Thursday, 16 February 2017

Tragedy of Tower Hamlets Labour Party

When you lose an election, it is natural to be unhappy about the voting procedure. I am writing this account not with an intention to accuse anyone in the party, but to put a light on the potential improvements we can make in conducting the business of an Annual General Meeting (AGM). Tower Hamlets Borough Labour Party (THBLP)’s 10th AGM, conducted on 9th February, should remind us all again that it is now time for greater transparency and fairness in all its processes. 


Why the 10th THBLP AGM was important?

Tower Hamlets Labour party braced for a rough journey since Jeremy Corbyn was elected as the leader of the party. Both Rushanara Ali and Jim Fitzpatrick MP are against Jeremy Corbyn and seem to be suffering from acute Corbynophobia. In that light, THBLP was witnessing a final staging of a great transformation lead by the grassroots on Thursday night. This was arguably the gravest threat, since George Galloway and Lutfur Rahman offensives in 2005 and in 2010, for the Labour Party establishment in Tower Hamlets.

John Biggs, the Mayor of the borough, merely survived a trigger ballot in November 2016, from Momentum offensives- just as Sir Robin Wales did in neighbouring Newham. Out of 15 branches in Tower Hamlets Labour Party, there were about 150 delegates elected in hard fought small battles in branch AGMs this January.

Momentum, with its (un)holy alliance with grassroots’ Labour supporters, secured half of the delegates who were ready to challenge the right-wing establishment guarded by Chris Weavers (Chairman since 2011); his strategic partner, Mayor John Biggs and of course, protected and patronised by two local Progress MPs, Rushanara Ali and Jim Fitzpatrick who successfully represents Westminster elites in Tower Hamlets .

So, the grassroots’ alliance was up against a power machine -who were running things quite peacefully until Jeremy Corbyn became the leader of the Party. It is worth quoting the mention of Tower Hamlets Labour Party narratives in The Guardian; political editor Heather Stewart writes:

 Corbyn's Labour critics organise locally to prevent leftist successor.  

‘’Christine Shawcroft, a close ally of the Momentum founder, Jon Lansman, failed in an attempt to win the chairmanship of the Tower Hamlets Labour party.’’

‘’Momentum, which grew out of Corbyn’s leadership campaign, has been riven by infighting in recent months, with two rival factions, Grassroots Momentum and Open Momentum, fighting for control of its future.’’

In my opinion, this is an accurate observation of the reality on the ground and the left did suffer from this infighting. There were at least 12 abstentions on Thursday night. A rational assumption is that it is from the left of the party, leading up to the AGM that 'this' may have costed the left in Tower Hamlets to lose the opportunity in attaining a grater influence in the Party.


How did the AGM go?

26 January’s initial AGM was suddenly cancelled on the day by Dan Simpson (London Region). So Corbyn supporters braced themselves with anxiety to face all the tricks from the book that would be employed by Progressites. They did indeed: starting from threatening us via local gangsters, to launching malicious blogs against us. All these were executed to make sure the Crown and the Company is saved from the socialist onslaught.

And yes, indeed the AGM was only convened when the Crown and the Company secured their votes. Within that week ‘awarded’ by Dan Simpson, the Company officers made several calls to the poor souls, including those desperate for a council seat or greedy spice merchants being promised future business security.

All jokes aside, I would like to congratulate those who won and offer my following thoughts to be heeded to: 


Eligibility

Delegate from the LGBT forum and Queen Mary Labour were allowed although their affiliation fees were not paid nor was any justification presented to the General Committee (GC). Chris Weavers argues that a previous arrangement has been made about LGBT delegates. In my opinion, a newly elected GC should have been given the right to review that arrangement.

No credential report has been produced. So, was the GC not informed of what they are composed of? How many delegates from the affiliate society’s and from Confederate branches were eligible to vote or makes up the new GC. The GC was not informed how many ballot papers were issued. Only a hand count by Chris Weavers confirmed that 172 people were voting to move a procedural motion.

