Zac Goldsmith, Rory Bremner and me

This week, as well as some TV stuff, I’ve done a couple of live election events. They turned out to have a common thread – the Tory candidate for Richmond Park, Zac Goldsmith.

Last night, I went back to my old school, Grey Court in Ham, part of the Richmond Park seat, to help with an election debate in what has become a rather promising catfight between Mr Goldsmith and the incumbent Lib Dem, Susan Kramer. They were both good – but I must confess to being rather impressed by Mr Goldsmith.

He adopted the most unusual tactic of trying to respond directly to the questions asked – and, even better, he was honest enough to tell people some things they probably didn’t want to hear. Asked about university tuition fees, a hot-button issue in this youth audience and middle-class area, he refused to promise that they would be scrapped – which with a budget deficit of £165 billion is surely the truth. Ms Kramer did promise the audience that the Lib Dems would scrap them, over six years, but proved rather vague, under cross-examination, on how much it would cost and how it would be paid for.

The night before, I did the Rory Bremner travelling election roadshow – he does a comedy routine in the first half and then brings on the likes of me in the second half to be his straight man. He did it in Richmond the other week, with both Zac and Susan joining him the second half. When we were talking before the show, Rory also mentioned, unprompted, how impressed he’d been with Goldsmith that night and how unusual and candid he’d seemed. Not out of the general political mould, was his opinion.

Neither Rory nor I could be described as Tories – indeed, someone at the school reminded me last night that I actually stood as a Labour candidate for Ham in one council election. I’ve voted for all four of the parties in the past, but only once for the Tories (for Boris Johnson, another maverick.) If I lived in Richmond Park, though, I think I might be tempted.

Muslim group: some MPs are the wrong kind of Muslim

One of the stated aims of a group called the British Muslim Initiative is to “encourage Muslim participation in British public life.” Yet, at the coming election, the BMI is urging people to throw out one of just four Muslim MPs in Britain.

The recommendation to vote against Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, is being spun by the BMI’s spokesman, Anas al-Tikriti, as a heart-warming sign of the BMI’s non-sectarian nature. The actual reason is that Mr Mahmood is an outspoken moderate opponent of Islamism and of Hamas, the terrorist group which the BMI supports.

Last month, Mr Mahmood – who is a trustee of the North London Central Mosque – reported the mosque to the Charity Commission after he said other trustees forged his signature on key legal documents (a charge the mosque has not convincingly denied.) There has long been tension between Mr Mahmood, other moderate trustees and the more radical elements of the mosque.

One of the other trustees (not necessarily involved in the forgery) is Mohammed Sawalha, who is described by the BBC as a former senior figure in Hamas “said to have masterminded much of Hamas’s political and military strategy” from his perch in London. Last year, Mr Sawalha also signed the Istanbul Declaration, which calls for attacks against the allies of Israel, which include the UK.

Mr Sawalha, by extraordinary coincidence, is the president of the BMI. Mr al-Tikriti regularly defends Hamas. Another BMI figure is Azzam Tamimi, a Hamas supporter who has advocated suicide bombing. The BMI itself has been closely involved in some of the most inflammatory and dishonest campaigning in British politics outside the ranks of the BNP. In the 2008 London mayoral election, for instance, it claimed, in concert with the Islamist group the Islamic Forum of Europe, that Boris Johnson wanted to ban the Koran.

For the Islamists, Muslims taking part in British life is not enough. They have to be the right kind of Muslims. And if they’re not, they’d rather not have a Muslim MP at all, thanks.

I rather suspect that BMI-type lists of recommendations have no effect whatever. But just in case they do, it’s worth alerting people to this group’s true agenda.

'No place for hate?' Surely some mistake…

You could not make this up. A new film, entitled No Place For Hate, has been launched at… the London Muslim Centre, part of the East London Mosque.

Tower Hamlets council, which co-funded it, says the message of the film is that the borough is “no place for hate” in which “different religious and ethnic communities can get on.”

The London Muslim Centre, readers will remember, is the place which hosted a “Spot The Fag” contest. Then there was the preacher who called for women who use perfume to be flogged; the spiritual leader of the 9/11 hijackers; an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; a man who has described music as a “fake and prohibited message of love and peace;” in total, at least 18 hate or extremist preachers over the last year or so, many of them more than once.

