Longlisted for the Paul Foot Award

There are two rival verdicts on my Lutfur Rahman reporting today. With his usual calm moderation, the Guardian’s Ken Livingstone blogger, Dave Hill, calls it “the narcissistic bumptiousness of a spoiled adolescent who’s just read his first Dan Brown novel.”

Also today, however, my reporting here and in the paper on Lutfur has been longlisted for the Paul Foot Award, the country’s best-known national investigative journalism prize. The judges called it “impressive.”

I know, of course, that Foot was a bit of a nobody compared to the journalistic powerhouse that is Dave Hill – but it’s nice to have, all the same.


Lutfur Rahman: finally, this story is picking up steam

The mosque in Walthamstow
The mosque in Walthamstow

I said on Thursday night that the fundamentalist ally Lutfur Rahman’s election as mayor of Tower Hamlets might be terrible news for the borough, but it was great news for us hacks. And indeed, one of the silver linings of the disaster is that it does seem to be triggering more interest in the story, and the wider issue of Muslim fundamentalism in east London.

Over the last few days, for the first time, mainstream media outlets other than the Telegraph have started to cover it. LBC radio has got involved. The Evening Standard did a double-page spread, far from flattering to Mr Rahman, on election day and another big chunk on Friday.

The Standard’s deputy political editor, Paul Waugh, wrote that “Neil Kinnock spent years in the Eighties trying to break the London Labour Party from the grip of the ‘loony Left.’ Today’s leader’s problem is how to root out corruption and extremism among some Bangladeshi supporters.” And the paper’s leader article called Lutfur’s election “a new low for London’s most rotten borough.. plagued by Islamist extremists.”

This morning, the Guardian’s Julian Glover joins in, calling the election of the “discredited” Rahman “a modern local government catastrophe.” The paper’s interest is particularly welcome, since the Guardian’s London blogger, Dave Hill, has sometimes seemed a little out of his depth on this story. We can credit Ken Livingstone – bless him – for some of the interest. His amazingly ill-judged endorsement of Lutfur last week had the effect of raising the temperature substantially (more on this blog about Ken in a day or two, I hope).

As he seeks to form a cabinet, Lutfur is reported to be putting out feelers to people from other parties. But anyone tempted to join him in his “unity administration” should remember their tin hat. For me, and I get the feeling some other journalists too, the fun has barely started.

'Britain's Islamic republic': full transcript of Channel 4 Dispatches programme on Lutfur Rahman, the IFE and Tower Hamlets

I have received a number of requests for a full transcript of my Channel 4 Dispatches film, broadcast in March, about the fundamentalist Islamic Forum of Europe and their ally Lutfur Rahman, just chosen as the new directly elected mayor of Tower Hamlets. Lutfur was council leader at the time of the programme, a position from which he was subsequently removed.

The full transcript of the programme is given below. Words in bold are the commentary. Words in roman are interviewees. The transcript of my full unedited interview with Lutfur – even more damaging to him than the extracts used in the film – can be seen at this link.




TX 1 March 2010

Reporter: Andrew Gilligan

Tonight on Dispatches, how a fundamentalist Muslim group has secretly infiltrated the Labour party – and the broader political system.

JIM FITZPATRICK MP: They are acting almost as an entryist organization, placing people within political parties.

How it wants an Islamic state, or caliphate.  And how it wants to live by sharia law in the UK.

AZAD ALI, Islamic Forum of Europe (undercover footage): Democracy, if it means that, you know, at the expense of not implementing the sharia, of course no one agrees with that.

And how it is already exerting influence over a London borough council with a billion-pound budget.

BADRUL ISLAM, Ethnic Minority Enterprise Project, Tower Hamlets: That’s not the basis on which local councils should be run.  That’s not the basis on which any political party should try to go into power.


The biggest Islamic institution in Europe – the East London Mosque, in Whitechapel.  It presents itself as a beacon of moderation and tolerance.

DR MOHAMMED ABDUL BARI, chairman East London Mosque (archive): What we plan to do is to work for the community cohesion, community harmony so that British Muslims feel at home in the wider British society and they can contribute to the pluralist Britain.

The British establishment has built close links. Ministers; the Lord Chief Justice; and even Prince Charles.

PRINCE CHARLES (archive speech at the mosque): There is, I think, far more that unites than divides the different faiths in this country.

