It is convenient for many politicians to forget that Lutfur Rahman and John Biggs are two sides of the same coin.
Rahman’s Tower Hamlets First party, and it successors, was created as a result of the usual tribal warfare to which the local Labour Party devotes so much time and effort, leading Lutfur Rahman to split from the party which is his natural home.
While Biggs is vocal in his condemnation of Rahman when there is an election in the offing he was noticeably quieter during the electoral petition that eventually led to Rahman being kicked out of office.
In fact Biggs was so quiet during the electoral petition he was totally mute.
Which is a bit odd when your political rival is fighting for his political survival.
The exact reason why Biggs was never heard to make any comment whatsoever during the petition – if we are wrong please provide documentary evidence and we will be pleased to publish it – is only known to him.
The most likely reason is that Biggs was more than a little worried that in exposing Rahman the court would also reveal some inconvenient truths about how Tower Hamlets Labour Party operates.
Neither contender to be the next Directly elected Mayor of the borough has yet to publish a manifesto. When they do our bet is that there will be little or no difference between their political goals.
Coming from the same political party this is to be expected and so, as ever, the contest will be all about personality.
There is a very real risk that so much mud will be thrown around that the borough might run out and the Thames foreshore scoured for emergency supplies.
Rahman has several advantages, not least of which is that quite a few residents think he still is the Mayor. Those who do know who the current incumbent is will have forgotten what happened five years ago, others will not care. And many others will dismiss his failings as being nothing exceptional as ‘all politicians are corrupt’.
All politicians are not corrupt. The overwhelming majority are decent, honest people who wish to serve their communities.
It’s just that not many of them live in the East End.
Whatever your views on Lutfur Rahman standing for office once again it should be remembered that punish was handed down by the electoral court and he has served his punishment.
And of course Lutfur Rahman has never been charged, let alone convicted, of any criminal offence. An annoying fact for some but true.
Quite how several police investigations never found any evidence of criminal activity by any local councillor is a puzzle.
‘How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?’Sherlock Holmes
This has distinct parallels with the evidence contained in the Poplar Papers that despite widespread examples of systematic corruption under the administrations of both Rahman and Biggs nobody has ever been charged with any criminal offence.
Odd that, innit? The probably explanation is that for Rahman or any of his chums to be charged with any crime while in office was politically inconvenient for Whitehall and that for any elected representative or officer to be charged with corruption after Rahman had left office would be even worse.
Because the narrative we have all been sold is that corruption in Tower Hamlets started and ended with Lutfur Rahman.
Which is complete nonsense. He had his time on the gravy train and fell off.
Others took the same journey before him, others have taken them same journey after him and will do so in perpetuity.
It is more difficult to identify what advantages Biggs has as he seeks another term in office. A charmless man, he seems incapable of overcoming his own social awkwardness to win over friend or foe, an ability for any successful politician. His only selling point seems to be that he is not Lutfur. Which is hardly testament to his fitness for office.
While Rahman may be viewed through rose-tinted glasses Biggs is viewed as the person who has implemented a seemingly endless series of cuts to essential services. His constant refrain that this is all the fault of government cuts now rings hollow.
To make matters worse, only now are details leaking out of financial incompetence by his administration on a grand scale. Not quite Croydon Council, but close enough to get the senior council finance officers seriously worried. More on this later.
Biggs signalled his funding priorities when his first action on being re-elected was to award numerous councillors generous Special Responsibility Allowances (SRAs). That seems to have kept them happy.
This financial largesse (to buy loyalty) does seem to have helped Biggs keep the local Labour Party under control. There is zero toleration of anyone straying from the party line at the moment which is unusual to say the least.
But then serving councillors can see an alternative career path opening up if Rahman should get elected so they may be biding their time before deciding the value of jumping ship.
There are some Labour councillors who, to their credit, will stand up and be counted but they are in a very small minority and you have to look hard to spot them when they break cover.
So which to choose? Mayor Rahman? Mayor Biggs?
Rahman got caught carrying on the great Tower Hamlets tradition of giving most funding to your besties and sod what local communities need.
Biggs has been caught out cutting essential services with the ardour of Margaret Thatcher.
When the two contenders publish their manifestos the electorate will see that both share the same political beliefs.
Few trust Rahman. Few trust Biggs.
From this author’s view Biggs has, contrary to his claims, operated in a manner far more opaque and secretive than Rahman.
The only real choice residents of Tower Hamlets want is to have a Mayor or not. Biggs has spent the last few weeks ensuring that this will not happen, much to the delight of Rahman.
Rahman is much better at organising votes than Biggs. And by organising we mean genuine organising, nothing dodgy. That will ensure that the referendum result will be to continue with the Directly elected Mayoral system and a consequent election victory for Lutfur.
This will leave Biggs to retire to Poplar HARCA and run the LBTH Youth Services which HARCA now runs on behalf of the Council. Fortunately Biggs has many chums in Youth Services so he will be amongst friends.
Does it matter who is Mayor given the likely choices? (Realistically the only choices, no other political parties will get a look in. )
If Rahman and Biggs are two sides of the same coin, and we firmly believe they are, then almost certainly not.
Want a decent choice? Then go shopping at Asda.
The all seeing eye
Cllr. Andrew Wood (Independent, Canary Wharf) spots so many useful things that he is in the running for the East End Enquirer ‘Eye of Sauran’ Award 2020.
Andrew noticed something interesting about what happens if the Leader and Cabinet model of governance wins when comparing Newham Council documentation and Tower Hamlets Council documentation.
Newham documentation:Source: Newham Council
4.13 If a referendum is held and votes for a change of governance arrangements, within 28 days of the poll date, the Council must pass a second resolution to implement the change in a Special Council Meeting held for this purpose.
TH Council documentation:Source: TH Council
3.21 If a referendum is held and there is a majority vote in favour for a change of governance arrangements, within 28 days of the poll date, the Council must pass a second resolution to implement the change in a Special Council Meeting held for this purpose and if necessary transitional arrangements are agreed.
Note the additional wording if necessary transitional arrangements are agreed which is different from Newham. What does transitional mean asks Cllr. Wood?
Or to put it another way what happens to Biggs if the Leader and Cabinet model wins? As he is not a councillor, just a Mayor, he would be out on his ear.
Newham seems to imply that Committee system will be implemented 28 days later.
Does if necessary transitional arrangements agreed imply that we might have to keep Mayor Biggs until May 2022 even if the directly elected model has no legitimacy?
That would mean Tower Hamlets having a zombie Mayor – dead but very much alive.
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As community journalists we do exactly what it says on our tin – we work for the community.
In Tower Hamlets, which covers most of London’s East End, that means we spend a lot of time investigating allegations of political corruption.
It is an unfortunate fact that the poorest local authority in the country is still beset by the highest levels of corruption.
As Love Wapping we were instrumental in exposing the electoral corruption of Mayor Lutfur Rahman.