Labour’s candidate for the directly-elected mayoralty of Tower Hamlets will be selected by the entire local membership, it has been announced. What’s wrong with that? In somewhere normal, nothing. But in Tower Hamlets, it risks ripping up the whole of the last two years’ successful work by Labour to hold back the infiltration of their party by Islamic fundamentalists.
As I’ve described in the Telegraph and on Channel 4’s Dispatches, there have been some exceptionally suspicious changes in Labour Party membership in Tower Hamlets. Over a period of a few months, Bethnal Green and Bow constituency saw its membership more than double – from 550 to more than 1100. Ninety per cent of the new members were Asian, and dozens joined on the same day.
One of the local Labour MPs, Jim Fitzpatrick, says the fundamentalist Islamic Forum of Europe – which wants to create an Islamic state – has been infiltrating and “corrupting” Labour like Militant did in the 1980s.
Aware of this, Labour placed the local party under “special measures.” Members’ power to select councillor candidates was removed. Candidates were selected by a special panel, limiting the numbers of Islamists in the Labour group. Now, however, these measures are to be removed. Labour is throwing open the selection for the far more powerful post of mayor – who will be in almost total control of the council. This is a recipe for disaster.
Labour sources assure me that they are well aware of the issue. I’m told that some of the suspicious new members (whose numbers peaked in 2008) have failed to renew. It’s also true that an early “freeze date,” 6 May, has been applied. Nobody who joined Labour after this point will be eligible to vote in the mayoral selection, meaning that the IFE cannot sign up huge numbers of new members in the coming weeks. It’s also possible that the time-honoured tactic will be adopted of keeping some of the more problematic candidates off the shortlist.
But the fact is that this does create a huge window for the IFE, and one of its recent allies, Lutfur Rahman. Mr Rahman, who was until recently the council leader, was elected to that post with the help of a senior IFE official, something he has refused to deny; under his leadership, a number of IFE-friendly policies were pursued, an IFE sympathiser was hired as assistant chief executive and increased sums of council money were paid to organisations closely connected to the IFE.
Mr Rahman lost his job after our expose; the recent elections, a massive defeat for the IFE, saw a number of moderate Muslim councillors elected. They promptly voted for an opponent of the IFE, Helal Abbas, as leader. But he is hoping to use the mayoralty to stage a triumphant comeback to a position of even greater power. The way it’s looking, he might well manage it.