Five reasons why tomorrow’s Tower Hamlets election matters

Rabina Khan would be a mayor for women and a mayor against austerity, writes Andrew Ward

Rabina Khan and supporters

Tomorrow morning brings the mayoral election in Tower Hamlets. The two frontrunners are Labour’s John Biggs and independent candidate Rabina Khan. Here is why a victory for the latter matters for left-wing politics in the East End, but also beyond.

Because Rabina winning would be a disaster for the Establishment

Progress, the Labour Right’s website, say that against securing Tower Hamlets, “everything else can wait.” Labour began their campaign by saying “the fightback for Britain begins in Tower Hamlets.” The Tories agree. Right-leaning newspapers have done all they can to smash Rabina Khan’s campaign. A constellation of MPs and senior politicians have been driven down to Tower Hamlets to convince people to vote. There is serious fire being put into the winning the East End, and it is because the main parties have been embarrassed. In the same way as Labour have reacted with scorn and fury to their defeat by the anti-austerity SNP in Scotland, they were knocked off their perch in 2010 in Tower Hamlets and have never quite recovered. So much so that one of their first actions after the General Election was to purge their ruling executive committee of a woman who wouldn’t toe their line on Tower Hamlets…

Because Labour’s campaign is vicious, cynical and divisive…

Labour have chosen not to focus on policy issues at all, only on a court case that was dangerously politicised. They started by refusing to acknowledge Rabina existed. They continued by refusing to acknowledge that Rabina was an independent person with her own political ideas. A former senior official appeared to claim she would be unfit for the job because she has a disabled child. As Rabina herself wrote in Total Politics: “There is no doubt that Labour and the Tories will try to obscure their own failings in the East End – not to mention nationally – by running solely on the back of an election court judgment that Lutfur Rahman intends to appeal. In short Labour’s John Biggs only real message is that he is not Lutfur Rahman – neither am I. In the last few months, Nicola Sturgeon, Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood have shown that it is possible to imagine a new kind of politics. I want to go beyond imagining and put that politics into action.”

Because there are few other local politicians with the guts to tackle London’s housing crisis

But there cannot only be negative reasons to vote in an election. The housing crisis is perhaps the single greatest blight on working-class Londoners. And hardly any local politicians have Rabina’s record or vision. She has helped private renters resist revenge evictions. She has bailed out two and a half thousand families from the bedroom tax. She has delivered record numbers of affordable homes – most of them genuinely affordable, not the 80% market rate touted as ‘affordable’ by Boris Johnson. And she was the only mayoral candidate to appear on the East London March for Homes in January.

She is no revolutionary, but her plans are about as radical you can get with a programme informed by the constraints forced upon local authorities – including 5500 more affordable homes, closing down the semi-privatised Tower Hamlets Homes agency and bringing it back into the Council, a tough registration scheme for private landlords and the first regeneration plan that can be credibly described as development led by the interests of local people rather than developers alone. And she would be a campaigning politician who tries to influence the debate in favour of housing justice at a national level.

Because she’s strongly anti-austerity

Other than the Greens, who have next to no chance of winning, she’s the only candidate to come out against austerity and the welfare cap. Outside Brighton, there are no other English councils run by parties who are anti-cuts. The main parties want to use this election to tell us there’s no alternative. This is the first election following the General Election, and a rejection of anti-cuts politics at this time would send a worthwhile message.

And because women, and especially women of colour, still remain grimly underrepresented in British politics.

Over half our population are women but less than a third of MPs are. When we add other minorities into the mix, the figures get worse. All other UK elected mayors are white and thirteen out of seventeen are male. Representation matters, for the simple reason that anybody claiming to represent a population should at the very least look like the population it serves. It matters especially in a place like Tower Hamlets, where nearly half of women are economically inactive and Rabina Khan’s platform includes a focus on the gender gap.

In her words, she would be “a mayor for women and a mayor against austerity.”

Progress are right about one thing. Tomorrow, everything else in English politics can wait.


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