Support Rabina Khan for Tower Hamlets Mayor


The following statement was issued by Left Unity in support of the candidacy of Rabina Khan for the position of elected mayor of Tower Hamlets in the upcoming mayoral election, which takes place in less-than-democratic conditions in the context of what amounts to a racist coup against the elected Mayor and council of Tower Hamlets, led by the Tory/Zionist minister Eric Pickles.

Some political background on this anti-democratic coup can be found in the recent Communist Explorations leaflet on this, and further useful material is to be found in this article by the Trotskyist group Socialist Fight on the same events.

Tower Hamlets First, the local political current that both Lutfur Rahman and Rabina Khan were leaders of, has been de-registered by the electoral commission. As explained earlier, THF is a left split from the local Labour Party that took place in the aftermath of an important left-wing development in Tower Hamlets, expressed particularly but not exclusively by any means through its mainly Bengali Muslim population, in response to the Iraq War and the ‘war on terror’. This led to the election of George Galloway in Bethnal Green & Bow in the 2005 General Election. THF was a secondary product of the tragic disintegration of RESPECT after that time, and showed that despite the problems, that progressive political development refused to simply disappear without trace.

The candidacy by Rabina Khan is an act of defiance by a left-wing split from the Labour Party with clear mass local support, against an anti-democratic, racist attack against the rights of the local electorate. Its politics are at this point on a lower level than the promise showed by RESPECT, but to stand aside from this battle, to be neutral in the face of such an attack, would be an objectively racist and pro-imperialist position.

Left Unity are to be congratulated on this brave and principled political stance.

Left Unity supports Rabina Khan in the 11 June re-run of the Tower Hamlets mayoral election.

She is standing to defend democracy in Tower Hamlets at a time when the council is being taken over by Tory government agencies, whipping up Islamophobic scare stories to justify sending in Eric Pickles and his unelected commissioners. The continuing case against Lutfur Rahman, who has vowed to clear his name, is being used as an excuse to dismantle the whole democratically elected council.

Rabina has a strong left-wing record. As cabinet member for housing in Tower Hamlets she has overseen the building of thousands of new social and affordable homes, and the investment of millions of pounds in refurbishing council housing. If successful she would become the first elected female Muslim mayor in Britain.

We call on the left to unite in support of the campaign to defend democracy in Tower Hamlets and in support of Rabina Khan’s candidacy.

There is more about the campaign at Rabina Khan’s website.


  1. Stephen Diamond

    This election statement is vacuous: “Here, while the main parties obsess over decades’ worth of vendettas, we have a chance to focus on the future, strengthen our communities and create an open, rainbow politics where no one is left outside the room.” Sounds rather like Barrack Obama in his first presidential campaign. (Surely “vendettas” is a red herring.)

    And “affordable housing.” Again, reminds me of the U.S. Affordable Medical Care Act (aka Obamacare). Housing (like medical care) should be free, and slogans need to be more precise than is conveyed by liberal terms like “affordable.”

    With her position on Scotland, she seems to be a nationalist or communalist (and not a very ‘left’ one at that).


  2. Ian

    Her de-facto programme is what you expect from the more principled sections of the Labour Left. Which is why quite a number of such people will be supporting her, either overtly or in terms of sympathy, in a similar spirit no doubt to those on the same Labour Left who spoke in support of Lutfur Rahman at the rally in Tower Hamlets last Thursday.

    So basically, she is a candidate of a principled Labour Left in exile, in the unusual political circumstances of Tower Hamlets. Stephen’s point about ‘affordable housing’ misses a crucial point, which is that tens of thousands of working class people are being driven out of London for the simple reason that they cannot afford to rent or buy housing there. It might not be a revolutionary programme not to call for free public housing, but it certainly is a position that finds a huge echo in the working class in London – and not just among the Bengali population in Tower Hamlets. Council are crippled by financial rules imposed from the centre and are largely prevented from building council housing as in the heyday of Labourite reformism, but this local formation certainly had found as many ways round these restrictions as possible and has behaved as decent reformists in a period when even decent reformism has been in short supply.

