Former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone has paid libel damages of £11,000 to the former Labour leader of Tower Hamlets Council, Michael Keith as the battle for a directly elected Mayor heats up.
East London residents will have an extra vote on May 6th in a referendum that could replace the current council cabinet system.
Earlier in the year at a meeting Livingstone flanked by George Galloway of the Respect party had said that Keith did not live in the borough and had spread Islamaphobia.
The allegations were a lie and Keith threatened legal action – Livingstone has apologised, will pay costs and donate money to a charity of Keith’s choice. The total cost is thought to be around £11,000.
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Michael Keith said:
“I am very glad that Ken Livingstone has accepted that he cannot libel people and has withdrawn his false allegations. I accept his apology.”
Livingstone refused to comment.
Tower Hamlets, which has large Somali, Bangladeshi, Chinese and Caribbean communities, seems divided over a directly elected mayor with unprecedented powers. The mayor would serve a four-year term and would be able to appoint non-elected advisors.
There are concerns over the influence of the Islamic Forum of Europe and the East London Mosque in Tower Hamlets Council, something highlighted in a recent Channel 4 documentary recently. An elected mayor could see them tighten their grip on the local authority.
One IFE member, Abu Talha, was secretly filmed saying:
“The mayor is going to have a lot more control. That’s why we need to get someone, one of our brothers, in there. Which we will do”
Galloway’s Respect party has driven the issue to the top of the local agenda after their councillors gathered over 10,000 signatures. The parliamentary candidate for Poplar and Limehouse believes a new system is needed to “fix” the area which is one of the most deprived in London.
Labour are against the proposal saying a directly-elected mayor would not be able to represent the views of a community as diverse as Tower Hamlets. This is despite the party backing locally elected mayors in other parts of London and spearheading the policy nationwide. Hackney and Newham have already had directly-elected Labour mayors, as has Lewisham.
The Liberal Democrat’s are concerned with budgetary oversight; that one person would be responsible for a billion pound budget, rather than 51 councillors.
However, Zakir Khan, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow is backing the idea saying a Mayor would be “better placed to implement and deliver policy”.