On Wednesday night, for the first time, all the candidates for the Tower Hamlets mayoralty got to appear on the same platform, at a meeting organised by Telco London Citizens, an umbrella body of local faith and civic groups.
London Citizens are good people but I’ve gone off them a bit since realising that two major constituents of Telco (their East London chapter) are our favourite Islamic supremacists – the Islamic Forum of Europe and the East London Mosque. I’m not quite sure how this stacks up with Telco’s declared aims of democratic decisionmaking and of promoting equal respect and dignity for all, regardless of faith – things the IFE definitely doesn’t believe in.
Large contingents from both, plus Muslimaat, the IFE’s women’s wing, were there on Wednesday night, making up perhaps half the audience. Dilowar Hussein Khan, the director of the East London Mosque, got to address us at the beginning and a man from the IFE compered some of the sessions.
It wasn’t exactly a debate. The idea was to get the candidates to sign up to Telco’s perfectly reasonable policy goals (encouraging employers to adopt an above-minimum “living wage,” subsidising work experience placements for youngsters, and promoting community land ownership) – which they all duly did. But we did also get to hear the candidates’ stump speeches.
It has to be said that Lutfur Rahman, sacked from Labour for being both the IFE’s man and the creature of various powerful local businessmen, was by far the most forceful speaker, greatly improved from his feeble and nervous performances in all previous public forums. Have his business backers paid for public speaking lessons? Have Respect, another one of Lutfur’s sponsors, lent him their George Galloway Collected Speeches CD? He got a clap from some of the IFE and mosque contingent (they rather conspicuously didn’t applaud the Labour candidate, Helal Abbas.)
What a shame, however, that the actual content of Lutfur’s peroration was so very problematic. He brazenly claimed credit for regenerating the nearby Ocean Estate, perhaps the worst in London. Anyone who’s been down there will note that despite the expenditure of literally tens of millions of pounds, the Ocean Estate is still almost entirely unregenerated.
He claimed to have saved the Bancroft local history library. It was actually Lutfur who proposed to close it (he who owns the past owns the future), only backing down in the face of massive public opposition. He claimed to have delivered 1500 affordable homes. Really?
Afterwards, on the pavement outside, I had a reasonably civilised exchange of views with some of Lutfur’s supporters, and a somewhat less full and frank encounter with the great man himself (he promised to reply to my various enquiries about his racist backers, his qualifications as a solicitor, and so on – but not until after the election. Not sure he quite gets this democracy thing…)
Perhaps the biggest porkies Lutfur’s been telling, however, were not on Wednesday but in his latest election leaflet – one of which has been passed to Ted Jeory. “I am not an Islamist,” it proclaims. Strictly accurate this may be – Lutfur’s arguably more of a stooge than a practitioner – but I couldn’t help hearing echoes of Richard Nixon’s doomed cry over Watergate, “I am not a crook.”
The leaflet says the allegations that Lutfur bought sham “paper” members to act as a personal vote bank, paying their subscriptions, are “unsupported” and that “no actual evidence of wrongdoing has been put forward.” He’s claiming to be the victim of unfairness, having been given no opportunity to refute any of the claims.
All this is, quite simply, a lie. As this blog reported last month, with a full transcript here, I and Channel 4 found and filmed entire families who had been signed up as sham members by Lutfur, even though they don’t support Labour, and some of them told us he’d also paid their subs. That is the evidence, and it has been available to Lutfur for the last six weeks. It was also, of course, put to him by me before publication. He never responded.
The evidence of Lutfur’s links with fundamentalism has been in the public domain for the best part of eight months, and was put to him at great length by me here. He hasn’t challenged it (or even denied it, until now), let alone made any kind of complaint. And he still isn’t denying the allegations which the police are looking into – that he failed to declare large donations from his big business backers, as the law requires.
Lutfur’s game is to play the race card with his Bengali vote, and the unfairness card with white voters. Both arguments are as specious as his claim to have regenerated the Ocean Estate.