Is Tower Hamlets really an Establishment conspiracy?

Submitted by AWL on 5 May, 2015 - 5:46 Author: Sacha Ismail

None of the socialist organisations politically defending ousted Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman seriously analyse the judgement made against him by election commissioner Richard Mawrey. None mention George Galloway previously hailing a judgement by Mawrey (against the Labour Party and in favour of Galloway’s Respect) in 2007 — in a speech republished in full on the Socialist Worker website!

Socialists have no confidence in bourgeois judges, but the idea that Mawrey is a ruling-class assassin or bug-eyed Islamophobe is absurd.

The pro-Rahman left's main argument is that he is the victim of a racist witch-hunt. “Islamophobic” is the word used repeatedly, most notably the SWP and Counterfire (but also, for example, Socialist Resistance).

The Socialist Party argues that “a big dose of revenge by Labour... is mixed with outright racism against a Bangladeshi council leadership”. Outright racism from who? In so far as this sentence makes any sense, it seems to be motivated more by the SP’s absolute anti-Labourism than by analysis.

Counterfire, and others, makes a big deal of the fact Rahman is Tower Hamlet's “first Muslim mayor", as well Britain’s. But he’s the borough’s only mayor so far! Muslims are only five per cent of the population in the UK, and elected mayors are pretty new.

Muslims do face discrimination, and of course this is reflected in who gets into political office. But my point is, does any significant constituency in the political establishment really think that a Muslim cannot be allowed to become a mayor? (By the way, none of Rahman’s leftist defenders make the essential argument opposing executive mayors.)

There have been and are Muslim council leaders. Why have they not been removed from office? When Rahman was first elected, in 2010, the Labour candidate was a Muslim, Helal Uddin Abbas. Even after the departure of Rahman's supporters and the creation of Tower Hamlets First, 40 per cent of Labour’s councillors in the borough are Muslim or from a Muslim background.

“Mainly,” says the Socialist Party, “the institutions of the ruling class want to crush any hint of rebellion”. The SP, Counterfire and the SWP all paint up Rahman’s left-wing credentials on social provision, etc., though to be fair the SP does criticise him for making cuts. I say paint up, because there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the limited claims made for him (e.g. about EMA and building council houses) are serious exaggerations.

Should we believe that a significant constituency in the ruling class is so bothered by the extremely limited reforms Rahman’s administration made (while also making cuts) that they were willing to organise enough pressure to fix the ruling on an election complaint?

In fact, anyone who wants Rahman gone, from whatever perspective, must be well aware of the fact that Tower Hamlets First may well win the election to replace him.

Rahman’s left supporters are very bothered about the law preventing “undue spiritual influence” in elections. Counterfire claims that this law was “introduced by the British in Ireland to stop Catholic preachers rallying the Irish! One doesn’t need much imagination to see how this legal relic will be used against Muslims.” In fact, it was introduced by Gladstone, as he was becoming a supporter of Irish Home Rule, and as part of a package of measures which also, for instance, outlawed bribery and checked employers’ ability to coerce their workers to vote a certain way.

Despite the oppressiveness of British rule in Ireland, the law was not used to repress Irish nationalists; cases were brought by more radical and anti-sectarian nationalists against less radical and more sectarian ones (by a Parnellite against an anti-Parnellite nationalist in the Co. Meath case referred to Mawrey). The Catholic Church in Ireland was not an anti-imperialist force! It waged war against the most radical and left-wing nationalists.

And here we come to the fundamental problem with the whole approach of the left. The fact that an organisation has its base in an oppressed community does not necessarily make it progressive. Counterfire (and not only Counterfire) make arguments that tend towards assuming Catholic = anti-imperialist. In the same way, they assume Muslim = anti-imperialist or in this case really left-wing. CF’s John Rees argues that Rahman has been prosecuted “not for what he has done wrong [making cuts], but for what he has done right”. The Socialist Party also implies that all would be well with Tower Hamlets council if only it fought cuts.

There is no sense from any of these people that the growth of communal politics, and the growth of right-wing religious influence in politics, in Tower Hamlets is a problem. (Which of course is not to suggest that racism, poverty, cuts, labour movement and political leaders unwilling to fight, etc., aren't.)

Socialist Worker denounces the “racist myth of Muslims as passive zombies manipulated by their leaders”. The idea that all Muslims are automatically reactionary political zombies, or anything like that, is indeed racist. But SW’s clear implication is that it’s racist to suggest that Islamic religious and religious-political organisations ever manipulate people for reactionary ends.