By Paul McGarr
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Tower Hamlets: a very British coup

This article is over 7 years, 1 months old
Issue 397

Anyone living in Tower Hamlets is used to the east London borough being at the centre of political storms.

From the fight against the fascist National Front in the 1970s, through the Wapping printers’ strikes and dock strikes in the 1980s, the battle against the Nazi British National Party (BNP) in the 1990s, to the electoral success of the Respect Coalition in the wake of the anti-war movement, it is not a place where you expect a quiet political life.

Even by those standards events of the last few weeks have been remarkable and have produced a storm crucial for the whole direction of politics in Britain.

Tory Secretary of State for Communities Eric Pickles has decided to trample on democracy and send in commissioners to take over the running of the borough from the elected mayor Lutfur Rahman.

Pickles commissioned a report from accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers which found no evidence of any serious problem in the way the council works. That hasn’t stopped Pickles.

He and his government hate the fact that Rahman and his council have not implemented all the Coalition government austerity cuts.

Rahman has, for example, reinstated the maintenance allowance for young people in education cut by the government and he has ensured that all primary age children in the borough get free school meals.

He is pushing some cuts through, and there are protests and lobbies against this taking place at the moment.

The fights against the Tories would be strengthened if Lutfur would refuse to implement all their cuts and unite with the people in the borough.

The worst that could happen would be the Tories sending in commissioners to take over the borough — which is what they are doing anyway.

The real story, however, is about racism. Pickles and his government are terrified of the rise of the racist Ukip. Their answer is to dole out even more racism and Islamophobia.

So they are out to witchunt a Muslim mayor. A recent article in The Economist magazine has an astonishing attack on Lutfur and talks of Bengalis “colonising” the East End of London.

This has been followed by an assault on local schools from Ofsted inspectors which has been criticised as racist.

Following a surprise inspection Ofsted inspectors put Muslim majority schools, that were previously classed as “outstanding”, into “special measures” after claiming that they failed to keep children safe from “extremism”.

Yet perhaps the most sickening aspect of the whole affair is the way that Labour — which once had a fine tradition in Tower Hamlets — has enthusiastically joined in with the racist Tory assault.

Fortunately the fighting spirit of Tower Hamlet is alive and well. A magnificent 1,000-strong meeting in November saw the launch of a campaign to defend democracy and the mayor.

The challenge now is to ensure that this potential is turned into a fight which can beat Pickles and his racist gang.

Some 90 years ago George Lansbury and the Poplar councillors in the same area faced a similarly savage assault from a Tory government.

They looked to working class people of the area and argued with, organised and mobilised them. It was a hard fight, but in the end they won.

A stone’s throw from Tower Hamlets town hall there is a fading mural recalling the Poplar revolt.

Now is the time to revive that spirit and make Tower Hamlets a centre of resistance to austerity and racism.

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