Thursday, September 16, 2010
ALL the razzmatazz of a US-style presidential election rally kicked off Lutfur Rahman’s campaign launch as Labour’s hotly tipped candidate to be Tower Hamlets’ first-ever directly elected mayor.
ALL the razzmatazz of a US-style presidential election rally kicked off Lutfur Rahman’s campaign launch as Labour’s hotly tipped candidate to be Tower Hamlets’ first-ever directly elected executive mayor.
The plush Troxy venue over-spilled onto the Commercial Road on Tuesday evening with hundreds of party faithful queuing to get in.
It was largely a Bangladeshi affair, probably 95 per cent of the 1,000 audience coming from the East End’s Bangladeshi community having been invited to “be part of something amazing, be part of history in the making”.
The lawyer who Labour regional chiefs tried to keep out of the selection was back with a vengeance after winning the local party membership vote to be their candidate.
The undercurrents with media allegations of party membership lists being filled with ‘sham’ families were put to one side as Labour sensed victory next month when Tower Hamlets goes to the polls for its mayor.
This controversial former council leader has had a rough ride getting on the shortlist, only to romp home to victory on September 4, defying the party leadership.
But the night was his as party supporters and hangers-on arrived for the speeches and chicken and lamb curry provided by one of his backers, the Pride of Asia restaurant.
The speeches pulled no surprises, the ‘street fighter ready to take on the draconian Government cuts to protect the East End’s deprived population’ in this ‘safe’ Labour heartland that usually bucks the London or national trend when it goes to the polls.
Lord Patel of Blackburn called Rahman a fighter who had “the energy of a bulldog after a cat”—but did not explain who he thought the cat might be.
Winning next month’s vote for mayor would give Rahman control a public budget of £1.2 billion, which is already making some top party names nervous.
“I have not had an easy ride to get to this point,” Rahman told his supporters.
“Now we face a ruthless coalition government savagely making cuts on grounds of ideology.
“I will protect the East End under my leadership. I’ll keep fighting the savage cuts.”
Rahman was anxious to forget the party’s infighting and the move last month to keep him off the shortlist.
“This is our moment,” he added. “It is time to turn the pages of the divisions of the past.”
Council cabinet member Marc Francis was MC while fellow councillor Rabina Khan translated one or two speeches in Bengali into English for those at two of the 100 tables laid for guests who only spoke English.
He set the tone. The Conservatives and Lib Dems were ‘ganging up’ against Lutfur, he told the packed auditorium. It was good stuff for the party rank-and-file.
Baroness Uddin of Bethnal Green, another controversial figure in Labour’s ranks, pointed out Rahman’s selection as Labour candidate was the turning point for the Bangladeshi community.
“We have to get it up a notch and get a Bengali mayor after getting Rushanara Ali in as an MP,” she said. “We must put a marker on the next generation of Bangladeshis.”
But it wasn’t a totally Bengladeshi affair. Speeches came from non-Muslims including Steve Bullock, elected mayor of Lewisham, and Lil Collins, who scored victory last year in her campaign to get Poplar Baths reopened and laid her success at Lutfur’s feet.
Dockers’ social club secretary Brian Nicholson urged Rahman to join up against big guns, naming “gangsters” Cameron and Clegg, while church leader Adam Atkinson from St Peter’s in Bethnal Green said it would be “a tough call for Rahman”.
But any note of caution against complacency was absent this night. There was an air of ‘invincibility’ at the Troxy that the October 21 election was a formality, that the Bengali community had it all sewn up.