Well, just when you thought it was safe to walk the streets of Tower Hamlets, the gutter stench of local politics hits you smack in the nose again (er, no jokes, please…). It’s now four days until Labour’s grand day when they will vote for their candidate, then unite behind him or her and say what a wonderfully “rigorous” contest it was. “This truly was democracy at it’s best,” they’ll say. I suppose we could start a start a spot betting contest on the number of times the phrase “time to unite” is uttered.
As the contest enters its last (scheduled) days, members of the various camps have been asking me for my prediction of the result. I haven’t a clue. Lutfur Rahman’s people say they think he’ll just about get through: they say the way the party omitted him from the original shortlist played into his hands and gave him victim status. They say he’s been portraying himself as the champion of the oppressed against the machine.
Supporters of John Biggs think Lutfur might get the most first round votes, but he’ll struggle to attract many second preferences. That’s where John will come into his own, they say. There are others within John’s camp who point out the reason their man has not been getting (apparently) a huge response on the doorstep is that many party members have been “away on holiday” in August. Which sounds a bit desperate, if so.
Helal Abbas, meanwhile, while earning the respect of senior council officers and even political opponents for the way he has led the council since May, does not appear to have a mass following. “He’s been squeezed out,” as one party member put it. However, I would not rule him out just yet and there is a chance he could have a major part to play after Saturday.
And then, last but not least of the major contenders, there is Michael Keith. Thrice rejected by parts of the Tower Hamlets electorate (in two council elections and one by-election), he remains a dominant figure and has a very strong network among the local party membership. And that could be crucial. He could well earn a significant number of first round and second preference votes. He’s almost permanently pessimistic about his electoral fortunes is our Michael, so when he downplays his chances, don’t believe him.
Amid all this, there is even talk of the national or regional Labour party voiding Saturday’s result and imposing their preferred choice if the “wrong man” wins (read Lutfur).
Whatever, it has been the ugliest contest I’ve witnessed in Tower Hamlets. An email sent round on a party distribution list tonight was an exercise in smear from the top-drawer. Sent in the form of a fake CV, it was sent by someone who clearly doesn’t like John Biggs. It contains so many libels that I’m prevented from printing hardly any of it. Except this little gem, which is under the heading, ‘Recent Political Manoeuvrings’:
· Has drafted in right wing Sunday Express journalist and Labour Party nemesis Ted Jeory to provide media cover.
I deny it all!
Actually, the more I think about it, maybe this borough is crying out for an award-winning journalist to run as an independent. Who? See here.