The extraordinary story of Lutfur Rahman’s political career in Tower Hamlets will interest students of the political and electoral history in the future. As an observer from across the council chamber, there was no visible evidence as to how and why he would secure the political support that he did. To create and lead a completely local political party within a single London Borough, with a population of over 300,000, is an extraordinary achievement.
However, his first two elections were mired in controversy and as is well known in 2015 he was disqualified from office by the High Court on seven grounds of corrupt and illegal practices.
His management of the council was no less controversial. He operated with a powerful backroom organisation which was fronted by inexperienced councillors who formed his visible cabinet, although this was effectively powerless as he retained all executive control. He was notorious for declining to answer questions at meetings, appear before overview and scrutiny and in every election, including that which concluded last week, take part in public hustings.
Instead, as the 2015 judgement found, council resources were diverted to package him almost exclusively to the local Bangladeshi written and broadcast media, where he faced no opposition.
Can he do the same again? His policies are similar to the other candidates, more homes, improved schools, protecting services and the environment. What is missing is how this will be achieved. His support is overwhelmingly from the borough’s Bangladeshi origin community. He fielded 44 candidates for the council, all were Bangladeshi and all but one were male. The council now has just eleven women members, ten from the Labour Party and the lone green councillor.
As a resident I want my home borough to succeed. I will do my part in scrutinising the decisions of the Mayor and question decisions. However, Lutfur Rahman must change and become transparent and not be afraid of questions and, yes, criticism.
Peter Golds has been a Conservative councillor for the London borough of Tower Hamlets since 2006