The story below from Ted Jeory of the East London Advertiser:
A Respect councillor, former ally of George Galloway and member of the Socialist Workers Party has dramatically defected to the Tories in what is being seen a major milestone in Tower Hamlets politics.
Ahmed Hussain, who represents Mile End East at the Town Hall, met the Tories’ shadow London minister, Bob Neill, and Tower Hamlets group leader Peter Golds to seal the move this morning (Wednesday).
He becomes the local party’s first ever Bengali councillor and in doing so he has made the Tories, who less than two years ago boasted just one councillor in Tower Hamlets, the authority’s official opposition with eight members.
Mr Neill welcomed the defection as “momentous” and predicted that Tower Hamlets could soon become ‘a Tory borough.’
“It’s a real step forward for the party and the area,” he added.
Cllr Hussain, who was also being courted by Labour recently, said he had been interested by Tory Leader David Cameron’s approach.
He added: “I really believe Tower Hamlets Conservatives will continue to make a difference in this borough.”
But political rivals will be dismayed and think Cllr Hussain’s reputation will now lie in tatters.
The former Labour supporter was one of MP George Galloway’s ‘12 Bengali tigers’ elected as a Respect councillor in 2006, and has voted against Conservative motions at the Town Hall since.
He was one of four councillors to split from Galloway’s Respect faction in October and remained a prominent member of the MP’s bitter enemies, the SWP.
Soon after that split, he instigated exploratory talks with the Lib Dems about forming a coalition with the Respect rebels.
But since the failure of those discussions, all four councillors have been weighing up their futures as all parties tried to tempt them to their sides.
Cllr Hussain is the first to jump and his move comes as a bitter blow to council leader Denise Jones and Poplar & Canning Town MP Jim Fitzpatrick, both of whom are understood to have written glowing references to London party chief Ken Clark.
Actually, it gets even better than this. Ahmed had a press conference arranged for 4pm yesterday, with Tower Hamlets Tories having prepared leaflets, publicity photos and everything, but called it off at fifteen minutes’ notice because, apparently, he’s still mulling over his options. The SWP-Reespect, by the way, issued a press release (at 2:15am) claiming that Ahmed is staying with them, its impact slightly blunted by its having quotes from Oliur Rahman but not from Ahmed himself.
The Respect Renewal response below:
No one likes an opportunist
Cllr Ahmed Hussain, who split from the Respect group of councillors in Tower Hamlets three months ago, has completed the most rapid chameleon-like transformation by today joining the Tories in Tower Hamlets Town Hall.
Hussain was instrumental in the breakaway of four councillors from the Respect group last November. Now, at a press conference scheduled for 4pm today, he is to leave those councillors high and dry, not to mention the voters of Mile End East who trusted him, by jumping ship again.
Tory leader David Cameron is scheduled to come to Tower Hamlets next week to welcome the new recruit. Hussain has already been photographed at Tory HQ with leading party members. “It shows just how opportunist the Tories are,” says Respect group leader Abjol Miah. “But Cllr Hussain will fit in on that score. He claimed to be leading a left wing breakaway from Respect MP George Galloway and the Respect group of councillors.
“He even paraded his membership of the Socialist Workers Party when he thought it suited him. Now he’s off with the Tories! The heads of the voters of Mile End East must be spinning. The Tories have been roundly defeated in that ward, but now, thanks to Hussain’s self-serving opportunism the residents are stuck with a Tory.
“It s pointless asking him to do the decent thing and resign. So the voters will have to turf him out at the next election, which I’m 100 percent confident they will.
“We will continue to fight the New Labour/Tory policies of privatisation, scapegoating and war.”
Respect MP George Galloway adds:
“As for the other councillors who walked away from the Respect group with Hussain three months ago. They must ask themselves if they are happy for the Tories to be the official opposition in Tower Hamlets.
“They must realise they have been the victim of a con by Hussain and those who promoted splits inside Respect. If they don’t want the Tories to have a position of influence in Tower Hamlets then they know what they need to do – abandon the split from Respect and stop playing games with the electorate.”
The story almost defies comment, but there are a few observations worth making. The first is the obvious one, that the line spun by the SWP about the “left-right” split in Respect was pure banana oil, manufactured for internal consumption. And there was a lot of this. The four splitters in Tower Hamlets were routinely referred to by SWP members as “the leftwing councillors”. The fact that one councillor had defected to Labour was adduced as proof that, unless the SWP kept a firm grip on Respect, these Bengalis would drift into opportunism. (Let’s tactfully pass over the council candidates being personally vetted by swivel-eyed party loyalist Shaun Doherty.)
And now we have a Reespect councillor, and a member of the SWP forbye, planning his defection to the Tories! Unless, that is, Labour or the Lib Dems can come up with a better offer… Now it’s only fair to point out that Ahmed Hussain is not a hardened SWP member. In fact, his politics have always had a strong rightist bent. But he apparently joined the SWP to advance himself in Respect, and the SWP opportunistically allowed him in on the basis that, hey, he was an elected councillor and therefore an
ornament asset to the party. This reminds me of a conversation I once had with a CC member, when I asked him why Garry Bushell was ever allowed in the party. The reply was, “Well, he was a good organiser.”
This has, it’s fair to say, come as a bit of a surprise. Most observers had been waiting for Oli Rahman to jump ship to Labour, which he hasn’t done yet. But that, Oli’s prominence notwithstanding, might have been a less serious blow. We know that Oli’s politics are basically Old Labour anyway. But this is more ominous for the Rees-German cabal, because it seems to suggest on Ahmed’s part a basic lack of confidence in the future of Reespect, and the SWP for that matter. And you know that if Cliff was still around, heads would have been rolling long before now. Is this to be John Rees’ legacy to the left – discrediting SWP politics for a generation?