    Sure we need a revolutionary mass movement. But just wishing for it won’t make it happen. When reformists appear to stand for working people, and indeed at some level sincerely believe that this is what they are doing, then critical electoral support helps to put reformism itself to the test in front of the working class. In the current general election, there has been a real element of this even from the national Labour party leadership around Miliband, which is a real change from the years of Tony Blair.

    But this is a local situation where an independent left-reformist trend is defying racism and a blatant attack on the democratic rights of its immigrant, largely proletarian base. That’s two very good reasons for supporting them, and their candidate Rabina Khan, in this election.

    I see no evidence of either nationalism or communalism. Her remarks on Scotland do not necessarily imply any support for nationalism; they are just an (accurate) observation that Scottish politics has been energised by what is going on there. Which is obviously true, from whatever vantage point.


  3. Stephen Diamond

    Because of my distance and lack of knowledge, I’ll confine myself to two general points.

    1) Support of a reformist must include criticism, which isn’t in evidence.

    2) The idea is to elect the reformist to take the masses through the experience, so they can reject reformism. This not only requires the aforementioned criticism, but also requires that the reformist raise demands for which she can be held accountable. “Affordable” is a weasel word. It allows the capitalist state to define a very vague term. If that’s all she can say to address a critical housing shortage, I I think she’s unsupportable. (It doesn’t absolutely have to be free housing, but something definite is definitely required.)


  4. Ian

    I think you will find that in my material on this, both on Rahman, and in the short introduction above, it is quite clear that there is a political distance between the politics advocated here, and those of THF:

    “THF was a secondary product of the tragic disintegration of RESPECT after that time, and showed that despite the problems, that progressive political development refused to simply disappear without trace.

    “The candidacy by Rabina Khan is an act of defiance by a left-wing split from the Labour Party with clear mass local support, against an anti-democratic, racist attack against the rights of the local electorate. Its politics are at this point on a lower level than the promise showed by RESPECT”

    and in the earlier leaflet:

    “In a complex history intertwined with the crisis of the left, RESPECT in Tower Hamlets disintegrated, though it remains in other parts of the UK. But it left its mark, in a minority electorate that was ‘uppity’, that did not ‘know its place’ in racist capitalist Britain.

    “Even when RESPECT was supplanted by Labour, ‘uppity’ minorities rebelled and refused to accept ‘safe’ candidates imposed upon them, selecting their own instead. When Labour’s neocons cracked down on them in the usual way, they refused to accept it, Rahman stood as an independent and won – twice, splitting Labour in TH to create a less radical opposition than RESPECT, but still an opposition.”

    The purpose of these materials is to forcefully propagandise for support for these people against an anti-democratic attack on their rights even in terms of bourgeois democracy. Actually, there are extensive criticisms and analysis of the contradictory nature of RESPECT itself in the CE election article, as well as some very harsh criticisms of the leadership of Left Unity, who are praised for their position here.

    Regarding ‘affordable’ housing, the reversal of the restrictions on creating council housing would require the overturn of three decades of central government policy. No borough council can do that. ‘Affordable’ rents sound pretty good when you cannot afford the ones in the London housing market and are being driven out of town. That must be a real danger to poor people, particularly the Asian population, in Tower Hamlets which is one of the poorest parts of the UK yet right next door to the huge wealth of the City and its twin, Docklands. Its a defensive demand in a currently very defensive situation. There are some very bitter struggles going on around these kind of defensive issues right now in London.

    And also, this is an overtly pro-war, pro-imperialist, pro-zionist and anti-democratic attack on the population that committed the unprecedented sacrilege of electing a militant and very outspoken anti-imperialist to represent them right in the middle of the Iraq War. This is an act of resistance to that. It has the potential to create convulsions again in British social democracy along similar lines. How can any serious Marxist and anti-imperialist not want to support this, and deepen it?


  5. Stephen Diamond

    Communists should defend Tower Hamlets against what you rightly call a neocon/Zionist attack. That doesn’t mean any political support is warranted for a candidate who thinks the main problem with bourgeois politics is the “vendettas” and talks in classless abstractions about “rainbow” politics.


