Tapas means ‘to burn or create heat’ and there was certainly that at an emergency rally in Mile End to defend democracy in Tower Hamlets last night, following Eric Pickles announcement to send in commissioners to oversee the running of Tower Hamlets Council (THC).
A diverse community attended including the media, residents and supporters of Mayor Lutfur Rahman – there was no end to the number of people entering the hall throughout the evening. All seats were taken and 100’s were happy to stand at the perimeter. This was a coming together of community.
Neither was there a shortage of speakers ranging from community leaders, politicians, to representatives from a myriad of community welfare organisations – all keen to take the stage to share their personal message of solidarity with the Mayor and THC. All speakers were united in their call to defend democracy in Tower Hamlets. Earlier this year 37,395 people in Tower Hamlets voted for the Mayor of their choice – Mayor Lutfur Rahman.
It was enlightening to hear their words and learn of the many distinct ways in which THC, led by Mayor Lutfur Rahman has supported community. It was equally disheartening to learn of the prejudice migrant communities have experienced when trying to engage politically in Tower Hamlets. Several speakers paid homage to the gross hypocrisy of our government exampling Eric Pickles biscuit and limousine budget scandal; double standards over MP’s expenses & lack of scrutiny and the latest explosion of banking corruption.
Rajonuddin Jalal – Former Councilor & former Leader of Tower Hamlets Labour Group
Jalal affirmed that the attack on Lutfur Rahman and democracy in Tower Hamlets is not a new one. He spoke of a “serious disconnect between the Labour Party and the Bengali community” and explained that the smear campaign today against the Mayor is rooted in the political history of Tower Hamlets.
“Going back to the 1940’s, the Jewish people were denied representation by the Labour Party, they had to join the Communist Party to get representation and their own MP’s. It is that disconnect which continues and that is why people like Lutfur Rahman, are having to stand as Independent candidates.”
He confirmed that he was from the generation in 1978 that fought against the “racist and fascist National Front. We defeated them through the Battle of Brick Lane in 1978. Since then, the Bengali community has been seeking representation through the Labour Party. But the experience has been bitter.” Back in the early 1980’s Jawal became a Labour Party member through a progressive trade unionist in the borough, there were other people who applied for membership to the Labour Party and their membership applications were being put into the dustbin.”
Both George Galloway and Ken Livingstone also discussed racist and prejudice values within the Labour Party – with particular reference to Tower Hamlets.
Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London, leader of the GLC & former MP, speaking at Defend Democracy in Tower Hamlets. 12.11.14.
Colin Wilson – An Organiser of East London Pride
“I am here tonight because we are being told that Lutfur Rahman doesn’t stand up for equality, for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. I am here to tell you that that is a lie.” At a march organised in 2011, the EDL concealing themselves attempted to launch a racist Pride march to separate the LGBT community from other communities in the borough and this was exposed. “In September we had 400 people who took part in an anti-racist Pride march from Hackney to Bethnal Green – Lutfur came and spoke at the rally, he stood on our platform, gave us a warm speech, a welcome to the borough and he was photographed standing next to us and in solidarity with our community.
No one has ever given me a single example of Lutfur Rahman having treated the LGBT community with anything but respect. But I can’t say the same of Eric Pickles who voted in 2003 against unmarried and same sex couples being able to adopt. You remember the Tories vicious anti-gay section 28 – Pickles voted against getting rid of it. And before that when there was a vote on whether we should have an equal age of consent, Pickles voted against that as well.
So how is it that people believe the lie, that the homophobe is a friend of gay people and Lutfur Rahman is our enemy? There is one reason and all of us here know it, It’s racism, it’s islamophobia. People believe because Lutfur Rahman is a Muslim and for 10 years since Tony Blair took us to war, we have seen a filthy tide of bigotry against Muslims that tell us that they are all ignorant, they are all prejudiced and we have to stand up and reject that filth.”
