I live in a damned interestingconstituency. It's one of only a handful of English seats whose MP doesn't come from the Big Three parties. Its current MP is a household name, even before he appeared on Big Brother. Nearly half of its electorate are Muslim, the majority of those of Bangladeshi heritage. It's a proper marginal, one of the tightest 40 constituency battles at the last election. And it could also be the only English seat the Labour party actually gains at the forthcoming election.
Our current MP is George Galloway, who in 2005 swept to victory on an anti-war platform. He stirred up the electorate and promised Respect, then stayed away from the House of Commons and continued promoting his own agenda elsewhere. His reputation crumbled somewhat after asking Rula Lenska "would you like meto be the cat?", and I for one will be damned glad to see the back of him in two weeks time. He's now switched nextdoor to stand in the ever-so marginal seat of Poplar and Limehouse, where his electoral interruption may yet allow riverside blue to beat council estate red. My best wishes go out to whoever beats him.
The departure of celebrity leaves the BG&B electoral race up for grabs. Respect's replacement candidate is Abjol Miah, currently opposition leader on Tower Hamlets council (which tells you a lot about the highly unusual politics in my borough). Abjol's election leaflet highlights his local council record, and a left-leaning 'fighting' agenda. He also employs the age-old ploy of the "election leaflet bar graph" to show that there are only two parties in this race - Respect or New Labour. He's almost certainly correct, although a Respect MP would have virtually no power in the House of Commons unless Parliament ends up very hung indeed. Website:candidate-centric, regularly updated with news and views
Labour's fresh hope is Rushanara Ali, who used to work as an assistant to former MP Oona King. If the electorate abandons Respect and returns to type, she's likely to be voted in as the UK's first ever Bangladeshi MP. Actually it doesn't much matter which of the five main parties gets in, the UK's first ever Bangladeshi MP is already a dead cert. Rushanara's election leaflet is a fairly generic Labour glossy, and features a smiley photo taken outside Bethnal Green tube station. She says she wants to end division in the community, and reminds voters that she was born here, just in case they were wondering. Odds on Ali for May 6th? Website:static puff, with minimal news and updates
BG&B's not fertile Tory territory, especially now that Wapping's riverside wards have been hived off into neighbouring Poplar and Limehouse. Nevertheless the local Conservative party went to repeated efforts to select their candidate via an open primary. Second time of asking, and at a meeting over-represented by certain parts of the community, Zakir Khan duly got the nod. He's not got round to sending me a leaflet yet, but I understand crime and unemployment are high up his action list. Website:one-page filler, attached to generic party policy pages
Tower Hamlets had a brief spell as a Liberal stronghold around 20 years ago, but gains have been few and far between since then. Enter Ajmal Masroor, another 'local boy' (in birth, if not in current residence). He's not got round to sending me a leaflet yet either, but I gather he's a broadcaster (presenting on various Muslim channels) and part-time multi-mosque imam. Only a huge amount of Cleggmania could propel him to power, and round here that remains unlikely. Website:professional and informative, but very thin on campaigning news
And then there's everybody else. We have a lot of everybody elses in Bethnal Green and Bow, where the ballot paper on May 6th will be a mighty eleven candidates long. There's Hasib Hikmat, a local headteacher, who's invented his own party to "defend family values". Parents concerned about the number of fried chicken shops in the borough may, or may not, flock to his side. There's Alex van Terheyden who's standing for the Pirate Party (his focus is privacy and copyright, not parrots and plunder). There are three Independent candidates (see sidebar) who appear to have no internet presence whatsover. And then there's Jeffrey Marshall for the BNP, whose racist bile ought to sink without trace in a firmly multicultural constituency, but who will probably pick up several protest votes from electors thinking "but hang on, where are the British candidates?"
For the second general election in a row I live in a damned interesting constituency. Let's see who picks up Galloway's mantle, and let's hope they actually bother to represent us in Parliament this time. And may the best Bangladeshi win.
Bethnal Green and Bow(2005 result) George Galloway (Respect) 15,801 [35.9%] Oona King (Labour) 14,978 [34.0%] Shahagir Faruk (Conservative) 6,244 [14.2%] Syed Dulu (Liberal Democrat) 4,928 [11.2%] John Foster (Green) 1,940 [4.4%] Two Others (Independents) 106 [0.3%] Respect majority: 823 [1.9%] Turnout: 51.2%