Lutfur Rahman’s corrupt Tower Hamlets power base finally wiped out by Labour’s election landslide
PUBLISHED: 07:00 09 May 2018 | UPDATED: 14:44 10 May 2018
The Lutfur Rahman era of corrupt town hall politics is finally over with Labour’s landslide at the polls wiping out all but one of the last traces of his half decade running Tower Hamlets as an all-powerful ‘emperor’ mayor.
His rise and fall began when first elected Labour council leader in 2008.
Nothing could go wrong, except that stories emerged in the media about alleged links to overseas politics.
Rahman stepped down in 2010 to run for executive mayor as Labour’s candidate, but faced challenges over allegations of rigging the party selection process by “buying in” outsiders to join and vote for him who weren’t eligible.
The party’s national executive dropped him like a hot brick—but the lawyer-turned politician got the decision overturned in the High Court and was back as Labour’s candidate, only to fall out again with the party and finally quitting to run for mayor as an independent.
He romped home to win in October 2010, backed by radical ex-London mayor Ken Livingstone and Bethnal Green’s ousted Respect ex-MP George Galloway.
Former Respect councillors and others defecting from Labour joined the new Rahmanite administration with its lucrative cabinet posts as sweeteners.
The council’s chief executive resigned and Lutfur tried to appoint his own man whose qualifications were questioned, which was blocked and left the authority without a permanent head of staff.
Stories of extravagance and misappropriation surfaced—using the official chauffeured mayor’s car for shopping, his cabinet members taking taxis everywhere at the public expense, grants dished out and properties handed over to little-known groups, the old Polar Town Hall sold off in a secret deal for £800,000—little more than a terraced house in the area at the time.
Cash was being poured into what the council opposition called his vanity projects like personal street posters and running a weekly propaganda newspaper at £2m a year, while vital social services were being cut.
It was all too much for the government. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles sent in auditors in December 2014 to stop the chronic leakage of public funds.
Commissioners later discovered £2 million unaccounted for in the youth service alone, with council credit cards used for purchases never accounted for.
But it was Rahman’s 2014 re-election that was to bring him down, marred by postal ballot rigging, forgery, bribery, misrepresentation and intimidation at polling stations by his party supporters.
The election was challenged in the High Court, with overwhelming evidence of malpractice before Judge Richard Mawrey which led to Rahman’s five-year ban from office along with the cabinet member described in court as his “henchman” Alibor Choudhury. His Tower Hamlets First party was subsequently de-registered by the Election Commission.
The election was overturned and rerun on June 11, 2015, won by Labour’s John Biggs from the London Assembly vowing to clean up the “corruption and mess left by the previous administration”.
Rahman was further humiliated last December when he was struck off by the solicitors’ regulatory authority for failing to uphold the rule of law and justice and failing to act with integrity or in the public trust.
Rise and fall of the Lutfur Rahman era
1989: Joins Labour Party
1993: Qualifies as solicitor
2002: Elected Tower Hamlets councillor for Spitalfields
2008: Becomes council leader
2010: Re-elected, but steps down as Leader to campaign for directly-elected mayor, against Labour policy. Deselected as candidate over selection fraud and ‘ghost’ voters—but wins election for mayor as an independent.
2014: Wins second term, but election marred by ballot rigging and intimidation.
2015: Election trial ban from office for five years.
2017: Struck off Solicitors’ Register for failing to uphold rule of law.
2018: Aspire party wiped out in Labour election landslide.
But there was still the rump of his old caucus on the council, keeping a toehold on the town hall, renaming themselves the Independent Group.
The Rahmanite independents soon fell out, however. Rabina Khan, his former housing cabinet member who stood as his protégé for mayor in the 2015 re-run election but losing to Labour, severed the Rahman connection and formed her own People’s Alliance party with a clean slate.
The others carried on as the new Aspire party led by Lutfur’s former front-benchers Oli Rahman and his long-term political advisor and former deputy mayor Ohid Ahmed.
The council in February this year formally condemned the old “corrupt administration” and voted to cooperate with the Met Police currently investigating the years of malpractice. The Aspire group boycotted the vote and staged a walk-out.
Mayor Biggs had openly condemned the remaining Rahmanites, declaring them to be “part of the old corrupt administration” and calling for them to go.
He got his wish with Thursday’s landslide. The Aspire group was wiped out, including its leader Oli Rahman, who has been in five political groups on the council since he first joined in 2006.
Ohid Ahmed also lost his council seat and was also knocked out in the first round in the race for mayor when he polled only 14 per cent in third place.
Rabina Khan’s People’s Alliance was decimated, although she has survived herself to keep her Shadwell ward, but losing the race for mayor with only 17 per cent first preference votes against Labour’s 48pc.
Labour under Mayor Biggs now holds 42 of the 45 seats on Tower Hamlets Council, with Khan and two Isle of Dogs Tories, Peter Golds and Andrew Wood, carrying the torch for any opposition.
The Ramanites have gone. Thursday’s landslide swept away ‘emperor’ Lutfur’s last toehold on town hall influence.