“The common good is the aspiration of all of us” – Jeremy Corbyn

‘Prioritise excellent public services to deliver cleaner streets, better schools and reduced anti-social behaviour’ – John Biggs’ pledge during 2015 mayoral election

Attack dogs Cllr Rachel Saunders & Cllr John Pierce

What with the Tory sent commissioners overseeing operations alongside their appointed Chief Executive, Will Tuckley, (£200k per annum) it is hard to see whether Mayor Biggs has any influence on the Council at all. The cuts to public services in the latest budget shows compliance to the Conservative government austerity line. We know Biggs’ party leader Jeremy Corbyn is against cuts, but perhaps Corbyn isn’t the man who he is trying to please, and after Biggs took Rachel Saunders to meet Conservative MP and Secretary of State Greg Clark (why not Deputy Mayor Sirajul Islam?), with still no invitation from Mayor Biggs for Corbyn to visit, it does pull into question whose side are they on?

Tower Hamlets Labour have made a budget that will see redundancies, cuts to front line services, a reduction in employment opportunities previously made for impoverished and minority groups, a reduction in children’s health and education services, an end to burial subsidy services, cuts to elderly care and abolishing entire funding for Police officers.

How will John Biggs deliver cleaner streets when 10 environment officers are made redundant?

Is cutting £4.3m from Children Services, that will likely see the closure of Queen Mary Nursery, bettering schools?

Is taking £270k from Police conducive to reducing anti-social behaviour?

It is perplexing to try and understand Biggs’ politics when on the 22 February he put out a press release from his office as member of GLA City and East (his second job), complaining that the London mayor is stretching Tower Hamlets Police force into neighbouring areas, he wrote:

“The Mayor’s cuts (Boris Johnson) have meant neighbourhood police teams in Tower Hamlets have already lost 224 uniformed officers since 2010.”

What is more baffling about the budget is the unnecessary spending and lack of initiatives to raise money, as pointed out by Tower Hamlets Independent Group’s (THIG ) alternative budget, where they note that £140k on fireworks is far too much, especially when they are cutting £20k on burial subsidies, taking £50k from school trips and £41k from incontinence laundry services. The council itself owns properties and yet they’ve set aside £20k for hiring external venues, not to mention the £100k kept for catering when hosting events. How can we as a society celebrate festivities without insuring the wellbeing of everyone?

The worst of Biggs and his cabinet’s budget are the cuts to Child, Adolescent and Mental Health Services and cuts to Social Care and Learning Disability care users, our truly most vulnerable citizens. Perhaps children, the elderly and the incapacitated are not pulling their weight enough, and therefore until they have the get-up-and-go to start paying their way, don’t deserve services like everyone else.

From the £71m Lutfur Rahman kept in reserves to counter government cuts, John Biggs is using £25 million and still planning to cut £17 million of services on top of £4 million that he has already signed off. This was brought up by Hugo Pierre who petitioned at the budget council meeting, to not make any cuts to public services. In order to avoid discussing this point, the most vicious Labour councillors took the opportunity to attack Pierre for not winning local elections as a TUSC candidate (watch video).

When Biggs was campaigning for mayor, there was a lot of talk about Lutfur Rahman’s advisors and personal staff – where as Biggs has kept £605k for his office and advisors, recently appointed Head of Marketing for £100k, as well as an extra £25k for publicity. Which brings us to the scrapping of East End Life – how are the council supposed to inform Tower Hamlets residents of changes to services? Are they expecting the whole of Tower Hamlets to attend council meetings? Not everyone has the internet, nor the inclination to find out information that should be sent to them. This certainly does not feel like transparency, without the paper the workings of the council is practically invisible.

Cllr Oliur Rahman THIG leader

An alternative budget was presented by THIG which had found savings, fund raising opportunities and reserves meaning no one has to have their services cut, or a 4% tax increase for that matter. This might be hard to believe with all the scaremongering out there about government debt but rest assured that the Chief Financial Officer at Tower Hamlets found THIG’s budget proposal to be ‘cost neutral’ and the Monitoring Officer wrote that the budget ‘contains savings and spending proposals which balance each other out and consequently achieves the requirement for a balanced budget.’

