In the run up to the Local Elections in London on Thursday 5th May, Cratus London will be making its way around London to bring you borough updates each week!
This week, we focus on… Tower Hamlets and Merton
By Vanisha Solanki
You will recall in August 2021, Labour lost a ‘safe’ seat on Tower Hamlets Council in a by-election overwhelmingly won by Aspire party activist Kabir Ahmed. He received 1,204 votes taking Bethnal Green’s Weavers ward and beating Labour’s candidate Nasrin Khanam by a clear 462 margin.
Cllr Kabir Ahmed was elected in 2010 from the Weavers ward, as a Labour candidate, he then switched to the Tower Hamlets First group, led by ex-mayor Lutfur Rahman. For those of you who don’t know Lutfur Rahman, was the first directly elected mayor of Tower Hamlets and also the first directly elected Mayor to be removed having been found guilty of electoral fraud in 2015. Lutfur Rahman founded the Tower Hamlets First party, who are now known as Aspire.
Aspire’s victory in the August by-election added a second Aspire councillor to join Harun Miah of Shadwell allowing them to form a group and have rights to seats at committees. Kabir Ahmed is the leader of Aspire and sits on the Strategic Development committee.
Lutfur Rahman has been clearly working to make a mark in the borough. The Labour Party selections in Tower Hamlets have seen three sitting Councillors, two of them being Cabinet Members and the Chief Whip deselected.
Lutfur Rahman has been working with Momentum and others, and with influence in the Labour membership has been rumoured to be calling members to select weak candidates for Labour. This is the strategy to weaken the Labour team, by deselecting strong organisers and campaigners.
Aspire are also putting up candidates for the elections, surprisingly or not so surprisingly 44 men and 1 woman.
Not all has been going smoothly for Lutfur though. Cllr Rabina Khan, Liberal Democrat Councillor in Shadwell has been chosen to stand for the Liberal Democrats in the Tower Hamlets Mayoral election in May 2022. Cllr Khan came second in the Mayoral race in 2018. Lutfur had taken Cllr Khan’s non-committal response to not standing to mean no and assumed he could take the Bangladeshi vote for granted. Cllr Khan , who was initially elected in the Shadwell ward in 2010 as a Labour councillor, defected to Lutfur Rahman’s team, and was Cabinet Member for Housing.
All of this makes for an interesting few weeks coming up to the election. While it is believed that Mayor John Biggs will hold on to his position as Mayor, Lutfur will make some significant gains within the Council, but could he take back the Mayoralty?
By Osman Dervish
While the politics of Merton does not have the same intrigue and bitter history of that in Tower Hamlets, this south-west London borough still makes for some interesting viewing in the coming weeks leading up to the election.
The Leader of the Council, Cllr Mark Allison (Labour) took over an 8 seat majority Labour led council in November 2020, mid Pandemic and is viewed positively by his group to lead them into the next election.
Merton is currently split between the two constituencies of Mitcham & Morden and Wimbledon, with each constituency holding 30 seats each, however this is set to change at the next set of local elections with Wimbledon losing 3 seats through three wards being re-arranged and having their seat allocation reduced by one seat each.
This will leave the split at 30/27 in favour of the Mitcham & Morden seats. Given the fact that all 30 seats in Mitcham and Morden are Labour and will very likely re-elect Labour councillors in May, a Labour administration is all but guaranteed.
The fascinating battle in this borough will be between the Conservatives who currently hold 17 seats and the Liberal Democrats who currently hold 6 seats. With the neighbouring boroughs of Richmond upon Thames, Kingston upon Thames and Sutton all currently in Liberal Democrat control, is this the opportunity for the Liberal Democrats to become the main opposition party in Merton?