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Reflections on a stint in London's East End

PUBLISHED: 17:01 23 October 2008 | UPDATED: 13:42 05 October 2010

TWO Saturdays ago, the Tories, with an eye to the 2010 council and possible Parliamentary elections, leafleted my street in Bow. "Roman Road Fiasco!" thundered the headline on the In Touch Bow Conservatives' flyer... "Labour forced through Morrisons-Safeway planning application" Now, the people of Bow are not thick. Bow Conservatives on this one are certainly not "in touch." Do they think we're muppets? Yes, it was Labour who eventually "forced" that application through, but only because the Tories by boycotting the committee had been unable to cast their decisive vote

Ted Jeory puts East End politicians in the dock

TWO Saturdays ago, the Tories, with an eye to the 2010 council and possible Parliamentary elections, leafleted my street in Bow.

“Roman Road Fiasco!” thundered the headline on the In Touch Bow Conservatives’ flyer.

“The Labour controlled council forced through a planning application on the Morrisons-Safeway… 3,000 people signed a petition opposing this monstrosity, but Labour rammed it through after the first committee meeting was reduced to chaos.”

Now, the people of Bow may be a lot of things, but they’re not thick. And the Bow Conservatives may be a lot of things, but on this one they’re certainly not “in touch.”

In fact, as we say in Bow (with correct accent and several expletives-deleted), do they think we’re muppets?

Yes, it was Labour councillors who eventually “forced” that application through, but only because the Tories, who by boycotting the committee, had been unable to cast their decisive vote.

If the two adjectives “fiasco” and “chaos” apply to anyone in this case, it’s to them. And this temporary mess (I suspect the Tories will soon quietly rejoin planning and licensing committees) sums up neatly where we’re at with Tower Hamlets politics: a tendency by any party that begins to threaten Labour to shoot itself in the foot.

When I joined the East London Advertiser in September, 2005, both the Tories and Respect had just single seats in the Labour and Lib-Dem dominated council chamber.

Back then, George Galloway was still riding the crest of his General Election and Washington wave; and a real buzz of political change could be sensed throughout the East End.

And in the May, 2006, elections, it happened. The Labour leadership of Michael Keith, Abdus Shukur and David Edgar was decapitated, the Liberals were obliterated, the Conservatives grew to seven and Galloway unleashed his “dozen Bengali tigers.”

Labour was left fretting on a majority of one. Heady days.

But, of course, it was never going to last.

Along with the deep concerns over postal ballots, that election exposed another unsavoury and corrupting characteristic of Tower Hamlets politics—the growth of voting on racial rather than purely party lines.

That and a self-interested desire for self-preservation mean traditional parties here in Tower Hamlets are in danger of becoming vehicles of convenience.

The SWP grew sick of it and legged it (although the other argument is they were told to shove off), leaving Respect a fairly ineffectual rump of six.

Nowhere else does this primitive village realpolitik manifest itself more than in Mile End East, where as soon as the by-election was called earlier this month, activists from all parties called me seeking an inside line on whether their opponents were going to select a Bengali or someone white.

Ironically, this mentality partly triggered the by-election in the first place: Labour’s intelligent Rupert Bawden had grown disillusioned of it all and quit.

Many others who care deeply about this area share his concerns.

The council has coined as its new theme “One Tower Hamlets” and, if that’s not just hot air, that’s admirable.

In that regard, its decision to retain Bancroft Library was the right step.

And fortunately, among the dross, the Town Hall has some extremely capable figures.

At officer level, chief executive Martin Smith and education boss Kevan Collins are first rate

Politicians with good hearts and/or heads include Stephanie Eaton, Sirajul Islam (who, having cut off his Hamlet cigar-man comb-over looks a different animal!), Peter Golds, Marc Francis, Josh Peck, Tim Archer, Oli Rahman, Ahmed Hussain, Harun Miah and creative thinker Shiria Khatun.

Quite possibly, if he can maintain a correct political distance both from the East London Mosque and also his friend, the new assistant chief executive, Lutfur Rahman Ali (who at last Wednesday’s council meeting perked up only when Labour’s court jester Abdal Ullah cracked the gags), that group could also include current leader Lutfur Rahman.

They are the ones capable of steering Tower Hamlets towards unity and away from the sometimes divisive language and policies heard at the Town Hall.

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SO WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?

SO WHAT will Tower Hamlets look like politically in May, 2010? My guess is that Lutfur will still be leader, the Tories will be a far bigger force (even in Bow), Labour’s Rushanara Ali will be MP for Bethnal Green & Bow, and Jim Fitzpatrick will just scrape in at Poplar & Limehouse.

You never know, I may even stand as an Independent for the Town Hall—they’d just love that!

And with that lovely thought, the Jeory is now dismissed.

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PS...

Anyone who wants to contact me with tips or for advice can reach me by clicking Ted Jeory

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