The news of a snap election came as a shock to many on April 18, when the Prime Minister Theresa May announced that a vote would be held to determine who would run the Government and be at the forefront of bringing the UK out of the European Union.
Now that the political parties have recovered from the surprise and announced their election candidates, these are the people who will be vying for votes in Poplar and Limehouse on June 8.
Jim Fitzpatrick - Labour
Incumbent MP Jim Fitzpatrick has represented the area for 20 years: first as MP for Poplar and Canning Town in 1997 and then continuing on as MP for Poplar and Limehouse when the seat changed in 2010.
A fierce critic of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Jim had announced his intention to retire at the next expected election in 2020, but decided to stand again after the snap election was called despite being one of just 13 members to vote against it in Parliament.
And despite being pro-Remain in the EU referendum, Jim has faced criticism from his constituents for voting in favour of triggering Article 50 in March.
He told The Wharf: “The whole country voted in the EU referendum and we would be wrong not to respect the decision of the people. It wasn’t a referendum just for the people of Poplar and Limehouse.
“Labour is committed to making sure we get the best Brexit possible. We need a strong opposition in Parliament to make sure the deal is done properly.”
When asked if that meant he thought Labour would lose the election, he said: “If the opinion polls are right, it seems that way. We are fighting to win, the leadership are confident we can win, but the opinion polls are telling the contrary.
“Theresa May called an election because of Labour’s weak performance in the polls. It wasn’t about winning a mandate for Brexit at all. It’s a waste of time, money and effort but we are fighting to win the election. If we don’t win, we will be the best possible opposition we can be.
“I’m fighting to make sure Poplar and Limehouse comes in with a win for Labour.”
Jim said his campaign is focusing on reversing the fair funding formula for education, which will see Tower Hamlets forced to cut 891 teachers by 2020, protecting NHS services and improving social housing and protection for lease holders.
He added: “My team have 20 years of experience representing local people. I have a good track record. People respect what we have tried to do, and we will continue to do that. We are offering a steady hand.”
Chris Wilford - Conservative
Chris Wilford ran for mayor of Tower Hamlets in the voided election of 2014 and stood as a candidate for Poplar and Limehouse in the general election of 2015, coming second with 25.4% of the votes to Jim Fitzpatrick’s 58.5%.
Chris, whose campaign focuses on sustainable development, community relations, improving schools and tackling anti-social behaviour, said this was a time of change in Tower Hamlets, and likened the possibility of him unseating Jim to Conservative Michael Portillo losing to Labour’s Stephen Twigg in 1997.
He said: “This is an unusual election. Theresa May called it to strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations and a lot of people who I’m meeting understand that, and say it’s good that she’s stepping up to the plate.
“A lot of people found the referendum very divisive and what they are saying is ‘the country voted to leave, let’s get on with the job now’.
“Jim Fitzpatrick is a really nice guy and he’s been a great MP for the area, but there is no doubt the area is changing. People are finding Jeremy Corbyn off-putting.
“Anything can happen in this election. Anything can happen in Tower Hamlets. We are on track and doing well.”
Elaine Bagshaw - Liberal Democrats
Elaine Bagshaw is another veteran of Tower Hamlets politics, having run for mayor and MP in 2015 but losing out to Labour. Leading the Lib Dem fight back after a tumultuous few years, Elaine said her party’s membership had grown to around 730 members in Tower Hamlets, in comparison to 130 before the 2015 general election.
Elaine’s campaign is focusing on putting more money into the NHS, creating more and better affordable housing and putting more investment into schools and infrastructure, as well as fighting hard on the terms of Brexit.
She said: “We have every chance. There are a lot of people who want to hold Jim Fitzpatrick accountable for triggering Article 50.
“Tower Hamlets voted to remain and I would have voted with my constituents. That’s what Jim should have done.
“We would be pushing for a referendum on the terms of the deal. People voted to leave but no one really knows what that looks like yet, and we want to make sure people have a say.
“It’s very important for us that the UK remains in the single market, particularly because of huge centres like Canary Wharf.”
She added: “We want to make sure people aren’t being taken for granted. It’s been a Labour seat for a long time but that doesn’t mean it will be Labour forever. A lot of people feel they aren’t being listened to.”
Bethan Lant - Green Party
Bethan Lant may be a new name in the politics of Poplar and Limehouse, but the law graduate with an MA in human rights has lived in Tower Hamlets for 14 years. As well as being involved in a number of campaigns for the living wage, affordable housing and the rights of migrants, Bethan also helped to organise an exhibition of East End women’s history in response to the opening of the Jack the Ripper Museum in Whitechapel.
Her campaign focuses on improving air quality, social housing and accessibility to NHS services and schools in the area.
