A mayoral election in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets is fast becoming a key battleground against austerity and racism.
On 11 June voters are set to choose a replacement for Lutfur Rahman of Tower Hamlets First—kicked out by an unelected court after an Islamophobic witch hunt.
Rabina Khan, council cabinet member for housing, is standing as an independent with left wing policies opposing the Tories’ cuts. She is independent since Tower Hamlets First, to which she belonged, was removed from the electoral list.
She told Socialist Worker, “So far the message of standing up to austerity, supporting vulnerable people, helping fix the East End’s housing crisis and building open and inclusive politics has been good at winning hearts and minds.
“But we still need every vote and bit of support possible to beat the Westminster parties.”
Tower Hamlets council was the first to rule out hiring construction companies involved in blacklisting, and restored the Educational Maintenance Allowance for college students after the Tories scrapped it.
Khan led its efforts to blunt the impact of the housing crisis. She joined the mass March for Homes earlier this year and vows to take on the government’s attacks on housing. She met residents of the Brune Bernard Carter Estate last Sunday, and pledged to back their campaign against eviction.
The level of participation in Khan’s campaign exposes the court’s smear that local Bengali Muslims were just easily manipulated sheep. Almost every night dozens turn out to local meetings in different wards, from 50 people to over 100.
Khan said, “The main thing I am doing between now and 11 June is speaking to as many residents as I can about their concerns and aspirations.”
Councillor Gulam Robbani addressed around 40 volunteers in Spitalfields and Banglatown last Saturday before one of many canvassing sessions.
He said. “Some 37,000 people voted for Lutfur Rahman—now a judge has taken that away from us. We want to defend free school meals, defend free home care for elderly and disabled people, and oppose the bedroom tax.”
Rabina’s supporters include veterans of the anti-war movement, and socialists of all ethnicities.
Council worker Laura was canvassing “to help engage with younger people who might not know what’s going on.” She added, “I think Rabina is a real alternative to the usual suspects, and is in touch with the people she represents.”
Tower Hamlets council isn’t some bastion of radicalism that refused to pass on any cuts. But its resistance has been more than the establishment could stand.
The mainstream media has relentlessly demonised the council, often with thinly veiled racism.
And shamefully Labour is starting the “fightback” after its general election defeat by lining up with racists to reimpose austerity in Tower Hamlets.
It looks set to be close—a transferable vote system means right wing voters could swing behind Labour to keep Khan out.
If Westminster succeeds in striking back it will boost all the bigots who want to silence Muslims. If Khan can defy them, it will be another crack in the austerity consensus.