Here is the transcript of my interview with Lutfur Rahman, Labour leader of Tower Hamlets council, last Thursday – extracts of which were shown on my Channel 4 documentary yesterday about infiltration into the Labour Party and council by the Islamic Forum of Europe.
Cllr Rahman repeatedly refuses to deny that the Labour Party has been infiltrated, that a number of councillors are very close to the IFE or that a senior member of the IFE helped him win the leadership of the council. When the questioning turns to this individual, the interview is ended.
Q: Lutfur, why is the local Labour Party in special measures?
Cllr Rahman: It has been in special measures since 2001, it’s a question you should direct to the regional office.
Q: But you are the leader of the Labour Party in Tower Hamlets.
Cllr Rahman: The London region could give you that answer.
Q: We’re quoting a Labour Party spokesman [from the local Tower Hamlets newspaper] in our film, as saying they are ‘trying to prevent organisations filtering in who may try taking over the party.’ Is that something you’re worried about?
Cllr Rahman: I’m not concerned with that. I haven’t seen any signs of that. However if the London regional party have concerns, they will no doubt would have raised it, and would raise it with Tower Hamlets Labour Party.
Q: They haven’t raised it with you at all?
Cllr Rahman: That’s something you need to seek further clarification from London region.
Q: Have they raised it with you?
Cllr Rahman: They’ve raised various concerns with me, but those concerns have been around since 2001, way before I’ve been the leader, in fact before I’ve been a councillor.
Q: But they’ve raised concerns quite recently, is my understanding.
Cllr Rahman: There are some concerns that the region have raised, with London, erm Tower Hamlets Labour party, erm.
Q: What are those concerns?
Cllr Rahman: Those are internal matters, party matters.
Q: What are the concerns that they have raised?
Cllr Rahman: They are internal party matters that I’m not at liberty to discuss on TV, or with you, the internal workings of the Labour party.
Q: Are they concerns of the nature I’ve just described to you?
Cllr Rahman: There are various concerns Andrew, you have a quote from the London region, what I suggest with the greatest of respect to you, that you raise and seek further clarification from the London region.
Q: But it’s relevant to you, it’s relevant to the council, because it’s specifically related to the council, that’s what they’re telling us.
Cllr Rahman: I tell you what’s relevant to me. I’m leading a council which is high performing. I’ve been the leader for the last two years, I’ve been a councillor for eight years. What matters to me is more social housing, what matters to me are kids going to school, doing well, achieving, fantastic GCSEs. What matters to me is the worklessness in the borough being addressed. What matters to me is having a borough where people feel safe to live in, to visit, a borough where the crime rate is falling. That’s what matters to me.
Q: Of course, but we’re talking here about an Islamist organisation, an organisation that believes, in its own words, in changing this country from a secular state to an Islamic state. Isn’t that something you should be concerned about?
Cllr Rahman: What organisation are you referring to?
Q: The Islamic Forum of Europe [IFE].
Cllr Rahman: Right. I think you should talk to them about their ideologies. I work in this organisation [the council]. This council works with some 1700 organisations as an authority.
Q: But you’ve admitted to me that the Labour Party has raised concerns with you.
Cllr Rahman: They’ve raised concerns with Tower Hamlets Labour Party.
Q: Of which you’re the leader.
Cllr Rahman: I am the leader of the Labour Group of this council, I’m not the leader of the Tower Hamlets Labour Party – we have a chair, we have a secretary. But what matters to me Andrew, as I said, is doing well for this borough, serving all the communities, that’s important to me. We have some 1700 organisations in the borough. And we will work with every one of them, as long as they aspire to our principles of delivering high quality services for all our communities, that’s what matters to me.
Q: At the last Labour Group annual general meeting, the previous leader, Helal Abbas, said that the IFE controlled the council. Do you agree with that?
Cllr Rahman: You’ll have to ask Mr Helal Abbas on his comments, I cannot –
Q: What do you make of his comments?
Cllr Rahman: I cannot comment on the comments that he’s made. What matters to me is this. That the Labour group is run by Labour councillors, of which I am the leader.
Q: Do you agree with that comment that he made?
Cllr Rahman: The Labour group runs this council.
Q: But you’re not denying that comment?
Cllr Rahman: I am denying that no other external organisation influences the Labour Group. I’m denying that; I as a Labour member, as the Labour leader of the Labour Group, I together with my other 32 Labour councillors, we run the Labour Group.
Q: Okay. Your own party colleague, Jim Fitzpatrick, has said that the IFE are quote ‘acting almost as an entryist organisation, placing people within the political parties.’
Cllr Rahman: I have a lot of respect for Jim. The comments he makes, they are his views. I’m working away very hard to make sure –
Q: Is he wrong?
Cllr Rahman: – he gets re-elected. The comments he’s made are his comments, I’m not going to comment on those comments. What matters to me –
Q: He’s the MP, he’s the MP for this area, for the seat we’re sitting in right now.
