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Public vote on whether to scrap Tower Hamlets mayor gets Labour group backing

PUBLISHED: 12:58 10 November 2020 | UPDATED: 13:26 10 November 2020

Labour majority votes to trigger referendum on May 6, 2021, on whether to scrap post of Tower Hamlets mayor. Picture: PA stock

Labour majority votes to trigger referendum on May 6, 2021, on whether to scrap post of Tower Hamlets mayor. Picture: PA stock

PA stock

A vote of the people on whether to scrap the executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets once marred by corruption is likely to go ahead next May.

John Biggs has just persuaded Tower Hamlets Council to trigger a referendum that could put him out of his job as all-powerful executive mayor. Picture: Mike BrookeJohn Biggs has just persuaded Tower Hamlets Council to trigger a referendum that could put him out of his job as all-powerful executive mayor. Picture: Mike Brooke

The ruling Labour group at the town hall last night voted to trigger a referendum on whether to keep the executive mayor after 10 years or return to having decisions made by a council leader and locally-elected committees of councillors.

The referendum proposal was put forward to the group by the mayor himself, John Biggs, effectively voting himself out of a job if things go belly-up and the public tell him to pack his bags.

“A significant part of my time as mayor has been spent undoing the damage by my predecessor,” he said in a statement today to the East London Advertiser.

Lutfur Rahman, now campaigning to retain office of mayor in 2021, launching his Aspire party's manifesto which was wiped out in 2018 Tower Hamlets council elections. Picture: Mike BrookeLutfur Rahman, now campaigning to retain office of mayor in 2021, launching his Aspire party's manifesto which was wiped out in 2018 Tower Hamlets council elections. Picture: Mike Brooke

“It’s been 10 years since Tower Hamlets voted to adopt the executive mayor system. A lot has happened during this last decade.”

He was elected for Labour five years ago to sort out the damage from Lutfur Rahman and his dodgy Tower Hamlets First administration who was banned from office by the High Court which overturned the corrupt 2014 election that had returned him to power for a second term.

The government had to send in auditors to sort out the mess with public assets having been sold off in deals behind closed doors and taxpayers’ cash being handed out to dubious organisations without scrutiny.

John Biggs wins 2015 election for mayor... just beating Rabina Khan's People's Alliance into 2nd place. Picture: Mike BrookeJohn Biggs wins 2015 election for mayor... just beating Rabina Khan's People's Alliance into 2nd place. Picture: Mike Brooke

“The debate that now follows must focus on accountability,” Biggs added. “It’s time people have their say about what works best during these really difficult times.”

The proposal for a referendum in 2021 now goes to a full council meeting to be adopted. The vote on May 6 would be the same day as a similar referendum called by the ruling Labour group in neighbouring Newham.

But some cynics believe Labour might campaign to keep their executive mayor in such “safe” east London boroughs which would legally kick any further challenge into touch until 2030.

Oppostion Cllr Andrew Wood pusing for alternative choices on referendum ballot paper. Picture: Mike BrookeOppostion Cllr Andrew Wood pusing for alternative choices on referendum ballot paper. Picture: Mike Brooke

A rival proposal for two alternatives on the a referendum ballot paper has been put forward by Tower Hamlets opposition councillor Andrew Wood, first revealed in the Advertiser last month, rather than a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote. One alternative would be returning to a council leader and cabinet, as Labour suggests, the other for keeping a directly-elected mayor subject to majority rule on the council.

Critics, however, see a weakness in splitting the anti-mayor vote which “might play into the hands of those wanting to keep the executive”.

Lutfur Rahman was elected Tower Hamlets’ first executive mayor back in 2010 after a referendum pushed by his Left Wing allies Ken Linvingstone the ex-Mayor of London and George Galloway the radical MP for Bethnal Green and Bow at the time.

Lurtfur Rahman successfully campaigning to be mayor in 2010... supported by Ken Livingstone with him in Roman Road. Picture:  Dan McCurryLurtfur Rahman successfully campaigning to be mayor in 2010... supported by Ken Livingstone with him in Roman Road. Picture: Dan McCurry

But he soon ran into hot water with secrecy and dodgy backroom deals that finally got him deposed.

Labour then swept back to power after five years sidelined by Rahman when London Assembly’s budget chairman John Biggs was elected mayor in 2015 who opened the council to more scrutiny. Only last month Mayor Biggs volunteered to give up some executive powers with councillors taking over some key decision-making.

A referendum next May would be “more-enlightened than 2010” which had been held the same day as general and local elections that allowed it to slip through almost unnoticed. The call now is for a separate poll, so that voters are more informed this time round.


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