London

Candidates manoeuvring into a Tower Hamlets election win

Chrisp Street
Image caption Ten candidates are playing the political game after the previous mayor faced checkmate

A black and white chess board painted on paving stones greets you as you enter Chrisp Street market in Poplar.

Behind the huge chess pieces traders flog bargains in a part of London that's seen a corrupt leader, Lutfur Rahman, face checkmate.

Mr Rahman was banned by an election court in April from standing again in Tower Hamlets after being found guilty of illegal practices in last year's mayoral election.

On a stall selling cleaning products Mohammed Hussein, a market trader from Bangladesh who has lived in Poplar for 12 years, believes it is time for a clean slate.

"We need to improve our image and what happened about Mayor Lutfur Rahman everybody should forget about this and everybody should work for the community to have a better future."

This week another "king" or "queen" will be manoeuvred into the winning spot when the people of Tower Hamlets vote for a new executive mayor to replace Mr Rahman - but who could lead that future?

Image copyright PA
Image caption The new mayoral election is being held after Lutfur Rahman was found guilty of electoral fraud

The frontrunners of 10 candidates hoping to decide that future are Labour's John Biggs and the council's Cabinet member for housing, independent candidate, Rabina Khan.

Ms Khan used to be a member of Lutfur Rahman's Tower Hamlets First party - which is no longer recognised by the Electoral Commission - and she has been endorsed by him.

But as I meet her in Stepney Green she tells me: "I am standing as an independent candidate. And I hope that people understand that I am my own woman.

"I'm not saying vote for me because I'm a Muslim. I'm [saying] this is my vision. I'm a working mum. I live in the borough… I really do understand the huge problems that the people of this borough face. Everybody has the need to ensure they live a quality life and I think that's what counts," she said.

Labour's John Biggs is a London Assembly member and former council leader in Tower Hamlets.

He was falsely accused by Lutfur Rahman of racism when he stood against him last year, but Mr Biggs has been supported by London Labour MPs including Streatham's Chuka Umunna and Bengali MPs Rushanara Ali and Tulip Siddiq.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption With high level of child poverty, Tower Hamlets exists in the shadow of Canary Wharf

When I meet him in Bow Church he tells me: "The first thing we need to do is redeem the reputation of Tower Hamlets, because it's been in the newspapers and the media for the wrong reasons.

"The strength in our diversity is about people working together and not being separate."

He adds there are social issues the future mayor will need to address: "We have a housing crisis. People are being driven out by house prices…We have high levels of unemployment in bits of our communities so we need to look at the question of skills."

In Poplar one only need look up from the £8 dresses and £2 flip flops on sale in the market to see the vast disparity of wealth.

Canary Wharf and its multi-million pound businesses tower above me as I walk towards a housing estate in a borough with the highest level of child poverty in the country and where life expectancy is the lowest in all of London.

Image caption Elizabeth (L) and Zeena say there are too many barriers for different communities to mix

At a community centre I find a group of Muslim women who are learning English. Their teacher is Fatima, a 42-year-old mother of four who was born and brought up in London. Her father came to the East End from Bangladesh and her mother is from Trinidad.

Fatima tells me Bangladeshi and Bengali people care about the same things English families care about, like the cost of housing and their children's education.

She says many of the women she works with want to learn English so they can mix with people from other backgrounds: "They're trying. They want to socialise, but there are barriers there that are preventing them from doing so like language and the way that housing and schools are set up."

One of her students, Elizabeth Khatun, agrees. She is in her 50s and arrived from Bangladesh 15 years ago.

As she shares a joke with her classmate Zeena from Tunisia, Elizabeth tells me: "This country is friendly. All people are friends. English, Bengali, Somali, Turkish, Pakistani, Spanish, all people."

Finding a strategy to bring people closer will be one of the challenges for the last candidate left standing after Thursday's election.


The full list of candidates:

  • Elaine Bagshaw, Liberal Democrats
  • John Biggs, Labour Party
  • Andy Erlam, Red Flag - Anti Corruption
  • John Foster, Green Party
  • Peter Golds, Conservative Party
  • Vanessa Helen Hudson, Animal Welfare Party
  • Hafiz Abdul Kadir, Independent
  • Rabina Khan, Independent
  • Nicholas McQueen, UKIP
  • Md Motiur Rahman Nanu, Independent

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