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The candidats' teams have been working for over a week.

Will Bangladeshis unite behind one candidate?

IT IS almost a “tale of two Johns” as Labour Party members in Poplar & Limehouse constituency head for their hustings meeting this afternoon. The members will be choosing who will be the Labour Party candidate at the next General Election.

The vote comes because sitting Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick has said that he is retiring and will not be a candidate at the next General Election. As the next General Election may occur well before the next scheduled date of 2022, perhaps even before this Christmas, the Labour Party has altered its selection process, introducing a “fast track” procedure which takes a couple of weeks rather than three months.

The two candidates are Apsana Begum and Amina Ali – the third candidate, Heather Peto, having withdrawn from the process. And this is where the Johns come in.
Apsana Begum has been endorsed by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP – making it clear that the two do indeed stand for the new kind of politics promise by Jeremy Corbyn in his party leadership battles.
Cllr Amina Ali has been endorsed by Executive Mayor John Biggs, who put her in his advisory Cabinet – and of which she has been a loyal member. The two stand for the old kind of politics always espoused by the Tower Hamlets: officer-led cuts in services and political hand-wringing over the consequences.

Cllr Amina Ali has sat in the Cabinet, drawing her £20,000 Special Responsibility Allowance each year, and supporting budgets which have brought closure of public nurseries, phased closure of the Community Language Service, cuts in spending on children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and, most recently, the ending of the Meals on Wheels service.

Apsana Begum, on the other hand, has been joining community groups – lobbying those Cabinet meetings, and the Council; supporting public meetings; and collecting signatures on petitions against the cuts.

There is a clear political division between the two candidates, and local members could decide whom they will support on the basis of which political approach they prefer. However, other factors are likely to play a part.

Cllr Ali has made a pitch that she would like to be the first Somali MP. Cllr Ali is not actually a bad or malevolent person, and that would be a compelling argument, were it not for the prospect of what she would do if she got there.

On the other hand, Apsana Begum could be the fourth Bangladeshi woman MP – and one with a more voter-friendly and socialist approach than the first three who are already there. But can the Tower Hamlets Bangladeshi community overcome its divisions and support her? There is distinct unease in the community – particularly among some of the older male community activists – that they may not be able to control this “young woman” (as they patronisingly describe her). Some have thrown their lot in with John Biggs and his protege on the basis that they are already in a position of power, so supporting them may result in favours being returned. It is a very thin argument that hasn’t worked for years, if it ever did.

If Apsana Begum is selected this afternoon, it will mark the birth of a new generation of British-Bangladeshi politicians and politics – a generation embracing its heritage and its contemporary identity which is prepared to argue for a fairer society, economically and ideologically. If Amina Ali is selected, it will indicate that the old days are not over, and this borough is once more locked in the old ways of career and privilege. This is a crucial once in a generation vote, and the eyes of many more than just Tower Hamlets voters are upon us today.

•Read more about it:
Biggs deep in controversy over political use of parks
Biggs consults on clobbering kids’ services (again)

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