Politicians join forces on referendum about Tower Hamlets mayor

Lutfur Rahman... addresses Mile End rally of supporters a week after his ban from office in 2015

Lutfur Rahman... addresses Mile End rally of supporters a week after his ban from office in 2015 - Credit: Mike Brooke

All major political parties have come together in the East End to scrap the post of mayor of Tower Hamlets.

Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens have released a statement calling on the local governance structure referendum on May 6 to abolish the post with its executive powers controlling the council's £1.2 billion budget. 

They have asked the public to “vote for change" under the law, 11 years after the post of executive mayor was first created. 

Mayor John Biggs... hoping to vote himself out of a job on May 6 in referendum for mayor

Mayor John Biggs... hoping to vote himself out of a job on May 6 in referendum for mayor - Credit: Mike Brooke

Even the current Labour mayor John Biggs hopes the town hall will shift to being run by a council leader selected by locally-elected councillors. 

This comes after a previous mayor, Lutfur Rahman was banned from office in March 2015 after an election court found him guilty of illegal and corrupt practices.


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The joint statement this week by the main parties reads: “The previous mayor had to be removed from office by an election court for corruption. It wasn’t easy and it put the whole borough through massive costs and pain.  

“We are able to ask the people if they want to change to a different system. We think the ‘leader and cabinet’ system is better and safer, with the right checks and balances. Most councils use this model, rather than a mayor.” 

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It is signed by Mayor Biggs along with Helel Abbas, the last council leader before a referendum in 2010 led to Tower Hamlets' first election for an executive mayor that year - which Mr Rahman won in a landslide. 

Others signing include mayoral candidates in previous years — the Conservatives' Peter Golds, Anwara Ali and Chris Wilford; the Greens’ Tim Kierly; and the Lib Dems’ Elaine Bagshawe, John Griffiths and a former supporter of Mr Rahman, Rabina Khan, who later ran as a candidate for the People’s Alliance.

Lutfur Rahman and Ken Livingston drumming up support in Roman Road Market on campaign trail for mayor in 2010

Lutfur Rahman and Ken Livingstone drumming up support in Roman Road Market on campaign trail for mayor in 2010 - Credit: Dan McCurry

Mr Rahman's campaign in 2010 to have an executive mayor was backed by figures such as then London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who visited Whitechapel and Roman Road with him to drum up support.

He was also backed by Bethnal Green and Bow's one-time Respect MP George Galloway.

2010... Ken Livingstone's walkabout in Whitechapel with Lutfur Rahman on campaign trail for executive mayor

2010... Ken Livingstone's walkabout in Whitechapel with Lutfur Rahman (his left) and Ohid Admed on campaign trail for an executive mayor - Credit: Dan McCurry

Supporters of the mayoral position on Mr Rahman's Facebook page today include Rahman’s former deputy mayor Ohid Ahmed, who lost his council seat in 2018, and Cllr Harun Miah from Shadwell.  

Mr Rahman has already begun his referendum campaign circulating WhatsApp groups with his message: “Yes for Mayor—Don’t take us back 10 years. Say no to backroom politics and yes to people power.” 

Anti-corruption campaigner Andy Erlham... after court action that got Rahman banned from office

Anti-corruption campaigner Andy Erlham... after court action that got Rahman banned from office - Credit: Mike Brooke

Mr Rahman was banned from office for five years after the judgement in 2015, following a campaign by anti-corruption activist Andy Erlham.

The specialist court overturned the 2014 election which got Rahman back for a second term. The six-week trial found large-scale election malpractice including forged ballot papers, fake voting registrations and polling station intimidation. 

The government had to send in auditors to take charge of council spending for three years after public funds were found to have been given away to unknown organisations.

Backroom property deals were also uncovered, such as the former Poplar town hall close to Canary Wharf being sold off for less than the price of a terraced house in the area.

Additionally, auditors found £1.5m missing from the council's youth budget in a scandal that uncovered unchecked and unauthorised massive spending using council debit cards.

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