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George Galloway waged a war on banks in Canary Wharf during a heated pre-election debate this week.
Respect’s leader and candidate for Poplar and Limehouse said anti-social behaviour orders should be given to bankers and that business rates from the estate should go to the poorer areas of Tower Hamlets.
Fellow candidates for the seat, Labour’s Jim Fitzpatrick – the former MP for Poplar and Canning Town – and the Conservatives’ Tim Archer, defended the banks against Mr Galloway during the debate hosted by Limehouse Community Forum.
Mr Galloway said: “Tim Archer says Canary Wharf is part of us but there are about 100,000 people working there and just seven per cent live in Tower Hamlets.
“That doesn’t sound like we are Canary Wharf.
“And some of the richest bankers – thanks to New Labour – are earning millions in bonuses.
“We’re the third most deprived borough in England, while being based between the gleaming spires of Canary Wharf and the City of London.”
And when talk turned to the effectiveness of anti-social behaviour orders in the Tower Hamlets, Mr Galloway said: “The best place to start on Asbos is with bankers at Canary Wharf.”
A former Barclays worker, Mr Archer dismissed Mr Galloway’s claims and said business was doing much for the borough.
He blamed local schools for the small number of local residents working at Canary Wharf.
He said: “Despite what George Galloway says, many people know Canary Wharf isn’t just about investment bankers driving Porsches, it’s about a range of jobs, which local people can get.
“But they have been let down by the education system. They are just as bright, maybe brighter but lack opportunity. Let’s give people an education to get jobs right here.”
In response, Mr Galloway said: “If the Tories get elected there will be savage cuts in public services.
“You can’t come here and say, ‘We want services,’ when your party says, ‘We’re cutting services’.
“You are a member of a party remembered throughout the land that scrapped public expenditure under Margaret Thatcher.
“We should tax Canary Wharf. The rates go straight to Alistair Darling to spend. We in
Tower Hamlets should get the rates and spend the money here – it would transform the place.”
Mr Fitzpatrick, whose former constituency ceased to exist after boundaries were altered for next month’s election, argued Mr Galloway’s plans would be unfair.
He said: “Business rates are spent so each area benefits.
“If we keep the money for Canary Wharf there would be other areas that would be short of public resources.”
The trio debated a number of issues in the three-hour forum at Urban Bar in Limehouse.
As well as attacking bankers, Mr Galloway repeatedly focused on his favourite subject – the war in Afghanistan.
However, at one point the former Labour MP was left struggling after he asserted that MPs’ children were not fighting in warzones around the world and Mr Fitzpatrick pointed out that his stepson was going to serve in Afghanistan next year.
One area in which the candidates were all in agreement was over encouraging the area’s reputation for cultural diversity, although Mr Archer argued more should be done to make sure everyone in the community could speak English and was critical of what he identified as Labour cuts in that area.
They also agreed that St George’s Day should be celebrated and the flag should be reclaimed from right-wing elements.
However, Mr Galloway, a Scotsman, said: “I’m all for celebrating St George’s Day but you need to make sure you don’t become fanatical about it.”
On the issue of Docklands’ transport problems over the weekends, Mr Archer said it was unacceptable and down to a “lack of joined up thinking”.
Mr Fitzpatrick said the Tories’ failure to guarantee funding for the Crossrail project threatened to “choke” the Canary Wharf estate in the future.