Fundamentalist-linked politician using sham Labour members to take control of £1 billion council

Lutfur Rahman, the fundamentalist-linked Labour councillor running for the top job in Tower Hamlets, has signed up entire families of sham “paper” Labour members – some of whom are explicitly opposed to the party – in order to provide him with a “vote bank” for tomorrow’s selection contest. Some of the paper members say that Mr Rahman also gave them money.

The paper members were filmed making their statements. The evidence will be passed to the Labour Party should it request it. Amid deep concerns about Mr Rahman’s links with the fundamentalist Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), and a group of powerful local businessmen, Labour has already tried three times to remove him from the contest. It was only forced to include him after he took legal action against them. In his court case, and in previous legal threats to Labour, Mr Rahman used a solicitor closely connected to the banned pro-terrorist group, al-Muhajiroun.

In the course of researching our Channel 4/ Telegraph documentary about the IFE, we noticed some highly suspicious patterns in Labour Party membership. Between 2006 and 2008, leaked membership lists show, membership of Bethnal Green and Bow constituency rose by 110 per cent, at a time when Labour membership nationally was falling.

Ninety per cent of the new members were Asian, though the constituency is only about half Asian. Dozens of them joined on the same day, including improbably large numbers who appeared to live in the same small flats. We decided to investigate some of the new members and went knocking on doors. We found, and filmed, a number of new members who told us that they had no interest in joining the Labour Party, and in some cases did not even support it, but had been signed up – and in some cases paid for – by Mr Rahman.

We investigated, for instance, the case of six people supposedly living in the same small flat in Collingwood House, Darling Row, all with different surnames and most of whom joined on the same day.

The occupant of the flat, Abdul Malique, told us that Mr Rahman turned up on his doorstep one day with a set of Labour membership forms. “Lutfur Rahman gave me the form and he gave me the money to pay the subscription as well,” he said. “We were all in the house and we all signed at the same time.” Only two of the six members at this address actually live there, Mr Malique said. The other four signed up by Mr Rahman were people who were only visiting at the time. Mr Malique said he had thought about joining the Labour Party “four or five years” ago, but not now.

We looked at an entire family of five, apparently living at an address in Old Montague Street, who all supposedly joined on the same day. One of the family, Syed Arif Ali, told us: “I’ll speak for everyone. We don’t want nothing to do with the Labour Party. I don’t want no part of them. Somebody just put my name down. One of my neighbours is part of the Labour Party, I think he’s a councillor or whatever, asked me if he could put my name down. I did not pay any money.” Lutfur Rahman lives three doors down from this address and is the only Labour councillor who is a neighbour of the Alis.

Not all the new members were signed up by Mr Rahman, of course. However, a number of them – not those named – do have the same names as people we can link to the IFE. The IFE believes, in the words of one of its leaflets, in transforming “the very infrastructure of society of society, its institutions, its political order and its creed… from ignorance to Islam.” The local Labour MP, Jim Fitzpatrick, says that the IFE has infiltrated the Tower Hamlets Labour Party in the same way as the Militant Tendency took over the city of Liverpool in the 1980s. In an interview with me in March, Mr Rahman refused to deny this.  

Mr Rahman’s links with fundamentalism and extremism have been well documented by this blog. He was previously council leader of Tower Hamlets, a position which seven serving and former Labour councillors tell us he achieved with the help of the IFE. A senior IFE official, Hira Islam, helped run his campaign and canvassed councillors on his behalf. In his interview with me, Mr Rahman refused to deny this – though he did deny the councillors’ further claims that Mr Islam threatened them. Mr Islam has refused to comment on the allegations.

Under Mr Rahman’s leadership of the council, large and growing sums of public money were passed to community organisations controlled by the IFE. Extremist literature was stocked in the council’s libraries. The council’s schools were ordered to close for Eid, even if they did not have a majority of Muslim pupils. A project was launched to “Islamically brand” the multicultural neighbourhood of Brick Lane with so-called “hijab arches.” The key post of cabinet member for employment and skills was given to Alibor Choudhury, another councillor with strong IFE connections. A man with close links to the IFE, Lutfur Ali, was appointed as the council’s assistant chief executive, despite a chequered employment history and council-appointed headhunters saying he was unsuitable for the job.

After our expose, Mr Rahman was replaced as council leader. Lutfur Ali also lost his job. Now, however, Tower Hamlets is moving from a council leader system to having a directly-elected executive mayor. Mr Rahman is seeking a comeback – to a post which would be far more powerful, and far less subject to scrutiny, than his previous position. It would give him complete control of the council’s £1 billion budget.

Mr Rahman is backed not just by the IFE, but by a number of powerful local businessmen, including Shiraj Haque, owner of the Clifton group of restaurants. Mr Haque told me today: “The campaign for a directly elected mayor was my initiative. Whatever expenses were required, I had to pay for it. Tower Hamlets politics was corrupt. I needed someone to fix it, so I thought let’s try him [Lutfur].”

Mr Haque denied bankrolling Lutfur’s personal campaign – which has been notably better-resourced than that of any of the other candidates – even though Lutfur’s election leaflets are exactly identical in design and typeface to those produced by the campaign for a directly-elected mayor. “Many things look the same in the world,” said Mr Haque. “It’s the computer age.”

The horror Mr Rahman’s candidacy has caused in many parts of the local Labour Party cannot be overstated. But thanks to his “paper members” and other backers, he stands a realistic chance of winning the nomination tomorrow. That would instantly make him the frontrunner for the election itself, which is in October.

Mr Rahman did not respond to repeated telephone calls and text messages asking for comment tonight.

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