Tower Hamlets votes to keep directly-elected mayoral post
- Credit: Mike Brooke/stockshot
Campaigners have won an overwhelming victory to keep the post of directly-elected mayor of Tower Hamlets.
More than 81,000 people turned up to cast their vote in the May 6 referendum called by Tower Hamlets Council last October.
It was a clear win for the campaign, backed by former mayor Lutfur Rahman, to keep the post after his five-year ban for malpractice in office ended last month.
More than 63,000 voters decided to continue with an executive mayor, a position which has been in place for 11 years, while only 18,000 voters were against.
"You could see the ballot papers piling up from the start," independent Cllr Andrew Wood said.
"It means we will keep the executive mayor in Tower Hamlets for another 10 years after that very clear win."
The turnout was almost 42 per cent for an electorate of 202,000 in the borough, the populations of which is one of Britain's fastest expanding and one of Europe's most dense.
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Current Mayor John Biggs, who won the post for Labour in 2015 after Mr Rahman's ban in the High Court overturned the previous year's election, had campaigned to abolish his own job citing previous years of corruption.
He told the East London Advertiser: "That man was discredited and cost the borough millions in legal and other fees. Rather than stand for office, he should stand in the middle of Bethnal Green Road and apologise for the shame he brought.
"It would be better to change the system, but I respect the referendum decision and if I'm called to do it again, I will carry on doing that to the best of my ability."
The outcome means he could be up against Mr Rahman next year when the four-year post is up for grabs. The last time the two went head-to-head was the 2014 election which Mr Rahman won, but was later declared void in the courts.
Mr Rahman told the Advertiser last week: "The mayoral system’s opponents have sought to make this a referendum about me, employing a smear campaign with the backing of allies in the media.
"They claimed I was found guilty of criminal corruption. This is a lie. These claims relate to an election tribunal, with no powers to decide criminality."
Labour has held the mayoral post since 2015, and has been anxious to return to a system which sees locally-elected ward councillors elect a council leader on a four-year term.