Fundamentalists one step closer to power

Lutfur Rahman, the politician who was three times barred by the Labour Party from its shortlist for the powerful elected mayoralty of Tower Hamlets, is today back on the list after a legal challenge.

Lutfur had been kept off the list amid deep concerns over four things:

* His links with the Islamic Forum of Europe, a group which wants to replace secular democratic government with Islamic government under sharia law.

* His track record as council leader, when large and increasing sums of public money were pumped into groups run by the IFE, when extremist literature was stocked in the council’s public libraries and when he put forward a plan to “Islamically brand” the area’s multiracial Brick Lane with “hijab arches.” He lost the leadership in May after this was exposed in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme which I presented.

* His links with several powerful local businessmen who are bankrolling his campaign.

* His recruitment of “stooge members” – people who would not otherwise have joined the Labour Party but were specifically recruited by Lutfur in order to provide a voting bank. I have personally spoken to and filmed several such members for my Channel 4 documentary on the IFE.

Lutfur’s legal challenge, which is being led by a solicitor linked to the banned pro-terrorist group al-Muhajiroun, has only increased the concern about him.

If selected, with the help of his stooge members, and then elected as mayor in October, he will be in sole and unchallengeable charge of a £1 billion budget.

This is a deeply worrying day for democracy in Britain.

Fundamentalist-linked councillor's desperate last throw

Muslim fundamentalists like the Islamic Forum of Europe may want to overthrow what they call “kufr (secular) law,” but they and their friends will happily use it to serve their ends.

There are strong indications tonight that Lutfur Rahman, the IFE-linked councillor who has been barred three times by the Labour Party from the shortlist for the powerful elected mayoralty of Tower Hamlets, is now taking Labour to the High Court in his fourth, and surely most desperate, attempt to prevail. The party has today written to members, delaying the ballot to choose its candidate for a week.

As I reported before, Lutfur’s solicitor, Makbool Javaid, has had close connections with the now-banned pro-terrorist group, al-Muhajiroun. The court move, which cannot be cheap, also raises interesting questions about who’s paying Lutfur’s legal bills.

As someone who is supposed to be a politician, Lutfur needs to think about the sheer political stupidity of what he’s doing. Even if the courts put him back on the shortlist  – and party sources appear confident that their procedures will withstand legal challenge – what possible hope can he now have of winning the election as the candidate that even his party did not want? Unless, of course, he’s got some way of gathering votes that’s not available to his rivals.

Fundamentalist councillor stuffed – for the third time!

How much humiliation can a man take? I ask because last night it became clear that yet a third attempt by Lutfur Rahman, the fundamentalist-linked councillor who is seeking to become Labour’s candidate for the powerful directly-elected mayoralty of Tower Hamlets, had been crushed.

Lutfur’s powerful friends – of whom more later – have been angling to get him back on the mayoral shortlist after he was twice excluded by the party amid deep concerns about his links with the fundamentalist Islamic Forum of Europe.

Yesterday, Lutfur even held a press conference and issued a suspiciously expensive-looking glossy leaflet to announce the joyous news that he’d made it back on to the list. Oh no, he hadn’t. Labour spokesmen last night insisted that the shortlist remains as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be – Lutfur-free.

Lutfur’s and his allies’ absurd manoeuvrings have succeeded only in making him, and the Labour Party, look ridiculous. What next for the great man? Does he stand as an independent? Or does he stand in front of the Town Hall like Bonnie Prince Charlie and proclaim himself the true king of Tower Hamlets?

Read this and save a fortune on your rail travel this week

Brighton beach (Photo: CHARLOTTE TROTMAN)
Brighton beach (Photo: CHARLOTTE TROTMAN)

Even the railways occasionally get something right – and until Sunday only, they have some quite sensational deals for anyone making a trip out of London.

Among the 500-plus return fares available are:

Brighton or Eastbourne for £5;

Oxford or Cambridge for £10;

Stratford-on-Avon, Birmingham or Liverpool for £15;

Norwich, Bath, Bristol, Cardiff or Hereford for £20.