Poor Administration

Some delegates, including a prominent Isle of Dogs socialist veteran, did not receive voting cards, although they had already come through the registration desk. It was not confirmed as to how many non-delegates were allowed in as observers and whether they did or did not receive a voter card. Ian Foster, an honest principled socialist, returned an extra ballot paper he found in his ballot book. We, of course, cannot establish how many such printing error could have been made.

The Gatekeeper

Former Councillor and newly elected Secretary of the Lansbury and Poplar Branch, Mr. Doros Ullah was keeping the door. He was working hard and he did make a mess of it. People including myself were going out leaving our voter cards and ballot in his 'reliable' hands. However, Mr. Hassan Hoque, current de-facto chair of Tower Hamlets Momentum, was given a ballot book which was already marked. Instead of keeping the door like an obedient Company man, Mr. Doros Ullah was seen very keen on speaking to the Chairman (Yet again newly elected, so that’s 6 years in a row, congrats Chris!) often muddling papers, which was not a great idea as he had multiple ballot papers and delegate cards in his possession. I do not have any suspicion about his honesty, but I am sure such administrative processes can be improved in the future.


The Tellers 

Tellers were not elected from the floor. They were selected promptly as per the Chairman’s instructions before anybody could protest or raise an issue about it. Someone did moan behind me that these tellers are all Corbynophobe. Tellers included Cllr John Pierce, Cllr Abdul Mukit Chunu, Cllr Sabina Aktar, Nurul Hoque to name a few.


The Great Observers

Cllr Rajib Ahmed from Lansbury Branch sat next to two female delegates from his branch as an observer. While he was doing his best in ‘observing’ Mr. Mamunur Rashid, a delegate from Whitechapel Branch, at one point, brought to my attention was that he (the Cllr) had been influencing the females next to him to vote a certain way. This is contrary to the Chair's reminder that no one should interrupt others while voting is in progress.

I did raise it to the Chair but Cllr Rajib could not be moved from his seats, thereby leaving the situation of the two female delegates unsolved: who in turn, should have voted without any pre-guided leverage. When questioned by the Chair, both females remained silent and we had Cllr Sabina Akhtar to their rescue, confirming to the Chair that they are fine. Cllr Sabina Akhtar did a tremendous interpreting job. This does not remind me of many legends about how Shadwell Branch AGM were conducted under Chair's watch and external observer's observance.

Similarly, many Company generals in Tower Hamlets made sure they have all their foot soldiers sitting next to the delegates they could or should 'observe' to deliver for the Crown and the Honourable Company. In fact they did manage to save them from Jeremy Corbyn's force.


Brutal Abstention

This, as I recall now, almost seems like Red Wedding (GOT reference). 12 delegates abstained from voting for the Chair position. That made a huge difference to the result, not only on the day but also in preparation leading to the AGM on Thursday. This is the anti-Lansman/Christine group within local Momentum. They are not happy with how Momentum has had their structure changed recently. So, that’s 12 votes missing for Christine Shawcroft. This can be costly in long run for left’s future in Tower Hamlets.
Ronald Colman plays Robert Clive, who lived from 1725 to 1774. Robert Clive or ‘Clive of India’ as he came to be known, secured military and political power for the East India Company in Bengal. 

Tragedy

Had 12 profoundly sincere socialist from the left decided to vote for Christine Shawcroft, and if it were a fair playing field, Thursday night would have been a bad night for local Blairites. The stage was set for an anti-Corbyn show and we, the divided left, went into their stage to be slaughtered in an epic tale of betrayal. At least this is how I felt when many of the comrades from the floor did not question the procedures strongly.

The Crown and the Company is victorious again- against the poor, unorganised working class socialists- who were seeking to free themselves from the establishment controlled imposed democracy. The establishment that still rules over its subjects, who badly need to be governed by London Region Labour through special measure and imposed councillor candidates. This is the tale of Tower Hamlets Labour Party. A prominent figure from Mile End, some time ago, declared that Tower Hamlets is a Corbyn free zone. Tides are changing, not enough to storm the establishment but enough to say -Tower Hamlets is not a Corbyn free zone. 

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