Ken Livingstone: the geezer in the freezer

Ken Livingstone
Ken Livingstone

I’ve a piece in this week’s Spectator about the bandwagon of doom rolling towards London Labour – the prospect that they might actually go for a Ken-Boris rematch in the 2012 mayoral election. The selection, incredibly, will be decided this month. You’ll have to buy the mag if you want the full article – but here’s an extract:

“Ken’s platform is such an extraordinary heritage artefact that it should probably be eligible for a National Lottery grant. Everything which lost him the 2008 election – the gas-guzzler tax, the embrace of radical Islamists, the defiant denial of cronyism – is still in there, gibbering.

“He has promised to re-appoint his disgraced race adviser, Lee Jasper, who he claims has been ‘cleared’ by an independent inquiry (it actually said that Jasper’s behaviour in channelling millions of pounds to friends, including a woman he wanted to ‘honey glaze,’ was ‘inappropriate’ and ‘below the standards expected’ of a GLA officer.) He describes Boris’s election as a ‘sliver victory’ and says – I am not making this up – that if only four Tory boroughs didn’t exist, he would still be mayor right now!

“Labour ought to have quite a decent chance of regaining City Hall in 2012. At the recent general election, it won slightly more votes in London than the Tories. Boris’s was far from a ‘sliver’ victory – he won by 6 per cent, taking 21 of the 32 boroughs – but he will still be vulnerable to the government’s midterm unpopularity. The Lib Dem south-west suburbs, which voted for Ken in 2004 and Boris in 08, could easily switch back to Labour in protest at the coalition.

“But it’s very difficult to imagine any of that happening if the candidate is the Rip-van-Winkle, cryogenically-frozen Livingstone. He inspires both love – and passionate loathing. He hasn’t shown even the smallest sign of understanding why he really lost, or of reaching out to the centre vote he spurned. This week, as the tube strike brings large parts of London to a halt, Ken has not yet managed to find time in his busy schedule to condemn the strikers. Could that have anything to do with the fact that his campaign for the mayoralty is being run out of the headquarters of one of the striking unions?

“He claims he was defeated because of Labour’s national unpopularity; in fact, Labour was almost as unpopular in 2004, when he comfortably won. He says he ran ahead of his party in 2008 – true, but Boris also ran ahead of the Tory party, and by almost exactly the same margin. He thinks he can win simply by running against the government – without realising that Boris, too, is quite capable of running against the government.”

You re-run the 2008 election, with the 2008 candidates – and, barring some absolute disaster for Boris, you’ll get the 2008 result.

UPDATE: The Economist seems to agree with me.

FURTHER UPDATE: Livingstone’s spokesman has been in touch to say that Jasper has “moved on and will not be returning to City Hall.” That’s not what Ken promised when he resigned – his words were  “I bet my own life the authorities will clear Lee Jasper and I will reappoint him when they do.” Ken’s maintained regular contact since, having Jasper on his LBC radio show to proclaim that he’s been cleared on several occasions.

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Fundamentalist-backed Labour candidate: the transcripts

Here, by popular request, are the transcripts of two of the filmed interviews I did with some of the sham “vote-bank” Labour members signed up by Lutfur Rahman, the fundamentalist sympathiser who was chosen as Labour candidate for mayor of Tower Hamlets by the local membership on Saturday. A total of eleven people are involved at these two addresses alone. All 11 are still members, according to the membership list used in the selection. This is surely evidence of a prima facie breach of Labour Party rules – and I’ve got lots more in the locker.

Interview at an address in Old Montague Street

Andrew Gilligan: Hiya, is Syed Ali here?

Syed Araf Ali: It depends.

AG: Syed Araf Ali?

Mr Ali: That’s me…What’s it regarding?

AG: I’m from Channel 4. I’m doing a programme about Labour Party membership.

Mr Ali: I’m not interested mate…I don’t want no part with the Labour Party, anything to do with them.

AG: You’re down here as a member of the Labour Party.

Mr Ali: I’m not a member, somebody just put my name down… [Mr Ali is shown his name on the membership list] That’s my brother, that’s me and my brothers. We don’t want nothing to do with the Labour Party.