More than £10 million of public money has been paid to this mosque, or associated organisations, some of it under the government’s ‘Preventing Violent Extremism’ programme.  The elders have been given places on many official bodies, including the board of the London Olympics.  And the mosque has close relationships with the Mayor of London.

BORIS JOHNSON (archive at mosque): We’ve had a wonderful morning here at the East London Mosque which is the greatest and most historic of London’s mosques and we’ve been talking a little bit about how to break down prejudice and the huge work that’s being done by this mosque and the people who work here.

But tonight, Dispatches can reveal that this mosque complex houses a fundamentalist organisation. And that taxpayers are unwittingly helping to finance its planned and co-ordinated bid to infiltrate British politics.

PAUL RICHARDS, former special adviser, Department for Communities and Local Government: Somehow, it’s all gone horribly wrong.  And somehow the very people who we should be saying are beyond the pale, are, in fact, inside ministers’ offices, sitting around a table having cups of tea.

We’ve discovered that the East London Mosque’s claim of moderation is questionable.

ABDUL KARIM HATTIN, preacher (filmed at ‘Menace 2 Society’ meeting, East London Mosque): This is a little game I like to play.  Spot the fag!  (Shows picture of Elton John)

Abdul Karim Hattin is considered extreme, even by some on the hard-line Islamist circuit.

ABDUL KARIM HATTIN: The fag lifestyle …

In 2007, a conference held by an extremist publishing company at the East London Mosque complex gave him a platform, along with this man.

MURTAZA KHAN, preacher (filmed at ‘Menace 2 Society’ meeting, East London Mosque): Any woman who comes out of her house, perfuming herself, every single eye that looks at her… she’s an adulteress woman. 

This is Murtaza Khan, also a well-known fundamentalist.

MURTAZA KHAN: The fornicating woman and the fornicating man, flog them one hundred times.

These are just two of more than 20 extremist speakers who have spoken at the mosque over the last three years. They also include this man.

ANWAR AL-AWLAKI, preacher: Think about the final moments of entering into paradise, or entering into hellfire.

This is Anwar Al Awlaki.

ANWAR AL-AWKLAKI: The reckoning of people is near. And they are heedless.

A man described by the US government as spiritual leader of two of the 9/11 hijackers.  Here he is in a video address to a meeting at the East London Mosque complex, again organised by an extremist publishing company.

The event was advertised with a poster showing New York under bombardment. (Picture of poster)

Awlaki is one of the most controversial Muslim leaders in the world.  Most of all because he’s associated with two recent attacks on the USA.

The alleged Christmas Day plane bomber, Umar Farouk Adulmutallab, is said to have met Awlaki  shortly before flying to Detroit with explosives under his clothing.

Nidal Hassan, the Muslim army major accused of murdering 12 of his fellow soldiers and a civilian in Texas, corresponded with Awlaki shortly before the attacks.  Afterwards, Awlaki called Hassan “a hero” and “a man of conscience” who could not bear  “serving in an army fighting against Muslim people.”

HOURIYA AHMED, Centre for Social Cohesion: The government’s meant to be preventing  violent extremism. Instead they are pumping money into a mosque which hosts extremist preachers.

PAUL RICHARDS, former adviser, DCLG: Now not every extremist becomes a supporter of violence, and not every supporter of violence becomes violent themselves to the point of becoming a bomber of a suicide bomber.  Obviously not.  But for the terrorists to succeed, they don’t need everyone to be radicalized in that way.  They just need one or two people.

The East London Mosque is strongly linked to a fundamentalist group called the Islamic Forum of Europe, whose headquarters are in the same complex.

ANDREW GILLIGAN, piece to camera: The mosque calls the IFE a “social welfare organisation”.  But this IFE leaflet says that it is dedicated to changing the “very infrastructure of society, its institutions, its culture, its political order and its creed … from ignorance to Islam.”

The IFE says that it is an “open and transparent” community organization, “committed to community cohesion and religious tolerance”.  A transcript of one of its training sessions held last June says that members of its youth wing should ‘perform a lot of good deeds;’ ‘respect others’; ‘speak only that which is good.’

But in the same transcript, the teacher, a senior IFE activist, also lays out ambitious plans to impose the group’s views on society.

