Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Rushanara Ali : Living up to the British Bangladeshi's Expectations?

I was poked by one of my associates to make sure that this blog also does a critical review on other politicians in the East End irrespective of their status of not being found guilty by a court for dodgy affairs. Given that the general election is at our door and some people’s interest in what I think of Rushanara Ali motivated me to look back on her term in the Parliament and what we could make of her performance.

Disclaimer: I am a Labour party member but locally in Tower Hamlets I am confused and often critical of how it operates. The division and distance between the TH Labour Party and British Bangladeshi community following Lutfur Rahman’s deselection in 2010 saddens me.

How to judge a Leader
British Bangladeshi’s often want to measure their representative’s success based on what they have done, particularly for the Bangladeshi community, forgetting the fact that they are elected to serve the entire community. Yes there are issues relevant and which impact only the British Bangladeshi community, but that should not be the ultimate criteria by which we judge our politicians’ performance.

Another note I make is that the British Bangladeshi community is na├»ve in how they assess a public office bearer’s role. For example, some of them are too keen to assess them by their visibility in the street and in community meetings. They want to see the politicians in the streets walking about and creating a buzz in Brick Lane and Whitechapel, irrespective of whether they are actually able to go back to their office and work hard on the issues affecting the constituents.

In this regard I often hear an unfair comparison between Lutfur Rahman and Rushanara Ali, though both of them had very different processes and structures to serve in their respective public office and a very different style and ability in engaging with people.

Tower Hamlets Housing
Let us look into one example, better and affordable housing; the most important issue in Tower Hamlets. We hear politicians crying out loud on how they have either resolved the problem or improved the situation. Often some grand figures are quoted to fool the public and say how great of a champion they have been in resolving the housing crisis. I mean come on, don’t just tell us how many millions have been spent on housing and how many houses are being built by the private housing companies. Tell us how many more families have received housing who have been waiting for decades, or how many families you have helped relocate and ended their suffering in an overcrowded house. Give us exact numbers and the exact actions you have taken.  Then we can compare them with previous year or term to see how much of a hero you really are.

Getting back to the difference in roles, being an Executive Mayor, Lutfur Rahman’s decision was as a local actor, to decide on how money should be spend on housing improvements,  new buildings and what the ‘deals’ should be with greedy housing developers and also what policies he should adopt to address the overcrowding and homelessness issues. I haven’t come across any specifics in any literature printed from Tower Hamlets First to this regard.

On the other hand Rushanara Ali’s role, as a Member of  Parliament is to lobby the central government and ensure they provide funding and support for the local council to address housing issues.

One of the first actions RA took was to ask the Prime Minister to commit to funding the Decent Homes programme and to lobby the Chancellor and Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to ensure that this money would be delivered for residents in the borough.

This campaigning resulted in successfully securing £165 million to help get homes up to a decent standard in Tower Hamlets.  This meant that 8,000 homes would benefit from improvements to help living standards rise across the borough by this year (2015).

Rushanara Ali’s Priorities
So as MP it is evident that RA lived up to her promise and was sincere in her commitment. For an exhaustive list of activities and her achievements please look at her website. It has claims backed up with  data and thorough evidence on what she has been doing. It details 10 key campaigns she had focused on including:
  1. Tackling Unemployment
  2. Education and Training for Our Young People
  3. Better and More Affordable Housing
  4. Crime and Policing
  5. Tackling Health Inequalities
  6. Ensuring a Good Living Standard for Older People
  7. Youth Engagement
  8. The Environment and Climate Change
  9. Save Remittance Giving Campaign
  10. New Deal for Leaseholders Campaign

Rushanara Ali on Bangladesh
I would like to mention a couple of other points I was impressed to see Rushanara Ali courageously tackle in representing her constituents. Firstly, during the debate on Bangladesh on 14th January 2014, following the 5th January’s shambolic election, she was very objective and remained loyal to the people of Bangladesh’s democratic aspirations. This was contrary to people’s common perceptions that she is an Awami League sympathiser. During the debate she stressed the importance of having a caretaker government system in Bangladesh and criticised the dodgy elections.

’Half the seats in the January general election were uncontested. Many have complained that the election process was not, by any standards, free and fair. It is deeply disappointing that a significant proportion of the population did not take part or have confidence in the election. Free and fair elections are an essential component of a functional democracy, and when they do not happen it is a disgrace, not least for Bangladesh, which has such a proud history.’’

She further also argued the case for the Caretaker Government system when saying:
‘’ Members from both sides of the House have on a number of occasions raised the need for interim measures to secure and guarantee free and fair elections. Some raised the need for caretaker Governments, which have served the country well in the past. As the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) mentioned, other countries such as Pakistan have followed that lead and have expressed their disappointment that the system has been removed.’’

Rushanara Ali even challenged Anne Main MP, the chair for the APPG on Bangladesh who often come across like an Awami League mouthpiece.  In response to Anne Main Rushanara Ali responded:

‘’The fact is that the opposition parties lack confidence in the election commission. The commission has been recognised by the international community as potentially having the ability to create the framework for free and fair elections but, regrettably, that has not happened.’’

Rushanara remained neutral and spoke on behalf of the constituency which many of my learned readers will agree upon.

‘’I want to mention the concerns, which will be shared by colleagues on both sides of the House, of British Bangladeshis in relation to their family members and their ties with their country of origin. Many have important business and trade ties as well as family ties—they support family members, promote education and give wider support through remittances. Half a million British Bangladeshis are deeply concerned about the situation. It is right that we debate the matter because we need to give our attention to what is happening in Bangladesh’’

She even criticised the historical role of the UK in being critical of an independent Bangladesh and goes on to declare how proud she is of her heritage, unlike the arguments put forward by many that she lacks Bangladeshiness.

‘’The House was critical in supporting Bangladesh’s independence, and many senior Members of all parties played a critical role in its fight for independence, liberal values, secular principles and freedoms. It is a great source of sadness that we are here today debating a situation that could not be more different from the ideals of the founding fathers of my country of birth, which I am proud to say I am originally from.’’

Rushanara Ali in Bangladesh

What is important to note here is that she is saying fathers and not awarding the credit of Bangladesh to any one man. She is a close associate with Sheikh Hasina’s millionaire niece Tulip Siddiq, her buddy in Labour party, which I personally find distasteful. However, this is where Rushanara’s integrity to remain unbiased and objective deserves to be respected.

I find Rushanara’s association with Tulip distasteful because It is evident that Tulip represents an empire of corruption led by Sheukh Hasina and while fully enjoying the fruits of being of Sheikh Mujib’s family, she also uses the Awami Leaguers’ to her advantage in British politics. This royal member of the Sheikh’s family deserves a separate post entirely in  this blog so more on her later.    

Back to Rushanara Ali. At times she seems to lack the charisma and serious focus to bring about change at local level, from the grassroots. She is definitely a by-the-book politician. Her ambition of being a successful Westminster politician and her time as Shadow Minister  means that unfortunately she deprives her constituency of the attention it demands.
Rushanara Ali is a passionate supporter of the Palestine cause
I wish Rushanara Ali would take on an active leadership role in rebuilding the local Labour party in Tower Hamlets and work to regain its trust and confidence from local people.

Nevertheless, she is arguably the most competent politician we have who has high level of integrity. Even playing it by the book she is doing us a great service and I am sure she will continue to do so.

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