Ken Livingstone and George Galloway will tonight ride to the rescue of a beleaguered mayor who faces being stripped of his powers by Eric Pickles.
Labour’s united front against Lutfur Rahman will be smashed as Mr Livingstone and a fellow member of the party’s national executive join a parade of left-wingers at a rally demanding an end to the “witch-hunt” of Britain’s first elected ethnic minority mayor.
Some insiders are dismayed that Labour figures will be sharing a platform with Mr Galloway, whose inflammatory anti-war rhetoric led to his expulsion from the party.
The rally will be in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets, where the mayor is due to have his powers transferred to commissioners sent in by Mr Pickles, the communities and local government secretary.
Mr Rahman’s election victory over Labour in May is being challenged in the High Court over concerns that it was fraudulent. Among the allegations are that voters were told they would be good Muslims if they voted for him but sinners if they backed John Biggs, Labour’s candidate.
Mr Livingstone will be joined by Christine Shawcroft, a fellow member of Labour’s national executive. Aaron Kiely, a Labour councillor from Thurrock in Essex and a member of the National Union of Students executive, will speak for the mayor.
Mr Pickles threatened to seize the mayor’s powers after government inspectors discovered failings over handing out grants, selling buildings and paying for favourable publicity. He won the support of the parliamentary Labour front bench and both local Labour MPs.
Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, said: “It’s disappointing that Ken Livingstone is doing what he is doing. We don’t need these forces of division coming into our borough.”
Jim Fitzpatrick, MP for Poplar and Limehouse, who defeated Mr Galloway, of the Respect party, in the 2010 election, said: “It is a very difficult situation. To say it is not helpful is probably an understatement.”
Mr Rahman, a former Labour council leader, left the party amid infighting. Mr Livingstone said: “He is the subject of an Islamophobic campaign of lies. I have always stood up for people who are victimised.”
Andy Erlam, an author of the High Court petition challenging the mayor’s election, said: “Tower Hamlets has been run absolutely disgracefully for many years and Eric Pickles is to be congratulated for grasping the nettle, irrespective of his party political affiliation.”
Update: See “MPs hit out at ‘disappointing’ Livingstone over attendance at Lutfur Rahman rally”, LabourList, 12 November 2014