Tower Hamlets ex-mayor Lutfur Rahman endorses Aspire candidate Ohid Ahmed
- Credit: Mike Brooke
Ex-mayor Lutfur Rahman dominated last night’s campaign launch by the new Aspire party in the Tower Hamlets council elections in his first major public rallying speech for three years.
His rousing, unscripted address to an invited audience to back his candidate for mayor Ohid Ahmed on May 3 was a direct attack on Labour’s John Biggs.
He slammed the current Labour administration that took over in 2015 following Rahman’s High Court five-year ban from office for election malpractice and corruption the year before.
“Labour and John Biggs have done nothing for education in the last three years,” he stormed.
“What has been done was when we were in power—free school meals, education maintenance allowance, university bursaries.
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“Mr Biggs has cut free school meals, cut education maintenance, cut university bursary—that’s his priority for our children.”
He turned to the youth service, claiming 60 centres that were “personally managed” had been cut to eight.
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“Only eight youth centres remain“Disgraceful, Mr Biggs,” he added. “Shame on you.”
He blamed Labour for youth unrest and a rise in street crime.
“We don’t want our children becoming criminals,” the former solicitor insisted. “They are spending time on the streets, in corridors, on the stairways.
“We had 48 police officers over and above what the government gives us, but after Mr Biggs came to power he has cut (those) police officers to only six.
“Do we now not have more street violence, more gang fights, more knife crime?”
Last night’s rally brought Lutfur Rahman back to the centre of Tower Hamlets politics in the run-up to the May 3 council elections, endorsing his former deputy as candidate for mayor despite his own ban from office. He has appeared on Aspire election leaflets endorsing Ohid.
Aspire group councillors were the rump of the now-banned Tower Hamlets First party founded by Lutfur Rahman who are fighting under a new party name to regain power after three years in opposition. Most were previous Labour members who defected after he was elected for his first term of executive mayor in 2010.
Even Labour’s former Tower Hamlets party chair, retired school librarian Lillian Collins, defected. She has since emerged as general secretary of Aspire.
She told the manifesto launch held at Bethnal Green’s Regent Lake venue: “All the good work fell to the wayside when John Biggs took over—so let’s get rid of him.
“I don’t care if the Advertiser prints that or not. But let’s get rid of him and get new blood in!”
She urged support for Ohid Ahmed who she said was “going to carry on some of the work that Lutfur Rahman put in place”.
Ohid himself praised his former party chief and the Rahman years in power at the town hall and also turned on Labour.
“We need delivery, not just hand-written speeches,” he said, reading from notes. “We challenge the racists and the secret haters. We overcome those who won a victory (2015 election).
“It was 10 years ago that Lutfur risked everything as Labour (council) leader to stand up to an unjust party.
“We stopped Labour in its tracks in 2010 and 2014 and elected an independent mayor in Lutfur Rahman. It is that time again.”
But the party may need to widen its election appeal after Ohid attempted to direct the press to take photographs of candidates only and to remain “in a designated area all the time”.
A party organiser even tried to order the East London Advertiser’s defiant journalist who was recording the rostrum speeches to quit the side of the stage and stay seated in the audience.