The polls have closed in Tower Hamlets.
My guess is that Lutfur Rahman, the Islamic Forum Europe-linked candidate expelled from Labour whose nomination papers were reportedly signed by Abul “Abs” Hussain, a man expelled from RESPECT for racism, will be elected as Mayor of Tower Hamlets. The campaign for an elected Mayor was run by RESPECT.
Labour is to blame, in part, for not having acted sooner. It knew full well that the Islamic Forum Europe was acting as a party within a party, yet failed to expel them earlier. However, the IFE has had its protectors within the Labour Party, and the tempation of ousting RESPECT proved too great. It was a calculation that sadly failed.
Rahman’s supporter, by contrast, fought what is perhaps the dirtiest campaign in recent local politics. Here is, I think, the lowest point of the past few weeks:
Last weekend, as a “special issue” of the London Bangla newspaper dropped through the letterbox of every household in Tower Hamlets, the election for the borough’s first all-powerful mayor plumbed new depths.
The paper carried outrageous and unsubstantiated smears against Labour’s Helal Abbas, calling him the “wife-beating candidate” and “racist” while trumpeting his Respect-supported rival — independent candidate Lutfur Rahman — as the people’s choice.
Typically, 30,000 copies of this weekly freesheet are distributed outside mosques every Friday. This time a mystery funder had tripled the print run to 90,000 copies, and so, at a mayoral hustings earlier this week, I stood up and asked Councillor Rahman: “Are you prepared to denounce the wife beating’ allegations against Mr Abbas as unfounded smears, or have they come from your campaign team?”
When Rahman initially evaded the question, the Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate John Griffiths waded in, saying: “If those allegations did come from your camp, you really should be ashamed!” At this point, Rahman, a solicitor in his early forties, lost his cool: “Don’t you dare say that!” he shouted, wagging his finger and provoking wild applause from the audience. “I will sue anyone who says it has come from my campaign team.”
But that is precisely what Abbas is saying. “The allegations that I am a wife-beater are disgusting and completely untrue and have come from Mr Rahman’s camp,” he told the Standard. “These personal attacks are an indication of how shallow, weak and desperate he is.”
“The choice facing voters,” he says, “is between a party with a proven track record in the borough, or an individual on an ego trip who could lead us towards extremism and religious intolerance. But I think the people in Tower Hamlets are too smart to be deceived by his rather obvious propaganda.”
My reading is that a low turnout has allowed the Islamic Forum Europe machine to outplay the Labour Party one. If I am right, then we will be treated to five years of watching a £1 billion budget being funneled to – well, let’s see, shall we? Rahman’s last term of office saw the Lutfur Ali scandal, in which an underqualified candidate with connections to Islamist politics with a shonky CV eventually had to resign when he turned out to have been moonlighting. Stay tuned for more of the same!
So, what will happen next?
There will be voices within the Labour Party who will encourage others to learn the wrong lesson from this episode. The wrong lesson is that Labour needs to cut deals with Islamist parties, in order to win elections. The right lessons are, first, that it is never too soon to act against Islamist entryism, and second, that there are no long term benefits to be had with allying with Islamist politics. Labour needs to be a national party of Government, not a local one. That means confronting infiltration head on.
Meanwhile, hold on tight. One billion pounds is an awful lot of money to play around with.