Is there a shift or split within the hitherto solid Bengali Lutfurite vote? I ask this because over the past couple of days I’ve received the following three texts:
The Stake holders and the community activists conference is taking place tomorrow the 3rd June 2015 at 6.30pm in the Amana Centre, 251 Commercial Road, E1 2BT (opposite Watney Market)
Senior Tower Hamlets community leaders have come together to declare their support for mainstream political engagement in the borough ahead of the upcoming by-election for Executive Mayor on 11 June 2015. United Tower Hamlets task force has been set up to undertake and lead a campaign to re-unite the currently fractured community relation which is damaging the reputation and credibility of the British Bangladeshi Community.
The chairman of ‘ YES FOR MAYOR’ and the chair of the community coalition (Shiraj Haque) who backed former Mayor of Tower Hamlets ‘Lutfur Rahman’ is now leading the United Tower Hamlets Campaign.
Shiraj Haque, who spearheaded the ‘Yes For Mayor’ campaign and backed the candidacy of former Mayor Lutfur Rahman, heads a coalition of influential locals, who have been the catalyst for change in the borough, to push for a shift of political focus amongst the community based around existing political ideologies and away from the emergence of new and independent parties.
We invite all concerned to attend and join us in the process of creating history again by saving the community from devastating political turmoil. On behalf of united Tower Hamlets Task Force (Shiraj Haque, Rafique Hyder, Dr Aziz, Aklakur Rahman, Sadik Ali (Shefu), Minhaj Khibriya) and others.
2. Dear Friends and Associates.
I am inviting you to join me for an URGENT discussion and debate about the future of Tower Hamlets;
It’s People (OUR People)
It’s Businesses (OUR Businesses)
It’s Economy (OUR Economy)
It’s Reputation (OUR Reputation)
Our Future – OUR Childrens future in MAINSTREAM BRITISH SOCIETY & UK POLITICS!
The nation is watching to see how we undo the shame and disgrace that has undoubtedly been brought to BRITISH BANGLADESHI’S in Tower Hamlets by a so called few who told us they would place Tower Hamlets First when in reality it was all about putting themselves first!
We are now at the worst position we have ever been since electing ‘Lutfur Rahman’ as Mayor. Let us collectively discuss and decide how to re-UNITE this divided community – OUR Community.
Come and join me at;
6.30pm on Wednesday 3rd June
@ The AMANAH Centre
251 Commercial Road
London E1 2BT
(Opposite Watney Market IDEA Store)
3. “The Lutfur Rahman Verdict, Wahabi-Jamaati Identity Politics in Tower Hamlets and the Triumph of three Bangladeshi Women in UK General Election: Where the British Bangladeshi Diaspora Go from Here”.
Thursday, 4 June 2015. 5:30pm sharp. Venue: Montefiore Centre, Hanbury Street London E1 5HZ.
Keynote paper by: Piya Mayenin, Lawyer and Human Rights Activist.
Speakers include distinguished academics, trade unionists, journalists and social commentators. Thank you.
The first two, in terms of the June 11 election are especially significant because they are the work of Shiraj Haque, otherwise known on this blog over the years as the Brick Lane Curry King, the Boishakhi Mela Maestro, the Housing Association millionaire and self-declared financial backer of Lutfur Rahman in 2010.
I spoke to him tonight and his message is fairly simple: Enough is Enough, and Vote John Biggs.
“The protest vote is not a continual process in politics,” he said. “You do it once and then you reconcile.”
Shiraj Haque (right) in happier times with Lutfur Rahman and Unite boss Len McCluskey
He has promised to work his socks off over the next week to try and ensure Labour takes back the town hall, but he still believes Rabina Khan is favourite – largely because he thinks the Labour campaign has been quiet and poorly organised. He thinks they have been particularly useless at courting the Bengali press.
At tomorrow’s meeting in Watney Market he says he will outline an alternative strategy that will persuade people who voted for Lutfur to switch back to Labour.
