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.