Is this borough about to go rogue?
A controversial mayor's big spending plans and LTN obstinacy are raising eyebrows
Morning – here’s what we’ve spied in the capital on Thursday, February 16, 2023:
🤷♂️ Turns out, electing someone previously suspended from office for corruption and illegality might go a bit wrong. Controversial Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman has come under fire this week over concern he’s splashing way too much of his council’s cash and overruling residents on low-traffic neighbourhoods.
The context: Rahman was re-elected to run Tower Hamlets in 2022, despite a judge removing him from office just seven years prior for “corrupt and illegal practices”. It’s a long and convoluted tale, but essentially Rahman, an independent, ran a campaign against Labour that broke a smorgasbord of electoral laws. These included: getting people to vote for him twice or give fake addresses at the ballot box, falsely branding his rival a racist, bribery, “treatery” (giving out free food and drink for votes) and telling the large Muslim community in Tower Hamlets it was their “religious duty” to vote for him.
Anyway, despite all that, Rahman and his party have ended up back in power in the borough — and are now raising more eyebrows. First are concerns from financial experts reported by the BBC that Rahman’s big spending plans are too risky. Some are pretty commendable on paper — free school meals in every secondary school, more community workers. Others, like a ballooning of spending on consultants for his private office, are odder. And as cash-strapped Croydon’s recent 15% hike in council tax proved, dodgy local finances are no joke.
Second is a report in the Guardian that Rahman is engaging in a “culture war” against low-traffic schemes. The accusations basically boil down to Rahman ignoring a consultation that found residents wanted to keep LTNs around Bethnal Green and the Weavers area, and running another one in the hope he gets the answer he wants. His alleged foot-dragging contrasts with boroughs like Hackney, which recently announced plans to bring LTNs to three quarters of its streets.
Rahman has of course insisted his spending plans are sound and that he’s listening to residents. One thing’s for sure — he’s a stark reminder of the weirdness of London politics.
🗳 In fact it’s only going to get weirder — Islington might end up with its most competitive general election in years, after incumbent Jeremy Corbyn was barred from standing again for Labour by leader Keir Starmer. Corbyn has said he’ll still try get local party members to select him, though he’s not confirmed if he’ll take on whoever else gets the nomination as an independent. It’s not really the Spy’s place to unpack the whole national debate around this, but we can at least share this nice walkabout report getting the reaction of Islington residents.
💨 And weirder still — Boris Johnson has entered the battle to block the expansion of ULEZ. The former London mayor and, er, prime minister has labelled Sadiq Khan’s scheme as an “unfair tax grab”. It’s not just Tories causing trouble for Khan — this week has also seen four London Labour MPs voice concerns about cost of the £12.50-a-day scheme.
🚓 A former Met officer is being charged for failing to properly investigate Wayne Couzens for indecent exposure days before he murdered Sarah Everard. The unnamed PC, who resigned last year, did not track down Couzens despite being handed CCTV of the incident at a McDonald’s drive-through, the killer’s number plate and the credit card details he used to pay for food.
🍝 Sad news for foodies as Eater London is ceasing publication. Many tributes for the publication’s on-the-money guide to London’s best eats.
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