Mark Ferguson criticises what he sees as Ken Livingstones ‘foolish decsion‘ to allow himself to be sighted campaigning with ‘Independent’ candidate in the race to be Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman. Let me start by outlining where I agree with Mark. It was probably ill-advised to actually tramp the streets with Rahman and bound to cause the outrage we have seen. I can understand why some among the wider membership might be indignant at Ken’s actions and he may seem to feel himself above the rules and I agree that should not be the case. However, before we engage in a blanket denunciation of Ken we need to delve a little deeper into what caused him to act this way. Mark, in his piece, rightly alludes to some of the problems in Tower Hamlets and makes the question of Livingstone’s motivation vague. It is my submission however that Ken’s motives are clear; he is trying to heal wounds which are, for Labour in Tower Hamlets, mostly self-inflicted.
Labour’s official candidate is Helal Abbas. However, controversy surrounds the circumstances of his ‘selection’. Rahman was forced to take legal action to even appear on the shortlist and following his eventual inclusion on it won a resounding victory amoungst Labour Party membership; he was backed by 45% of members’ first preferences and won the final round with 433 votes compared with 251 for local London assembly member, John Biggs, and 157 for council leader, Helal Abbas (the official candidate). Something is simply not right when this happens and those criticising Ken today, if they truly wish to be consistent democrats, cannot ignore that fact.
London Labour Party justifies its actions in an extremely vague way:
“Having received a number of serious allegations concerning both the eligibility of participating voters and the conduct of Lutfur Rahman, the NEC has decided to investigate the allegations made. As a result, administrative action has been taken to remove Lutfur Rahman as a candidate pending the investigation. Nominations for Tower Hamlets mayor close this week and in the circumstances the NEC had no option but to impose another candidate. The NEC has voted to select Helal Abbas Uddin as Labour’s candidate.”
This is simply not good enough when you consider the fact that Tower Hamlets has been in special measures for over 10 years during which time every membership application has been carefully vetted by regional officers with every selection that was allowed carefully controlled by regional officers. So, how were the ‘ineligible’ allowed to participate if it was not right under the nose of the self-same people who made this statement?
Mark says in his article that Ken’s actions de-legitimise the candidature of Abbas. My response is simply to ask, from a democratic point of view, what legitimacy does Abbas have? Just because the NEC says it is so does not make it so. In questioning this Ken is just stating what is immediately obviously to anybody; there was a serious problem with this selection from a democratic point of view.
When the rules cease to function and those administering them are not held to account for their actions and behave in a way that is ‘above the law’ (in a similar way to which Ken’s critics accuse him of behaving) what censure is left on the power of the central authority? If a leading authority behaves in this way it itself is directly responsible for the creation of what it regards as the ‘state of anarchism’ that follows. Other problems of consistency exist; during the general election senior Labour figures called for a tactical Liberal Democrat vote in certain seats to ‘keep the Tories out’ (we all remember how that turned out don’t we?) yet no censure was called for against them. Also, numerous Labour proponents of Alternative Vote exist, a system under which it may well be true that people within Labour will call for a second preference to tactically be cast for other parties. Are they then in danger of expulsion? If the Alternative Vote is passed this rule will be archaic and out of date and will simply have to be changed. If you look at Ken’s stance then his call for both Labour candidates to second-preference each other has been his consistent position.
Finally, look at those who have been calling on Ed Miliband to ‘act against Ken’ and you see an awful lot of Conservatives and the right-wing press. Is it not possible this is a diversionary tactic to get the focus away from the Comprehensive Spending Review today and distract the Conservative troops from Mr Cameron’s u-turn on Trident? Calling for Ken’s expulsion and ‘action against Ken’ now is dangerous. Put simply it would rip the Labour Party asunder and probably not just in London which, as Mark notes, is already unhappy with the situation in Tower Hamlets. It would pour oil onto the flames of discontent within our own ranks. It also misses the point of the circumstances that led to Ken’s actions and fails to absorb the necessary lessons that within this party, democracy is not an optional extra but is the lifeblood of the party and the wider movement around it.