Former Tower Hamlets mayor, who was banned from office over vote-rigging, buying votes and religious intimidation, gets backing from UK’s biggest union.
Lutfur Rahman, the former Tower Hamlets mayor, is understood to be considering whether to pursue a judicial review of the decision to remove him from office. Photograph: Graeme Robertson
Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, Labour’s biggest donor, gave his backing on Thursday to Lutfur Rahman, who was dismissed after a court ruling last week.
The intervention, at a rally for the ousted mayor, will cause some discomfort for Labour, whose councillors and MPs have praised the decision by Judge Richard Mawrey.
It came as Rahman spoke publicly for the first time since he was removed from office. Addressing hundreds of supporters in Stepney Green, east London, Rahman confirmed that he was “exploring the possibility” of challenging the judgment. He also endorsed a close associate, Rabina Khan, as a candidate for the mayoral election on 11 June.
Rahman insisted that last year’s election was free and fair. “People in Tower Hamlets are smart. They did not vote because they were bribed, coerced or intimidated … I was voted in on my record of delivering for the people of this borough where the political establishment.
“The judgment’s treatment of this borough and the assumptions it makes about us – including our Muslim residents – shows how out of touch they are.”
Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union, which is Labour’s biggest donor. Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer
Earlier, Andrew Murray, the union’s chief of staff, told the rally in Stepney Green: “I am not speaking in a personal capacity, I am speaking on behalf of the union … and I am sending a message of support from our general secretary, Len McCluskey. Unite is proud to associate ourselves with Lutfur Rahman.”
He called the judgment “an undemocratic assault on the people of Tower Hamlets” which was both “racist” and “Islamophobic”.
George Galloway, the former MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, sent a recorded message that described the deci-sion as “an anti-democratic, anti-Islamic and racist coup”.
The mayoral election will be rerun after Rahman and his supporters were found to have used religious intimidation through local imams, vote-rigging and wrongly branding his Labour rival a racist to gain power. Mawrey, the election court judge, found Rahman guilty of seven out of nine allegations.
Rahman, who has been banned from seeking office again, was also found to have allocated local grants to buy votes and used free meals to buy political support. He was ordered to pay immediate costs of £250,000 from a bill expected to reach £1m.
Police are considering whether to launch a criminal investigation relating to Rahman over the multiple corruption allegations.
Christine Shawcross, from Labour’s national executive committee, said: “The lack of a sound evidence base, the factual inaccuracies, the dangerous claims made about British Muslims and the powers given to the state to intervene in elections set a disturbing precedent.”
She is acting as a trustee of Rahman’s legal defence fund.
Ken Livingstone, the former Labour mayor of London, said in another recorded message that the judgment was “politically motivated”.
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