AG: Somebody just put your name down?

Mr Ali: Yeah.

AG: And your brothers, are they members as well?

Mr Ali: Same thing, mate.

AG: And what about [points at name on list]?

Mr Ali: That’s my sister. Same thing, mate. I’ll speak for everybody.

AG: So how come you ended up in the Labour Party – do you know how that
happened?

Mr Ali: One of my neighbours is part of the Labour Party. I think he’s a councillor or whatever [Lutfur Rahman, who lives three doors down from the Alis, is the only Labour councillor who is Mr Ali’s neighbour]. He asked me if he could put my name down or whatever… I said whatever, and that’s it.

AG: Did you pay any money?

Mr Ali: No.

AG: So somebody else must have paid your subscription, right?

No audible answer.

AG: Did you sign anything?

No audible answer – seems to be talking to someone else in the house.

Mr Ali: That’s it, mate. [Closes door]

Interview at an address in Collingwood House, Darling Row (small flat with six members)

Andrew Gilligan: Hiya is Abdul Malique here?

Abdul Malique: Yeah.

AG: You’re Mr Abdul Malique?

Mr Malique: Yeah.

AG: Hi, I’m Andrew Gilligan from Channel 4, doing a documentary about the Labour Party. Are you a member of the Labour Party?… I’ll tell you why we’re asking, there’s a lot of people on a list as members of the Labour Party here. [shows him list] Do all these people live here? [they go through list]

AG: Angura [Bibi], does she live here?

Mr Malique: Yes, she lives here.

AG: Tahmina Akhtar?

Mr Malique: No, she’s living at another address.

AG: Poli Begum?

Mr Malique: No, another house.

AG: Another house. Shah Alom Hussein?

Mr Malique: Another house.

AG: OK, so its Angura Bibi and you … [shows him another name on the list at this address] Nozir Miah? [Mr Malique points away to indicate Mr Miah also not living at the address]…

AG: So how did you come to join the party? You all joined on the same day I think? [In fact five of them joined on the same day]

Mr Malique: Same day, yeah.

AG: how did that happen, did someone come round and ask you to join or did you just decide to?

Mr Malique: Yeah, someone came round.

AG: Someone came round? [Mr Malique nods]. Who came round and asked you to join?

Mr Malique: Lutfur Rahman.

AG: Lutfur Rahman, OK, all right, OK. And what happened – did he give you the form, or did he give you the money to pay the subscription?

Mr Malique: Yeah, yeah. He gave me the form.

AG: He gave you the form. And did he give you the money to pay the subscription as well?

Mr Malique: Yes [and nods].

AG: He did. All right, OK. And you all signed the form at the same time as well? You were all in the house and you all signed at the same time? [Mr Malique nods]

AG: So these are your…

Mr Malique: Me and my wife.

AG: And the other four are your family?

Mr Malique: My family. They are living in other house…

AG: Just to re-check, how did you pay your subscriptions, can I ask? Did you pay with your own money, or did Lutfur give you some money?

Mr Malique: [Long pause] I can’t lie to you. My son, my son knows everything.

AG: Had you thought of joining the Labour Party before?

Mr Malique: About four or five years ago.

Ken Livingstone's special relationship with the Tube strikers

Ed Balls in conversation with Ken Livingstone (Photo: EPA)
Ed Balls in conversation with Ken Livingstone (Photo: EPA)

(Updated- with statement from Ken)

As the Tube unions start the first of four 24-hour strikes, that well-known fighter for Londoners, Ken Livingstone, has fallen oddly silent called on TfL to give way to the strikers. Perhaps that’s because his campaign to become Labour’s candidate for London Mayor is being run from the headquarters of one of the striking unions.

Ken’s campaign offices are at the Euston HQ of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA), the same union which will bring station staff, signallers and supervisors out on strike from 9pm tonight. (Update Dec 2010 – In an interesting indication of his sensitivity about this, Ken has now quietly changed the contact page on his website to a c/o address. However, his actual TSSA HQ address is still shown on various items of his campaign material. The fact that he is using a forwarding address suggests that he is still with the TSSA. And if he should take any more things down, don’t worry, I’ve got printouts for anyone who needs them.)