These are prices comparable to the best advance-purchase tickets – but you don’t have to book ahead, or commit to particular trains. All you need is an Oyster card or a Freedom pass. Then you visit this website, fill in your details, download and print a voucher and present it at the ticket office.

Most stations in the old “Network South-East” area – with the conspicuous exceptions of those served by Southeastern Trains in Kent and east Sussex – are covered. So are all stations in Norfolk, Suffolk, and along the Great Western lines as far west as Cardiff and Hereford, and some stations well into the Midlands and North.

The promotion only covers journeys from the central London termini, but you can, of course, buy a separate ticket to cover your trip from your station into central London. If your station is on the route out of London (eg Croydon on the Brighton line) you can join there for the same fare. You can travel as often as you like, but you need a separate voucher for each trip.

There are a few restrictions. You cannot travel on peak trains. If you travel out of Euston, for instance to Birmingham or Liverpool, it has to be on the slower London Midland trains, not Virgin, though avoiding ghastly Virgin is no great hardship. You can also go to Birmingham on the Chiltern trains from Marylebone.

Most of the fares are day returns – but those on Great Western, Chiltern and London Midland are valid for a month. There are also some very juicy first class fares on offer. See the full list of destinations and prices here.

The last day to buy tickets, and the last day for outward travel, is 25 July (if you have a monthly ticket you can come back until 24 August.) Get cracking.

Ken Livingstone stages media event to protest against his own policy

Tomorrow, with the press and TV invited, Ken Livingstone will present a petition against “Tory police cuts” at City Hall. The petition has been on his website for the last six weeks with, ooh, 313 whole signatures at the time of writing. “We call on the Tory led Metropolitan Police Authority and the Tory Mayor Boris Johnson to reverse the decision to cut 455 police officers,” it storms.

There’s just one teensy-weensy problem, which has caused vast amusement in Team Boris. These aren’t “Tory police cuts” at all. They are part of Project Herald, which was proposed in 2004, under (cough) Ken Livingstone, and whose first stage was agreed in February 2008, three months before Ken lost office. Here are the minutes of the relevant Metropolitan Police Authority committee meeting (see item 96).

The specific decision to cut 455 police officers, though approved a month after the election, was made not by a “Tory led MPA” but by a committee chaired by none other than… Labour’s Len Duvall, who remained chair of the MPA at that point! Here are the minutes of that meeting – see item 9. And here is the agenda item which explains it.

The intention of Project Herald is to reduce police officer involvement in the custody process – so it certainly will result in fewer police officers inside police stations, booking prisoners, and fewer officers in the force overall. But the MPA claims it will result in more officers on the streets.

A spokesman for the MPA said last night: “The decision to streamline the staffing of custody suites throughout the Metropolitan Police, releasing 550 police officers from administrative duties and replacing them with dedicated detention officers was discussed several times by members during 2008 and the final decision to go ahead was confirmed by the Co-ordination and Planning Committee, chaired by Len Duvall, then Chair of the Authority.

“The net effect of the custody reforms is the availability of an extra 550 police officers for front line duties. The linked reduction of 455 in overall policing numbers must be measured against the increased hours of duty on the streets of London.”

We’ve already had a campaign by Ken Livingstone against public transport fare rises – even though he raised, for instance, the single Oyster bus fare by 25% in 2007 alone.

We’ve had a campaign by Ken against evil bankers – even though, when mayor, he was actually to the right of New Labour in arguing against tighter City regulation and saying that non-doms should not have to pay even a token amount of tax “or the City will suffer.” Now we have this.

Question: is Ken shameless – or just clueless?

How to make Boris Johnson's 'cycle superhighways' less pointless

They were still building Boris Johnson’s “Cycle Superhighway 7” from Southwark to Colliers Wood when I took a test drive last night, not much more than 12 hours before this first scheme opened to the public. Opposite Stockwell station, the men in hi-vis were spraying the blue covering onto the road – but happily the most important part of the exercise, the tents and PR banners for the launch event at Clapham Common, was already in place.

