Labour mobilises for Tower Hamlets by-election if jailed Akhtar steps down

Labour is mobilising to take on executive Mayor Lutfur Rahman if there’s a by-election in London’s East End—should jailed Tower Hamlets councillor Shelina Aktar be forced to quit her seat.

The party is selecting its candidate on Sunday, ready for battle at Spitalfields—the seat occupied by the disgraced councillor who is serving three-and-a-half months for dishonestly claiming housing and council tax benefit.

Labour is pressing for a by-election on May 3, same day as the London Mayor vote which it is confident will have a large turn-out in their favour.

Mayor Rahman’s supporters would go for a separate poll a week earlier, April 26, for their independent runner.

Labour’s opposition leader at the Town Hall, Joshua Peck, has formally asked the council’s chief executive for May 3.

“The council must speak to the Home Secretary to delay a by-election,” he told the Advertiser. “It would be a catastrophic waste of public funds and perverse electoral process to hold a by-election on a different day.”

Aktar still has until March 6 decide, when her 28 days for appeal against her sentence expires, after which she would remain behind bars and could no longer continue as a serving councillor.

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“We expect her to be compelled to step down,” Cllr Peck added. “And when she does, we’ll be ready.”

Mayor Rahman, who quit Labour in 2010 to run as an independent, is anxious to return to the party—but supporting Ken Livingstone who is their London Mayor candidate on May 3 would mean he can’t be seen publicly backing him if the Spitalfields by-election for his former seat is the same day.

That might hinder the chances for his preferred independent candidate Gulam Robanni running against Labour.

Meanwhile, letters have gone out this week to Labour hopefuls to be ready for Sunday’s selection.

The half-dozen names include Gulam Robanni’s elder brother, Gulam Mortuza, former Labour mayor in 1998 who represented Spitalfields until 2006.

Gulum the elder could well be chosen to fight his brother at the polls, which would mirror the Miliband brothers’ battle for national Labour Party leadership in 2010—it was Ed the younger who won that contest.