The mosque sometimes claims that it is simply a neutral venue which welcomes all comers. But at least one of these people has been invited officially to deliver Friday prayers. And for the rest, the mosque’s hiring policy is specific: all speakers must be approved by the mosque.

One senior leader of the  fundamentalist Islamic Forum of Europe, which controls the mosque, has written on the IFE’s blog of the need to, ahem, “hate the disbelieving actions of the non-Muslims” and said he is “working his socks off” for the creation of an Islamic superstate, run by the head of Hamas.

No place for hate, indeed!

Humiliated: Ken Livingstone apologises and pays libel damages to Labour colleague

Ken Livingstone famously does not do apologies, however offensive his behaviour. But the majesty of the law has finally accomplished what the Standards Board, his party colleagues and a thousand newspaper columnists have failed to achieve. The ex-King Newt has been forced to apologise and pay damages after lying about and libelling his Labour Party colleague, Michael Keith, former leader of Tower Hamlets council.

Earlier this year Livingstone, a long-term ally of Islamic fundamentalism, joined George Galloway’s Respect party and the Islamic supremacist group, the Islamic Forum of Europe, in their campaign for a directly-elected mayor in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets. The issue will be decided by public referendum on the same day as the general election.

In an inflammatory speech at a public meeting for the campaign, Livingstone accused Keith, an opponent of the mayor idea, of spreading Islamophobia and smears and said he did not live in the borough. These allegations are false. After Keith engaged solicitors and threatened legal proceedings, Livingstone has apologised and agreed to pay a sum of money to a charity of Keith’s choice, plus his legal costs. Sources close to the case say Ken will be out of pocket by around £11,000.

Michael Keith told me: “I am very glad that Ken Livingstone has accepted that he cannot libel people and has withdrawn his false allegations. I accept his apology.” Ken put the phone down when I asked him about the case.

Ken has been allowed to get away with lying about his opponents for too long, and it is richly satisfying to see him held to account. I strongly recommend taking legal action against liars, and have myself used the route to successfully shut up one of Ken’s little echoes in the blogosphere.

But there is something bigger at issue here. As the Telegraph and Channel 4’s Dispatches have exposed, the IFE sees the mayoralty as a way of tightening its already substantial influence on the council. We secretly filmed one IFE member, Abu Talha, saying: “The [new] mayor is going to have a lot more control. That’s why we need to get someone, one of our brothers, in there. Which we will do.”

The mayoral referendum is perhaps the most important battle to hold back Islamism on May 6. The commonest tactic of the IFE and its sympathisers is to accuse their opponents of “Islamophobia.” It’s useful, therefore, that in at least one case this technique has been exposed for the smear that it is.

Lib Dems: integrity can be such a dirty business

In the old saying, many of my best friends are Lib Dems. But as my article for the paper today suggests, Nick Clegg’s party simply cannot be allowed to get away with the absurd claim that they represent a new way of doing politics. On the ground, their campaigning is consistently more unscrupulous and poisonous than the other parties’. 

And you don’t have to take my word for it – a lot of their election literature is now captured for posterity online. In the Norwich North byelection last year, they smeared their Green opponent as an “extremist” and terrorist sympathiser on the basis of something he had written which condemned terrorism. 

In the 2006 byelection in the London seat of Bromley and Chislehurst, policy took a very distant second place to a veritable blitzkreig of ad-hominem attacks on the Tory candidate, Bob Neill. “Troubled Conservative candidate Bob Neill has come under fire from local residents,” explained one Lib Dem leaflet of many. His crime? “He lives in Tower Hamlets,” with his private home address sometimes printed in full to prove it.

The Lib Dems issued many leaflets cunningly disguised as women’s magazines or newspapers, including what they themselves called “real life stories” and “local news” about graffiti and traffic. The fact that they were Lib Dem campaign publications only appeared in small print on the last page.

