Ken, Tower Hamlets and why we have to get our own house in order….

Ken Livingstone, never a stranger to controversy, has landed himself in hot water once again. He has been sighted out campaigning with ‘Independent’ candidate in the race to be Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman.  Labour’s official candidate is Helal Abbas however; controversy surrounds the circumstances of his ‘selection’. Rahman was forced to take legal action to even appear on the shortlist and following his eventual inclusion on it won a resounding victory amoungst Labour Party membership; he was backed by 45% of members’ first preferences and won the final round with 433 votes compared with 251 for local London assembly member, John Biggs, and 157 for council leader, Helal Abbas (the official candidate). Something is simply not right when this happens and those criticising Ken today, if they truly wish to be consistent democrats, cannot ignore the fact that originally the rule-breakers look likely to be the ones charged with the consistent application of those rules and they too must be held to account.

London Labour Party justifies its actions in an extremely vague way:

Having received a number of serious allegations concerning both the eligibility of participating voters and the conduct of Lutfur Rahman, the NEC has decided to investigate the allegations made. As a result, administrative action has been taken to remove Lutfur Rahman as a candidate pending the investigation. Nominations for Tower Hamlets mayor close this week and in the circumstances the NEC had no option but to impose another candidate. The NEC has voted to select Helal Abbas Uddin as Labour’s candidate.


This is simply not good enough when you consider the fact that Tower Hamlets has been in special measures for over 10 years during which time every membership application has been carefully vetted by regional officers, every selection that was allowed carefully controlled by regional officers. So, how were the ‘ineligible’ allowed to participate if it was not right under the nose of the self-same people who made this statement? This is what is now known as the ‘Coulson Defence’; complete and utter ignorance of anything that happens on your watch which suggests only one of two possibilities; you are serially incompetent or, in this case, your trying to provide flimsy window-dressing for a putsch against a democratically selected candidate.

Although he has gone about it in a characteristically blaze and clumsy way, Ken’s intentions are quite clear. He is trying to heal wounds which are, for Labour in Tower Hamlets, mostly self-inflicted. I can understand why some amoung the wider membership might be indignant at Ken’s actions and he may seem to feel himself above the rules and agree that should not be the case. However, when those rules cease to function and those administering them are not held to account for their actions and behave in a way that is ‘above the law’ (in a similar way to which Ken’s critics accuse him of behaving) what censure is left on the power of the central authority? If a leading authority behaves in this way it itself is directly responsible for the creation of what it regards as the ‘state of anarchism’ that follows. It has been argued, notably by Luke Akehurst, that Labour staff should not be neutral but an extension and tool of the leadership and the central authority but this is wrong.

Labour’s staff, it’s central bodies, every aspect of this party is part of a wider movement and has a higher duty to that movement and to act interdependently as a check and balance on the power they themselves exercise. Calling for Ken’s expulsion now is dangerous; put simply it would rip the Labour Party asunder. It also misses the point of the circumstances that led to Ken’s actions (whether ill-advised or not) and fails to absorb the necessary lessons that within this Party, democracy is not an optional extra but is the lifeblood of the Party and the wider movement around it.


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4 responses to “Ken, Tower Hamlets and why we have to get our own house in order….”

  1. de g. says :

    Not necessarily as straightforward as all that. As a Private Eye subscriber, Rahman’s name was well known from the Rotten Boroughs column in which he was a semi-permanent fixture. Moreover, Rahman himself appears to have been acting in a manner completely contrary to the rules of the party in openly refusing to back Labour’s candidate in Bethnal Green and Bow, Rushanara Ali. Whatever the circumstances, it is clear there are some pretty serious allegations against him, relating both to party rules and to electoral commission rules, which cannot be shown at this stage to be malicious or without substance. Suspension was regrettable, but appears to have been the only sensible approach.

    Ken, frankly, has been stupid. While I have some sympathy for his reasons, he is after all a member of the NEC himself now. It is simply not acceptable for a member of the Party’s own governing body to so flagrantly break the rules; surely now the NEC has no option but to expel Ken from the party. Failure to do so gives both the impression that backing other candidates is somehow acceptable, but also that there is a ‘one-rule-for-them’ position pervading from the top of the party to the bottom.

    Have a look at Christina Shawcross’ blog for her report of what happened at the NEC meeting at which this was decided.


  2. darrellgoodliffe says :


    I dont think featuring in Private Eye is proof of anything to be honest. Furthermore, the allegations were brought by Abbas who at best can be said to have a vested interest. I disagree there to be honest. Thank you for the link to the report however this confirms, not changes my position, for reasons such as this:

    “I then said that I knew most of the people involved in this case and had done for many years, although the person I knew least well was Lutfur Rahman. I pointed out that I had met him at a restaurant several months ago, where there were Asian and white women, not wearing hijabs, and alcohol was served, so that’s how much of a Muslim fundamentalist he is! I said that all membership applications in TH were dealt with by the Regional office, have been for many years, and that the local CLPs aren’t allowed to have anything to do with them, so if there are irregularities whose fault is that?”

    So, basically Shawcroft is agreeing with what I said above. She also makes the valid point that members of Respect have been intergrated within the local Labour Party.

    I think he was ill-advised to actually tramp the streets with Rahman but no I disagree. As I said the question is this who holds the central authroity to account for the maintence of its own rules and standards? In these circumstances the rebels are right because the central organ has behaved in a way which makes a nonsense of its own rules so it must be opposed and defied. The correct course for those who value the maintence of those rules is rebellion.

    He called for a second preference vote for Rahman; something that will become increaseingly common if AV is passed. Simply if it is this archaic and out of date rule will have to be changed. Also, I note that the Labour high command did this during the General Election calling for a tactical vote for the Lib Dems. Are you demanding their expulsion?


  3. de g. says :

    Whatever the rights or wrongs of Rahman’s suspension (and while I don’t know enough to pass judgement, I do know there are two sides to every story), Ken has to be censured for this. While you and I might not be keen, the NEC voted by a fairly wide margin to suspend Rahman and as such they must then abide by their own decision (albeit that Ken was not at that point a NEC member).

    Ken knows what he is doing – this is a direct challenge to the authority of the party generally. That’s fine if you want to make a point, but if you are on the NEC you don’t get to make points like that. As for those who called for tactical voting, I’ve previously called for them to be censured at the very least, and challenged Ed Balls directly on it, with a somewhat unsatisfactory answer.


  4. darrellgoodliffe says :


    Indeed there are. No, I think that would do more harm than good and send a clear message to the electorate in Tower Hamlets who have now spoken with a decisive voice that Labour doesnt listen. It would probably kill the Labour Party as an electoral force in that area.

    No, its a challenge to a authortiarian centre that lost respect for its own rules when it meddled in this way. Well, at least your consistent and I think thats admirable although wrong because if AV is passed then this is going to become increaseingly commonplace and the rules around this will simply have to change because they will be outmoded.


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