the winter and make ends meet.

This has led me to wonder why Labour thinks government ministers visiting Tower Hamlets should make Labour more, rather than less popular. Oona King had a similar strategy in 2005. At one point during her campaign it seems there was one minister or another visiting the borough every day. It did not do her much good and this time round Labour is much less popular, according to the opinion polls.

There is also the implicit suggestion that the Labour candidates connection to ministers will bring favours to people in Tower Hamlets. But that did not work with the cuts to ESOL at Tower Hamlets College and anyway it won’t do much good when Labour are in opposition which is the most likely result after May.

These visits have nothing to do with meeting the people and finding out what they think or need. The visits are strictly controlled for photo opportunities and the minimum genuine interaction with the voters.

George Galloway has repeatedly called for government minister Jim Fitzpatrick to debate the issues of the day with him, including whether we should have a directly elected mayor. Fitzpatrick has consistently refused.

Surely the very low profile Labour candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow Rushanara Ali owes it to the voters to have a public debate with George Galloway’s successor Respect Councillor Abjol Miah and the other candidates. Or is she, like Fitzpatrick, too frightened to face the public where spin doctors can no longer control what questions she has to answer?

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