The Lib Dems used only photos which made Mr Neill look as stupid as possible. In the leaflets, he became “East End Bob,” a hint that he was too oikish for the suburbs, and “Three Jobs Bob,” a reference to his role as a member of the London Assembly. “Conservative Bob Neill is a busy man!” smirked one leaflet. “Most people are lucky to have one job, yet there seems no limit to how many jobs Bob Neill wants.” The other two ‘jobs’ were as a barrister (Neill hadn’t practiced for years) and a “north-east London quango boss” (a three-day-a-month non-executive directorship which he was about to leave.)

“The whole thing was totally personalised,” says Mr Neill, who won, but not by much. “If the Lib Dems want to know why people are turned off politics, they should just look in the mirror. The fact that my Lib-Dem opponent himself had two jobs, both of them actually real, went totally unmentioned.”

The eve-of-poll leaflet claimed, falsely, that Neill was “not eligible to be an MP.” Other flyers quoted part of a report from The Times newspaper: “The only question anyone had for Bob was whether he lived in Bromley. ‘No,’ he said.” The Lib Dems unfortunately forgot to include the next part of Mr Neill’s quote printed by The Times: “But I will move here.”

Misrepresenting what the press say about the campaign is a favourite tactic, also used in the Moray byelection for the Scottish parliament. Leaflets for the Lib Dem candidate, Linda Gorn, quoted the local paper, The Northern Scot, as saying that the party were “on their way up in Moray” but omitted the crucial words “they claim” which were included in the newspaper’s report.  

They also quoted The Northern Scot as saying: “The party has a strong candidate in Mrs Gorn and if (the people of Moray) choose her as their MSP, they will have a really formidable MSP who will work hard.” This was not, in fact, the view of The Northern Scot, but a quote printed in the paper from a Lib Dem MP. In the Henley byelection, a column by the outgoing MP, Boris Johnson, was used to suggest that Boris was endorsing the Lib Dems.

Another favourite tactic is lying about your opponent’s age, seen in the Welsh valleys and at the Southall byelection, when the Lib Dems repeatedly claimed that their main rival, Labour’s Virendra Sharma, was 72. He was 60.

The point about all this is that byelections are run by the national headquarters of the party. These tactics, and their repetition in campaign after campaign, cannot simply be put down to local excess. 

Nobody is saying, by the way, that the other two parties don’t sometimes stoop to the same level – remember the “toff” attacks by Labour in the Crewe and Nantwich byelection? – but they do it less often. And only the Lib Dems present themselves as uniquely clean and virtuous.

The truth, in fact, is that they are – at best – a party like any other, and you’d be deceived to think otherwise.

'Forgery' mosque: new developments

As we reported last month, a London mosque has been reported to the Charity Commission by one of its own trustees, a Muslim Labour MP, after he said it forged his signature on key legal documents.

In a letter obtained by The Sunday Telegraph, Khalid Mahmood said he had become “seriously concerned” about actions taken by his fellow trustees at the North London Central Mosque and called for a “full investigation” into what he called “a serious criminal offence.”

The mosque, which became notorious as the home of hate preacher Abu Hamza, was closed down by police in 2005 and reconstituted with a new board of trustees, including Mr Mahmood and another Muslim Labour MP, Mohammed Sarwar.

However, an alleged extremist and supporter of the banned terrorist group Hamas, Mohammed Sawalha, was also given a prominent place on the new board, causing tensions with moderate trustees such as Mr Mahmood and Mr Sarwar.

Mr Sawalha is described by the BBC as a former senior figure in Hamas who “is said to have masterminded much of Hamas’s political and military strategy” from his perch in London. Last year, Mr Sawalha also signed the Istanbul Declaration, which calls for attacks against the allies of Israel, which include the UK.

Conflict has come to a head over a libel action launched by the mosque against the centre-right thinktank Policy Exchange, which claimed that extremist literature was found on the premises. In his complaint to the mosque and the Charity Commission, Mr Mahmood says that the libel case was launched without his or Mr Sarwar’s knowledge or consent.

“Neither I nor Mr Sarwar have been consulted with regards to the legal action against Policy Exchange,” he said. “To spend what I apprehend to be very substantial sums of money on libel proceedings is not in accordance with the charity’s governing document.” The case was thrown out by the judge, Mr Justice Eady, who ordered the mosque to pay Policy Exchange’s costs, but the mosque is appealing.

