London Local Elections: The children’s author and paving campaigner who could secure Tower Hamlets mayor

A Bangladeshi-born British children’s author and paving safety campaigner has a shot at grabbing the role of mayor of Tower Hamlets this Thursday, May 5. Liberal Democrat Rabina Khan – who is relatively unknown outside the borough – takes on Labour’s John Biggs and the sway of former mayor Lutfur Rahman in this week’s local election mega-round.

Ms Khan, a Lib Dem councilor for Shadwell and a former cabinet minister for housing in Tower Hamlets, came second in both 2015 and 2018 in both municipal elections – just a few percentage points behind Mayor John Biggs in the first round of voting. last time. Now the housing activist is hoping to weave between disgraced former mayor Lutfur Rahman and incumbent John Biggs for the top job, as the East London borough directly elects its leader.

Tower Hamlets has the highest proportion of leasehold tenants in the capital – with many recently hit by bills of tens of thousands of pounds to repair dangerous surfacing after the Grenfell fire. Rabina Khan told MyLondon the issue was her top priority.

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Ms Khan says she is backed by a voting base beyond the larger Bangladeshi community, having won support from tenant groups. “I initiated the discussions on the role of building security officers, which led to a change in the law… At the moment, there is a quiet vote by tenants.

“I ran twice in 2015 and 2018 and finished second to the incumbent Labor mayor. If you look at the Liberal Democrat vote share in Tower Hamlets, it just kept going up,” said the author and activist.

Asked if she would win on Thursday, she said: “It’s unpredictable – just because someone shouts the loudest doesn’t mean they’re going to win. It’s not just between [Labour’s] John Biggs and [Aspire’s] Lutfur Rahman. I would be the first female mayor of Tower Hamlets.

Local tenant Natalie Carter told MyLondon: “I discovered my building had a flammable ACM coating shortly after Grenfell. Three years later, in May last year, we had a major fire, the London fire department report said we were minutes away from tragedy.

“In three years we argued over who pays, and the work hadn’t started, and people almost died. I can’t vote for the Conservatives because they took so long to understand the problems of the building security crisis.

“They betrayed tenants by repeatedly promising we wouldn’t pay and then writing into law that many will still have to pay £10,000 to £100,000.” The Lib Dem backer said: ‘Rabina Khan has always been with us every step of the way… She will get my vote,’ Ms Carter said.

Siding campaigner Harry Scoffin added: ‘Rabina Khan’s path to a shock victory hinges on swaying enough tenants and co-owners, silent voters in apartment blocks that most candidates struggle to to access.

“She is already very popular in the Bangladeshi community but would need another cohort of voters if she were to face Lutfur Rahman [or Mayor Biggs] in the last round. He added that the mood had “changed a lot” in recent months: “There are so many votes to be won”.

Ms Khan and Tory candidate Elliott Weaver have both signed the ‘Leaseholder Pledge’ of local tenant groups Tower Hamlets Justice for Leaseholders (THJL) and Friends in High Places (FiHP).

Representing around 9,000 flat owners across the borough, they are calling for tougher council action against ‘dangerous’ planning demands, such as recently withdrawn plans at Canary Wharf for a 51-storey residential tower that will not would have had only one set of fire safety escape stairs – against the advice of the London Fire Brigade.

In 2006, Rabina Khan released “Ayesha’s Rainbow”, about a young Bangladeshi girl who befriends an elderly white neighbor “despite escalating racism around them”.

Candidates for Mayor of Tower Hamlets: John Biggs (Lab); Pamela Holmes (ind.); Rabina Khan (LibDem); Hugo Pierre (TUSC); Lutfur Rahman (Aspire); Elliott Weaver (Con); Andrew Wood (ind.).

Activists are in a last desperate race for votes ahead of Thursday’s local election mega-round in London. All of London’s 32 borough councils and their 1,817 seats are up for election, along with thousands of other seats across the rest of England. The May elections will also see five boroughs choose directly elected mayors: Hackney, Lewisham, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Croydon. Predicting the outcome is a tricky game in an election when only 40% of voters vote.

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Lola R. McClure