The point about almost all “cycle infrastructure” in London is that it is not designed for cyclists. It is designed so that politicians can say that something is being done for us. Perhaps 10 per cent of cycling schemes are worth having. The rest range from pointless, to ludicrously bad, to actively dangerous. At various points along its length, Cycle Superhighway 7 hits all four categories.

The segregated path across Southwark Bridge, and the diversion around Elephant and Castle, are worth having (though both existed already.) Most of the rest of the route is pointless, verging at some places on the dangerous.

In two places, it steers you into the middle of the traffic flow, across conflicting traffic. The greater danger, perhaps, is that novice cyclists will be attracted on to a route which offers very unpleasant cycling and very little protection. They could be put off for life – and the duration of that life might not be very long, either.

As many have stated, for most of its length the new superhighway amounts to little more than a blue surface on the road. This is almost never separated from the rest of the carriageway by a solid line (meaning that cars are not supposed to cross it.) Occasionally, it is separated by an “advisory” broken line – much more often by no line at all. Cars can, and do, drive and park quite lawfully in the cycle lane, forcing cyclists out into the main traffic flow; even on a Sunday, I counted 106 parked cars in the southbound lane between Southwark Bridge and Colliers Wood. At times it was scarcely possible to see the blue surface.

The superhighway thus offers in practice no protection against what is a very busy, and in places very narrow and congested, main road. Many junctions are cramped and hazardous, full of revving traffic. Cars often cut across the cycle lane, and are allowed to.

The scheme could be made less pointless by segregating not the cycle lane (that would cause problems for people getting on buses, who would have to cross the lane to board the bus) but by segregating the bus lane, perhaps with a low ridge of the kind often found in France. Where there is not room for a bus lane, a segregated cycle lane with a similar ridge could be created between bus stops.

Alternatively, the bizarre approach of putting these schemes on the busiest and nastiest main roads you can find should be completely re-evaluated. The really stupid thing is that there is an infinintely more pleasant and safer parallel route to Superhighway 7, on back streets and across commons.

I know that cycle-activist ideologues hate segregation, and cleave to the proposition that we must seize the main roads. But despite rises, cycle use in London – about 2-3 per cent  of journeys – remains very low. Having cycled in many northern European cities which enjoy cycling rates in the 20s and 30s of percent, I am sure that the key difference from us is the vastly greater number of segregated bike lanes.

Fundamentalist-linked councillor stuffed again

Lutfur Rahman, the fundamentalist-linked Labour councillor, has again been barred by the Labour Party from the shortlist for the Tower Hamlets mayoralty – even though it was his threat of legal action which prompted them to re-run the shortlisting process in the first place.

In the revised shortlist drawn up last night, members will now choose between Helal Abbas, Rahman’s successor as Tower Hamlets council leader, John Biggs, the deputy leader of the London Assembly Labour group, Michael Keith, another former Tower Hamlets council leader, a TH councillor, Shiria Khatun, and another woman, Rosna Mortuza.

Cllr Rahman achieved the leadership of Tower Hamlets council in 2008 with the help of a fundamentalist group, the Islamic Forum of Europe, which lobbied and pressured councillors on his part. Under his leadership, the council showed clear signs of coming under Islamic fundamentalist influence. My exposure of this in the Telegraph and a Channel 4 documentary appears to have been fatal to Cllr Rahman’s political career. The last straw was probably his using a solicitor linked to the pro-terrorist group al-Muhajiroun to make his legal threat!

The interesting question now is whether Lutfur will stand as an independent, or for George Galloway’s Respect party. He does have some rich backers – local businessmen who gave him a celebration meal when the original shortlist was overturned – and he does have a vote-bank in his own neighbourhood; but the odds must be against him winning the mayoralty of the entire borough from such a position.