Mr Mahmood also said that his signature on a key legal document was forged by another trustee of the mosque, not Mr Sawalha. In his letter, he says: “My signature is said to appear on that document. That signature is a forgery. I understand another trustee to claim on oath that he forged my signature but did so with my authority. I have never given any such authority. I understand his actions constitute an offence under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act… It appears that a serious criminal offence has occurred.”

At the time a spokesman for the other trustees, Mohammed Kozdar, told us: “The decision to take legal action against Policy Exchange was recorded in the board of trustees’ minutes which we send Mr Mahmood.” Asked about the allegation of forgery, he said: “As far as we know, he asked someone to sign on his behalf. I wasn’t aware he denies that. If he does, we need to find out who’s right.”

Now the mosque has replied in similar terms to Mr Mahmood’s complaint – prompting the MP to write back a further stiff letter. “I do not believe that I was sent minutes of the trustees’ meetings,” he says. And: “I have read and re-read your explanation for my forged signature on the Trust Deed… Your letter provides no explanation as to why my signature is forged, which is a serious criminal offence.”

The Charity Commission is now investigating. Watch this space for further news.

Revealed: Council secretly gives another half-million to Islamic fundamentalists

As readers of the paper, this blog and viewers of Channel 4’s Dispatches will know, very disturbing things are going on at Tower Hamlets, the east London council which has fallen under the influence of an Islamic supremacist group, the Islamic Forum of Europe, based at the hardline East London Mosque.

The Labour council leader, Lutfur Rahman, squirmingly refuses to deny that he was elected to his job with the IFE’s help. Several key officials and councillors are closely linked to the IFE. Various organisations controlled by the IFE, including a youth group called the Osmani Trust, have been given enormous amounts of council money.

The Osmani Trust, run by leading figures in the IFE, is a recent merger of two IFE youth organisations, Blyda and Elite Youth. Part of its purpose, according to critics, is to take vulnerable young people off the streets and imbue them with the values of the IFE.

The man in charge of its project working with local gang members, Muhammad Rabbani, is the same person who trains young IFE recruits. Last year, he told them: “Our goal is to create the True Believer, to then mobilise these believers into an organised force for change who will carry out dawah [preaching], hisbah [enforcement of Islamic law, eg Sharia law] and jihad. This will lead to social change and iqamatud-Deen [an Islamic social, economic and political order.]… We have to bear in mind that victory is for Islam and Muslims.”

Despite the exposure of all this, the council’s cabinet brazenly decided on April 7 to hand another £500,000 to the Osmani Trust. Perhaps aware of what it might do to the Labour vote at next month’s election, the decision was taken in secret – only to be notified to the public once Labour was safely back in power. But I’ve been leaked the papers. Sorry, chaps! 

In September 2008, Tower Hamlets decided to spend £3.3 million on building the Osmani Trust a new youth centre, even though there is already an existing, secular youth centre just round the corner, recently refurbished by the council at massive public expense. This sum then mysteriously rose to £4 million. It then mysteriously rose again, in June 2009, to £4.4 million.

This month, the Osmani Trust was secretly granted yet another half-million, taking the total council contribution to this project to £4.9 million – nearly 50% higher than the original amount. It will be given in the form of four and a half years’ free rent on the premises the council has just built them and is supposedly because the Osmani Trust has agreed to raise a similar amount from its other income for fixtures and fittings of the new building.

In fact, of course, quite a lot of the Osmani Trust’s “other income” also comes from… Tower Hamlets council. Last year Blyda and Elite Youth together scored a handy £400,000 worth of grants from the council, excluding money for the new building. They got a further £365,000 from other public sector bodies, including the NHS and the Big Lottery Fund. Nearly 70 per cent of their funding comes from the public purse.

As well as being done in secret, the decision to give the extra half-mill was taken under an unusual “urgency procedure”.  So the alternative explanation for the council’s action, of course, is that they are anticipating defeat – and need to shovel as much public money as they can into the Islamists’ coffers before that happens.

Whatever the reason, the continued willingness of Tower Hamlets council to act as a paymaster for Islamists needs to be exposed to the public while they still have a chance, at the polls, to stop it.