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.