Douglas Carswell's shock defection speech included some of the things that so many of us have been saying for years. 'Different cliques, same sofa', he said of the Westminster system, composed of people who 'seek every great office yet believe in so little.' In a week where a Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission report revealed just how elitist British public life still is, Carswell's warnings of a self-selecting system where people becoming politicians by working for politicians taps into widespread sentiment. It is sad that Carswell has identified some of the correct problems but then chosen the wrong solutions. Owen Jones' recent Guardian piece explained lucidly how Nigel Farage is no maverick, but in fact an ultra-establishment figure. Ukip's response to the malaise in conventional politics is to divide, not to unite. It drums up fear and racism to marginalise the vulnerable, be they immigrants, women or benefits claimants. It is a party of despair.
Like Douglas Carswell, I too was part of a party I loved and believed in, which still contains those I am proud to call friends. Internal feuds were replacing issues and policies as the local party's motor, and it was letting down the residents that we were elected to serve. So we took the choice to go independent, and I am now a little way into my second-term as Britain's first independent Muslim executive mayor. What I am proud of, though, is not internal politics. We have shown as a community what we are capable of together, when those who occupy public office stop at nothing to put the livelihoods of ordinary people first.
A few years ago, some of the wards in my borough ranked with the most deprived of the English wards. The neglect and oversight of Tower Hamlets, my community, is a national disgrace. And so we responded by investing in our residents. As council leader I made Tower Hamlets London's first Living Wage borough. In my first term we created thousands of new affordable homes (more than anywhere else in the UK), and we are on track to create five thousand more this term. We have Britain's best urban schools, and we were the only inner-London borough to make it into the top ten for getting students into university this year. There's a range of ways we went about this, but most simply we rejected the politics that said people don't deserve support. We rejected a politics that said our teachers, families and children must foot the bill for the mistakes of the system, and so we brought back the EMA and created a £1500 bursary to help students with living costs. This term we have pledged to create twenty thousand sustainable jobs.
We have paid dearly for daring to stand up. Whilst Ukip is feted with media coverage and a disproportionate number of TV appearances, we have been demonised by a cabal of right-wing columnists (shamefully backed by opposition politicians on occasion.) The odious documentary that portrayed us as 'Britain's Islamic Republic' on trumped-up allegations was responsible in part for bringing the English Defence League to Tower Hamlets multiple times. Currently, there is a petition going through the courts accusing us of electoral malpractice yet again. It's getting tiring. We have had several police investigations and Electoral Commission reports, all of which have not only cleared us but been satisfied with what they found, aside from a few administrative concerns. The only person arrested and charged with election offences has been a Tory council candidate. And yet last Tuesday's Times ran with lurid allegations against me on their front page for which no evidence has yet been provided. Eric Pickles, the man who spent £76k of our money on tea and biscuits, is throwing public money into yet another audit of our council. Tower Hamlets First, our new party, have had to do their jobs in the presence of vicious and racialised scapegoating. I say this not to garner sympathy, but to demonstrate the reality of what happens when people create a genuine alternative to the establishment. The Westminster 'sofa cliques' that Carswell complained of and their allies strike quickly to discredit anything that stands in the way of their story that there is no alternative.
It is a shame that a belief in people makes us seem radical these days. When we absorbed the cost of council tax benefit, blocked bedroom tax evictions, pledged to not engage with firms that blacklisted workers and resisted austerity, we had to go up against a government that has forgotten how to care and an opposition that has forgotten how to fight. In spite of all, we continue to win for local people. The EDL and their ilk leaped on the claim that we only worked for the Bengali community. In fact the entire community benefit from free school meals, from new homes, from better care for the elderly and also from the little things, like our new library or the old Poplar Baths that we are bringing back into use. From Brick Lane to Canary Wharf, our historic slice of city is made stronger by its diversity, and we have been doing all we can to prevent it becoming the faceless brave new Tory world where residents are shipped out of London to make way for those who can afford to pay the rent.
Douglas Carswell's constituency contains Jaywick, last year named as the country's most deprived area. He styles himself a localist, and so could learn some lessons from us about what a locally-focussed alternative to machine politics really looks like.Suggest a correction