Why targeting Apsana Begum is an attack on the many
At a glance, a stranger to Tower Hamlets politics would perhaps put this down to the healthy operation of the democratic process; that party members are not happy with their representative and have voted to deselect her.
Upon closer examination, however, lies serious allegations of a coordinated campaign by members of the Labour right and the left engineering her de-selection.
More than an MP
Before her election in 2019, I had heard of Apsana Begum through my work within Tower Hamlets, and her campaigning efforts around housing. I remember being left with a strong impression of her commitment to change, inspiring hope and an alternative to the current Labour networks.
''Following on from Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, which saw the rise of new socialist voices in Labour, she is a last reminder of a hopeful era that even on the sidelines, still exits. Indeed, Apsana Begum is a threat to Starmer’s uninspiring new Labour direction.''
When I heard she had got elected as the MP for Poplar and Limehouse, I was pleasantly hopeful; not just because she was the first Bangladeshi hijab-wearing Muslim MP but more importantly, she was deeply involved in the community, not a career politician.
Those who have recently organised for her deselection are alleged to have close ties with her ex-husband, Ehtasham Haque. As a former Labour councillor Haque, along with his brother-in-law Sayed Nahid Uddin, triggered a legal case from the Council accusing Begum of housing fraud by 'failing to disclose information' when she was given access to affordable housing.
When Begum approached the council investigators to explain that she had experienced domestic abuse at the hands of her ex-husband and accusant, who was now in a position of political oversight as the chair of the Housing & Regeneration Scrutiny Sub Committee, the Labour-dominated Council simply rejected that the domestic abuse had anything to do with the investigation. The court acquitted her of all charges.
I remember when the news broke out a few years ago that Tower Hamlets Council was taking her to court. It was near enough the time the Save Brick Lane Campaign was planning our first protest against the proposed disastrous 'redevelopment plan'. Whilst the Council were determined to side with Zeloof Partnership - Begum was the first MP to lend us her support.
Begum has a solid record of advocating for her constituents and persists in doing so. Before her election, she fought against cuts to nurseries, community language services and youth services.
Whilst an MP, she is a pivotal opponent of the austerity measures introduced. She supports grassroots campaigns for social housing tenants and against gentrification.
In Parliament, Begum has consistently raised concerns about the cost of living crisis, she secured to commemorate International Mother Language Day and spoke in Sylheti (for the first time it has been used in a Parliamentary debate). I don't say this lightly, but I consider her to be the working people’s MP. This is why the recent accusations of her being out of touch rather than acknowledging she is a victim of a remarkably well-organised campaign to oust her, is absurd.
An FOI request revealed the Council spent £88,607 in the investigation and trial of the MP, further highlighting how funds were manoeuvred and wasted on a concerted strategy to remove her.
The same people associated with removing Begum from her position suddenly expect us to believe that she is now being de-selected as an organic expression of popular discontent - rather than the latest in a string of coordinated attacks that have dogged her since her entry into Parliament.
The current trigger ballot is also riven with allegations of rule-breaking and impropriety. A Tower Hamlets Labour Member told me that “Ehtasham’s associates have been overseeing ward meetings where members have voted whether to support Begum as the Labour candidate or allow for an open selection, engineering her removal”. There have also been reports of Begum’s supporters being undermined, including not being allowed into online meetings to place votes.
Furthermore, the Labour member told me that internal complaints have been submitted to the party saying that a prospective replacement candidate has allegedly been given access to confidential data to help them canvass members. They went on to say that members had “witnessed canvassers blatantly lying to Labour Party members, claiming that Begum has not been doing casework for her constituents, despite her having logged over 38,000 casework emails and 17,000 pieces of casework”.
Now, as Begum faces a different trial, all those who are organising against her would do well to remember that like before, the truth will eventually come out.
This is nothing but another drive by the Labour right to depose Begum - all aided and abetted by various levels of the Labour Party, who will gladly jump at any opportunity to remove an open socialist from their ranks.
This is also not the first time, during Apsana Begum’s court ordeal, the prosecution raised that information had been leaked to Tory councillors, right-wing blogs, and the tabloid press.
Cleansing Labour post-Corbyn
Following on from Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, which saw the rise of new socialist voices in Labour, she is a last reminder of a hopeful era that even on the sidelines, still exits. Indeed, Apsana Begum is a threat to Starmer’s uninspiring new Labour direction.
Even after the Party’s historic defeat in Tower Hamlets to the Aspire Party in May's election, Labour still doesn't seem to understand or care that this type of behaviour is why the electorate deserted them.
Since her election, Begum has faced a barrage of indignities. Her current fight against de-selection both compounds these injustices but shines a broader light on the political culture of the Labour Party, and the intense cynicism that defines it.
This latest Tower Hamlets scandal has gone by with little to no comment from the wider British commentariat. In that sense, the 'trial' of Apsana Begum reflects not just to the toxic culture of the Labour Party, but to British politics writ large. The injustice she faces is not hers alone, but speaks to the bipartisan consensus on destroying independent challenges to the status quo, as can be seen with Labour’s treatment of Zarah Sultana, who could also be deselected.
It is for this, and many other reasons, that Begum urgently requires board support and solidarity beyond those operating within electoral politics.
Tasnima Uddin is a legal aid paralegal. She is a co-founder for Nijjor Manush, a UK campaigning group leading the Save Brick Lane campaign and the Nejma Collective, a group working in solidarity with incarcerated Muslims in UK prisons.
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