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Elections: Labour's Apsana Begum stays away from final Poplar & Limehouse hustings after housing and anti-Semitism issues

PUBLISHED: 10:00 10 December 2019 | UPDATED: 10:23 10 December 2019

Empty chair left for Labour's Apsana Begum who stayed away from Poplar & Limehouse general election hustings. Picture: Mike Brooke

Empty chair left for Labour's Apsana Begum who stayed away from Poplar & Limehouse general election hustings. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

Labour's candidate for Poplar and Limehouse who failed to appear at last night's final hustings was still asked questions in her absence about anti-Semitic tweets and allegations of jumping a council housing queue which has dogged her General Election campaign.

Limehouse Forum's Mark Slankard and list of questions for absent Apsana Begum about her council flat. Picture: Mike BrookeLimehouse Forum's Mark Slankard and list of questions for absent Apsana Begum about her council flat. Picture: Mike Brooke

The Limehouse Forum's Mark Slankard chairing the panel asked an empty seat left for Apsana Begum questions from 14 electors about her council-allocated flat on the Isle of Dogs, about tweets on Zionism and about her links to banned ex-mayor Lutfur Rahman.

But she never turned up at the public meeting staged at the Limehouse Basin Cruising Association's centre, nor sent an apology or even a substitute to speak for her like rival Lib Dem candidate Andrew Cregan had done.

Instead, Mr Slankard held up the list of questions from constituents and read out: "Please explain how you got a flat so quickly when I know people who are in temporary accommodation with a four-year-old and a newborn?

"You are hoping to be elected, getting paid £80,000 a year. Will you do the decent thing if you get elected and abandon this flat to someone more needy?"

Labour's rivals who did attend Poplar & Limehouse hustings: Liberal Democrat substitute (far left),  Brexit, anti-corruption, Greens and Conservative. Picture: Mike BrookeLabour's rivals who did attend Poplar & Limehouse hustings: Liberal Democrat substitute (far left), Brexit, anti-corruption, Greens and Conservative. Picture: Mike Brooke

The audience applauded. There was laughter when he added: "Take as long as you like to respond."

But there was no response from the empty seat by the absence of Ms Begum, a former £28,500 assistant to Lutfur Rahman—the ex-Tower Hamlets mayor banned from office by the High Court in 2015 for election malpractice and corruption.

Mark told the East London Advertiser: "I think Labour are probably taking Jim Fitzpatrick's 27,000 majority in 2017 for granted. Something must have happened at the other hustings."

Apsana, a Momentum group activist within Labour, was asked the same question about jumping the housing queue at the Isle of Dogs Forum's hustings on December 5, replying that she needed housing for being "in circumstances" and wouldn't give detail, claiming privacy from the media.

Limehouse panel chair Mark Slankard... Overwhelmed with Limehouse panel chair Mark Slankard... Overwhelmed with "questions for Labour candidate on her council housing, her link to Lutfur Rahman and about anti-Semitic tweets on social media." Picture: Mike Brooke

Her fellow Labour candidate said the following night at the Bethnal Green & Bow hustings, who has been its MP since 2010, that it was up to Apsana to "rebuild trust" in the community after the council housing and anti-Semitic issues.

The Limehouse hustings chair revealed last night: "We were overwhelmed with questions for the Labour candidate, but she never turned up.

"More than half the questions for all candidates were about her council flat, her link to Lutfur Rahman and about anti-Semitic tweets on social media.

"She didn't send an apology. Our rules allow a substitute speaker, but Apsana didn't send one."

Packed general election hustings at Limehouse Basin centre. Picture: Mike BrookePacked general election hustings at Limehouse Basin centre. Picture: Mike Brooke

There had been conflict with the Labour team, he claims, which appear to be similar to those experienced by the local press and by a blogger in Wapping.

"I had a one-way communication," Slankard added. "I've had no response from Apsana since she was selected.

"Her team said they thought there was a conflict and would look into it and made reference to my persistence trying to contact her. She knew about tonight's event, having spoken to the other candidates about it."

All other parties were represented last night, Liberal Democrats sending a substitute, Greens, Conservative and Brexit as well as the anti-corruption campaigner standing as an independent who got Lutfur Rahman banned from office.

General Election candidates for Poplar and Limehouse on Thursday (alphabetical order of surname):

Apsana Begum (Lab)

Andrew Cregan (Lib Dem)

Catherine Cui (Brexit)

Andy Erlam (anti-corruption)

Neil Jameson (Green)

Sheun Oke (Con).

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