Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The battle being fought out on the street and doorways of Poplar & Limehouse

Somali, Bangladeshi, Chinese and Caribbean people are among the dozens of communities that make up one of the most diverse boroughs in the country.

Tower Hamlets as far as I’m concerned is like no where else in Britain, a wonderful rich melting pot of colourful cultural diversity; and I relish every moment that I spend in the borough whether it’s shopping, looking for a bargain along Whitechapel Market or out for a curry in one of the many now famous curry houses that adorn the equally famous Brick Lane – actually I use a cheap no frills curry house on Fieldgate Street a stones-throw away.

My love affair with East London and particularly Tower Hamlets has lasted all of twenty-eight years and thankfully without any signs of abating or letting up if ever.

This is just such a place that if anything is going to happen then it will happen in Tower Hamlets, this really is a part of the East End were it’s inhabitants it’s people have a long tradition of organising themselves – to change their lives, improve their living standards, or working towards a radical overthrow of the social conditions they lived under, and dreaming/creating new ones…

The Peasants Revolt, Housing, Rent Strikes, Poplarism, the Match Girls, the Dockers Tanner (sixpence), Cable Street and Fortress Wapping have all been battles royal fought won or lost in this area and much, much more!

Now I didn’t intend this to be a history lesson, but the reader may feel the past as we consider the battle being fought out on the street and doorways of Poplar & Limehouse for the said and second parliamentary seat of Tower Hamlets, the first being Bethnal Green and Bow which I reviewed some two weeks ago, and on that point I must mention that I made an honest era in as much as I reported that Alexander van Terheyden was standing as an independent when in fact he is standing for the Pirate Party UK: Alexander posted a comment on this blog pointing out our misapprehension and we are very grateful to him for that.

Poplar and Limehouse are two famous names and locations in the past history of the Labour movement and its quest to represent working people whether in local government or in the ‘Palace of Varieties’ as Denis Skinner was found of calling the House of Common. Poplar of course the celebrated political home of George Lansbury and the Poplar Councillors, whilst Limehouse was the seat held by Clement Attlee the post-war 1945 Prime Minister; and one other significant figure that I would like to mention and who represented the area for many years was the late left wing MP Ian Mikardo, who once had the great honour of buying me a drink in the strangers bar of the House of Commons.

So here we are today in the last two weeks and closing in fast of a general election campaign that’s fought out for the first time on our Television screens through the live debates and out on the more traditional stump up and down the country, but tucked away in the East End Constituency of Poplar & Limehouse George Galloway is putting up the fight of his political life, he has moved over from Bethnal Green and Bow which he spectacularly won by ousting the Blair babe Oona King, (and as I have posted previously) but this time the gloves are off and the fight is between two Scots and strange that it seems in the East End of London. It was on his radio show that Galloway first announced that he would challenge Jim Fitzpatrick for his seat I think about two or three years ago and ever since there has been a war of words and put downs among the two. However Galloway has attempted to make and capitalise upon the so-called Wedding fiasco that started last August.

For those readers that don’t know the synopses of the story is as follows:

Barrister Bodrul Islam marriage celebrations to investment banker Mahbuba Kamali, and involved the invitation of 800 guests to their £25,000 reception and — as both families were staunch Labour supporters — amongst them was to be local Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick and his wife. But when he and his wife arrived at the London Muslim Centre and were told that men and women would be seated separately, they walked out. Not even a call from the groom's father guaranteeing a table for non-Muslims to sit together could tempt them back. Fitzpatrick then called a local paper to complain about the growing influence of the hard-line Muslim group, Islamic Forum of Europe, which he blamed for imposing segregation, this in turn set off a chain of media events and Galloway got hold of it and kicked the ball into the long grass. In the meantime Mr Islam the groom has defected from Labour and is standing as a council candidate for Respect, and his in-laws have switch their support to Tory candidate Tim Archer. I think that I should add that Mr Islam claims not to be a member of the Islamic Forum of Europe.

So there you have it a bitter battle fought with some real acrimonious punches being delivered by both Galloway and Fitzpatrick and I expect this to intensify during the next 10 days as the local campaigning enters its final home run, already we have seen sparks flying first Galloway is confronted at a local market by group he laid claim were Muslim extremists the Islam 4 UK Group, and on a visit in support of Fitzpatrick, John Prescott had a do with some local Tory’s who were subsequently arrested by the police one of them being a council candidate was shacked by his party.

The Labour Party has had the big guns tripping over to lend support to the Fitzpatrick the Prime Minister and Ed Miliband have been here, with Gordon saying of Fitzpatrick, “ he was once a fire–fighter and now a ‘fighter’.”

My own feeling is that there’s more than a fire burning here, I had a ride around the constituency the other day, just to see things for myself, and to try and get a feel of the atmosphere, some Asian shopkeepers and business had Galloway posters in their windows and I saw one property agency with a Fitzpatrick poster, not many Galloway posters being displayed in the windows of people living on the council estates, I counted more for Fitzpatrick, and then there weren’t that many, of course this isn’t an indication of anything. However I’ll tell you what is, the Tory’s have been plastering the place from day one with their posters non-stop, you know the billboards that Lord Ashcroft has forked out for, seen by literally thousands, and they or at least I feel will have an impact on the outcome of this seat.

Poplar and Limehouse is perhaps the most surprising seat on the Conservative target list, requiring a swing of just fewer than 6%, the same sort of figure as more obvious targets like Reading West, Ipswich or Stirling. It has arrived at this for two main reasons – firstly the rapid gentrification of the area surrounding Canary Wharf, and secondly the rise of Respect and the consequential splitting of the Labour vote.

The seat contains incredible extremes, from extreme deprivation in the north of the seat to the glimmering skyscrapers and posh dockside developments of Canary Wharf in the south (although even in the areas surrounding Canary Wharf there are still working class areas). Wards like Bromley-by-Bow are over 70% social housing, mostly Bangladeshi Muslims. In contrast in Millwall and Wapping there are large proportions of owner-occupiers or private renters, white young professionals looking to move near to Canary Wharf for reasons of employment.

Until 2004 the Conservatives had never held a single seat in Tower Hamlets. Even in the Labour rout of 1968 when the Conservatives swept to dominance in unlikely places such as Haringey, Hackney and Lambeth, they failed to take a single seat in Tower Hamlets. They gained a seat in a 2004 by-election and in 2006 took 7 seats on the council, including all on the Isle of Dogs once a stronghold of Labour, in contrast; the largely Bangladeshi northern part of the seat is a stronghold for Respect. Whether the seat remains a realistic target probably depends to a great deal on whether Respect taking a large slice of Labour’s traditional support then the danger is of course - letting the Tory in?
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Alexander van Terheyden said...

Thanks for updating your readers about me standing for the Pirate Party

Keep up the good work

Norbert said...

You are most welcome, and all the best for Thursday.

Jim Lawrie

The Socialist Way

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