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.

Ken Livingstone: yet another lead lifebelt

Kenneth Robert Livingstone
Kenneth Robert Livingstone

Ken Livingstone today adds to his magnificent collection of Friends You Really Shouldn’t Want (Lee Jasper, radical Islamists, etc) with the coveted endorsement of the train drivers’ union, Aslef, for his campaign to be re-elected London mayor. That’s sure to send a warm glow of approval through the capital’s swing voters, Ken!

As Aslef’s general secretary, Keith Norman, puts it: “Ken is the best candidate to fight for Londoners and stand up for the city’s overpaid, militant train drivers,” sorry “the city’s transport system.”

“Aslef will be encouraging all members in the capital to support him as Labour’s candidate for Mayor. And if we don’t get him, we’ll go on strike.” (I made that last sentence up, by the way.)

Fundamentalist-linked Labour hopeful wins a reprieve

While I was on holiday, the Labour Party drew up the shortlist for the vital candidacy for Tower Hamlets’ directly-elected mayor. Many in the borough were deeply worried that this powerful new post could revive the political career of Lutfur Rahman, the former Labour council leader deposed after I exposed his links with an Islamist fundamentalist group, the Islamic Forum of Europe, in the Telegraph and Channel 4’s Dispatches in March. The IFE wants to create a sharia state in Europe and has hosted many extremist speakers.

On my programme, Cllr Rahman refused to deny that the IFE had helped him win the council leadership. He led an administration in which there were clear signs of Islamic fundamentalist influence. Large sums of council money were channelled to various community organisations closely connected to the IFE.

Cllr Rahman’s name was kept off Labour’s mayoral shortlist, along with that of his anti-IFE successor and rival, the current council leader, Helal Abbas. The sighs of relief were premature, however. Tonight, Labour announced that the shortlisting process is to be re-run following a complaint, believed to be from Cllr Rahman.  The choice of a candidate, due to have taken place by membership ballot from Saturday, has been postponed.

A spokesman said: “The complaint has been looked at carefully. While the Labour Party does not accept that it has any substance, to ensure transparency and fairness to all potential candidates, all long-listed candidates will be re-interviewed by a different panel to be appointed by the NEC.”

Lutfur lives again? That’ll make for interesting news coverage of the mayoral election! Watch this space…

Ken Livingstone and Oona King: battle lines are drawn

To the Sally Army hall in Mare Street, Hackney, for the first of nine official Labour Party hustings to ascertain whether Oona King or Ken Livingstone will be Labour’s salvation in the 2012 Mayoral election.

As readers will know, the Salvation Army’s slogan, prominently displayed on the wall above the speakers last night, is “Blood and Fire.” There was a certain amount of fire from both of them – and the clear potential for a little blood, too.

Both were, I thought, quite good – Ken was noticeably fresher and more energised than at the appearances I witnessed during the 2008 election campaign. That’s not to say he had any fresh ideas, mind; broadly, he was the comfort-zone candidate, with a lot of crowd-pleasing references to the awfulness of Thatcher, Iraq, tuition fees, taxing the bankers and the evils of union-bashing British Airways. His most passionate moment was on the need to resist the coalition’s proposed housing benefit cuts which may well see significant numbers of inner-London families thrown out of their homes.

Oona is still less practised than him, and worked in occasional slightly clunky mentions of the fact that she’s black, a woman, and young. But she was honest enough to speak some truths that the audience might not have wanted to hear: that she would not promise to cut public transport fares; that, in an era when email is changing everything, digging in to defend the status quo on the Post Office might actually end up destroying it and costing postal workers’ jobs. Her most passionate moment was talking about youth crime and the turf barriers, invisible to adults, that imprison young people in their immediate areas; her most interesting soundbite was that “we have to shift our money from funding social failure.”

His pitch: “The Tories talked about a doughnut [in the 2008 election], but they ended up with a sliver victory. Boris’s victory depended on four boroughs… the Labour Party is already coming back in London. I ran ahead of Labour in every ward, white and black, inner and outer London, Jewish and Muslim.”

Her pitch: “You only get a Labour government (sic) if you choose a candidate who can beat Boris at the election… I have heard you say at a lot of hustings that you ran ahead of the party. The fact is, you lost. We have to look at the figures. We have to reach beyond [the core vote] and go way beyond the people in this room.”

Clear and quite promising battle lines are being drawn here. I’ll be attending a few more hustings over the next couple of weeks to see how it goes.