  6. Ian

    What does this point about ‘political’ support mean in the context of a election that in effect will be a referendum on the coup? The usual Trotskyist distinction is between ‘military’ and ‘political’ support, and I have reservations about the absolute separation of the two – Lenin was rather fond, with good reason, of Clausewitz’s statement that ‘war is the continuation of politics by other means’. But any military dimension is out of the question in current circumstances – the resistance has to be political and it weapon has to be resistance on the electoral terrain.

    This coup is an attack on the working class in Tower Hamlets, with its particular local composition, and THF and Lutfur Rahman are representatives of that section of the working class. They are not bourgeois politicians, they are a local left-wing split from the Labour Party. This support does not imply approval of the reformist ideology of the candidate(s).


  7. Stephen Diamond

    Why must the weapon of resistance be electoral? Even if the candidate is unsupportable, industrial action to rescind the electoral commission’s orders would be principled—without voting for the candidate. (The analog to “military” support.) And if the response is electoral, why must it be cast in the form of a referendum? The idea that one should vote for this candidate because the illegitimately deposed mayor supports her (if that’s the reason) is terribly tail-endist.

    [This reminds me of when the U.S. Justice Department would use “corruption” as an excuse to attack the labor unions. Communists knew the real reason for the attacks, and they defended the labor leaders. But that doesn’t mean that, even in a trade union setting, they would vote for the attacked leaders under the cover that the election was a referendum on the prosecution.]


  8. Ian

    Industrial action to rescind such orders would be great. Whether it could be delivered is another matter. This is an act of repression against a very vulnerable section of the population in a pretty reactionary political climate, when the working class movement has suffered major defeats, and indeed is still being driven back. The Tories appear to have won the current election.

    If this were simply a dispute between bourgeois politicians, with central government removing some errant bourgeois functionary, then the working class would have no stake in taking a side in the election. But this is an attack on a section of the oppressed that had the temerity to elect their own choice, If it is worth taking a side on this at all, how can we abstain from doing so in the electoral sphere? Logically, that makes little sense.


  9. Stephen Diamond

    An electoral response doesn’t have to mean turning it into a referendum; the alternative is running or supporting a different candidate, who takes a principled stand in defense of the deposed mayor as well as offering some vestiges of a class program.

    What you’re really saying, I think, is not that the only response is the referendum approach – with the somewhat bizarre idea that supporting the mayor’s chosen successor is obligatory or even permissible – but you’re actually saying that it’s the only tactic capable of producing an immediate victory. [The expected longer-term effect is demoralization when the candidate can’t deliver her promises (if any) re housing.]


  10. Ian

    It is us that it making the upcoming election into a referendum on the coup. That became the reality the moment the THF people decided to run a substitute candidate to defy the legal coup. If Rabina Khan is successful it will be a political blow to those who carried out the coup. As to delivering gains, the Rahman-led council did refuse to carry out some key government attacks on the working class; its victory would give a democratic mandate to continue that. Obviously if she and THF then reneged on that and enforced government attacks that would be a betrayal and the end of the basis for any support. But that is not the situation now as I understand it.

    The point about demoralisation when the candidate cannot deliver seems like an argument against any electoral support to reformist working class candidates. I am opposed to what much of the left does, strategically supporting reformists even when they do not promise any reforms or claim to represent working class interests (e.g. Blair/Brown). But that is not the case here. This is an act of defiance of anti-democratic bourgeois authority along a working class axis, and eminently supportable.


  11. Stephen Diamond

    How’s it even a symbolic blow, when the electoral commission claims the reason was the mayor’s “corruption”? What would be an act of defiance would be write-in campaign for the deposed mayor himself. Since the community repudiates the coup, why not?


  12. Ian

    Just on the latter point. Write-in campaigns are unheard of in Britain. They are an American tradition. Here they would simply be counted as ‘spoiled ballots’, as if the voter had written ‘fuck you’ over the ballot paper and would even be used as evidence of indifference to the result. That is a quirk of the US democratic tradition that has no equivalent in Britain.


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