Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Interview with Mizan Chaudhury: Chair of Tower Hamlets Council Emdad Rahman

What does the Civic Mayor's role entail?
The role of a Civic Mayor (Chair of Council/First Citizen of the Borough) is an important element of the council’s governance structure. It is the highest office that residents, through their elected representatives can grant a Member of the Council. I have been formally appointed to the Office at the first meeting of the Council in this Municipal Year - 18th May 2011.  This meeting was more of a ceremonial event and is referred to as "Mayor-making". 

The Civic Mayor is also Chairman of the Council and takes the Chair at all meetings of the Council - as we have also have an Elected Mayor in our borough (who has an executive function), I am known as the Chair of the Council (and the First Citizen of the Borough). As Chair of Council, I must always be non-political and be seen to represent every section of the community regardless of political association. At full council meetings I am also responsible for announcing items to be discussed. Like any other councillor, I am allowed to vote on council decisions at these meetings, but unlike any other council member, I can use an additional casting vote when a decision is tied.

I am also the First Citizen of the Borough and as such I take precedence over other citizens in Tower Hamlets - apart from when a member of the Royal Family or the Lord Lieutenant of London are visiting here. Not everyone is aware of this status.

As First Citizen, I am also the recognised spokesperson and representative on all civic and ceremonial occasions and the civic head of the borough. At Council meetings or major civic events, such as ceremonies relating to the granting of the Freedom of the Borough, I will be wearing my Robe and Chain and Badge of Office and am preceded by the Macebearer with the Mace.  On other occasions I will wear my Chain and Badge of Office - this is the symbol of authority.

As the First Citizen of the Borough, during my term of Office I will attend about 500 engagements or possibly more.  These range from meeting Royalty, visiting other local authorities, receptions with the Military, visiting schools, events in the community, such as openings and fundraising events organised by voluntary and charitable organisations, welcoming overseas visitors, doing charity fundraising etc. My role is also to promote public involvement in the Council’s activities.

Is the role demanding?
The role itself is very demanding. While the powers of the Civic Mayor (Chair of Council) may have diminished over the years, the role has retained its importance in the history and cultural heritage of our country.

What are your priorities as Civic Mayor?

As I highlighted in my inauguration speech, I will be working to encourage community engagement, people to get involved and more importantly to get involved together, to share interests and concerns, and to encourage respect and harmony across age and cultural divides.  In particular, I will be focusing on young people who have always been my priority and the reason I became involved in politics.

I will be getting them more involved in the community, as we have so many talented and dedicated young people in Tower Hamlets. Young people need a platform to excel and I will do my best to facilitate this. I want to see the young people of our borough prosper and reach positions of authority and importance. Education is no longer a barrier as we are now amongst some of the best in the country, but opportunities are limited and I will do my upmost best to deliver on this level.

The contribution of young people in Tower Hamlets has been huge and cannot be ignored. We have so many positive examples of service delivery from them.  Many football clubs were started or are run by them, most youth clubs in our borough have been open or are still open because of them, your editorial board for example is all run by young people who benefitted from community engagement.

We have many young entrepreneurs who are giving back to the community. They have helped make some of the politicians like me in our borough. The youth are our tomorrows and will lead our community one day just like some of us are doing it today. Working together with everyone will make our community stronger and more unified.

How would you describe the Borough?

It’s the best in London. Full of diversity and vibrancy, it is a most historical London Borough. Tower Hamlets has contributed much to British Society.

Tower Hamlets is also the heart of our Bangladeshi community - especially Brick Lane, the former heart of the city's Jewish community and prior to that the Huguenot community. We have fought many battles from this borough - the most famous on 4 October 1936 from Cable St. That day remains a landmark in working class history: the day when the East End stopped Mosley’s Blackshirts and gave British fascism a blow from which it never fully recovered until this day.

The Battle of Cable Street was a major factor leading to the passage of the Public Order Act 1936, which required police consent for political marches. There was a huge contribution to the liberation movement of Bangladesh from people of Tower Hamlets.

