May elections: hear from mayoral candidate Rabina Khan

In the run up to the May elections, we interviewed Rabina Khan, Liberal Democrat Candidate for Tower Hamlets Mayor

The local elections are fast approaching. On Thursday 5 May, you can head to your local voting station and have your say on who will be Mayor of Tower Hamlets. The last time such elections took place was in 2018.

In the run up to this year’s elections, we spoke to five of the main mayoral candidates to ask them what they would do if elected as Mayor of Tower Hamlets. 

Q&A with Rabina Khan

Below, we speak to Rabina Khan, Liberal Democrat Candidate for Tower Hamlets Mayor

Can you tell readers about yourself and your roots in East London?

I’ve been a councillor for 12 years in Tower Hamlets and I have served in the former Lutfur Rahman cabinet – I’ve split myself from him in 2015, I have stood twice as a mayoral candidate in Tower Hamlets coming in second in 2018. I was the last person from the Lutfur Rahman era who managed to retain their seat and I am the sole female opposition councillor. 

I joined the Liberal Democrats in 2018 because of Brexit and I’m very proud to be with the Liberal Democrats. We have been working and fighting to make sure that people are included in the Lib Dem party, making sure that people in Tower Hamlets look to see the Liberal Democrat Party as an alternative party. So I’m standing in this election because in the current situation there is a sense of disenfranchisement and disillusionment among voters. It’s time to actually move the borough forward with a brand new vision – in terms of the post lockdown COVID era.  And I am that person who will be able to take people forward.

You came second in the last election. Why do you think you’re going to win this election?

First of all, we have the National Party behind us – and the Liberal Democrats vote share is increasing in Tower Hamlets. You can see that from the previous elections, from the 2015 elections to the 2018. So from 2015 to 2018, the Lib Dem mayoral candidate doubled her share of votes. And then if we look at the 2019 general election, our votes have been going up and up. So we’re almost becoming neck and neck with the conservatives now and then the GLA shows that our vote share again is increasing. And so we’ve been a party that lead in the lease fight for leaseholders affected by the cladding and fire safety checks. And I led on that three years ago when I first attended the first protest against fire safety standards.

The reason I’m touching on that is because Tower Hamlets has the highest number of leaseholders affected by the fire safety cladding scandal. And the local liberal Democrats, we’ve been making sure that the Tower Hamlets voice has been heard in the House of Lords in the House of Commons.

I’ve been working with Sarah Olney on opposing insurance company needs to account for the massive high hike in insurance and having meetings with Baroness Pinnock, who was actually the first politician to table the amendment where she stated very clearly leaseholders should not pay for costs, that they are not responsible for fire safety costs.

Your background was in housing, what made housing such a passion for you?

If you walk through the high rise office space, you have to have two stairwells but if you build a high rise residential building you only need to have one stairwell. And that’s the irony of it all, is that you are more likely to spend time in your home than in an office. And you’re more likely to have families and vulnerable people in a residential building than in an office. So why do the planning codes only allow office high rises to have two stairwells and not residential properties? So I know we talk about building affordable homes, but we really have to start thinking about building safer homes.

The immediate pushback is that people will say ‘oh, but it’s going to cost more- and what we need is cheaper housing’, especially when it comes to new builds

The only people who are going to tell you it’s going to cost more are developers. The people living in it aren’t going to say that. It’s the developers who will say, ‘Oh, well, assessments say that it’s going to cost more and we won’t be able to generate any income.’ But that’s not a point to me actually – we shouldn’t even be thinking that – we should just be building. And in a way that is safe. I don’t care what people say. It’s time to think about making sure we’re building safe homes, greener homes, and making sure that there are the right quality, generally affordable, and for local people.

Do you think there is anything that the Tower Hamlets mayor can do to make sure things are built better, bit smarter?

Well yes, like I said, we need to make sure that we’ve got two stairwells. That’s an example of showing that we’re going to get best practice and people to sign up for a best practice agenda. And that’s vital for us.Best practice is about trying to look at the local plan in which way we can ensure that developments that are coming through don’t cause a problem, for example, on the island where there is a need for the water pressure to be considered. 

