George Galloway, Ken Livingstone and Len McCluskey gave their public backing to Lutfur Rahman, ousted mayor of Tower Hamlets, during a rally of supporters held last night in east London, reports The Evening Standard.
The event came soon after Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, announced strengthened intervention in the running of the troubled London borough following the finding that Rahman used religious intimidation and vote-rigging, amongst other tactics, to gain power.
George Galloway, Respect Party leader and parliamentary candidate for Bradford West in next week’s general election, spoke via a recorded message in which he described the Election Court’s judgement as “an anti-democratic, anti-Islamic and racist coup.”
Ex-London mayor Ken Livingstone, also contributing via video link, blamed the judgement which he described as “politically motivated” on “an underlying fear of Islam.”
Len McCluskey’s support came in the form of a message read to the rally by the Unite union’s chief of staff, Andrew Murray. It read:
“I am not speaking in a personal capacity, I am speaking on behalf of the union…and I am sending a message of support from our general secretary, Len McCluskey. Unite is proud to associate ourselves with Lutfur Rahman.”
Unite is Britain’s biggest trade union and the Labour Party’s biggest donor. In using the authority of his union to support the discredited ex-mayor McCluskey puts it at odds with local Labour activists who welcomed the court’s ruling. The local Labour party has it’s own officially endorsed candidate for the rerun of the mayoral election to be held in June, London Assembly member John Biggs. Rahman has urged supporters to vote for his own preferred candidate, local councillor Rabina Khan.
This is the second time in a week that McCluskey has appeared to act independently of the Labour Party his union funds, having previously endorsed the idea of Labour/SNP coalition government in contradiction to party leadership statements. On this occasion his position was supported by another senior Labour activist, Christine Shawcross of the party’s National Executive Committee.
According to The Guardian Shawcross is also acting as a trustee of the “Luftur Rahman Legal Fund”. Attendees at the rally were handed pledge forms asking for financial contributions to the legal fund to provide for a potential judicial review of the decision of the court. Rahman has already been ordered to pay costs of £250,000 and his final bill, even prior to appeal, is expected to reach £1 million.