Ken Livingstone was openly laughed at by members of Labour’s National Executive Committee today, I am told, after he urged them to readmit the extremist-linked mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, to the party and let him stand as the Labour candidate in the borough’s 2014 mayoral election.
The NEC’s organisation sub-committee was setting the process for selecting a Labour mayoral candidate in Tower Hamlets. He or she is now expected to be chosen in April, to give them time to build up a head of steam against Lutfur, who was sacked as Labour candidate in the 2010 mayoral election for his close links to an Islamic fundamentalist group, the Islamic Forum of Europe, which believes in turning Europe into a sharia state. Lutfur is also backed by a group of powerful local businessmen. In office, as this blog has documented, he has systematically given key positions, funding and favours to his extremist and moneyed patrons and is slowly turning a diverse, multicultural borough into a vehicle favouring a specific set of interests and segment of the community.
“Ken was ridiculed,” says my informant. “People were laughing out loud. He had absolutely no support whatever for his proposal, not even from the likes of [hard-left MP] Dennis Skinner.” A former member of the NEC, Luke Akehurst, tweeted tonight that the Kenster was “in a minority of one” at the meeting. Labour’s secretary in Tower Hamlets, Tarik Ahmed Khan, said: “Ken Livingstone still meddling in TH politics, [sought] to let Mayor Lutfur back into TH Labour Party. Thankfully, all voted against. Desperate.”
This must, I think, mark the final end for Lutfur’s hopes of readmission to Labour. Even the Dave Spart parody left, his main supporters in the party, have fallen silent in recent months as the true nature of his regime becomes clear. Labour know that if they let Lutfur back he becomes their new Derek Hatton. Outside the party, he’s still a scandal and a disaster – but he’s not their scandal and disaster.
Today is also clearly the latest sign of Ken’s fading influence in London Labour circles. His running-mate, Val Shawcross, was not selected to contest November’s Croydon North byelection – instead Labour chose the more Ken-sceptic figure of Steve Reed, former leader of Lambeth Council. Several of Lutfur’s Tower Hamlets allies were expelled from the party in July, an event unlikely had Ken won the mayoral election two months before.
More people than ever across the party now realise what plenty were saying all along – that Livingstone threw away a potentially winnable mayoral election last year. One of Ken’s countless self-inflicted wounds was his decision to campaign for Lutfur, and against the official Labour candidate, in the 2010 Tower Hamlets mayoral poll.
Does all this mean that Lutfur will lose his mayoral gig in 2014? Not necessarily. He still has almost total power over the council’s £1 billion budget and has been ruthlessly using it to promote his re-election. Every council tenant who gets a new window also gets a letter from Lutfur, on his famous picture headed notepaper, claiming credit – even though it’s usually the Government that’s paid. Every Tower Hamlets letterbox gets Lutfur’s personal taxpayer-funded Pravda, East End Life, through it every single week, complete with the statutory half-dozen or so pictures of the great man. Millions of pounds are being channelled into “capacity-building” (that is, vote-building) grants to Lutfur’s business cronies and extremist allies.
Egged on by such people, Lutfur’s Bengali bloc can be relied on to vote under all circumstances (even death shall not weary them.) Non-Lutfur Bengali, white and black voters (who still collectively make up the vast majority of voters in Tower Hamlets) are much less likely to turn out.
Yet Lutfur’s permanent isolation in that cul-de-sac marked “independent” will peel away more of the ambitious job and money-seeking opportunists who cluster around politicians in Tower Hamlets. If he cannot tap in to wider Labour power circles, his usefulness to such folk is less. Some of the Dear Leader’s backers have already drifted away in frustration at the severely local nature of what he can deliver them. The IFE’s secret is organisation. If Labour can match its level of organisation, it can win in 2014.
Labour’s choice of candidate will be important, though. Because of the aforesaid turnout differential between Bengali and non-Bengali voters, Tower Hamlets politics is Bengali-dominated and other groups feel less engaged. The trick might be to select someone who can appeal across all communities. The front-runner is probably the London Assembly member and former Tower Hamlets council leader, John Biggs, who came second to Lutfur in the 2010 Labour selection contest.
Labour should be proud that its representative bodies and its elected leaders (such as Newham’s Robin Wales and Hackney’s Jules Pipe, who will have nothing to do with Lutfur) are so strongly resisting sectarianism and sleaze and upholding the party’s core secular and democratic values.