Rabina Khan, mayoral candidate for Tower Hamlets, has launched her campaign with a strong anti-austerity and anti-racist message.
The election on 11 June was called after the government intervened to depose former mayor Lutfur Rahman.
The election has become a key battle for democracy. Eric Pickles, the Tory communities and local government secretary, deposed Rahman in April and is running the borough through unelected commissioners — among them Chris Allison, the former assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.
Tower Hamlets has been a thorn in the side of the previous Coalition and Labour governments. In 2003 the poor London borough became a hot bed of the anti-war movement.
In 2005 it elected George Galloway, a key opponent of the war, as MP.
During Rahman’s period in office Tower Hamlets council restored the Educational Maintenance Allowance for 16 to 18 year olds — which was scrapped by the ConDems — and built more social housing in the last year than any other council.
Rahman’s council steadfastly refused to turn schools into academies, and gave free school meals to all primary school children. Now the establishment wants its payback.
The government is using racism and Islamophobia to undermine the council’s fight against austerity.
It was alleged that Rahman used “undue spiritual influence” during his time as mayor when over 100 imams signed a letter in support of his campaign.
This 19th century law was originally passed to curb the influence of Catholic priests on Irish immigrants in the East End.
A similar letter of support for the Tories signed by 100 business leaders was not judged as undue influence.
Another part of the justification for removing Rahman — and banning him from elections for five years — is that he overturned recommendations from unelected officials.
After Rahman was deposed over 2,000 people attended a “Defend democracy” meeting in the borough, one of the biggest in living memory.
The level of mobilisation underway to make Rabina mayor is at a higher level than during the anti-war movement when George Galloway was elected.
Rabina and her supporters are up against the weight of the media and the establishment parties. Her victory would be a victory for democracy and kick in the teeth for the Tories.