Originally posted on Total Politics
Three weeks ago I announced my intention to run as an independent candidate for mayor of Tower Hamlets.
Even before I had done so, I was described by my political opponents as “easy to control”. They have sought to drive a wedge between me and the community I seek to represent by trying to define me by the men that have supported me – which yes, does include former Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman. Just like many other community activists and local residents, he backed my candidacy.
Attitudes which say a woman can be controlled, bypassed or won’t get the job done are not unique to politics in Tower Hamlets. Several years ago I turned up to a select committee hearing on the London Olympics legacy, and was left outside the room because the largely stale, male and pale gathering thought I was someone’s secretary.
I think that’s how a lot of people in Tower Hamlets feel – left outside the room, while those who are more important run things. That’s why I want to build the kind of town hall politics that sits at the heart of all our communities, that engages women, families and ordinary people and that leaves no-one outside the room. I want an open politics, and of course that means working with others to resolve governance issues that have dogged the council long before my predecessor was on the scene. At the same time, I will make sure that the Council is run for the benefit of East Enders, not Whitehall bureaucrats and Westminster parties. I will rise above party politics.
The challenges we face are too great to keep going with the politics of the past. We still have one of the highest child poverty rates in Britain. Like other councils, we are not allowed to take advantage of cheap borrowing rates to invest in the social housing we need to alleviate the greatest accommodation crisis in living memory. We might have had two and a half thousand homeless families on our hands if we had not taken the decision to plough money into absorbing the costs of the government’s economically-illiterate bedroom tax. My children’s generation are worried about affording rental deposits, let alone getting on the property ladder. What matters to people in Tower Hamlets is genuinely affordable homes, support for vulnerable people and decent jobs with decent wages. In the context of a government bent on sweeping ideological cuts, we are going to have to work together – sometimes across parties – to achieve this.
In this process those most in need will be given the extra helping hand they deserve. Women have been hit doubly hard by austerity, which is why I want to see a new Women’s Employment Hub offering jobs and training opportunities. With high levels of female economic inactivity in the borough, we need space for childcare to support working mothers like myself.
But it can’t be all bread and butter; Tower Hamlets is so much more than the geographical area of a local authority, and my approach will recognise that. I’m pledging a brand new strategy to celebrate the culture, creativity and heritage of this borough that has enriched us throughout history. I’m pledging street parties and multicultural events that bring people together across backgrounds, and to preserve living parts of our heritage, such as the LGBT pub on Hackney Road that I worked to have listed as an asset of community value.
The guiding principle of my approach to policy is listening to those campaigners that stand up for their wants and needs on a local level. On disability policy, I am taking some of my cues from the people campaigning to save their local school’s SEN unit. On housing, I am listening to a residents’ group resisting the demolition of their estate. On road safety, I am working with the Save Mile End campaign set up by Queen Mary students after tragic road deaths.
There is no doubt that Labour and the Tories will try to obscure their own failings in the East End – not to mention nationally – by running solely on the back of an election court judgment that Lutfur Rahman intends to appeal. In short Labour’s John Biggs only real message is that he is not Lutfur Rahman – neither am I. In the last few months, Nicola Sturgeon, Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood have shown that it is possible to imagine a new kind of politics. I want to go beyond imagining and put that politics into action.
Tower Hamlets and its politics might be difficult at times, but there is more that unites us than divides us. Our democracy is strong, with high levels of engagement with community work and politics across parties and across sections of society. Our peoples’ hopes and dreams are as varies as their backgrounds and beliefs. Where our politics has gone wrong it must be healed, I believe that I can be a healing Mayor, bringing our diverse communities together so that together we can build the fairer future that the East End deserves.