“Many people here will remember the meeting we had in the London Muslim Centre where we were campaigning against the EDL. 700 people including many of them from the local community giving warm applause to a transgender speaker from Rainbow Hamlets. That is the tradition in Tower Hamlets. I have worked for the last 20 years in the public and voluntary sector alongside Muslim colleagues as an openly gay man and I want to say that what I see of their religion is that it’s about a concern for justice, and respect for all people and not about attacking others.”
“I agree with what Lutfur said 3 years ago, that we need a community that is based on mutual respect, which brings people together. I don’t think that’s what Eric Pickles stands for. I don’t think that spending £500,000 on limousines shows a respect for the people of Tower Hamlets. I don’t think we should believe the lies of a bigoted Tory homophobe. I think we need to stand in solidarity with Lutfur Rahman, we need to say no to islamophobia, no to homophobia, defend local democracy and defend Lutfur Rahman.”
George Galloway, Respect Party member of Parliament for Bradford West, speaking at Defend Democracy in Tower Hamlets. 12.11.14.
Alex Kenny, Secretary of East London National Teachers Union
“We have nothing to learn about democracy, accountability or transparency from Eric Pickles and his cronies in Westminster.”
In 2010 “Micheal Gove gave £500,000 to a friend of his called Rachel Wolf who had set up an organisation called ‘New Schools Network’, the aim of which was to set up free schools where they weren’t needed and where Councils didn’t want them. He did that without procurement and transparency.”
He levied criticism at the government that “sees nothing wrong with Ofsted Inspectors failing schools, and then going back to those schools to act as brokers, for Academy Sponsors to turn them into Academies.”
He advised of how the government gave £45 million to the Harris Federation to establish a selective 6th form college in Westminster, when there are already many successful 6th form colleges in London – many of which are having their budget cuts. “This is a government that knows about lack of democracy, lack of accountability, lack of transparency, because it’s exercising it all the time.”
Alex confirmed that education in Tower Hamlets is one of the big success stories. “It is one of the most successful local authorities in the country and that is a thorn in this governments side – because we have done it. Lutfur’s Council have done it by resisting the spread of Academies and free schools, by trying to keep our schools together.”
He affirmed that the Mayor has done much for children and education in Tower Hamlets: “Keeping our schools together, making sure that they are successful and that many of our children overcome their financial disadvantage. Lutfur has spoken up against austerity; he has reinstated the Education Maintenance Allowance for our young people and expanded the free school meals programme.”
Over 2,000 NUT members have taken strike action several times this year against the governments attack on teachers’ pay, workload and conditions. Alex extended gratitude to the Mayor, “At every turn Lutfur has sent us a message of support, saying he supports our strike action, saying that what the government is doing to workers, to teachers is wrong.“
“This is not about whether you support Lutfur as an individual. It isn’t about whether you voted for Lutfur in the election. This is about Tower Hamlets. This is about our community and our rights to determine who represents us.”
Tower Hamlets Mayor, Lutfur Rahman speaking at Defend Democracy in Tower Hamlets. 12.11.14.
Kate Hudson – National Secretary of Left Unity; former Head of Policy of Social Studies at London South Bank University
“We have to be clear that this is nothing short of a vicious political attack against a Council which has done so much to improve the living standards of residents and to improve opportunities for all the community – particularly the young people. It has done this for every single community in this borough and it does not pick and choose like some would have us believe.”
She shared a few achievements of the Mayor and THC to include: “providing EMA for its young people, winning a National Award for the highest number of sustainable new build housing units, it’s school meal service has been awarded the Best in Britain status, it’s an accredited London Living Wage Employer. The Mayor himself joined the Mayor’s for Peace Association, an International Association opposed to Nuclear weapons.”
“This attack comes from the government in the person of Eric Pickles but let us be clear, this is not an attack from the government alone, this is an unholy alliance between Labour and the Conservatives, with racist undertones against a Council that fights austerity and fights the cuts.
This is an attack on democracy in Tower Hamlets and on the peoples’ choice in Tower Hamlets. This Council has been found guilty of nothing. Its only guilt is to oppose the dominant political ethos to stand up for its residents and to say there is an alternative that benefits ordinary people.