She said: “Most people are interested in what we have to say. We offer an alternative to Labour and the Conservatives, and we are offering another option on Brexit. People should be able to change their minds on Brexit if they aren’t sure about it.
“Air quality is also a big issue. People are really concerned. Maybe we need to introduce a congestion charge, or limit the amount of parking for high emission vehicles.”
Bethan added: “We aren’t likely to be elected in this area, but this is Tower Hamlets so anything can happen. It’s good to offer an alternative, and it’s important to show these policies matter to people who are living here even if we don’t win.
“People should feel able to vote for what they believe in and not just vote tactically. You don’t need to vote Labour for the sake of keeping the Tories out of Poplar and Limehouse, because it’s not likely they will get in. You can vote for what you think is right.”
Nicholas McQueen - UKIP
Nicholas McQueen stood in the 2015 general election and run in the mayoral election. Cousin of the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen, Nicholas says he wants to see more done to get families out of poverty and tackle anti social behaviour in Tower Hamlets.
He said: “They don’t look after us well enough in Tower Hamlets. Canary Wharf is looking down on us, with some of the most well paid people in Europe, and there are kids just streets away that go hungry in the school holidays. It’s shameful.
“I have a lot of opinions that people would call socialist, but capitalism is the only way to achieve these things. The Labour party are selling their voters a lie because it won’t work, and then cuts the Tories are bringing in are devastating people. I’m ashamed of the whole lot of them.
“The least fortunate in our community really suffer. I see people going without food and sleeping in the cold, but we are one of the richest countries in the world.
“How can we be spending all this money in foreign aid, sending all this money to the EU, when there are kids in our own country going hungry?
“I’m a pure Brexiteer. I really feel this country will flourish when we live Europe, and I want a strong deal that will protect the working classes.”
He added: “I was born here and brought up here, and I understand this community and what it needs.
“I don’t want to see the working classes of Tower Hamlets suffer any more, and I want to stand up at fight for them in Parliament.”
Oliur Rahman - Independent
Oliur Rahman has been a councillor for 13 years, winning for the Respect Coalition in St Dunstans and Stepney Green in 2004 and 2006, keeping his seat despite a move to the Labour party in 2010 and holding Stepney Green once more in 2014 as a member of Tower Hamlets First. He is now the leader of the Independent Group in the council, and said as MP he would focus on building more youth centres, tackling knife crime and creating more affordable housing.
Cllr Rahman said: “I grew up here. I know this community and I know the issues it faces. I can stand up for all communities, all backgrounds and all minorities.
“I particularly want to stand up for the older generation. They have contributed so much to this part of the borough and deserve respect and dignity. We owe them a lot.
“We also need to support our young people. They are the leaders of tomorrow, and if we don’t help them I think we will be heading for even darker times.”
Cllr Rahman also denied that his close ties to disgraced former mayor Lutfur Rahman would affect his campaign.
He said: “I’m standing as my own man. I’m an independent. I’m not anybody’s candidate.
“As a councillor I have been elected four times by the people of Stepney Green. I want to be judged on my record and the progress I have made for this borough.”
He added: “People want change. Jim Fitzpatrick has had the chance to provide his services for the borough and he hasn’t done it. They have been let down.
“I believe in Poplar and Limehouse we will see a new member of Parliament elected in June. People have had enough.
“I promise that, if I’m elected, I will provide my services to the best of my ability. I will always be accountable and I will always be contactable. I will always be there for my community.”
David Barker - eSociety
A former internet entrepreneur from an impoverished background, David Barker left his well paying job in 2004 to focus on helping people escape from poverty before setting up his own eSociety party because he felt the other political parties were not dedicated enough to remaining in the centre.
As well as campaigning for against child poverty, David is focusing on more affordable housing and finding ways to deal with anti-social behaviour.
He said: “I came from a background of poverty in Manchester. I managed to get out and find my own way, but a lot of people I knew couldn’t do that. I’m standing in Poplar and Limehouse because it has the third highest level of child poverty in the UK, despite the backdrop of the wealth of Canary Wharf.
“It’s better to be committed to always being in the centre and stay true to that. I felt that maybe a party that stays centre, and stays balanced, would be the best. There was a gap there so I started my own party. It’s time for something new to flourish.
“We need people like me in politics, who have business experience but also want to help people. From a centrist perspective, it’s important to have that balance and it’s important people have equal opportunities.”
David added: “If I don’t win this, I will continue to build a relationship with this area and stand again. This is the start of the journey. I have the skills and the ability to be a great MP, and my main hurdle will be raising awareness of who I am and what I stand for.
“I want to be a new option. We need to use our vote because we are inspired by someone, and I hope I can be that for the residents of Poplar and Limehouse.”
The last day to register to vote is Monday, May 22.
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