Lutfur Rahman, the former Mayor of Tower Hamlets who was removed from office in April 2015 after an election court judgment found him to have engaged in “corrupt and illegal practices” during the election of 2014, has announced he will be running for mayor again in the East End borough this year having completed five-year ban preventing him from seeking public office. What are his chances of winning?
It is a hard question to answer, but it is safe to assume that Labour incumbent John Biggs and the Labour Party locally are very much not being complacent about the threat he could present to them. They know better than anyone that the vote for Rahman when he first became Mayor at the inaugural Tower Hamlets mayoral election of 2010 and the voided one of 2014 was large and genuine.
Allegations that his two victories were principally due to “industrial-scale fraud”, as claimed in some quarters at the time, were not, in fact, substantiated by the election court, which had no need to investigate the number of votes that might have been illegitimately cast in order to establish if electoral law had been breached. As the judgment put it:
“One bogus vote, if arranged by the candidate or someone who is in law his agent, will unseat the candidate, however large his majority…Even if voter fraud is established, neither the parties [to the case] nor the court have any idea whether it is the tip of a large iceberg or the few rogue items in an otherwise impeccable poll – or somewhere in between.”
So if support for Rahman among Tower Hamlets voters was considerable before, maybe it will turn out to be so again. In the past his bedrock has been fellow Bangladeshi Londoners, who make up around one third of the borough’s population. In addition, he has positioned himself to appeal to the populist left, including by falsely accusing Biggs when he was Labour’s candidate in 2014 of being racist. The tactic was condemned in the election the court judgment, so Rahman might be wary of trying it again.
But if his Twitter activity is any guide, Rahman has identified local issues around which he might recreate the coalition of voters he’s attracted before. For example, he has joined in the criticism – albeit much of it ill-informed and misplaced – of the council approving plans for changes to the interior of the old Truman Brewery building in Brick Lane. Tapping in to the anti-“gentrification” and “social cleansing” protest narratives might be profitable for him.
He and the local Aspire party he is now attached to have also have already deprived Labour of a council seat in a recent by-election. That result might have been influenced by Labour’s introduction of a low traffic neighbourhood in the area. That’s another issue which, in this part of London, can be recruited to a wider argument that minority and low income groups are victims of LTNs.
The Lutfur Rahman comeback could well turn out to be a damp squib, but his opponents would do well not to bank on it.
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