Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Why Labour only have themselves to blame in Tower Hamlets

All guns are out for Ken Livingstone today after his decision to openly campaign for a non-Labour  candidate in East London

It's the latest and most incendiary episode in the "absolute complete bloody shambles" that has been the Tower Hamlets Mayoral election.

From the very start Labour have been at war with themselves desperately trying to prevent former council leader Lutfur Rahman from becoming their candidate.

After winning a vote of local Labour members Lutfur was immediately mired in a string of accusations of electoral fraud and entryism.

None of this was proven but it was enough for Labour's ruling executive to move in and get rid of the candidate they never wanted in the first place.

The rights and wrongs of expelling Rahman are for others to judge, but it was what followed that was to prove Labour's biggest mistake.

Because rather than replace Rahman with the runner up in the selection process John Biggs, Labour's NEC took the disastrous decision to install the man who came third, Helal Abbas. 

To an outsider like myself this looked utterly bizarre.

The Labour party had kicked out Rahman, because he was under suspicion of covertly interfering with democratic processes.

And yet the first thing that Labour did after booting him out was to overtly interfere with those same democratic process.

So even if they had been right to kick Rahman to the kerb, how could they possibly justify kicking John Biggs to the kerb as well?

After this all happened I spoke to a very senior member of London Labour and asked them what was going on. I have to tell you that I was shocked by their answer.

My source told me in a very matter of fact way that Biggs had been passed over because he is white and that installing him instead of Rahman would have left the party open to accusations of a racist stitch up.

How can this possibly be right?

Biggs had come a respectable second in the selection contest and if Rahman had to be expelled then surely Biggs should have taken his place, no matter what the colour of his skin?

To not do so was a catastrophic decision that left the Tower Hamlets Labour party with an illegitimate candidate with a good chance of losing the election. The worst of all worlds.

And so into this colossal mire has stepped Labour's candidate for Mayor Ken Livingstone, who has never seen a fight that he didn't want a part of.

The rights and wrongs of him doing so are for others to judge but from a purely party political perspective the choice is clearly a disastrous one.

Because unlike in 2000 Ken needs the support of Labour party members to win. 

Both the bookies and the polls show that the contest against Boris Johnson will be close and in order to win Ken needs every Labour party member to be on the streets fighting for him.

By backing Rahman, Ken has lost much of that support and placed the new Labour leader in an impossible position.

All of which is par for the course in any election containing Ken Livingstone of course.

Now who thought the next year and a half would be dull?


oldpolitics said...

Selecting Biggs (who would have been perfectly good on his own merits) is only the democratic answer to Rahman's disqualification if you believe Rahman's legitimate voters would have split equally.

If time had allowed, the correct move would have been to recount the votes as if Rahman had been eliminated - I suspect Abbas may well have beaten Biggs in that eventuality, gathering more support from Rahman backers than did Biggs.

The more prosaic reason, of course, is that to disqualify a Muslim and replace him with a white man opens up a far more tediously predictable and inevitable line of attack from Respect than replacing one Muslim with another.

AdamB said...

I'm not sure your reasoning is quite right there. The vote was done under an alternative vote system so that the second preferences of Rahman's voters were already transferred (and Biggs came second.)

"The more prosaic reason, of course, is that to disqualify a Muslim and replace him with a white man opens up a far more tediously predictable and inevitable line of attack from Respect than replacing one Muslim with another."

Whatever Respect would or wouldn't have said, the principle of an election is that the person with the most votes wins, not the person with the third most votes.