The fundamentalist-linked Labour politician and the extremist solicitor

Lutfur Rahman, the fundamentalist-linked politician blocked by Labour for the mayoralty of Tower Hamlets, is using a solicitor closely connected to the banned pro-terrorist group, al-Muhajiroun, to threaten the party with legal action.

Cllr Rahman lost his job as council leader, and was kept off the shortlist to be Labour’s candidate for the powerful directly-elected mayor position, amid widespread and deep concerns about his links with a group called the Islamic Forum of Europe – which wants, in its own words, to create a sharia state in Europe. But his threat to sue has successfully bullied a cash-strapped Labour Party into re-starting the selection procedure.

The letter sent to the party by Cllr Rahman’s solicitor, Makbool Javaid, last Thursday has been leaked to this blog. It claims that the good Councillor is the victim of racism and “false innuendo” by me, the Telegraph, Private Eye magazine and Channel 4 “in a manner reminiscent of right-wing Moscow gold smears used to tarnish Labour MPs in the last century.” It says these allegations were never put to Rahman by the Labour selection panel, but that they are “categorically denied” by him.

This is interesting. As a matter of fairness – and also as our legal obligation under the Ofcom code – we did, of course, put all our allegations of IFE influence to Councillor Rahman. And, as you can see here, he refused to deny them. I should also say that in the more than four months since the broadcast of our “right-wing smears,” and despite countless references to him on this blog, neither the Telegraph nor Channel 4 has received any complaint from Councillor Rahman.

Needless to say, our allegations were carefully researched. They are that Cllr Rahman achieved the leadership of Tower Hamlets council in 2008 with the help of the IFE, which lobbied and pressured councillors on his behalf. Under his leadership, we can demonstrate, the council showed clear signs of coming under Islamic fundamentalist influence, with (for instance) large sums of money channelled to IFE-linked bodies, extremist Islamic literature stocked in the borough’s libraries and plans drawn up to “Islamically brand” the mixed community of Brick Lane with so-called “hijab arches.” There was also a massive – and highly suspicious – rise in Labour Party membership, with many of the new members having the same names as people we can link to the IFE.

Lutfur’s denials of all involvement with Islamic extremism are also badly undermined by his choice of lawyer. Makbool Javaid has been closely connected to al-Muhajiroun, one of the nastiest extremist groups to have existed in Britain, which has praised the 9/11 hijackings, the 7/7 bombings and other acts of terror. In 1998, Mr Javaid signed a fatwa calling for a “full-scale war of jihad” against Britain and the US. “We, the undersigned, call upon the Muslims around the world including Muslims in the USA and Britain to confront by all means, whether verbally, financially, politically or militarily, the US and British aggression,” he said. His co-signatories included Omar Bakri Mohammed, al-Muhajiroun’s founder – now excluded from Britain.

Mr Javaid has spoken at many al-Muhajiroun events – usually as a representative of the Society of Muslim Lawyers, named in Parliament as an al-Muhajiroun front. Here is some YouTube video of him speaking at an al-Muhajiroun rally in Trafalgar Square, calling for… well, a sharia state in Europe, actually!

Lutfur thinks that if he can only get on the shortlist, he can achieve selection in a vote of the wider membership. And certainly, travelling round Tower Hamlets in the course of my investigation, knocking on doors, I found (and filmed) quite a few new Labour Party members who admitted they had no interest in the party, but had simply been signed up by Cllr Rahman.

As an executive mayor, Lutfur would have few of the checks and balances that existed when he was council leader. That is why when Labour re-runs the selection, it should make crystal clear that there is no place in power for the allies of fundamentalism.

Ken Livingstone vs Oona King: focus on sleaze

Oona King, Ken Livingstone’s opponent for the Labour mayoral candidacy, is starting to focus on one of Ken’s greatest vulnerabilities – sleaze.

