Police called in amid chaos as Labour selects Lutfur Rahman’s election candidate for Poplar & Limehouse
- Credit: Suzy Stride
Police had to be called to control the crowds when Labour selected an adviser to ousted former mayor Lutfur Rahman as its candidate in the forthcoming general election for Poplar & Limehouse.
The selection meeting packed with 500 supporters amid scenes of chaos chose Apsana Begum from a controversial shortlist of just two women.
Many rank-and-file party members couldn't get into the meeting held at St Paul's Church in Bow Common as the crowd blocked the pavement in Burdett Road.
But Apsana won an easy victory from supporters of Rahman who was barred from office by the High Court in 2015 for corruption and malpractice.
The meeting was an hour late starting, as the chaos in the street grew with hundreds of party members trying to get in.
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"We had more than 500 people packed into the meeting," Poplar & Limehouse party secretary Asra Anjum told the East London Advertiser. "There were not enough chairs and people were sitting on tables. We have a membership of 1,500."
Tower Hamlets councillor Kevin Brady was one of those in the crowd outside who witnessed the mayhem.
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He tweeted: "Lots of intimidation, shouting, men jostling, huge queues to get in, people leaving as it was too intense, particularly women."
Louise Leak tweeted at 5.55pm yesterday: "Still not started, still people coming in. Was told it was 4.30pm start. Loads queued from 3.30pm. Utter ridiculous disorganization. What about those with kids, the elderly, the disabled?"
Another party member, Ralph Bennett-Richards, tweeted: "Chaos at the moment — will we be allowed in to vote?"
The selection process has been marred by controversy from the beginning, after Labour central office ordered the local party to come up with a women-only shortlist, which was originally down to three, but third runner Heather Peto pulled out at the last minute.
Apsana Begum, the daughter of a former Tower Hamlets' Shadwell councillor, managed in a straight one-to-one vote to oust Tower Hamlets Cllr Amena Ali, an ally of mayor John Biggs who took over from disgraced Rahman in 2015. Both are members of the Momentum movement inside Labour.
Previous shortlist contenders included community activist Susan Stride and long-standing Cllr Rachel Blake.
Suzy tweeted during the mayhem: "I am appalled by the disorganisation. There are elderly and disabled people and those with kids."
The women-only list follows Labour's failure to push the Vauxhaull constituency party in south London to adopt it, so Poplar & Limehouse was ordered to create one instead.
That brought condemnation from party activists in the East End. One high-ranking official told the Advertiser: "This was a stitch-up. There was no need to push a woman candidate onto us when east London is already well represented by six women MPs including the two neighbouring constituencies. This has opened the way for Rahman's comeback."
One predominant east London woman MP, Rushanara Ali, was overwhelmingly reselected two weeks ago by Labour as their candidate for Bethnal Green & Bow.
Other women MPs across east London are Lyn Brown at West Ham, Meg Hiller and Diane Abbott in Hackney, Margaret Hodge in Barking and Stella Creasy in Walthamstow.
The rank-and-file membership at Poplar & Limehouse defied the Labour group at the town hall over who they should choose to run for the general election. But the result has yet to be ratified by Labour's national executive.
Nearly all councillors publicly supported Cllr Amena Ali from the East End's Somali community, while just two backed Apsana Begum.
Both are members of the Momentum movement inside Labour.
But Apsana had support from hundreds of Bengali Labour party members and was also publicly endorsed by Cllr Puru Miah, the national treasurer for the Momentum during its 2017 general election campaign, who tweeted his support for her having previously said he would stay neutral.