Petition launched to axe directly elected mayors in the borough
PUBLISHED: 11:32 13 June 2019 | UPDATED: 11:46 13 June 2019
Campaigners in Tower Hamlets have launched a petition to change the way their council is run following the corruption scandal.
Democracy Tower Hamlets, a group made up of councillors and residents, want to force a referendum on abolishing the directly elected mayor system in the borough.
Elected mayors hold more power than traditional council leaders because they can approve major plans alone, have almost complete control over finances and cannot be sacked by councillors.
Lutfur Rahman became the borough's first elected mayor in 2010 as leader of the Tower Hamlets First party.
He was removed from office in 2015 and banned from standing for election for five years for "corrupt and illegal" practices.
He was replaced by Labour's John Biggs, who is now a year into his second term as mayor.
Mr Biggs said: ""I welcome a genuine debate on how the borough is run. The priority is we have a well-run borough, whatever system we have in place.
"A genuine debate is one that involves the wider community and not a bunch of political apparatchiks. Let us see how this develops."
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Conservative councillor Peter Golds, is supporting referendum.
He said: "All of us have been damaged by what happened in this borough between 2010 and 2015.
"As we saw, the system can easily fail resulting in a serious democratic deficit.
"I welcome a local debate, as long as it involves residents from across the borough to establish whether there is the wish to return to the usual system of local government."
Democracy Tower Hamlets has started collecting signatures and must get at least 5 per cent of the electorate in favour of a referendum to force a vote.
A spokesman for the group said: "We believe that those in power should not have a monopoly. Our campaign aims to enable ordinary people to become more politically engaged through debate and action in gathering signatures."
Fifteen UK councils elect an executive mayor, including the London boroughs of Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Lewisham.
Tower Hamlets controversially adopted the system in 2010 in a move initially opposed by all main political parties.
Last year neighbouring Newham, run by mayor Rokhsana Fiaz, agreed to put the system to public vote before May 2020.