And also a development must reflect the local characteristics of Tower Hamlets. So if you look at Tower Hamlets, it’s very different in different places. It’s not one kind of specific building. You’ll see parts of Bow, where you’ve got Victorian terraced homes which are listed and protected, and then you’ve got the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf and that’s all like Manhattan. So the skyline has to fit nicely in terms of making sure that the way in which we build reflects the rest of the landscape. We can’t have something in the middle of nowhere and just a big tall building.

And when we sit thinking about how to go forward we have to make sure that planning does reflect the business economy as well. When Brexit happened, the European Medicines Agency left our Borough. When they left the EMEA, they took with them 100 jobs. And took these massive assets with them. So I’ve been campaigning about what could be replaced in this borough with – and life sciences is a perfect investment. The life science economy in the UK is £37 billion.*

In Tower Hamlets we would be the best place to have the new Advanced Research and Invention Agency, which the UK government launched in 2021. And that’s because Bart’s NHS Care has a rich database. The richest in Europe all simply because of the diversity of Tower Hamlets. 

There are about 32,000 people taking part in clinical trials for research. And that in itself is unique. And so in a time where we’re living in a COVID lockdown era, research into precision medicine and global healthcare can be traced right here in Tower Hamlets. And I’ve worked with Sara Olney to send a letter to the minister. I’ve also managed to bring a cross-party letter together to send to the minister. And we got a very good response.

What are other changes you want to see around Tower Hamlets in general?

Community Safety. Young people and children are becoming increasingly involved in gang culture, crime and violent crime. And we are seeing it in my own ward. All that has been very difficult and we’ve been lucky in the investment into youth work, but we should be doubling the investment, particularly as young people have been affected by the mental health ordeal of being in lockdown. 

People talk about COVID recovery time, but we need to talk about it in a way that places people’s emotional wellbeing at the centre of it. That’s been a failure and decline of public services in Tower Hamlets under the current Labour administration and we only have to look at that alongside our council tax rises, because people are happy to pay their tax but if they don’t receive the public service that they’re paying for, of course they’ll be disgruntled. That’s an aspect that’s really important to me about community safety.

If you do come into power, what will the first couple of years look like for you?

The first couple of years will be to look at 3 aspects. The first is the housing sector in terms of holding social housing associations and the private rented sector to account. 

We will ensure that housing associations are being held to account by using our environmental health powers. These are the statutory powers that the Council has which can be used against a housing association and against the private rented sector. So when it comes to disrepair, when it comes to failure of service, environmental health is one place that I’d like to increase dedicated teams for each of the 20 rules. That way, people who are living in the private rented sector or social housing – they’re actually receiving a service that they’re paying for and able to live in an environment that isn’t substandard. 

The second thing is to increase the investment in the local economy and life science so that we can boost our local economy and small businesses – without investing into our local economy we won’t get the returns that we need, which could be improving the employability of local people, and increasing job opportunities for young people and graduates. I have something in mind for enterprises and employment that I hope to be launched in the borough that will also include the campaign for Lifetime.

And finally, climate change – making sure that we deliver an inclusive climate change agenda whereby we’re taking cycling into the heart of diverse communities, we’re working with diverse communities to change their behaviour in terms of using their car for short journeys, ensuring that people who live in overcrowded families are able to access recycling and opportunities where they can be involved in the climate change debate. I have pushed this current administration to make sure that the climate change agenda is an inclusive agenda whereby people feel that they aren’t neglected or left behind. It’s also about increasing electric chargers on council estates in underground car park facilities where we’re not using them effectively. Also making sure on council estates that young children who cycle can store their bikes at schools and in safe places, because they often get stolen. And that’s why people can’t afford to bike all the time. They’re struggling with the costs of living, so we need to incorporate climate change agenda that takes into account the cost of living. 

Hear from other Mayoral candidates in Tower Hamlets:

Read our interview with Conservative Mayoral Candidate Elliot Weaver.

Read our interview with Labour Mayoral Candidate John Biggs.

Read our interview with Trade Unionist and Social Coalition Mayoral Candidate Hugo Pierre.

Read our interview with Liberal Democrat Mayoral Candidate Rabina Khan.

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