Talking to him was fascinating. He said he backed Lutfur in 2010, that it was he who effectively helped him become mayor, that he was angry with the way he had been treated by Labour…but by 2014 he had grown “disillusioned” with him. He said Lutfur started off with the right intentions but he was was then “hijacked by invisible individuals” who had their own agenda. He wouldn’t name them. I asked if he meant the IFE and he said he was referring to individuals, not a group. He said figures within the IFE itself had expressed the same sentiment to him.
He said the formation of Tower Hamlets First had been a “total disaster”.
Anyway, I’ll let Shiraj do the talking, he’s good at that. You can form your own judgments.
“We need to get back to mainstream politics again. Individual aspirations should not be jeapordised by party officials. It was unjust of the Labour party to engineer a different result [in the 2010 election process].
“We wanted him to get back to the Labour party and that was our original intention. I regret that that did not happen. However, he did carry out some of our agenda although I wasn’t happy with his policies on social housing. I wanted 100 per cent social housing but he couldn’t do that. I also wanted more opportunities for small and medium sized entrepreneurs to flourish…so that people could move off benefits and and earn money and not become a burden on society.
“You and others always talk about me living in a housing association property but I always wanted to be in Tower Hamlets, I wanted to remain here.
“I wasn’t happy that Lutfur wanted to continue as an independent mayor. The formation of Tower Hamlets First as a party was atonal disaster and I warned him about that. However, I remained silent during the last election campaign because I didn’t want to jeopardise his individual prospects. Apart from attending one or two meetings, I was broadly invisible in that election.
“I strongly believe we need to develop the cultural part of our society and that would keep people away from extreme ideas. Musical entertainment is a way of making people engage and that part of community cohesion has been badly neglected.
“I wanted Lutfur to work more on Brick Lane’s history. Birmingham and Manchester have marketed their curry aspects well but we failed. Brick Lane is a tourist icon but we we failed to capitalise on that.
“Instead there was a hijacking by other people. I had provided a lifeline to him as a mayoral option but within a short period of time he ran away from the core team who worked hard to get him elected. It was an invisible team who hijacked him. I won’t name them. It is individuals. Even people within the IFE were concerned about who he was working with and working for.
“But the Labour party must realise that its activities prior to the election was not very pleasant and they should learn from that for the future. We want colour and background to be irrelevant.
“I held a press conference today. I wanted to say to my community that the protest vote is not a continual process in politics. You do it once and then you try to reconcile. You extend the hand, or they do, or you do it together. The Labour party should not be running away from its own supporters. You should not let the minority win.
“Yesterday’s enemy is today’s friend. That’s the lesson of history. Let’s build again.
“At the last election, many people who voted usually vote for the Lib Dems, the Conservative party or Labour voted for Lutfur. I would ask people to vote this time for the best option and that is to elect a Labour mayor.
“John Biggs is the candidate. He’s a nice guy, I get on well with him. He has a sense of humour, a dry sense of humour and that’s sometimes difficult for people to understand, but he’s a nice man and we can work together.
“I’ve been approached by Labour councillors before but I wasn’t sure they were ready to win. They need to work hard. I see the Rabina Khan campaign is working hard, they are very visible, they are more geared up than John Biggs’ campaign.
“A large section of the community thinks she will win but I think if Labour puts up a hard campaign now, it can win. But I can’t see who is running the campaign. It’s looking very difficult. If I feel tomorrow the Labour party doesn’t have a good strategy, I shall offer a new strategy. The Bengali media is very poorly managed by Labour. I will get people who voted for Lutfur to vote for John Biggs.”
Sound sensible. Or is he hedging his bets? He still runs the Mela, of course…
And I’ll add this as a postscript…at the count at the Troxy last year, he told me he’d had enough of the mayoral system that he was instrumental in delivering. He said it had caused division and that he wanted a return to a leader and cabinet system. So on that score he is consistent.