Socialists and trade unionists took to the streets of Tower Hamlets, east London, last Sunday, to campaign for independent candidate for mayor Rabina Khan.
An election was set to take place on Thursday of this week after an electoral court ousted Lutfur Rahman, the elected mayor, earlier this year.
The council led by Rahman, of the Tower Hamlets First party, did more than any Labour council to oppose austerity.
Now Khan is standing to defend its gains from a Labour Party willing to side with Islamophobes to roll them back.
She told Socialist Worker, “When I’ve been out campaigning, people have responded to all the things that matter—all the things that give working people a bit of money back.”
Her examples include protecting Education Maintenance Allowance for college students, and free home care for older and disabled people.
The housing crisis is central to Khan’s campaign. She led the council’s work on housing when it built more council homes than any other.
“A lot of cuts have affected women most,” she explained. “So I’m going to create a women’s employment hub and more support for childcare.”
Khan counts on widespread support and a tremendously active campaign. But Labour has thrown resources into the election—and tried to make up for its unpopular policies with smears.
The establishment parties hope the electoral court judgement has tarnished the council’s image, even though it failed to substantiate most of the rumours and allegations.
And in overturning Rahman’s election it relied on the racist slur that Bengali Muslims are “a community which is traditional, respectful of authority and, possibly, not fully integrated”.
Khan said, “This election is more than a referendum on my predecessor—Tower Hamlets needs to think about its future. But I was very disappointed with the judgement.
“It implied that Tower Hamlets voters are easily led, and I think it raises serious concerns about our democracy.”
It speaks volumes about the Labour Party that its “fightback” after the general election has started in an attempt to push back a challenge from its left.
Khan said, “Labour will never understand why it lost the general election.
“People can’t tell the difference between them and the Tories any more. Instead of moving to the left they have forgotten the working class people who created Labour.
“A lot of core Labour voters are not voting because Labour forgot what it’s supposed to stand for. They were meant to help our young people go to university—instead they introduced tuition fees.”
The election will be fiercely fought, and Khan’s campaign is calling for supporters to mobilise right up to election day.
Khan said, “If I win it will show that there is an alternative. And it will show that democracy can stand its ground—our votes matter.”