London

A mayoral mess in Tower Hamlets election

Elections in Tower Hamlets are never simple. And this latest one has proved no different.

This time round the people of the borough are being asked to vote for an all-powerful mayor.

It is a good job, paying £75,000 a year. No wonder, then, that interest in becoming that person is so high.

But being Tower Hamlets, it was never going to be a straightforward affair.

Thursday's election has managed to split the local Labour Party in two, with former colleagues now fighting each other for the post.

One can only imagine what their opponents in the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green camps make of it all.

So what has gone so wrong?

Fraud allegations

It started when Labour began to choose its candidate.

A former leader of the council, Lutfur Rahman, fancied his chances, as did the current leader, Helal Abbas, along with London Assembly member John Biggs.

But at the shortlisting stage, Mr Rahman was ditched.

After the threat of legal challenges, however, he was eventually let back on the shortlist and eventually won a vote of local Labour Party members.

Now you would think that would be that. Not so.

Labour's ruling body, the National Executive Committee (NEC), then deselected Mr Rahman, following a complaint by Mr Abbas, who submitted a document to the NEC.

In it, he made allegations of fraud during the vote, alleging that some people should not have been allowed to vote.

Image caption Mr Rahman (left) was accompanied by Mr Livingstone (right) on the campaign trail this week

He also questioned Mr Rahman's links to a local Muslim group, the Islamic Forum of Europe.

The NEC then installed Mr Abbas as the Labour candidate and not Mr Biggs, who had come second in the local party vote.

Mr Rahman then announced he would stand as an independent - and eight local Labour councillors were suspended from the party for supporting him.

Just when you thought it had got complicated enough, another former independent candidate for another mayor's job waded into the row.

'Moment of madness'

On Monday, Ken Livingstone turned up in Tower Hamlets, not to hit the streets with the Labour candidate - as you might expect from the man running to be Labour's mayor of London - but to stand side by side with Mr Rahman.

He called the NEC's decision to deselect Mr Rahman "a moment of madness".

Under Labour rules, anyone supporting a candidate against Labour can be expelled from the party, a fact which has put Labour's high command in a tight spot.

Image caption The borough also includes the wealth of the Canary Wharf development in Docklands

Will they suspend Mr Livingstone, the man who only recently won their contest to fight the next London mayoral election?

Much may depend on the result of the Tower Hamlets mayoral race.

Some Labour MPs have already written to the party leadership, calling for an investigation into Mr Livingstone's actions.

It really is not pretty for the Labour Party. But of course there are those who will see the brighter side of the whole affair.

Conservative candidate Neil King, Liberal Democrat hopeful John Griffiths and the Green Party's Alan Duffell may have struggled to make headlines of their own in the past few weeks, given Labour's problems.

But they will also be looking at the whole affair with a political eye and perhaps realising that it will be the voters who ultimately decide who will be the first directly-elected mayor of Tower Hamlets.

The five candidates standing on Thursday are:

  • Helal Uddin Abbas, Labour Party
  • Alan Duffell, Green Party
  • John David Macleod Griffiths, Liberal Democrats
  • Neil Anthony King, Conservative Party
  • Lutfur Rahman, Independent

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