London Labour stands divided as once again Tower Hamlets Labour members invent a special policy with which to attack Mayor Lutfur Rahman – without stopping to check what their own mayors are doing just a postcode away.
Tower Hamlets was a trail blazer with Council newspapers. Back in the mid-1980s, when the Borough was run by the Lib-Dems, they appointed the late Vince Hanna – then well known broadcaster (and Lib-Dem supporter) – as their communications guru (part time). Hanna quickly worked out that the cost of placing statutory adverts in the East London Advertiser (then the only boroughwide English language paper, at least for most of the time) was more than it would cost the Council to print and deliver a weekly newspaper itself. A Council newspaper would contain the statutory ads, but there would also be room for informative articles about Council services. There was a bit of a barney between the Council and the Advertiser, but an accommodation was reached which saw the new East End Life and the Advertiser co-exist – which they have done ever since.
When Labour came into office in 1994, they continued to produce East End Life on the Hanna model (defending the strategy against Tory criticism). However, when Cllr Lutfur Rahman became Mayor and also continued to produce East End Life on the Hanna model, Labour suddenly decided that it was a bad thing. The Tories still thought it was a bad thing, and Labour and the Tories found themselves both campaigning for an end to the publication (and, presumably, for shovelling shed loads of public money back into the Advertiser to print the statutory notices). The Tory Government obligingly legislated to make it more difficult for Councils to bring out their own publications, so presumably Tory and Labour councillors locally are confident they have seen the back of the publication. Presumably John Biggs is, even now, sharpening his pencil ready to sign a new set of Council cheques to send to the Advertiser. No one could accuse the Advertiser of being pro-Labour, so presumably John is delighted to transfer public funding away from in-house journalists and into the hands of conglomerates such as Archant Publishing who will not hold back from pointing out his shortcomings to the public – not least because the strategy will help John confirm how independent he is. (Sorry: that’s a bad choice of words. Lutfur Rahman is the independent, and John Biggs is the Labour candidate. Other candidates are available.)
Labour obviously has it in for East End Life, as they have been complaining about it since Labour Party Chair Chris Weavers posted a story on the Tower Hamlets Labour Party website about it on 12th December 2013. The story pointed out that “Labour” (whether Party or Group is unclear) had written to the District Auditor complaining about East End Life on the grounds that it had too much coverage of the Mayor in it.
So far, so E14: but down the road in E6, Labour’s telling a different story. The BBC reports that Newham’s Labour Mayor Robin Wales has defended Newham Council’s free newspaper and said that he has “no intention of getting rid of the publication”. The BBC goes on to quote Mayor Wales as saying that a free newspaper is “a cost effective way of publishing information”.
It seems that when it come to their own policies, Labour just can’t paper over the cracks.