While the nation excites itself over the AV referendum, the Tower Hamlets Labour party will next month engage in its annual bout of first-past-the-post regicide. For as the days grow longer, that time of year is here again when the clouds descend on the incumbent leader of the borough’s most comical political group.
It was this ritual fight to the death and its frequent changes in the council leadership that persuaded many to move to a directly elected mayoral system. This year, of course, is the first since the early Nineties when Labour has found itself out of power. The winner of the party’s Annual General Meeting contest in four weeks’ time will merely be crowned Leader of the Opposition.
Since losing to Lutfur Rahman last October, current leader Helal Abbas has known his time has been up, or as he told me today: “It is time to hand over to other people and for a fresh team to lead and hold the Mayor to account.”
He is still an influential mover and shaker of course and he is till trying to get his favourites in the leading positions, more of which in a bit.
Who are the runners and riders? At present, I’m being told there are possibly four candidates: current deputy Josh Peck, finance guru David Edgar, council chairman Motin uz-Zaman, and possibly former anti-crime spokesman Abdal Ullah.
With the party still split and in turmoil about whether to readmit Lutfur, the election is being seen by some as a bellwether of its resolve. However, I’m not so sure. Lutfur’s fate in that regard is linked more to Ken Livingstone’s potential future at City Hall next year. (Indeed, Ken also needs Lutfur’s connections to the East London Mosque and the criminal linked Channel S television station – this is one of the reasons why so many of Ken’s cronies have taken up roles in the charmless world of Mulberry Place.)
So who will emerge triumphant next month? Josh is considered the front-runner; David has a strong chance; Motin can de discounted completely; and Abdal is trying to play a kingmaker’s game. Fourteen votes are needed and it’s all about deals, innit.
Josh, who is firmly opposed to Lutfur’s readmission, is said to have the support of the likes of Rachael Saunders, Carli Harper-Penman, Denise Jones and five others.
I hear that Abdal believes he has the support of the seven rebels who broke the party whip at the council budget meeting last month (Shahed Ali, Rofique Ahmed, Marc Francis, Shafiqul Haque, Kabir Ahmed, Ahmed Omer and Abdul Asad were all told by regional party boss last week that any more rebellions would be curtains, by the way).
David’s position is more intriguing. Formerly known as one of those closest to ex-leader Michael Keith, he avoided four years of poison having cleverly lost his seat in 2006. He can therefore afford to be more open-minded about Lutfur’s future and straddle two camps…but is more compromise what Labour needs?
Curiously, it is the position of deputy leader that is actually the more crucial in this election. With most believing that either Josh or David will win, it is a certainty that both will want a Bengali as their number two. Shiria Khatun, who has managed to get herself selected as a GLA candidate in Tory Havering and Redbridge, has all but declared her hand. She craves the position and Abbas told me tonight that she “would make an excellent deputy”. It is thought she could team up with Josh Peck and form what they think would be the dream ticket.
Abdal Ullah, meanwhile, who also wants to run for the GLA, would also, I’m sure, want to join the group’s top team. My guess is that he will back David Edgar and that could well trump the dream.
Thank goodness for Labour, eh: what would we do without their silly games?
UPDATE – Friday, April 9, 9am
A councillor has pointed out to me that Abdal Ullah of course avoided having to make the tricky decision of voting with or against the party whip at the council budget meeting because he was ill that night. To be fair to Abdal, he has never broken the whip and that enhances his chances of getting on the GLA list. Another councillor, this time one from his own party, also tells me that Abdal was also absent, presumed ill, from last week’s showdown with Ken Clark and Len Duvall. “They seek him here…..”…