This week’s council meeting was a hot event, rammed with evangelical Labour supporters hooting and applauding the end of sentences. Anyone who didn’t know the context of this scene, would likely think they were bearing witness to a phenomenon of group hysteria.
Before the revelry was dialled up to full power, an instruction from Mayor John Biggs was made for the five Conservative councillors to sit at the front bench, a place previously held by the largest opposition, the Independent Group (THF).
This public display of alliance between Labour and Conservatives continued as the nominations came in for the chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Cllr John Pierce, from Labour, and Oliur Rahman, from the Independent Group, were the nominees. The hired in help from the public gallery – the ex-Labour councillors and failed Labour candidates – turned what should have been a democratic process into a farcical spectacle. Bringing a new definition to the term political football, they cheered on their team who made disparaging remarks of Cllr Oliur Rahman, an all-in-all uncivilised performance. Cllr Oliur Rahman made a case for himself as a member of the leading opposition, to chair the OSC, acknowledging the conflict of interest that would be imposed on Cllr John Pierce. Or at least he tried to, over the cries from the public gallery and also from councillors in the chamber. The votes ruled in favour of the Labour councillor, following a crowd pleasing speech by honorary Labour pet, Cllr Peter Golds.
Mayor John Biggs tried to distance himself from the behaviours, meekly saying at one point that the council ought to “find a way to work as a council”, apparently incapable of condemning his agents’s disregard to the democratic process.
Meanwhile, away from the giddy cries of the Labour group, figures released by the Department of Communities and Local Government, indicate that Tower Hamlets created more affordable homes since 2010 than anywhere else in the country. A write up in the Wharf said: “In spring, the council secured £24.8million from the Government’s New Homes Bonus.” Whatever the reasons are for not mentioning that the success of this is down to the Independent Group and more specifically, Cllr Rabina Khan – taking a quote from a four-day-old mayor is simply at odds with reality.
In the election court, Lutfur Rahman was ladened with the responsibility of the actions from his supporters, no matter how tenuous his relationship with them. Perhaps the same standards should also apply to Mayor John Biggs, to bear the responsibility of the actions and behaviours from his councillors and invited public.
What is open and transparent is that Mayor John Biggs is leaving scrutiny to his Labour councillor and an impotent Conservative front bench, whilst his agents single-mindedly obstruct the opposition.