Notes from the front – of the week 28/4/2015

Coalition partners: SNP versus DUP and UKIP

The continued stalemate in the opinion polls means the focus in the British election has shifted to the potential alliances the two main parties could form after 7 May.

The main focus for big business is to maintain austerity at all costs. All the main media outlets and the Tory leadership have run a fevered campaign against the SNP and any alliance with Labour because even the most minimal deviation from the cuts agenda is unacceptable.

Naturally there has been almost no scrutiny of the Tories potential allies in the DUP, which is one of the most longstanding reactionary parties in Europe.

This is despite the fact that Jim Wells, one of its Assembly Ministers has been forced to resign after a series of vile homophobic comments, and was defended by DUP Leader Peter Robinson.

This is an important development in Irish politics; Sinn Fein has been leading and supporting campaigns for LGBT liberation nationally and is currently leading the campaign for marriage equality in the Republic. These campaigns and Sinn Fein’s wholehearted support for them has changed the political climate on these issues across Ireland. Jim Wells and the diehard reactionaries of the DUP do not realise they are living in the past.

But the DUP are the most likely allies the Tories will call on if needed. Polls suggest they will have more seats than the Tories other natural allies – UKIP (although Clegg seems intent on turning the Lib Dems into liberal Conservatives).

It should hardly need saying that all socialists and all progressives would welcome any restraint on austerity and should vigorously expose the obnoxious elements the Tories are prepared to work with.

Islamophobia – denying Tower Hamlets voters their democratic choice

The removal of Lutfur Rahman from office by an electoral court on 23 April has undemocratically overturned the result of last year’s Tower Hamlets Mayoral election.

In May 2014 Rahman, Britain’s first Muslim and black directly-elected Mayor, defeated his Labour opponent by 37,395 votes to 34,143 in the second round. Last week the court’s judge decided to strip him of office and find him guilty or corrupt and illegal practices

The judgement made against Rahman (available here) makes a mockery of the election and reflects deep wells of institutional racism within Britain’s justice system. It also highlights the abuse of democracy possible from an electoral court where one single barrister, sitting without a jury, can find someone guilty of an offence when the police have found no evidence. Importance can be attached to hearsay and the wild claims of right-wing journalists, as has happened here.

The perverse claims made in the judgement are well exposed and refuted here. A looking-glass world is portrayed: where allocating resources on the basis of need is construed as ‘procuring votes’; where local media support for a candidate is attributed to bribery; it is a Muslim (Lutfur Rahman) that ‘plays the race card’ not the UKIP and the Tories; and when religious leaders express a candidate preference for Rahman this constitutes unacceptable interference.

It is claimed that unlawful religious ‘influence’ was exercised by Muslim clerics. The hypocrisy is staggering in a society where frequently leaders across a diverse range of religions urge their congregations to vote in certain ways.

The Tower Hamlets Mayor is also accused of favouring areas with large Bangladeshi and Somali populations at the expense of others. There is a long history in Tower Hamlets of the extreme right (BNP, EDL etc) falsely claiming these Muslim population gets priority in the allocation of scarce resources. To its shame, Labour in Tower Hamlets promotes a similar agenda in its attacks on Lutfur Rahman.

However significant figures on Labour’s left do not support the Islamophobia being whipped up. Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone attacked the election court’s decision to overturn last year’s election and commented to LBC: ‘if Lutfur Rahman has broken the law, why haven’t the police arrested him and charged him? We’ve got this unelected bureaucrat overturning the result of an election’.

Following Lutfur Rahman’s election as Leader of Tower Hamlets Council in 2008, Labour’s right-wing have fought intensely to remove him from the Council leadership. At the core of their campaign, as explained here, there have been explicit appeals to Islamophobia and racism. Azad Ali accurately highlights here the scale of campaign mounted against Rahman this past five plus years.

The extreme-right takes advantage of this witch hunt against Rahman as it gives credence to its racist agenda. It is no accident the National Front is now planning a demonstration in Tower Hamlets on 8 May in support of the election court’s judgement.

Lutfur Rahman will be appealing the judgment made against him by the election court.

A petition has been launched against this injustice which can be signed here and a public meeting in defence of democracy in Tower Hamlets is taking place on 30 April at 6pm.

Left victories in NUS mark the start of a new era for student movement

Last week (21 – 23 April), for the first time in decades, the left won the majority of the NUS leadership positions marking the start of what will hopefully be a new era for the student movement.

Four out of the six Vice President and President leadership positions were won by the left on a platform of fighting austerity, racism and standing up for international peace and justice.

For more than twenty years the leadership of the NUS has supported tuition fees and student debt and done all it could to dampen any student fight back to defend education from the neo-liberal attacks that have taken place.

Last year the left narrowly succeeded in overturning the NUS’ support for student debt, the first time in two decades, by passing a policy for free education – and this year the left won again, this time with a 90 per cent majority.

With a new left wing leadership, now there is huge potential for the student movement to fight back against austerity and racist scapegoating as well as link up with the labour movement and all progressives campaigns after decades of students being isolated from these struggles.