Question: what motivates councillors in Tower Hamlets? Is it:
a) striving for the greater good of the area?
b) striving to deliver results for their political party?
c) striving for the greater good of their next re-election?
d) striving for a personal income?
I ask this just a couple of days after former Lib Dem councillor and ceremonial mayor Barry Blandford died at the weekend. He’d been struggling for years with a serious illness and tonight a friend and former colleague of his described him as a “man of honour” who stayed loyal to his principles and who worked hard for all sections of the community. He was a governor of Limehouse’s Stephen Hawking School for kids with learning difficulties and during his time as mayor, I’m told, he raised thousands of pounds for the victims of floods in Bangladesh and made a special visit there to distribute money.
I also ask it on the day that four Labour councillors, no doubt after months of tortuous soul-searching – during which they told themselves daily, ‘We have to sacrifice our political careers for the greater good of the community; no, we really must’ – decided to break Labour’s party whip and work for the camp of Lutfur Rahman and millionaire housing association tenant Shiraj Haque.
I tweeted this morning that five would be joining the Mayor and I suspect that underestimates the eventual number.
So far, the ones to declare their hands are: ex-Michael Keith loyalist Shafiqul Haque (a former extremely ineffectual mayor and planning committee chair); Abdul Asad (who boasts every time I talk to him he’s the borough’s longest serving councillor), Rofique Ahmed (a seemingly nice enough chap, but not one to let a spot of toothache get in the way of picking up an attendance pay-cheque); and Shahed Ali, the most talented of the four and a former deputy leader of George Galloway’s Respect party (his current register of interests still lists him as a Respect member (mind you, it was last updated in 2007, but let’s not let a bit of transparency get in the way of way of work)).
Labour sources also suspect that Weavers councillor Kabir Ahmed could be on his way, while there could too be a surprise in store for Peter Golds’ Tory group. I was told by someone I trust today (and who was there) that on board Lutfur’s minibus to campaign for Jon Ashworth in Leicester South in May was Tory councillor Maium Miah: yes, that’s right, a Tory out campaigning for Labour – how generous. Apparently, Keith Vaz even boasted of an impending Tory defection to Labour during his speech, but that extract failed to make the final edit of the YouTube clip I posted last week. I was told tonight that Maium used to be a member of the Labour party, but signed up to the Tories when he realised he had a better chance of winning a council seat.
Aren’t we blessed in Tower Hamlets to have politicians of such backbone? It’s not yet clear whether the four defectors have been given cabinet jobs, but it’s a safe bet they have. That’ll be an extra £13,000 a year, which will be quite handy to those among the four who don’t have jobs.
There are also other self-serving issues at play here. Both Asad and Shahed are councillors in Whitechapel, the home of the East London Mosque and where the third member is Lutfur loyalist Aminur Khan. Shahed, for a fact, was known to be worried about his chances of being re-elected in 2014 unless he could demonstrate he could work with Lutfur. Shahed is a relatively talented politician – and someone who has political principles – and he’s an asset to Tower Hamlets politics. It would be a shame if he feels that he’s been bullied into switching sides.
If Rofique and Shafiqul are handed cabinet jobs, I can see the eyes of officers rolling towards the top of Canary Wharf now. Neither, like deputy mayor Ohid Ahmed, are the easiest to understand.
On the broader context, Lutfur is now establishing a larger if fairly untalented group behind him. He’s sounding a warning shot to those opposed to his re-entry into Labour that he is aiming to win the council outright in 2014. As things stand, Labour still has the most councillors, but it no longer has enough to veto the Mayor’s annual budget. Labour must now work with the Tories for that, something many suspect is already happening between Josh Peck and Peter Golds.
On a national level, both Tower Hamlets MPs, Rushanara Ali and Jim Fitzpatrick also have concerns. They see the latest muscle-flexing as not by Lutfur, but by the Islamic Forum of Europe. The MPs are worried that they’re in the IFE sights.