As expected, it seems that the idea for for a single “Coalition Unity” candidate for mayor has been vetoed by Tory and Lib Dem HQs, which, according to one Lib Dem “says a lot about the coalition”.
It would have been seen as a stitch-up, rather like the Respect announcement today that, after years of bitterly opposing Labour and Lutfur Rahman, including when he was council leader, George Galloway’s party is now backing him for Mayor. This is exactly what many predicted all along. Disturbingly, but entirely predictably, Respect are trying to paint ALL scrutiny of Lutfur as a “thinly-veiled anti-Muslim racist witch-hunt”. More on that later.
In the meantime, I’m inviting all party candidates to outline why they want to be Mayor.
So, first off is John Griffiths, the Lib Dem candidate.
I have lived in Tower Hamlets for the last 15 years – more than a third of my lifetime. I love this borough – its vibrancy; its diversity; its history. You only had to be here last Friday to feel the excitement as we celebrated Eid. In the same week we remembered the 70th anniversary of the Blitz when the people of this part of London showed remarkable courage to overcome the bombardment and threat of a fascist invasion.
I am proud to call myself a Liberal. The Party has a distinguished record of social reform. A hundred years before New Labour, it was the New Liberals of Asquith and Lloyd George who, shocked at the poverty of the East End, introduced social housing, the state pension and school meals. We have since developed a track record for protecting the individual (particularly the vulnerable), and a healthy scepticism of big government. This is the inspiration for my campaign for Mayor.
It was a Liberal Council, way ahead of its time, which first empowered local residents, giving “power to the neighbourhoods”. As councillor for Bethnal Green North, I followed this approach, chairing my Local Area Partnership, which supported grassroots projects and enabled community organisations to take control of services – whether youth projects run out of Oxford House, or the regeneration of Arnold Circus by the friends’ group.
I led the campaign to stop the Labour council’s plans to demolish York Hall, and am proud that this remains a well-used leisure facility at the heart of our community. As spokesman on regeneration, I helped to expose a level of fraud in the council that led to criminal prosecutions of officers and Labour councillors. These experiences taught me the dangers of unchecked power getting into the wrong hands.
The person we elect on October 21st will be responsible for a budget of £1.3billion per year and directly influence the lives of more than 200,000 people. An unchecked Mayor, heavily backed by one section of the community, would exaggerate the worst of the Council’s recent tendencies – further centralising power and weakening the accountability of your councillors for decisions over allocating hard-pressed resources.
Given the referendum in favour of a Mayoral system, the Lib Dems want to make it work (as we have already in places like Watford and Bedford), but in ways that complement Liberal values. As a Lib Dem Mayor, I would build consensus and encourage cross-community involvement in the political process.
This means devolving responsibility and resources to those bodies and communities best placed to use them, including community or neighbourhood councils, health boards, local schools, as well as tenants and residents’ associations; citizen organisations which can provide a check and balance on Mayoral power. It also means appointing a cabinet that brings together a representative group of the most talented of our councillors.
This election is a unique opportunity for Tower Hamlets to live up to its name, a borough of many neighbourhoods and communities – each one special; each one different, but each one contributing to the common wealth, and at the same time providing a vital check on the power of an autocratic Mayor.