Monday, July 17, 2023

“Who is Mehmood Mirza?”

Check this very good blog by Josephine on Newham 65 blog (which I certainly do not always agree with) and also make it clear that our Labour candidate, Sofia, at the by election was one of the hardest working, capable and all round nice person candidate I had ever worked with. I also declare that technically at least, I am also Josephine’s “employer” again (for third time). 

Guest post by Josephine Grahl

Mehmood Mirza has surprised many by winning Thursday’s by-election in Boleyn ward. But who is he, and what does he stand for?

He has described his occupation variously as a legal adviser, a campaigner and a human rights activist, but he is also a significant private landlord. He currently owns ten properties in the borough, which will make him – since the departure of Ayesha Chowdhury from the council last year – the most propertied Newham councillor-landlord.

As part of a group calling itself Democracy Newham, Mirza was a driving force behind the ‘people’s petition’ – the collection in 2020 of over 12,000 signatures needed to force a governance referendum on Newham Council. The petition was rendered invalid due to the pandemic-related suspension of electoral legislation, but the council had in any case committed to hold a referendum before the end of Rokhsana Fiaz’s first term of office.

On the announcement that the referendum would be held in May 2021 and that the choice on the ballot would be between the existing mayoral system and the committee system, Democracy Newham sued the council, arguing that the choice should be between the mayoral system and the cabinet system. Their legal action was unsuccessful, and the council made a counter claim against Democracy Newham for breaching the embargo on the judge’s original decision.

Making the best of a bad job, Mirza became an enthusiast of the committee system. Democracy Newham flyposted the borough with thousands of posters and leaflets which dubiously asserted that a vote for the committee structure would lead directly to dozens of policy changes on the council, from the removal of parking charges to the reduction of council tax

A long-standing Labour party member, his conduct in the party drew widespread criticism particularly for his habit of ‘organising’ meetings – attending meetings in other wards to oversee elections and ‘encourage’ his own supporters. Perhaps the nadir of this form of ‘organising’ came when he lobbied the West Ham Women’s Forum AGM in May 2019, stopping women members as they entered the meeting to press on them a list of his preferred candidates.

His re-election (as membership officer) at the June 2019 West Ham CLP AGM was one of the factors which prompted this writer’s resignation as CLP Chair the day after that election. My experience of working with Mirza in the CLP Executive previously did not give me any confidence that the CLP, already riven by factional division, would become a more inclusive or effective place to work towards a Labour government.

In early 2020 he gained the necessary nominations to stand for the Labour NEC as a candidate for the BAME section, with endorsement from a platform describing itself as the ‘Labour Left Alliance’ – a short-lived Labour grouping which set itself up in competition to the long established Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance, where the Labour left actually organises agreed candidate slates. 

But in February 2020, before ballots had closed, Mirza was suspended from the Labour party, allegedly for antisemitism. Nearly two years later in January 2022 he announced on Twitter that he had resigned his party membership.

Having left the party, he was free to stand against Labour, and decided that the issue of fly-tipping would be a suitable focus to build a political profile in the borough. He was eventually blocked by Newham Council on Twitter and Facebook after an extended ‘campaign’ of obsessively replying to every post by the Council with a stream of photos of fly-tipping sites.  

In the 2022 Newham local elections he stood against Labour as part of a loose alliance of disenchanted formerly Labour independents which included both the former West Ham CLP Chair Carel Buxton and the former East Ham CLP Chair Tahir Mirza. Standing for election both as Mayor of Newham and ward councillor in Plashet, he outperformed his comrades, but did not win.

Newham 65 was correct, at the time, to describe his manifesto as “a muddled policy platform veering between revolutionary socialism and pro-small business and -car measures.” This kind of opportunistic and incoherentpopulism has characterised all of Mirza’s political interventions – including his most recent, successful one. But we were clearly in error to conclude that we had seen the last of Mirza’s electoral endeavours”.


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