Last week, at the GMB union hustings, Ken became angry and defensive when the subject of cronyism and his disgraced adviser, Lee Jasper, was raised. Appearing with Ken on BBC1’s Politics Show on Sunday (40 or so minutes in), King returned to the attack, calling for an independent commission to vet the mayor’s hires. “I think there’s been cronyism, the perception of cronyism without a shadow of a doubt, with both the mayors we’ve had so far,” she said.

In the same interview, Ken conceded that Jasper had helped do for him in 2008. The more interesting question is whether the scandal still has the power to hurt him now – and on this evidence, I’d say it does.

On Sunday, to a surprising degree, Ken continued to display the same stubborn denial of reality which got him into such terrible trouble two years ago. He actually claimed that Jasper had been “cleared” and that various enquiries had found “no evidence” against him,” adding: “No-one has come up with any wrongdoing. In the end he went not because of any wrongdoing about funding groups, but because he had inappropriate emails with a woman. That was it.”

Perhaps I should remind Ken that far from “clearing” Jasper, the main independent inquiry – by the District Auditor – actually concluded that his behaviour in channelling grants to organisations run by his friends and business associates was “inappropriate,” that “the standards expected” of a GLA officer “were not followed” and that Jasper concealed his relevant interests.

The Auditor found that City Hall “could not demonstrate that [it] had achieved value for money” from the funding of any of the organisations and reported that there was no “documentary consideration” of whether value could be achieved.

And those “inappropriate emails,” in which Jasper proposed to “honey-glaze” a married woman, Karen Chouhan, and “let [her] cook slowly before a torrid and passionate embrace?” Well, what was “inappropriate” about them was not their language, excruciating though that was. It was the fact that Jasper personally channelled at least £100,000 of City Hall money to two organisations run by Mrs Chouhan (or, as he put it in the emails, his “gorgeous, wonderful, sexy Kazzi”) without declaring his relationship with her. The very organisations, in fact, whose funding the District Auditor found could not be justified!

As I’ve always said – and as the BBC interviewer, Tim Donovan, himself closely involved in exposing the scandal, also pointed out – it wasn’t the allegations themselves which hurt Ken the most, but his head-in-the-sand response to them. Oona should be thrilled that he seems determined to repeat the performance.

Scrapping bendies on just one route saves £5k a week in faredodging

Bendy buses are on the way out (Photo: Daniel Jones)
Bendy buses are on the way out (Photo: Daniel Jones)

Here’s a cut we can all approve of: Transport for London says that Boris Johnson’s scrapping of bendy buses has reduced fare-dodging by more than three-quarters.

TfL has monitored fare evasion on the 38, the only major trunk route to be converted so far. It says that in February 2009, when the 38 was still covered by a bendy, 6.4% of all passengers dodged paying their fares. By February 2010, the fare-dodging rate was down to 1.5%.

The 38 carries about 13 million passengers a year. So even allowing for the large numbers of people who legitimately travel free, the move from bendies to double-deckers on just this one route alone is on course to save at least an extra £260,000 of lost fares in its first twelve months – or £5,000 a week.

This doesn’t fully make up for the cost of the huge number of extra buses that were provided on the 38 when it was converted back to double-deck operation: but that was the result of a deliberate and massive over-provision that will hopefully be reduced over time, and will not be done on the same scale in future bendy conversions. All the “old” double-deck routes, before being converted to bendies, were cheaper, often much cheaper, than the bendies which replaced them.

The fascinating thing about the three bendy route conversions to date is how smoothly it has gone, and how completely all the shroud-wavers – with their predictions of chaos, stranded passengers and the rest – have fallen silent. Even in the extraordinary heritage replica that is Ken Livingstone’s campaign to return to office in 2012, bringing back the bendy is just about the only policy he hasn’t resurrected.

Roll on the final destruction of these loathsome vehicles  – the 18 and 149 by the end of the year, all the rest by the end of 2011. The fare-dodgers will hate it, but the rest of us will be millions of pounds in credit.