In Bow East it's council election day. My local ward has three seats available, and there are seven parties standing. I've arranged them into three groups, with parties of the left on the left, parties of the centre in the centre, and parties of the right on the right.
Bow East: council elections, 22 May 2014
Green: Tatyana Guttman-Hancocks, Lucy Rees Labour: Amina Ali, Rachel Blake, Marc Francis Red–Flag Anti-Corruption: Andy Erlam Tower Hamlets First: Mickey Ambrose, Sabia Kamali, Abdus Salam Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition: George Paton
Liberal Democrat: Andy Spracklen
Conservative: Stephanie Chan, Cameron Penny, James Thompson
I'm aware this list makes Bow look like a hotbed of communist radicalism, but it's not. It has a long left-leaning history, but that's not surprising in the East End which is one of the poorer parts of town. Bow East has gentrification too, indeed it boasts one of the first such hotspots in the gated community at Bow Quarter. But our local councillors have all been either Labour or Liberal Democrat for years, and I'd expect that to continue.
Across Tower Hamlets, Labour swept the board at the last election. They got 40% of the votes and 80% of the council seats, because that's the way the first past the post works. But do they run the council? No they don't, not even with a landslide number of councillors, because that's the way politics in Tower Hamlets works.
The story's long, and kicked off a few months before the last council elections in 2010. The Respect Party weren't expecting to do very well in Tower Hamlets, so a group whipped up enough signatures to petition for the creation of a directly elected Mayor. A large proportion of these signatures turned out to be bogus, but enough were deemed genuine for a borough-wide referendum to take place. That took place on polling day, and 60% of voters voted in favour so the wheels were set in motion for a Mayoral election five months later. Labour party members selected Spitalfields councillor Lutfur Rahman as their candidate, but after allegations of irregularities he was deselected and chose to stand as an independent instead. With October's mayoral election being a somewhat low key event, turnout for the mayoral elections was only 25% compared to the usual 60%. But Lutfur got his supporters out in large numbers, against general apathy elsewhere, and so romped home with over half of the vote. As elected mayor he then gained total control over Tower Hamlets' budget and policy, and the majority of Labour councillors could do nothing but sit and watch. Some might call this hijacking, but it's also democracy in action, and what is politics if not a game to win?
Which makes next Thursday the first time that Lutfur will have had to defend himself as directly elected Mayor of Tower Hamlets. But this time he has to survive a proper turnout of voters, and this time he's up against a full list of nine opponents.
Tower Hamlets: mayoral elections, 22 May 2014
Green: Chris Smith Labour:John Biggs Tower Hamlets First:Lutfur Rahman Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition: Hugo Pierre
Independent: Reza Choudhury, Hafiz Kadir, Mohammed Khan
The ballot paper may be long, but there are only two candidates with any chance of success. One is Lutfur, heading up Tower Hamlets First, and the other is John Biggs of the Labour Party. John has a long record of service, first as a local councillor, and currently as a Labour member of the London Assembly. His best hope for victory is that people turn up at polling station next Thursday to vote for a Labour councillor, and then choose to vote for a Labour Mayor as well. That joint ticket might well see him take the reins, but there's no obvious groundswell of public opinion running in his favour. Lutfur by comparison has a much higher profile. He's plastered his name over posters, leaflets and council newspapers over the last four years, so is the only name the majority of voters will know. He's also very adept at getting his supporters out, some would say too blatantly so, and a flood of Rahman-leaning voters might well swing the necessary proportion his way. It's going to be a fascinating Mayoral election, and one that'll set the agenda for Tower Hamlets for the next four years.
And finally, across the country, it's European elections day. The whole of London is being treated as one constituency with eight seats up for grabs, and there are a phenomenal number of parties to choose from.
Whether you live in Camden or Croydon, this is your list too. And what really stands out is how right-leaning so many of the parties standing are. Over half of the 17 take a less than positive view of Europe, with several intent on zero interference, zero integration and zero immigration. This may be a reflection of the current zeitgeist, with UKIP's naysayers riding high in public opinion nationwide. Or maybe it's much easier to bankroll a minority anti-EU party by wrapping yourself in the Union Jack and whacking out a few determined candidates. Meanwhile only one fringe party is standing up in favour of the European ideal, one is standing on a pro-NHS ticket and another believes that animals deserve to have their say. Londoners are facing a truly whopping ballot paper in the European elections next Thursday, and you might like to click to check out a few of the parties' policies before committing your cross.
And all this matters not least because there's now less than a year to go until the General Election. The field's still wide open for that, wider open than it has been for several years, with Europe and Scotland likely to cast a shadow on the final vote. If you find General Elections fascinating you should check out Ian's UK General Election 2015 blog, which is counting down the days with statistics, polls, graphs, analysis and comment. And if you don't find General Elections fascinating you're wrong, obviously.