We also have famous Markets. The Bricklane Sunday Market (previously known as the Dog Market) sells household goods, fashion items, antique and second hand goods.  The nearby Spitalfields Market is the trendiest place for fashion goers, Petticoat Lane Market was established over 400 years ago by the French Huguenots and they used to sell petticoats and lace. The market now sells the latest trends in fashion and textiles. We also have Columbia Road Flower market where they have the the best cut flowers, herbaceous plants, and shrubs. And the nearby streets specialize in interior design, as well as gardening. There are plenty of dining options including Indian, Bangladeshi, Seafood, English Breakfasts and Spanish Tapas.

How long have you been in politics?

I have been an active politician and community activist for over a decade now, but it doesn’t feel that long. I am well known amongst politicians and community activists, young people and people from our community. I was a businessman and was studying fashion and design at the London College of Fashion before entering into politics.  I became involved with the Labour Party in 2000 and was one of the youngest active members in Tower Hamlets. I have since served in various positions and was the Labour Party Secretary in Spitalfields and Banglatown Ward from 2001-2006, Assistant Secretary of the Local Government Committee from 2003-2004 and Youth Officer for Tower Hamlets General Committee 2001-2003.

I was elected as a Councillor in Bethnal Green South Ward at the 2010 Local Elections and was elected with the highest votes and surprised everyone as I was not the favourite to win and was competing against local heavyweights in Bethnal Green South. My commitment and determination to win and being able to gain local peoples trust and confidence led me to victory. I am honoured to have been put there by my voters and hope I have served as an inspiration to aspiring politicians.

By profession I am a Civil Servant working in the Department for Education. Before my election to Council, I was a Ministerial Secretary under the Labour Government from 2003-2010 and during this time I have worked with high ranking Government Ministers and Members of Parliament. Prior to being elected as the Chair of Council (Civic Mayor), I was the Olympic Ambassador of Tower Hamlets.

Why is political participation important?

People all over the world have struggled and fought for their rights to vote. After a long struggle and campaign women in UK were first allowed to vote in 1918, but had to be over the age of 30. It was not until 1928 that the voting age for women was lowered in line with men. It goes to show political participation is imperative in achieving desired results and outcomes.

Elected representatives are in office for a period of 4-5 years. The recent changes in the benefits system and rise of tuition fees were forced upon the people by the current Coalition Government. If you’re not happy you can make yourself heard at the next Local and National Elections. That’s how important voting is - you can change the lives of people for good or worse.
What does it mean to be Civic Mayor of the Borough?

It's an honour and privilege to serve the people of our borough as their First Citizen. It comes with great responsibilities and duties which I am doing my best to fulfil.

What's been the best part of being Civic Mayor?

Chairing the full Council and meeting so many people from the borough. It gives me a sense of pride when I am visiting schools and community events to witness the successes and achievements of people of our borough. I also visit other London boroughs to promote Tower Hamlets and meet other Mayors at civic events. This has also given me an insight into how other Civic Offices are run.

Who's the most famous person you have met as Civic Mayor or as a politician?

As Civic Mayor it's only been about 3 months, so I still have some time to go. I hope to be meeting Dizzee Rascal who is a patron and a product of one of the charities I am supporting – FutureVersity.

After my term in office finishes next year I am told an invite is coming my way to meet the Queen at the Royal Garden Party. I can't wait.  As a politician I have met so many Government Ministers, including Alan Johnson, David Miliband, Tony Blair, Jim Knight and Gordon Brown. 

What advice do you have for budding young politicians?

They should make their contribution in shaping our borough and society, like some of the young people already are doing. To make positive change for the community in whichever way they can and get involved. To make effort for the betterment of our future and our borough. 

However, politics requires a lot of patience, commitment and determination and without this one would not succeed or be able to help others. You don't need a degree to be in politics, but if you do it would help you be more confident in representing the people. Young people should get involved with a political party they feel will best serve the community and our country and to see how it feels to be part of change, dreams, choices and aspirations.

No comments: