Tower Hamlets’ shadow cabinet tours Spitalfields in bid for jailed Akhtar’s council seat

Labour’s shadow cabinet on Tower Hamlets council is out touring the streets of Spitalfields in London’s East End this-evening to take on Mayor Lutfur Rahman in a possible by-election—should jailed councillor Shelina Akhtar be forced to quit her seat.

The party last night (Sun) selected former council deputy leader Ala Uddin out of seven hopefuls, to take on the fight to regain the seat held by Akhtar, a supporter of the independent mayor.

“Shadow cabinet members are knocking on the doors ready for an election,” Labour Group leader Joshua Peck told the Advertiser today. “Everyone in Spitalfields knows Ahktar is in prison for fraud and is expecting a by-election.”

But party officials are having to wait to find out if Akhtar is appealing against her three-and-a-half-month sentence at Thames magistrates court last month for housing benefit and council tax fraud. Her 28-day time limit to appeal ends tomorrow (March 6), after which she could no longer continue as a serving councillor if she hasn’t appealed.

College lecturer Ala Uddin, a Spitalfields Housing Association board member and non-executive director of NHS Tower Hamlets, said: “People are being let down by Shelina Akhtar—but deserve better.”

Akhtar originally won the seat for Labour in 2010—but was expelled from the party with five others for supporting Rahman running for mayor against the official candidate after he was deselected.

The party issued a statement today saying: “Akhtar has refused to resign and is still receiving �200-a-week for being a councillor while in prison convicted of benefit fraud.”

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They expect to go head-to-head against the mayor’s candidate Gulam Robanni and are pressing for a May 3 by-election, same day as the London Mayor vote which Labour is confident will have a high turn-out in its favour.

Mayor Rahman’s supporters would go for a separate poll a week earlier, April 26, which Labour fears would be a low turn-out that might give his independent runner the edge.