Cllr Rahman: I cannot comment on what Jim has said. I have a lot of respect for Jim, I’m working away very hard with my Labour colleagues –
Q: But you’re not denying that that’s the case.
Cllr Rahman: I cannot comment on what Jim has said in private to you. I can’t comment on that.
Q: It’s not in private, it’s in our film.
Cllr Rahman: Andrew, I have not seen that film, I wish I had seen that film.
Q: I’ve quoted you what he’s said, that’s a fair comment on what he’s said.
Cllr Rahman: Sure, sure.
Q: Do you disagree with that? I mean, I haven’t heard, yet, a denial.
Cllr Rahman: Andrew, thank you very much, I’m not going to be drawn into those sort of arguments. All that I can say is that I have a lot of respect for Jim, we are working away hard for him to be elected as a Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse. And what matters to me, Jim and I, together with our other Labour colleagues, [is] to continue to deliver excellent services for the people of Tower Hamlets, that’s what matters to me.
Q: Mr Fitzpatrick also says quote ‘ there is a suggestion that there are a number of Tower Hamlets councillors who are very close,’ to the IFE. ‘It is difficult to believe that to be other than the case.’
Cllr Rahman: Sure. This concerns me. This suggestion concerns me.
Q: Is it wrong?
Cllr Rahman: This suggestion concerns me, whether it’s right or wrong. I mean only he’s told –
Q: You’re not saying it’s wrong?
Cllr Rahman : Can I just finish, please, Andrew. What matters to me is this, and I’m concerned that this suggestion has been made. If any of my Labour councillors belong to an organisation which they have not declared, give us the evidence. Give us the evidence, and we will ask the legal officer to investigate such allegations. But without such allegations being put forward to us, I cannot comment on those comments.
Q: In Bethnal Green and Bow [constituency], why did the membership of the Labour Party double over a two-year period when it was falling in other places?
Cllr Rahman: First of all, I cannot comment on the number of members in Bethnal Green and Bow. I welcome people to join our party.
Q: You’re a member of Bethnal Green and Bow Labour Party.
Cllr Rahman: I am a member of Bethnal Green and Bow Labour Party.
Q: You’re aware there’s been a giant increase in the membership of that party?
Cllr Rahman: I’m aware of the Bethnal Green and Bow Labour Party. I’ve been a proud member for many years. I’m very proud that people care to join my party. It’s the party of equality, party of social justice. A party that delivers for the community, and I’m glad people join our party –
Q: But elsewhere in the country Labour membership has been falling, but here membership has gone up. From 551 members in 2006, to more than 1100 members in 2008.
Cllr Rahman: This clearly demonstrates the support that the Labour Party has in Tower Hamlets.
Q: Why only in Tower Hamlets? What’s so special about Tower Hamlets?
Cllr Rahman: I don’t know, go and ask the rest of the country why.
Q: It’s suggested to us that it’s because of infiltration by the IFE. That is what the Labour Party itself believes.
Cllr Rahman: Andrew, what I would suggest to you is that that is because the people of Tower Hamlets are very politicised, are very conscious, are very committed Labour Party supporters. It demonstrates the level of support for our party, for our great party.
Q: Why are nearly all these new members Asian? Is support for the Labour Party simply confined to the Asian community?
Cllr Rahman: No, I’m sure we have members across the –
Q: Nearly every one of those – Ninety-eight per cent [in fact 90%] of those new members are Asian.
Council officer: We’re going to have to call a halt here, thanks. Councillor Rahman’s got another meeting.
Q: All right. You want to talk about your council, we’ll talk about the council now. Do you know a man called Mr A [official in the IFE; name omitted for legal reasons]
Cllr Rahman: I know Mr A.
Q: Did he canvas [councillors] on your behalf in the leadership election?
Cllr Rahman: Labour Party members across Tower Hamlets canvas for people when it comes to election and there are various people across Tower Hamlets who get excited, who get involved, who enjoy –
Q: Did he make any promises or threats to councillors on your behalf?
Cllr Rahman: Under no circumstances.
Q: That is the allegation from councillors to us. From some of your own councillors.
Cllr Rahman: Sure. It saddens me. It concerns me. If my councillors feel they’ve been threatened by anyone, they should raise this with me. We have a proper process with the Labour Group, group and its procedure, we have a proper process within the Tower Hamlets Labour Party. No-one should be going round making threats to anyone. I do not condone that kind of behaviour. However, if any of my councillors feel they have been threatened, they’ve been cajoled, they should come to me, or they should come to the party.
Q: So Mr A did canvas on your behalf.
Council officer: We are going to have to wrap up now Mr Gilligan.
Q: Of course. Mr A did canvas on your behalf?
Council officer: It [the interview] has gone on [beyond the allocated time.]
2nd council officer: Mr Gilligan, our time is up now I’m afraid.
Cllr Rahman: All I’m going to say say is people –
Council officer: Time is up now I’m afraid. The leader has to get to another meeting.