IFE TRAINING LECTURE (read by actor): Our goal is to create the True Believer, to then mobilize these believers into an organized force for change who will carry out da’wah [preaching], hisbah [enforcement of Islamic Law] and jihad [struggle.]  This will lead to social change and Iqamatud Deen.

Iqamatud Deen is usually translated as “an Islamic social, economic and political order,” but the IFE say that it is simply “establishing religious values”.

The teacher also warned recruits of the importance of:

IFE TRAINING LECTURE: …protecting yourself from all types of haram [forbidden things]… music, .. TV …and freemixing with women in that which is not necessary.

ANDREW GILLIGAN (interview on camera): What exactly do IFE-type Islamists want?  What is their agenda?

HOURIYA AHMED, Centre for Social Cohesion: IFE-type Islamists are inspired by a particular brand of Islamism.  It believes in creating an Islamic state, it believes in following a very medieval interpretation of Islamic law and that being imposed upon the whole of society.  It believes in creating a Muslim bloc that adheres to their point, to their interpretation of Islam.

Another speaker at the same training session told recruits:

IFE TRAINING LECTURE: Victory is for Islam and Muslims.

They were instructed to identify:

IFE TRAINING LECTURE:… who the enemies are, both from outside the circle of Islam and within the circle of Islam.

This second speaker, Abdullah Zein al-Abdin, said the transcript of his talk had been written by the IFE with their own interpretation and he had asked them to remove it from their website.

Another, older, leaflet sets out the organization’s vision for political, as well as spiritual change.  It says the IFE:

IFE LEAFLET (read by actor): …strives for the establishment of  a global society, the Khalifah…. comprised of individuals who live by the principles of… the Shari’ah.

The IFE also associates with some hardline fundamentalists.

Last year it invited the spokesman for an Afghan warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to speak at the East London Mosque complex. His forces have fought alongside the Taliban against British troops.

And then the IFE promoted this meeting, also at the same mosque complex. (Pictures of meeting)

Bilal Phillips was alleged by the US Government to be an  “unindicted co-conspirator” in the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing that killed six people and injured more than a thousand.

Hussein Yee is a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, and has said that on that day:  “A group of Jews … had a celebration, they had a party going on.”

Anwar Al Awlaki is another IFE favourite.  Twice the IFE gave him a platform in 2003, and senior activists have praised him much more recently, although since the 2009 terrorist attacks to which he’s been linked,  IFE activists and the East London Mosque have publicly dissociated themselves from Awlaki.

The IFE and the East London Mosque are  are closely intertwined.

The mosque’s chairman, Dr Bari, is a former president of the IFE.  The IFE’s last president is vice chair of the mosque.  Over the last five years, the IFE has had 22 trustees.  Seventeen of them have also been trustees  or senior staff of the East London Mosque.

We sent two Muslim reporters, a man and a woman, undercover into the  East London Mosque, and its extension, the London Muslim Centre – to find out how the IFE is proposing to create its Islamist social and political order in Britain.

MR Z, undercover reporter (entering mosque): There’s a meeting next door?  Brother Talha?

This is a snapshot of the IFE’s world. And it’s one where the men make all the decisions.

FEMALE IFE ACTIVIST: It’s mainly like the brothers know exactly what’s going on, what’s happening. And we kinda get told – ok, this is the plan, this is what’s gonna happen. And the sisters get on board.

ABU TALHA, IFE activist (showing ceiling-height screen dividing room): This is just a segregation kind of apparatus.

Even in routine meetings, the sexes are separated by a screen.

MALE IFE ACTIVIST: Are all the sisters here, insh’allah?

FEMALE IFE ACTIVIST, behind screen: Yeah, everyone’s here.

Our reporters found that the IFE is a highly structured political movement. Members take formal training courses, with reading lists, and sit exams.  There’s an oath of allegiance. Our reporter was told to keep her involvement with the IFE a secret.

FEMALE IFE TEACHER, recruit training session: This is one of the books we’re gonna be reading in our training. All of you have been asked to read that book.

This book, Let Us Be Muslims, by Syed Mawdudi, is one of the key texts  on the IFE reading list.  It sets out the main principles of the political creed known as Islamism.

LET US BE MUSLIMS (read by actor): Merely believing in God … is not enough.

Muslims, it says, have a sacred duty…

LET US BE MUSLIMS: …wherever you are, in whichever country you live, you must strive to change the wrong basis of government, and seize all powers to rule and make laws from those who do not fear God.

