Tower Hamlets council demonstrates that an alternative to austerity is possible. It’s a path that could rebuild Labour’s fortunes, but as the party lurches back to the right and suspends a leading left-winger, it’s one they refuse to take, argues Adam Ward.
Labour have just lost an election to the Conservative Party. In their heartlands they were trailed closely by UKIP, and in almost all their heartlands outside of London they were defeated by those who did not vote. It would be fair to say that they need to focus both on winning back their core vote, and on how they are going to beat the Conservatives over the next five years. It would be fair to expect a strategy for five years of opposition, now that they have pledged to launch a “fight for Britain.”
That fight for Britain apparently begins in London’s Tower Hamlets. It is not against the Conservatives, or the Lib Dems, or UKIP, or even on winning back non-voters. It is against a left-wing, anti-austerity Muslim woman who is campaigning against the housing crisis.
The context is this – Labour were beaten by a left-wing social democrat who they failed to remove at the ballot box, and eventually colluded in removing through the courts in a judgment that presents serious concerns for British democracy.
Not content with ousting their rival, Labour have now moved in to suspend Christine Shawcroft from their National Executive Committee. Reportedly, this was to do with her providing a statement to the Election Court in defence of Lutfur Rahman. When they received legal advice that it would be contempt of court to discipline someone for giving a statement, they instead accused Christine of having “campaigned for Rahman” and thereby breached Labour rules. She did not – she defended him as innocent of corruption, not as a candidate that should be elected over the Labour candidate. Of course, Christine is one of the NEC’s most left-leaning executive members, in a climate where zombie-Blairism is due to return to the party.
With Christine safely out the way, Labour can now get on with attempting to turn Tower Hamlets into an electoral warzone. It’s been suggested that Tom Watson will launch his campaign for the deputy leadership off the back of Labour’s campaign in Tower Hamlets. Michael Elrick, adviser to former Labour leader John Smith, is reportedly being brought in to head up Labour’s campaign for the 11 June Tower Hamlets mayoral election.
This campaign is one that is obsessed with the past. Virtually everything produced by John Biggs of Labour’s campaign is about Lutfur Rahman, despite the fact that Rahman is not standing in this election. He is supporting a candidate – the independent, Rabina Khan, who was Cabinet Member for Housing under Rahman – but Labour appear unable to even identify her by name, instead calling her “Lutfur Rahman’s candidate” – something she is not happy about.
Khan’s manifesto is yet to be released but so far she has pledged to to campaigning against austerity, create thousands of new affordable homes and retain landmark policies such as university grants, keeping Education Maintenance Allowance and providing free homecare. It is a pitch which those on the left (and even the centre-left) should be behind.
And it is by destroying this, Labour believe, that its “fight for Britain” begins. That may say something about why they lost last week.