Tower Hamlets should serve as a warning about the dangers of putting one community above all othersby John Ware / April 27, 2015 / Leave a comment
Lutfur Rahman, the disgraced Mayor of the east London borough of Tower Hamlets, often spoke about his “passion” for the “community.”
Tower Hamlets is a very diverse community. Its quarter of a million residents speak some 90 languages. Besides white Irish and white British, Chinese, Africans, Somalis, Poles, Russians, Lithuanians, Spanish, Portuguese, Italians and Bengalis—the list goes on—make up this “community.” The truth is, Tower Hamlets is not a community. It is a community of many communities.
To strengthen community “cohesion” Rahman devised a “Community Plan” called “One Tower Hamlets.” When it came to the 2014 election, however, the one community he most relied on to return him to power was his own—the Bangladeshi community, the largest single ethnic group comprising 32 per cent of the borough’s population.
According to the election court which has just kicked him out of office, Rahman relied on it in the basest of ways. He and his election agent ran his 2014 mayoral campaign “by branding Mr Biggs [his Labour opponent] as a racist,” a claim the judge describes as “wholly dishonest.” The court also found he was guilty of a 19th century offence, still on the statute book, which outlaws “use of the power and influence of religious office to convince the faithful that it is their religious duty to vote for or against a particular candidate.” Rahman “decided to run his campaign on the basis that it was the religious duty of faithful Muslims to vote for him,” and enlisted the support of Hafiz Moulana Shamsul Hoque, the highly influential Chairman of the Tower Hamlets Council of Mosques (encompassing 45 mosques and other Islamic institutions) “to deliver what might be termed the imprimatur of the senior Muslim clergy.”
At the time, neither Rahman nor the Imam in this political-religious “double act,” as the judge terms them, seem to have thought there was anything wrong with what they were doing, even though Rahman was a solicitor. After all, a speech by the Imam was filmed at one event he attended, and at another event a report of the Imam’s speech was posted on the internet by a Rahman supporter. The judge makes clear, it should be noted, that he assumes “that Mr Hoque genuinely believed…