FEMALE IFE TEACHER, recruit training session: We can’t say that ok praying 5 times a day as a Muslim that’s enough.  No. We have to accept every aspect of Islam.  Political aspect, economical aspect, cos Islam provides all the solutions, yeah?  Allah gives us everything, the sharia covers everything, every aspect of life.

Islamism proclaims that Islam is more than a religion.  It’s a political and social movement.

Rashad Ali grew up with the IFE.  Members of his family were leaders of the group.  He says the IFE follows Mawdudi’s methods for achieving an Islamic society.

RASHAD ALI, Centri, counter-extremism consultancy: He [Mawdudi] explains prayer, fasting as spiritual training for the jihad. They take very benign basic religious ideas and present a very very strong ideological Islamist slant. Their perspective is one needs to, well, basically, do whatever it takes to achieve that end. If you have to join a secular party in order to become influential, you even join a secular party to become influential.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: So you join a secular party with aims actually opposed perhaps to that party?

RASHAD ALI: Of course.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: With the intention of what, taking it over?

RASHAD ALI: With the intention of being able to influence the future political agenda. The aim of jihad is to bring down every other government which does not impose Islam, or their interpretation of Islam.  And therefore the Muslim is the international revolutionary, is part of the grand revolutionary movement.

The IFE told Dispatches that it “does not promote or preach any particular school of thought or sect, but assists its members in exploring and developing their religious understanding”, and that it works closely with a number of non-Muslim organizations.  They told us that any oath was ‘wholly uncontroversial’, and compared it to the Boy Scouts.

The  East London Mosque told Dispatches that the IFE is not anti-democratic and it does not dictate the mosque’s agenda.

EAST LONDON MOSQUE STATEMENT (read by actor): We deny that there is anything improper or inappropriate about the links between the mosque, the London Muslim Centre and the IFE.

The Mosque also said that they had  “repeatedly taken a public stance against violent extremism.” Action would be taken to prevent abuse by preachers who espoused violent extremism or contravened the mosque’s principles of tolerance.

Next, in part two: how the IFE is already creating its “Islamic social and political order”– right here in a part of Britain.

NURUL ISLAM, community activist: What they are now doing is, they have tried to infiltrate the mainstream parties, like the Labour Party.



Dispatches is investigating how the fundamentalist Islamic Forum of Europe, the IFE, is infiltrating British politics.  I’m starting here, in the London borough of Tower Hamlets.

This is one of Britain’s most important boroughs. The seat of its traditional power, and also its new financial power. But a new form of power is creeping in here too: organised Islamist fundamentalism.

One of the local MPs, government minister Jim Fitzpatrick, has seen the IFE begin to put Mawdudi’s theories, of changing government and seizing power, into practice.

JIM FITZPATRICK, Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse: They are an ideological organisation.  They are not a religious organisation, certainly not exclusively a religious organisation.  The suggestion is that they have councillors, candidates, standing for different parties, in different parts of the country, and that they encourage their members to vote for those candidates regardless of which political party they are representing in the ballot box.

The IFE’s roots here are deep, and its tactics and targets always shifting.   It is 2005. A hotly-contested General Election seat in the heartland of the IFE, at Bethnal Green and Bow.

GEORGE GALLOWAY, Respect party candidate, campaigning outside East London Mosque (2005 archive footage): Salaam aleikum. George Galloway, nice to meet you.

Standing for the new Respect party is the controversial figure of George Galloway.

GEORGE GALLOWAY, archive: Mr Blair’s days are numbered.

(Archive footage of Abjol Miah) Among the key people helping him is this man, Abjol Miah – a rising young star in the Islamic Forum of Europe.  He will become a key figure in Galloway’s Respect Party.

George Galloway achieves a famous victory, overturning a large Labour majority.

GEORGE GALLOWAY, victory speech at 2005 count: Mr Blair, this is for Iraq.

Mr Galloway’s strong support for the Palestinians, and his opposition to war in Iraq went down well in a constituency with a high proportion of Muslims.

GEORGE GALLOWAY, victory speech: In East London, a new political power is born.

But Mr Galloway’s Respect Party was not the only winner that night.  The IFE had scored its first significant political victory,  though it did not itself stand for election.

ABJOL MIAH, Respect and IFE activist, 2005 archive: Well, I think everyone’s played a big role.

