The verdict against Lutfur Rahman feels right. Now Tower Hamlets needs the politics of hope
For the people of Tower Hamlets who endured the divisive rule of Mayor Lutfur Rahman, the overwhelming sense is one of correctness. The verdict was right
Justice feels like many things. A vindication. A relief. Inevitable for some, elusive for others.
For the people of Tower Hamlets who endured the divisive rule of Mayor Lutfur Rahman, the overwhelming sense is one of correctness. The verdict was right. A perfect fit.
The systematic dismantling of his reputation seemed an appropriate response to his systematic dismantling of the borough’s standing.
Yes, he was guilty of some large-scale malpractice – election fraud and bribery through the grants system. But, as I have argued in the past, it is in the details that the administration proved so ill-suited to public office.
Lutfur Rahman and his “party” – denounced too by the judge – were rude. They were dismissive and arrogant. They were quick to insult the innocent and claim victimhood for themselves.
Cllr Alibor Choudhury attacked a councillor for being a “black cardigan” (an allusion to Fascist blackshirts) when she was in mourning. He is gone. Run out of office. Not for that disgusting insult, of course, but an amalgam of offences – from High Court to council chamber – that converge, in the mind, into a repellent, toxic wrecking ball that cut a swathe through east London.
Cllr Choudhury and his boss took their in-built electoral advantage and used it, not as a platform for unity, but as a weapon.
Speak against them and there were no answers, just insults, usually along racist lines. Mr Rahman did not play a race card, he played the entire deck.
The epitome of this arrogance was Lutfur Rahman’s refusal to speak in council meetings. Almost unimaginable that a public official who sought public office and was publicly accountable hid behind his “human rights” to prevent him having to speak to the people he ruled, about the £1billion budget he commanded.
Unconscionable in any right thinking democratic society – but par for the course here, where Mr Rahman made feudal self-interest the norm.
A place where a publicly funded chauffeur shimmied to the shops to pick up his dry cleaning; where is office, like his person, was lavishly aggrandised from the public purse.
So many things were wrong, distasteful, irritating, frustrating but none, until now, seemed capable of dislodging a man who saw the mayoralty as a right and had the moral dexterity to ignore the demands of honourable service.
There are many shameful legacies from this. Tower Hamlets has lost impetus – compared to neighbouring boroughs Hackney and Newham – on a range of enlightened initiatives.
While Tower Hamlets was looking inwards (and backwards), the Olympics came and went. The new economies – bio-tech, digital, creative, small-scale – sidestepped the borough and favoured more welcoming regimes.
Of course, there may be a sting in the tale. For the sense of victimhood that Lutfur Rahman fostered and fed upon may well find some traction in the communities that he favoured.
Should Tower Hamlets First, or its successor, choose to fight elections then the chip-on-the-shoulder prejudices could be fanned into a furnace of bitter opposition (again) by this verdict.
The story is not over yet. But this decisive and critical moment could be the first step towards a sense of healing, a sense of renaissance and enthusiasm.
The borough can re-balance and start again – providing Mr Rahman was the exception not the rule.