Ken refused to deny today that he’d been getting free or reduced-rate offices from the union, calling the issue a “distraction” and saying: “The TSSA are supporting me because I pursued a transformation of the transport system in London.” He doesn’t seem to have registered the benefit with the Electoral Commission, either, as he’s obliged to.

During his campaign for the Labour nomination, Ken has fought hard for such relatively small groups as, say, Corporation of London fish porters (it’s pure coincidence, no doubt, that they’re represented by another of his union sponsors, Unite). But he hasn’t yet found time in his busy schedule to condemn the strikers and speak up for the millions of ordinary Londoners whose journeys will be disrupted today.

Ken has also, by the way, taken money from another Tube union, Aslef. They’re not on strike just now, but it’s doubtless only a matter of time. And, yes, I know he’s condemned Boris Johnson’s cuts to Tube ticket office staff, the trigger for the latest strikes. Boris’s breach of an election promise is regrettable. But Ken has unfortunately neglected to mention that when he was mayor, he proposed even greater cuts. And that was before the meltdown in the public finances.

It all adds up to Reason No 94 why, if Ken is selected as Labour’s candidate, he will almost certainly lose in 2012. He represents sectional interests, as opposed to the broader interests of Londoners.

Further update 4.50pm: Ken’s spokesman’s latest response to this story is to claim that the office has been provided under a “commercial arrangement” with the TSSA, although he admits that no money has changed hands. When asked if the “commercial arrangement” involved the payment of a market rent, he refused to respond, saying: “They will invoice us at the end of the campaign and you will see how much they are charging then.” I’ll take that as a no, I think!

Breaking news: fundamentalist sympathiser 'wins Labour nomination'

Lutfur Rahman, a councillor with close links to Islamic fundamentalism, has won the nomination to be Labour’s candidate for the first directly-elected executive mayor of Tower Hamlets, according to three sources. He was kept off the shortlist three times by the party amid deep concerns over his links with the Islamic supremacist group, the Islamic Forum of Europe. Yesterday we exposed how he had signed up entire families of sham “paper” members to get himself the nomination. Turnout in the party selection contest today was extremely – perhaps suspiciously – high, at around 70 per cent, double the expected figure.

It’s very bad news for Tower Hamlets, but it’ll certainly keep me in work. Watch this space..

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.

The BBC's propaganda for fundamentalist Islam

Picture 1

One of the main conclusions I drew from my Telegraph/Channel 4 Dispatches investigation of the East London Mosque was quite how gullible some parts of the white establishment were in the face of a persuasive PR machine telling them what they wanted to hear.

Since we exposed some of what actually goes on inside this mosque, there has been a welcome reduction in the number of politicians and suchlike prepared to visit. But one key part of liberal Britain, the BBC, retains a trusting faith in the mosque’s spin that no amount of contrary evidence appears able to shake.

In March, as I wrote here, the BBC allowed its flagship discussion programme, Any Questions, to be hijacked by the mosque. That could, conceivably, have been carelessness. But last week the Corporation went one step further. Its BBC1 documentary on the East London Mosque, Middle East Enders (available to watch here for another day) was quite simply a licence-fee-funded, half-hour advertorial.

As the narrator put it: “Today, the East London Mosque takes great pride in its open-door policy towards believers and non-believers….While some Muslims publicly burned the Satanic Verses, a new generation of trustees seized the chance to try to live up to the mosque’s founders’ values” of “promoting harmony between faiths.”

Then in came the mosque’s director, Dilowar Hussein Khan, to tell us all that “the East London Mosque [has] played an instrumental role in uniting East London Muslims and reaching out to non-Muslims, building bridges… We are also re-engaging now with the wider society. This is something that we want every single mosque in this country to do.” There followed a heart-warming tale about how the mosque had battled through adversity and racism to become a beacon of tolerance, concluding with someone saying that if only the “wonderful relationship” the mosque had with its neighbouring synagogue could become a model for Palestine.