Let us not forget, this is not the first time that the Tories have tried to close down Councils that have tried to work in the interests of the people. In 1980’s Margaret Thatcher attacked Liverpool and Lambeth Councils in this same way. It wasn’t right then and it’s not right now.”
Nurul Islam Mahbub – Chairman of Greater Sylhet Development and Welfare Council UK
Nurul Islam paid homage to the improvement brought by THC. “If we look at the last 30 years, the statistics -Tower Hamlets education improved better. Worst school became a better school in the UK. Housing for the last 40 years – we have had a problem with the housing in Tower Hamlets. Now we are getting better housing and a lot of places where you go, you cannot see where the Council housing estate is. Like the old days with boarding and horrible buildings. Tower Hamlets looks different from the whole of London and we are proud for it.”
John Reece – British Political Activist & Broadcaster, Spokesman for the Peoples’ Assembly
John explained that one of the reasons he was here was because the Mayor had on many occasions supported the Peoples’ Assembly. “When we organised earlier in the summer, 50,000 people to march through the centre of London protesting against Austerity – Lutfur Rahman was on the front banner.
When with Stop the War Coalition in the summer, we organised 3 demonstrations against the Israeli attack on Gaza – 100s and thousands of people marched through the centre of London, the biggest demonstration ever in this country on the question of Palestine, Mayor Lutfur Rahman was on the banner at the front.
When only a few weeks ago, down the road in York Hall, we organised a Peoples’ Question time, Mayor Lutfur Rahman opened the proceedings that evening. What other borough can you go to in this country where the Mayor will come and greet an anti-austerity organisation into the heart of the borough? There is no other borough where if a Mayor did it, he wouldn’t be heckled by the audience for having the temerity to turn up because in every other borough, they are putting through austerity not trying to stop it and ameliorate its effects.
Let’s be clear. Eric Pickles and the Tory government are not after Tower Hamlets because of what it’s done wrong. They are after Tower Hamlets because of what it has done right.”
Referring to the Tory attack on Tower Hamlets, John submitted that the reason they do not like this borough, is because it’s a borough that fights back. “They do not like this borough because it’s not composed of working people and the poor who sit down and take it and say thank you very much for the 18 out of 23 cabinet members who are millionaires in this government. This government doesn’t like a fighting borough and Tower Hamlets is a fighting borough, led by a fighting Council, led by a fighting Mayor.”
Mickey Ambroise – Presenter, fundraiser and Ambassador of The Princes Trust Duke of Edinburgh Awards; Ex Professional Footballer of Charlton Athletics
“I am for the Youth, it’s great to see our youth making way and the Mayor and the team being able to give them opportunities in life, maybe opportunities that we didn’t get. It is very important.”
“The intention is to support good work. Those that are spreading negative stories about what is happening in the Borough are doing it for one reason – to disunite us and to hide the successes. He said we have to be patient as whenever one is on the path to do good for society, you always have hurdles placed in front of you and opposition. You just have to override this and keep working hard to get the message and truth out there.” [translated]
Other speakers included: Dr Glyn Robbins – Chair of the local anti-hate network, United East End; Sabby Dhalu – Joint Secretary of Unite Against Fascism; Aaron Kiely – NUS National Black Students Officer; Lindsey German – Convenor of Stop the War Coalition; John McLoughlin – Unison Branch Secretary; Christine Shawcroft – Active Labour Party Member holding office at branch, CLP and regional level.
Coming back to tapas, to burn and create heat – the yoga sutras provide that anything burned will be purified, ‘The more you fire gold, the more pure it becomes’. The heat I felt was that of community solidarity – a vibrant energy of love, hope and defiance. The message was clear – the community is united, it will not be divided and stands together to Defend Democracy. I hope the purifying heat of community solidarity continues to grow, to make the UK a fairer, more equal, just, kinder and liveable society for all – where the rule of law is applicable to all.
With thanks to all who organised, attended and contributed to the rally.
Peace and love, Sky