Residents of Tower Hamlets go to the polls this Thursday, with Labour’s John Biggs widely expected to replace the disgraced Lutfur Rahman as mayor. But could there be a shock in store?
Ground campaigning in the last week has given rise to increasing Labour concerns that the election might not be the shoe-in they had hoped for.
Previous Mayor Rahman fronted the Tower Hamlets First Party before being kicked out after a withering High Court judgement, prompted by Government investigations into widespread corruption in the Borough, banned him from public office.
Rahman’s dismissal from office was supposed to provide a clean slate and a return to some semblance of normality in a borough riven with political controversies. But fears are growing that his anointed successor, Rabina Khan, is gaining on Biggs thanks to the backing of many of Rahman’s loyal supporters.
A victory for Khan – the former Chair of the Borough’s Housing Committee – could be seen as a blow to both major parties. While the Conservatives have little chance of winning, Ministers have led action against corruption in the Borough and previous Communities Secretary Eric Pickles in particular invested considerable effort in holding Rahman and his administration to account. As the Government’s new Anti-Corruption Tsar, seeing one of Rahman’s acolytes running the Borough would not sit well with him. Conservative activists flooded the Borough last weekend to get behind their candidate Peter Golds.
But the stakes are higher for Labour. Still raw from the chastening general election defeat last month, they badly need to win Tower Hamlets back to boost morale and kick-start their London Mayoral election campaign.
In a borough where a third of the community is Bangladeshi, Labour’s three young, female and Bangladeshi MPs (Rushanara Ali, Tulip Siddiq and Rupa Huq) have been helping to make the case for John Biggs and fronted his campaign over the weekend.
If Khan is returned as Mayor, further questions will be asked about London’s “rotten borough” – the Police are still considering bringing charges against Rahman for electoral fraud and as polling day approaches, speculation about improper electoral conduct in this campaign is already mounting.
But more questions would be asked about Labour’s operation at a time of considerable uncertainty.
In the midst of a Party leadership campaign they know they need to continue to make gains in London, one of their remaining strong areas, and lay the ground for a mayoral win in 2016. Party officials will be watching closely, and nervously, on Thursday.