As we reported, and as the BBC must have known, the East London Mosque is in fact controlled by, and is the headquarters of, an Islamic supremacist group called the Islamic Forum of Europe – which, in its own words from one of its own leaflets, is dedicated to changing the “very infrastructure of society, its institutions, its culture, its political order and its creed … from ignorance to Islam.” It has been accused by the local Labour MP of infiltrating his party to achieve these ends.

In another leaflet, the IFE says it “strives for the establishment of a global [my italics] society, the Khilafah … comprised of individuals who live by the principles of … the Shari’ah.” The IFE’s “primary work” to create this state, the document goes on, “is in Europe [my italics] because it is this continent, despite all the furore about its achievements, which has a moral and spiritual vacuum.”

“Our goal,” said the leader of the IFE’s youth wing, Mohammed Rabbani, to new recruits in June last year, “is not simply to invite people and give da’wah [call to the faith]. Our goal is to create the True Believer, to then mobilise those believers into an organised force for change who will carry out da’wah, hisbah [enforcement of Islamic law] and jihad [struggle]. This will lead to social change and iqamatud-Deen [an Islamic social, economic and political order].”

Life in the IFE’s Islamic social and political order would be different from the way it is now. “Protect yourselves from all types of haram [forbidden things] … music, TV, and freemixing with women in that which is not necessary,” the IFE recruits were told. “Democracy, if it means at the expense of not implementing the sharia, of course no one agrees with that,” says the IFE’s community affairs coordinator, Azad Ali.

In keeping with its spirit of tolerance, bridge-building and harmony between faiths, the East London Mosque has hosted such notably tolerant and harmonious meetings as, for instance, the half-day conference on ‘social ills’ on 9 July last year. One of the “social ills” — with an entire session to itself — was “music,” described by one of the speakers, Haitham al-Haddad, as a “prohibited and fake message of love and peace.”

Then there was the talk, on 26 June 2009, by a certain Bilal Philips — named by the US government as an ‘unindicted co-conspirator’ in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. And if that particular outrage was a little too tolerant and harmonious for the dedicated holy warrior — only six people died — the East London Mosque was also kind enough to host, on 1 January last year, a video address by Anwar al-Awlaki, spiritual leader to two of the 9/11 hijackers. This event was advertised with a notably bridge-building poster showing Manhattan under bombardment.

Or then there was the mosque’s even more tolerant and harmonious event with a man called Murtaza Khan – who told his audience that women who use perfume should be flogged – and the harmonious, tolerant “Spot The Fag” contest run, at the mosque, by an anti-gay preacher called Abdul Karim Hattin. There’s been a big rise in gay-bashing in that part of East London lately – but it can’t have any connection with the tolerant, harmonious views preached at the mosque, of course.

In the year to March 2010, the East London Mosque hosted at least 18 hate, fundamentalist and extremist speakers, many more than once. Over the past few years, there have been dozens — all approved, and many explicitly endorsed, by the mosque authorities themselves (in March 2008, for instance, Mr Philips was invited to deliver the Friday sermon).

I describe this at some length so you will know just how much publicly-available evidence the BBC had to ignore. The mosque has huffed and puffed, but hasn’t been able to challenge any of it. The programme-makers’ other error was to accept the mosque’s ridiculous claim that it has “united East London Muslims” behind the bridge-building, harmonious ideology of the IFE.

No doubt the mosque would like us to believe that Islam and itself are the same things. But the simplest research would have found that this mosque is viewed with deep suspicion by many East London Muslims, not least because the locals are mostly of Bangladeshi (not “Middle East”) origin and the IFE fought against the very creation of Bangladesh. Not a single one of the mosque’s numerous local Muslim critics was interviewed, with the entire programme consisting of a parade of East London Mosque trustees, employees, associates and supporters.

I’m not asking, of course, that the programme-makers share my view of the East London Mosque. But unlike with Any Questions, they must have known of the existence of substantial evidence which contradicted the happy story they set out to tell. Failing even to mention it makes them, to my mind, guilty of propaganda.