#ELLGE19: Labour candidate brands Tory attacks ‘racist and sexist’

Apsana Begum (Centre left). Pic: Apsana Begum

Apsana Begum, the controversial Labour candidate for Poplar and Limehouse, has rejected allegations against her of anti-Semitism and links to corrupt former Mayor Luftur Rahman as ‘racist and sexist.’

Between October 17 and November 14, the Tower Hamlets Conservative Twitter account posted, liked, and retweeted 36 tweets criticising Begum.

The majority of the posts claimed the corrupt ex-Mayor Lutfur Rahman is propping up her campaign to get into politics, and that her allegiance was to him and not the Labour Party.

Begum told Eastlondonlines: “These completely unfounded complaints are racist and sexist in nature, plain and simple. It is grossly insulting, as well as being rooted in racism and misogyny, to assume that I have no agency of my own and that I must be a ‘proxy’ or ‘stooge’ for a man I have not spoken to for six years.”

Begum explained that she was recruited through an agency to work as an Admin Officer for the Council in 2013, when Rahman was mayor. She was not a close advisor as the tweets allude.

Rahman was the first directly elected mayor of the borough in 2010. He was re-elected in 2014, but was ousted in 2015 when he was found guilty of electoral fraud. He was then barred from standing for office until 2020 by the High Court for corruption and malpractice.

One tweet also highlighted Begum campaigning with Baroness Manzila Pola Uddin, who was subject to an investigation in the expenses scandal of 2009. A Labour Party spokesperson explained that as she is a member of the party they cannot stop her from canvassing.

In response to the allegations that she had shared an anti-Semitic post, Begum responded to Eastlondonlines: “I didn’t make those comments and I shared the article because I was concerned with the treatment of pilgrims who were being harassed in the Mecca Grand Mosque.”

“The person who posted the article used unacceptable language. I only intended to share the article and I sincerely apologise for this genuine accident. I’m committed to working to fight antisemitism both inside the Labour Party and in wider society, including by supporting efforts to raise awareness about how antisemitism is often cloaked in rhetoric about Zionism and Zionist is sometimes used as a derogatory code-word for Jewish people.”

These allegations are particularly potent as Jewish Labour stated earlier this month that they would not be supporting Labour candidates due to the alleged institutional Anti-Semitism in the party. The Twitter account which first exposed the anti-semitic post was run by Labour party members.

These counter-allegations come after Boris Johnson backtracked from a promise made during the 2019 leadership election to hold an independent investigation into Islamophobia within the Conservative party. The inquiry will instead by one into general racism and prejudice.

As well as running for the Poplar and Limehouse seat, Begum is a member of Momentum, the pro-Corbyn grassroots movement. 

She told Eastlondonlines: “I am running my own campaign and I look forward to speaking to people about what I will do for them as the next Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse.”

Tower Hamlets Conservative party did not respond to requests for comment.

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