The voters of Tower Hamlets have been to the polls, and with Labour’s John Biggs elected as the new mayor, there might finally come the opportunity to turn the reputation of this beleaguered borough around.
Lutfur Rahman was elected mayor of Tower Hamlets in 2010, during his tenure his detractors have accused him of many things ranging from being an ‘inept empty vessel’ all the way through to being a ‘frontman for Islamic extremists’. In April 2015 he was convicted of electoral fraud and removed from office. Despite all of this scandal, Rahman was and remains a popular politician, who many think has been smeared.
Wherever the truth lies, there is no doubt the reputation of the council and by association the borough has been badly damaged.
Corruption and fraud makes for phenomenal headlines and the media makes the most of these opportunities. I’m sure Sepp Blatter is annoyed with the media for drawing far too much attention to what for a very long time had become a seemingly accepted way of doing business. Sticking with Fifa for a second, regardless of the backroom dealing at Fifa, we all thoroughly enjoyed the last World Cup and focused predominantly on the fine sporting achievements of all those teams who weren’t England.
The same perspective is how we must view Tower Hamlets in our consideration of how to ‘turn it around’. I would argue we don’t need to.
No doubt Biggs and his council have much work to do – they have a very poor reputation to transform. But the borough itself seems to doing just fine.
Despite all the corruption in the council, the bins are still being collected, the schools are performing very well, concerts and events are being hosted, businesses are flourishing. Brick Lane is still a thriving hub of activity and cuisine. Spitalfields is a shopping, eating, people-watching Mecca.
Although we often look to the people at the top of the organisation to understand what the brand and business is all about (Steve Jobs, Phillip Green, Mark Zuckerberg), in the case of Tower Hamlets, I think that’s the very thing that has caused its demise.
There are many who believe that Lutfur Rahman was more interested in his own profile and power than the fortunes of the inhabitants of his borough. Forget the power hungry figurehead, I believe that it is the people of Tower Hamlets who hold the key to reversing the reputation of the borough. The headmistresses, the market stall holders, the shop keepers, the entrepreneurs, the artists, the musicians, the landlords, the very fabric of the community; these are the people who make Tower Hamlets the fine borough that it really is.
I suggest Biggs looks outwards to the people to understand what makes them decent, honest and hard working, to understand what Tower Hamlets is about at its heart. Once he understands, he needs to bring that inside, into the heart of the council. If he does that, I’m pretty sure the rotten reputation of Tower Hamlets can be resurrected in no time at all.