Tower Hamlets is divided over whether to have a directly elected mayor instead of the current council cabinet system.
The ‘yes’ lobby have already won the right for a referendum, which will be held on May 6th, but the issue has split the Labour party despite directly elected mayors being a Labour policy.
Ex-London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, and Parliamentary Home Affairs chairman, Keith Vaz, support the call for an elected mayor. George Galloway, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, and member of the Respect party has also joined the campaign.
Opposing the change, the Town Hall’s Labour administration has drawn support from government minister Jim Fitzpatrick, whose constituency of Poplar is in Tower Hamlets.
At a rally earlier this month Livingstone said an elected mayor was vital to secure resources for the deprived East End. He said: “Let’s start a new chapter… you can elect an individual who will be accountable and every person in this borough will have an equal right in determining who it is.”
Those campaigning against an elected mayor believe it would concentrate too much power and control in the hands of one individual, who would also be able to appoint non-elected advisors. They fear that an elected mayor could divide the complex and diverse community in Tower Hamlets. Doros Ullah, former councillor and mayor, said:
“Tower Hamlets is a very multi-cultural, very diverse borough. To give such power to an individual would mean that person will not be in a position to understand the needs of this diverse community and therefore will not be able to deliver.”
Ullah continued: “Over the last 20-30 years, Tower Hamlets has come a long way in building bridges between the different sections of our community, celebrating diversity and sharing power. We would like to continue strengthening that and I believe the only way to do it is to have a cabinet system.”
George Galloway, who denies that he will run for the position of mayor if it is created, strongly disagrees that a directly elected mayor would be divisive:
“To be elected under the system of STV (single transferable vote) you have to obtain the votes of 51% of the people, what could be more uniting of the community!”