Mayor of Newham issues ‘public debate’ challenge to Tower Hamlets mayor
10:38 19 March 2014
EXCLUSIVE: The Mayor of Newham has challenged his counterpart in Tower Hamlets to a public debate on the records of their two administrations ahead of the May elections.
Sir Robin Wales threw down the gauntlet this week after a war of words with Mayor Lutfur Rahman in another paper over their different policies on public funding of events.
Mr Rahman accused Sir Robin of “dog-whistle politics” for claiming the independent mayor’s policies were creating “Apartheid”-style segregated communities in Tower Hamlets.
Speaking to the Recorder, Sir Robin said: “I’m very happy to have a public debate with Lutfur Rahman on all of this.
“I believe this could be an important debate about our respective achievements in Newham and Tower Hamlets over the past four years, and an opportunity to set out our very different visions for the future.”
He suggested the debate be independently chaired and be held in Newham or Tower Hamlets with easy access so residents can attend and ask questions.
Sir Robin also said the event should be filmed and be open to bloggers and other media.
Mayor Rahman’s office said the challenge was a “political stunt” but declined to say yes or no to the idea of a public debate.
A spokesman said: “The last time we checked, Robin Wales wasn’t standing for election in Tower Hamlets. His comments are an insult to all those who suffered under South African Apartheid. Rather than political stunts, he should follow Tower Hamlets’ lead to build social housing so he can stop shipping poor residents out of London.”
In a statement last week, Mr Rahman’s office said the funding Sir Robin criticised is only “a few thousand pounds of our £1.2billion budget” and included events “which bring people together rather than dividing them”.
It also slammed Newham Council’s record on jobs, saying: “Robin Wales merely takes credit for jobs created by the Job Centre.”
Sir Robin dismissed this as “downright stupid”, saying Newham’s workplace scheme had helped 20,000 people find jobs.
On public funding, Sir Robin said said: “We don’t want the segregation of different groups. If you deliberately keep people separate – I call it Apartheid – you damage their opportunities.
“Fundamentally, we believe that public money should be used to bring people together.”