With so much resources available to the council for innovation, planning and improvement for the future, the budget decided on for Tower Hamlets is at best uninspiring and at worst a reversal of every progress it had going.

How to Win Friends and Influence People


If a politician runs a campaign outlining their manifesto targets, then once elected they fulfil those pledges – does that sound like corruption?

If an elected Mayor of Bangladeshi heritage funds organisations of which, benefit some Bangladeshis – is that corruption?

If a Labour Mayoral candidate in the run-up to election, meets with an organisation run by former Labour politicians, who are undergoing litigation with the council, then becomes elected, agrees to scrap the litigation and supply further funding for that organisation – is that corruption?

Is this just how democracy works, or is there a grey area that lies between appealing to voting blocs and corruption?

In the run-up to the general election the Conservatives made a campaign to get the voting bloc of pensioners, private companies and high earners. They used their influence on the right-wing media to distort facts on the proportion of money spent on welfare and immigration, whilst omitting figures on tax evasion of big business. By making the “economy” the number one issue, their narrative of fear is possibly one of the reasons those on a lower income chose the Conservatives.

What this demonstrates is firstly how the democratic system enables politicians to create policies and campaigns targeting groups, in order to garner votes. Which makes perfect rational sense, your politics will appeal to certain groups – unless of course you’re a career politician, then your politics is all about finding votes – and your policies will be shaped accordingly.

Secondly, it shows how power influences and constructs the spread of information in the media and permeates through to public opinion.

As we have seen with the press coverage of the politics in Tower Hamlets, the right wing media has not only represented a negative perception of the previous administration but also a false one. As the acting judge Mawrey said, “there isn’t a shred of evidence linking Lutfur Rahman to extremists” – and yet he continues to be described as the extremist-linked Mayor in some of our mainstream press, i.e. The Evening Standard and The Telegraph.

Another element to the behaviour of our press is that shock-value sells and Islamic extremism is hot topic. The covert decision to write-off the Rich Mix debt of £850k with a £1.5million top-up, under a white Labour Mayor – does not play a part in the established media narrative of extremism and corruption. Even the Conservatives in Tower Hamlets are holding back on condemning the back-door deal between Mayor Biggs and Rich Mix. Corruption becomes acceptable when it is carried out in a way that supports certain values, such as allocating funds to an organisation that attracts affluent residents to the area, and restricting money to community services to those less privileged.

Looking at this political landscape shows the difficulties people of Tower Hamlets face in trying to discern the facts for themselves, especially when they are hidden from view. Regardless of your views on Rich Mix, whether you think they provide a service to the community or not, what has been concealed in that confidential report is a decision to relinquish a debt and pay funds amounting to almost £2.5million of money paid in tax by the residents of Tower Hamlets. If there are valid reasons for this, then why can’t the public see them? Surely there isn’t need for discretion – it’s a cinema, not a women’s refuge.

Mayor Biggs did attend the Overview and Scrutiny meeting, much to the applause of his supporters but I wonder if so did Labour member Cllr Denise Jones, who happens to be a board member of Rich Mix? The public are not privy to such information since this discussion happened in private. Another issue of conflicting interests is that the Chair of Rich Mix is former Tower Hamlets Labour leader, Prof. Michael Keith and former MP Baroness Oona King is it’s patron.

What we do know is that Rich Mix made a counter-claim against Tower Hamlets Council, that the council owed Rich Mix £1.5million from the initial contract between them. The High Court dismissed their claim to this money in July 2014, and the litigation continued without Rich Mix’s counter-claim. Since these contracts come with conditions, one can conjecture that the High Court decreed that Rich Mix did not fulfil the terms of these conditions – terms likely to be about providing sufficient services to the community.

If we cannot rely on our media to report fairly and accurately, we do still have a democratic system where you the public can enter questions to the Mayor and his cabinet – if you want to know why Mayor Biggs is giving this money away – perhaps pop down to the next council meeting and ask him yourself. I heard he is taking questions.

Come on you reds!

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.