This guest post is a reply to Mo Rakib, by freelance writer and Mile End Labour Councillor Puru Miah who argues that the cause of the perceived malaise in Tower Hamlets Politics is the general political culture and not the fault of the local Labour Party.
Something is rotten in the Borough of Tower Hamlets.
Speaking to ordinary folks on my daily rounds as a community organiser and local Councillor, politics is a dirty word in the common vocabulary of Tower Hamlets. In the eyes of the residents, the world of local politics is seen as crossover between a Shakespearean Tragedy and the Netflix series House of Cards, with the occasional cameos by the local Macbeth & Lady Macbeth or Frank & Claire Underwood (depending on your taste of drama).
The general view on the streets is that seeking or holding onto a public office is an end for self glory and self enrichment, where immoral means are employed to achieve those ends. A public office in Tower Hamlets is not a means to serve the common good, but a stepping stone to pad oneеs CV in terms of appointments and positions, to higher political office or a lucrative career in industry. Serving the needs of the public are a distant afterthought.
As proof, many point to the countless social media posts by local politicians in sharp suits and lavish banquets, the irony is not lost in a Borough that has one of the highest child poverty rates in the country.
There are many anecdotes, of past and present, of treachery, elimination of political opponents and the usage of fear as a means of controlling people. The lessons learned from these stories is, that acquiring political office and maintaining it requires evil means. A terrifying dystopian Machiavellian world full of rent seeking operators, the Machiavels [a person compared to Machiavelli for favouring expediency over morality].
“Thе abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power.” – Brutus, Act II, Julius Caesar.
The Argument for Anti-Politics
It does not have be like this. Alternative visions, arguments for anti-politics, have been put forward and implemented throughout history. The Machiavels have been roundly condemned throughout the ages, one of the most famous critics being the then German Crown Prince, Frederick Hohenzollern. A musician, linguist and Enlightenment philosopher, who wrote the Anti Machiavel, a chapter by chapter rebuttal of Machiavelli, advocating the concept of public office as a fist servant of the common good.
Soon after inheriting the crown he published the work and embarked on a series of military campaigns abroad and series of domestic reforms at home, establishing the foundations of the modern German state and recognition as a great European power.
“A prince … is only the first servant of the state, who is obliged to act with probity and prudence. … As the sovereign is properly the head of a family of citizens, the father of his people, he ought on all occasions to be the last refuge of the unfortunate.” – Frederick Hohenzollern
We don’t have to go far to see a similar tradition of anti-politics in the East End, against the Machiavels, anchored in the common good, and decision-making grounded in rational, transparent, democratic practices.
Here, within living memory, we have the story of Phil Piratin, an anti-fascist and defender of tenants’ rights, a leading member of the Stepney Tenants Defence League. Of Jewish origin, he was the leader of the opposition to Oswald Mosley’s anti-Semitism and his British Union of Fascists’ marches through East London.
During World War II, he gained further notice by leading 100 people to shelter from the Blitz in the basement of the Savoy Hotel, to persuade the Government to open the London Underground stations to anyone sheltering from the bombing, a practice which the Government had previously ruled out.
This route of activism and campaigning eventually lead to Piratin being elected to Parliament in the then Parliamentary Mile End seat, in the General Election of 1945.
Call to arms in the battle of The People vs The Machiavels.
“Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” – John Stuart Mill
The story of Phil Piratin in the East End is part of a rich history of activism in the area that spans hundreds of years. A tradition that can be seen today, from various local campaigns and petitions to community groups, ranging from tenants organisations to advocacy groups seeking intersectional justice.
So here is how we take that base and reconnect it with public institutions and political entities that affect all our lives.
First, the energy of the People Powered activist base needs to be channelled through our local public institutions and local political organisations. We need this community activist base to engage and get involved in electoral politics and parties, as an antidote to the perceived poisonous hegemonic culture of the Machiavels.
The net result will be a more democratising culture from the ground up. Establishing a 21st century Magna Carta of the new commons, like latter-day Robin Hoods, distributing power from the few to the many, so we have a Tower Hamlets that is for the many not the few.
Second, the problem is not the local Labour Party but the demands placed upon it. The Labour Party was established to articulate the voices of the grassroots through the idea of working class representation.
By shifting the demand from merely being a vehicle for public office to an arena for local campaigns, the roots of working class representation are re-established. For example, if you want the Council to do or stop something, make sure it is debated and voted in your branch of the local Labour Party (Bethnal Green & Bow Labour Party, and Poplar & Limehouse Labour Party)
Third, lets agree to disagree but work on common issues. If you are from a different political persuasion, the Labour Party is not your cup of tea, get involved in the electoral politics that you are comfortable with. We know what the problem is, the Machiavels, and we know what the solution is, better representation in our political culture. On the finer details we can have our differences.
Fourth, get involved! Politics in its true sense is a passion to make things better, not some chosen career path. The more unconventional you are, the better. Diverse backgrounds and ideas, make richer debates and better decisions.
Just like you Mo, my route into politics and public office was unconventional, I came through a campaigning and community organising background. However, in this brief, somewhat accidental foray I have had the privilege and experience in working on some amazing campaigns with the odds stacked against.
Nationally, the 2017 General Election campaign, to recently local work with residents, charities and community organisations, in safeguarding the vulnerable during the current Covid–19 pandemic.
My political values come from my father, who worked most of his adult life in the brickyards of the London Brick Company. Making the bricks, that built the ‘New Jerusalem’ for a war shattered economy and society, public housing and the modern welfare state.
The golden rule in those tough conditions of the brickyards were, that you contribute during the good times, for family, community and the common good, so to be looked after during the bad times, by family, community and the common wealth. For each according to their ability, to each according to their need.
If you believe in this tradition of working class values and representation, join the local Labour Party, and let us along with others, help articulate the demands of the working class. A task that is needed more than ever, in a community that is doubly hit by high COVID–19 deaths and also by the economic fallout of the pandemic.
So here is the deal. If you have an idea, lets talk! If your passionate about a cause, lets sit down! If you have a campaign you want to run, am happy to help. Let us together make reality, what we all hold to be self-evident and true, that another East End is possible.
Destiny is All!
“Well, it all began with Democracy. Before we had the vote all the power was in the hands of rich people. If you had money you could get health care, education, look after yourself when you were old, and what democracy did was to give the poor the vote and it moved power from the marketplace to the polling station, from the wallet…to the ballot.” – Tony Benn
Related Internet Links
- Cable Street – HOPE not hate