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Move is rejected to scrap Tower Hamlets post of mayor once occupied by banned Lutfur Rahman

PUBLISHED: 10:18 25 January 2019 | UPDATED: 16:07 25 January 2019

Lutfur Rahman's comeback in 2018 spurring on his Aspire party in Tower Hamlets election for mayor, but they were wiped out. Picture: Mike Brooke

Lutfur Rahman's comeback in 2018 spurring on his Aspire party in Tower Hamlets election for mayor, but they were wiped out. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

Moves to abolish the all-powerful office of Tower Hamlets’ once-tainted executive mayor have been soundly rejected.

Tory Cllr Andrew Wood... Tory Cllr Andrew Wood... "A commission would ask how we can extend democracy." Picture: Mike Brooke

A motion to set up commission on having people’s second referendum on scrapping the post once occupied by Lutfur Rahman, who was banned by the High Court in 2015 for corruption, was defeated at Tower Hamlets Council.

The two lone Tory opposition councillors put forward the idea to the overwhelming Labour majority for a commission like Labour’s neighbouring Newham decided in November.

“Everything has become too centralised,” Tory group leader Andrew Wood told councillors. “A commission would ask how we can hand devolution to communities and extend democracy.

“A referendum, if we decide to hold one next year, would be based on the knowledge from a commission.”

Mayor John Biggs tells council... Mayor John Biggs tells council... "I don’t have problem abolishing executive mayors - I’'d get my life back!" Picture: Mike Brooke

But Labour wasn’t having any of it, even though its mayor John Biggs had previously gone along with the idea of voting himself out of office and returning to a more open council.

He told the council meeting: “I don’t have any problem with a referendum abolishing executive mayors—I’d get my life back!

“We had a previous mayor who some argue was very bad. We have a current mayor (himself) who some argue is very good or even praised by the opposition.

“But the opposition move doesn’t explain why we should do these things.”

Cllr John Pierce... Cllr John Pierce... "This is to take our eye off the ball from the Tory government cuts." Picture: Mike Brooke

Yet Tory Cllr Wood was borrowing “bits and pieces” from Labour’s own manifesto on scrapping executive mayors and even setting up town councils.

Labour, however, now saw it as a distraction. Cllr John Pierce warned: “This is to take our eye off the ball from all the devastating Tory government cuts.

“The Tories lost the election for mayor last May and now want to take power through another mechanism. Ridiculous!”

Labour’s Marc Francis spoke of the executive mayor “having a role in our political leadership” and moving towards a position where “a referendum may well be chosen”. But he wasn’t persuaded to scrap the elected mayor.

2010... the night Lutfur Rahman wins Labour nomination for mayor before being deselected by the party. Picture: Dan McCurry2010... the night Lutfur Rahman wins Labour nomination for mayor before being deselected by the party. Picture: Dan McCurry

The 10th anniversary of the original referendum setting up an executive mayor to take all decisions falls in May next year. A people’s campaign calling for another referendum began on New Year’s Day. This followed the decision in neighbouring Newham to hold a referendum this coming May.

Lutfur Rahman has already pledged to make a comeback in Tower Hamlets and could run for office in 2022, two years after his High Court ban has ended.

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