THE BLOG
27/11/2013 06:34 GMT | Updated 26/01/2014 05:59 GMT

Tower Hamlets Deserves Better

In a recent article Lutfur Rahman, the current Tower Hamlets Mayor, made a point of challenging Islamophobic rhetoric. I stand with him in challenging those who target and misrepresent Muslims and the Islamic faith. This is pernicious, divisive and hugely damaging to good community relations in our country. It is a direct successor to anti-Semitism and it is unacceptable.

However, from reading his article you might be mistaken for thinking Rahman has the monopoly in these beliefs. But it was a cross-community and cross-party coalition that stood up to challenge the EDL's racism when they tried to march through our borough in September. Alas, the fact that I and many others who do not support Rahman were part of that coalition is forgotten by the current Mayor.

Rahman tries to claim that only he and those who support him have stood up to the EDL and other racist groups so that he can attack anybody who challenges his policies as implicitly racist. The puerile nature of this argument would be laughable were it not so dangerous - it isn't just the right-wing that can stir up community division.

Regularly we see Rahman attribute malign motives to those who disagree with him. For example his allegations of a McCarthy-like right wing conspiracy against him within the local Labour Party. To speak about implicit racial narratives and then attempt to peddle the same for personal political gain is an alarming corruption of the trust placed in him by voters.

Let me be clear, to me Lutfur Rahman is not special and just like any other politician I will hold him to account for the decisions and actions he takes.

Unlike other politicians however Rahman doesn't believe in scrutiny. To the extent that he even refuses to speak at Council meetings arguing it's against his 'human rights' to force him to answer residents' questions. And when faced with scrutiny he cries victimisation.

He may believe in his self-imagined victim complex - but the reality is more mundane - he was, and is, a mediocre leader who is trying to survive through crude patronage and machine politics. Most of the people I speak to in the East End understand this. This is why Labour's National Executive Committee chose not to endorse him as a Labour candidate. Whilst he may still have personal scores to settle, that is not what the coming election should be about. To borrow Ed Miliband's phrase: Tower Hamlets deserves better. And that is why I am standing against him, as the Labour candidate, in May 2014.

In his article, Rahman accused Labour of resorting to underhand tactics because we questioned the fact over half the borough's Decent Homes work was completed in just 3 of 17 wards, all represented by his supporters.

When Rahman says our questions are underhand tactics, I challenge him to show us the evidence that we are wrong - the facts are pretty clear cut - and urge him to do better for the borough's tenants.

When he continues to believe in spending tax-payers' millions on personal advisors, a vanity limousine and overly politicised publicity, I will continue to argue he is wrong.

When he says questions about his allocation of millions of pounds of grant funding makes us racist then I challenge him to open up his secretive administration to scrutiny. It is right that he explains why he believes funding a newspaper (which happens to support his administration) to hold a private awards dinner is more important than helping the Citizens Advice Bureau run welfare reform advice sessions. But he refuses. Legitimate questions about the use of public money deserve answers not insults.

We live in a democracy, in a part of London where politicians have to make decisions about the allocation of scarce resources and where fairness requires the needs of everyone to be considered, and seen to be considered. People are ambitious for their families and communities, and want to know that the council is doing its job properly. Our job is to make sure that happens and raise an alarm when it doesn't. The alarm bells are ringing now.

I will fight this election for the future of this borough. In Tower Hamlets the powerhouse of the UK economy sits alongside communities unable and too often unsupported to realise their potential in a rapidly changing world. Lutfur Rahman has failed to challenge that.

As a Labour politician I am led by my deep rooted values of fairness, equality and social justice. I accept that people will disagree with some, or all, of my views but these are my guiding principles, my core beliefs, and as such I am always prepared and willing to defend them when people question or criticise my approach.

What I don't accept is that politics should degenerate into mudslinging and unwarranted attacks on a person's character.

Sadly Lutfur Rahman still needs to learn that disagreeing with his approach to these challenges is not racism, its political debate and it is at the heart of our democratic system.