WOMAN: He’s played a massive role, don’t let him be modest about it – he’s huge.

ABJOL MIAH: We … it just happened really.

MAN (OFF CAMERA): He’s the man.

Mr Galloway himself was in no doubt over the importance of the IFE’s role. We’ve obtained a recording of him addressing a dinner, held at the mosque complex shortly after the election.

GEORGE GALLOWAY (secret recording of 2005 dinner): I am indebted more than I can say, more than it would be wise – for them – for me to say, to the Islamic Forum of Europe.  I believe they played the decisive role.

Mr Galloway then praised individuals who campaigned for him, and said their persistence..

GEORGE GALLOWAY: …which found its echo amongst the leadership and the rank and file of the IFE,  was undoubtedly decisive in this historic victory.

In a statement, the IFE told Dispatches that it did not campaign for Mr Galloway’s election.

Mr Galloway, however, said that the IFE had campaigned for him, and told Dispatches that it would not have been wise to thank them more publicly because the IFE had enemies within Tower Hamlets Labour Party, and associating the IFE with his victory would make those enemies more hostile. He added:

GALLOWAY STATEMENT: You are clearly going to claim that my victory was somehow a victory for the IFE. This is ridiculous. From the day of that speech until this I have had no approach whatsoever from them seeking anything, still less to exert influence on me.

The following year, in 2006, Respect went on to win 12 seats on the council.   The IFE was seen as an influential force that had delivered, again.

Abjol Miah, who campaigned to get George Galloway in to parliament,  now became the Respect group leader on the council. But Mr Galloway had offended many Muslims with his antics in the Big Brother house. And his party was losing its momentum.

Dispatches is told the IFE was also working inside the Labour Party in Tower Hamlets. And it stepped up its efforts.

JIM FITZPATRICK MP: People were being signed up to be members and then told to turn up at the meetings, where candidates were being selected with a list of those who they should be voting for, and who we had never seen before and have never seen afterwards.

Tower Hamlets Labour Party is in ‘special measures’.  It operates under supervision by the national party. Last year, Tower Hamlets was told it could not select its own candidates.  The regional party director  oversaw that.

A Labour Party spokesman said: “We’re concerned about people joining for the right reasons and are trying to prevent organizations filtering in who may try taking over the party by signing up and ousting existing members.  We’re sensitive following events with Militant a few years ago.”

ANDREW GILLIGAN, on-camera interview: Lutfur, why is the local Labour Party in special measures?

CLLR LUTFUR RAHMAN, leader Tower Hamlets Council: It’s a question you should direct to the regional office.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: But you are the leader of the Labour Party in Tower Hamlets.

CLLR LUTFUR RAHMAN: The London region could give you that.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: We’re quoting a Labour Party spokesman in our film, as saying they are quote ‘trying to prevent organizations filtering who may try taking over the party’.  Is that something you’re concerned about?

CLLR LUTFUR RAHMAN:  I’m not concerned, I haven’t seen any signs of that.  However if the London regional party have concerns, they will no doubt have raised it with Tower Hamlets Labour Party.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: They haven’t raised it with you at all?

CLLR LUTFUR RAHMAN: That’s something you need to seek further clarification from London region.
ANDREW GILLIGAN: Have they raised it with you?

CLLR LUTFUR RAHMAN: They’ve raised various concerns with me, but those concerns have been around since 2001, way before I’ve been the leader, in fact before I’ve been a councillor.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: They’ve raised concerns quite recently, is my understanding.

CLLR LUTFUR RAHMAN: There are concerns that the region have raised, with London, er Tower Hamlets Labour Party.

We’ve managed to get hold of the local Labour Party membership lists for 2006 and 2008, and we’ve noticed some very unusual patterns.

Almost everywhere else in the country, Labour Party membership has been in decline.  But here in Tower Hamlets, it’s more than doubled.  One ward, Weavers, saw a 208% rise in those two years alone.  Was that caused by a sudden, localised rise in affection for the Labour Party in East London? Or were there other factors at work?

We’ve discovered that in 2006, the local Labour Party was, like the borough, roughly 50 percent Asian and 50 per cent non-Asian.  But now, 90 per cent of the new members have Asian names.

