Saturday 18 July 2015

Newham Labour nominates the 'Prevent' candidate for London Assembly selection battle

There were extraordinary scenes at East Ham Labour Party last Thursday evening, as a veritable chorus line of the usual party loyalists stepped up to support Newham councillor Unmesh Desai (right), Cabinet Member for Crime and Anti Social Behaviour. Desai desperately wants to become the Labour candidate to replace new Tower Hamlets Mayor, John Biggs, as the City and East constituency London Assembly member.

One of those who spoke at the meeting was the Dear Leader himself, Sir Robin Wales, who in an surprising intervention praised Desai as a community activist who had “founded Newham Monitoring Project” (not true, he was the group's first worker, but let's move on) and who fought against the British National Party in the south of the borough. This has been the message featuring strongly in Desai's campaign for local endorsement: in emails to Party members, he has promoted himself as an 'activist' with 'a solid track record of three decades of community campaigning'.

Strangely, there was no time to mention of how Desai, with Wales' support, was personally responsible for ruthlessly engineered the removal of council funding for Newham Monitoring Project (NMP) in the late 1990s, because he saw the group as an obstacle to his political ambitions. Nor did Wales mention his own unsuccessful attempts to pressure the National Lottery to try and stop NMP from receiving funding from it in 2000.

I have had cause to remark on Desai's staggering hypocrisy before. In 2011 I pointed out the irony of a man who was kicked out of the Socialist Workers Party over allegations of 'violent extremism' becoming the council's foremost cheerleader for 'Prevent', the government programme for tackling signs of alleged extremism -amongst young Muslims. If nothing else, Desai is living proof that the 'Prevent' strategy is based on a lie: there is no inevitability about an 'escalator of radicalisation' and youthful rebellion is never a guarantee of genuinely radical politics in later life. In Desai's case, quite the opposite.

One obvious question is this: why, after all these years, suddenly bring up NMP now? I suspect one answer is that the hardline, right-wing Blairite politics that dominates Labour in Newham has considerably less attraction and potential support among party members in the wider City and East constituency, which includes both the boiling cauldron that is Tower Hamlets and the London borough of Barking and Dagenham.  That may explain why Desai, who has held no job other than Newham councillor for years, is mythologising a colourful community activism that in reality he cynically abandoned decades ago.

Labour members outside of Newham should therefore have absolutely no illusions, whatever they hear otherwise. Desai is the most definitely the 'Prevent' nominee – the front man for a counter terrorism strategy that even a senior police officer has called a 'toxic brand' – in this candidates' selection.

If the kind of candidate you decide to choose is someone the security services would happily endorse, then don't say you weren't warned.

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