Monday, 27 April 2015

Lutfur Rahman: now let’s see Labour’s ways of working change

It is surely hard for any Labour member – okay, Ken Livingstone excepted – to shed a tear for former Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman.

The man who was yesterday unceremoniously turfed out of office, after anunequivocal judgement against him in an electoral court, has become the subject of arguably the worst scandal in local government since Westminster council leader Dame Shirley Porter’s conviction for gerrymandering two decades ago. Criminal charges may yet be brought.

But as we look at it, we have to ask ourselves: what have we learned? It would be good to think that the party leadership is right now taking a few moments to reflect, thinking “how can we make sure this never happens again? How did we ever get here?”

It seems, sadly, that the reaction seems more likely to be “phew – good job he left the party before all this”.

But although Rahman created his own vehicle, the “Tower Hamlets First” party, he was a clear product of the Labour Party as it was in the 2000s (let’s not forget, he was Labour leader of the council for two years before he was an independent mayor). A monster we created. We cannot just congratulate ourselves that we – partially, at least – dodged the bullet.

Think about it. Logically, we can draw three possible conclusions.

One: that he was a one-off. That his rise and fall is a product of his particular personality and not symptomatic of a wider problem in the way Labour deals with ethnic and religious communities. Looking at the problems Labour has had in twelve other constituencies where electoral tampering has also been alleged,previously documented by Labour Uncut, this seems unlikely.

Two: that he was not a one-off, but that things have now changed and we have no need to change our behaviour. This seems unlikely as well. No visible changes seem to have been made in party strategy, or circumstances. Indeed, it seems the opposite, we are now talking about the possible introduction of all-ethnic-minority shortlists: in other words, the exact kind of identity politics which pits communities against each other. The exact kind of divisive identity politics which Rahman nurtured in Tower Hamlets.

Three: that he was not a one-off and the problem is still there. Hmm.

It’s not brain surgery, is it? Rahman was a direct product of our way of cuddling up to self-appointed ethnic community fixers and sewing up votes and selections. It is still going on and this will not be the last time. We will continue to turn a blind eye as the politics of a less enlightened state apparatus – in this case the village politics of Sylhet, Bangladesh – is imported into our local government.

The answer is not, repeat not, keep doing the same thing and then just ensure the resulting leaders we have nurtured leave the party before they do something which really embarrasses us. Which is what happened here.

When are we going to learn that we need a fundamental change in the way we interact politically with ethnic and religious groups?

When we have someone else just like Rahman, running a Labour council somewhere else?

Or when we have ten Rahmans?


This post first published at Labour Uncut

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