ANDREW GILLIGAN, on-camera interview: Elsewhere in the country Labour membership has been falling, but here membership has gone up. From 551 members in 2006, to more than 1100 members in 2008.

CLLR LUTFUR RAHMAN: This clearly demonstrates the support that the Labour Party has in Tower Hamlets.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: Why only in Tower Hamlets?  What’s so special about Tower Hamlets?

CLLR LUTFUR RAHMAN: I don’t know, go and ask the rest of the country why.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: It is suggested to us that it’s because of infiltration by the IFE.

CLLR LUTFUR RAHMAN: Andrew, what I would suggest to you is that it is because the people of Tower Hamlets are very politicized, are very conscious, are very committed Labour Party supporters.

There may be other groups at work in the factionalised environment of Tower Hamlets Labour politics.  But the local Labour MP believes that the IFE is at the very least, among them.

JIM FITZPATRICK MP: They are acting almost as an entryist organization, placing people within political parties, recruiting members to those political parties, trying to get those individuals selected and elected so they can exercise political influence and power whether it’s at local government level or it’s at national level.

CLLR LUTFUR RAHMAN, leader Tower Hamlets Council: I have a lot of respect for Jim.  The comments he makes, they are his views.  I’m working away very hard for him, to make sure he gets re-elected.  The comments he’s made are his comments, I’m not going to comment on those comments.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: He’s the MP.  He’s the MP for this area, for the seat we’re sitting in right now.

CLLR LUTFUR RAHMAN: I cannot comment on what Jim has said. No other external organisation influences the Labour Group.

Some community activists, opposed to the IFE’s fundamentalist politics, have seen them progress in the borough, and it worries them.

NURUL ISLAM, community activist: People innocently donated money to build a nice place where they could pray peacefully and in comfort.  It turned out that it’s become a political base for a political party.  Which people knew nothing about, it’s only a very – handful of people knew what they were doing.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: And this is the IFE.

NURUL ISLAM: This was the formation of the IFE. So what they are now doing is, they have tried to infiltrate the mainstream parties, like the Labour Party.

So let’s start with the body where the IFE have made the greatest inroads  – Tower Hamlets council.  One of our undercover reporters inside the London Muslim Centre won the confidence of leading IFE activists.  And this is what they told him.

ABU TALHA, IFE activist: When they were building the London Muslim Centre they went through a tough time, had to protest.

MR Z, undercover reporter: Why is that though?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Cos the council wouldn’t allow it.

ABU TALHA, IFE: But the years have gone by. Our brothers have gone into those positions, of influence, council positions, basically it’s very much easier to do these kind of  projects.

Our reporter was then invited to join them for the IFE’s weekly radio show, Easy Talk. Six senior IFE activists discuss current affairs and Islamic obligations most Saturday nights. A key presenter is Councillor Abjol Miah, who for many years was a leading figure in the IFE youth wing, although he now claims not to be a “member” of the IFE. With the microphones in the studio turned off, our reporter chatted to Abjol Miah.

CLLR ABJOL MIAH, IFE activist: We’ve actually consolidated ourselves now.  We’ve got a lot of influence and power in the council, councillors, politicians.

Councillor Miah has told us that he wasn’t referring to the IFE in that extract but to Muslims in general.

On Tower Hamlets council, we’re told, the IFE calls on allies who support its aims. It’s also accused of using its influence to help its friends rise to power. These friends include the Labour leader of the council – Lutfur Rahman.

Dispatches has been told that the IFE helped him win the support of Labour councillors.

TED JEORY, former deputy editor, East London Advertiser: The IFE was persuading them to support Lutfur by actually saying we could actually threaten to get you deselected and lose your seat at the next election and get Respect in, instead.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: And that was what councillors said to you?

TED JEORY: Councillors, yeah.  There was one councillor in particular said to me: Ted, IFE, we are petrified by these guys, they’ve got us by the balls.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: Can you name that councillor?


Off the record, six people, including five serving Labour councillors, have told us that a senior member of the IFE went round canvassing councillors on Mr Rahman’s behalf during the leadership campaign.

ANDREW GILLIGAN, on-camera interview: Did he canvas on your behalf in the leadership election?

CLLR LUTFUR RAHMAN, leader, Tower Hamlets council: Labour party members across Tower Hamlets canvas for people when it comes to election, and there are various people across Tower Hamlets who get excited, who get involved, who try…

ANDREW GILLIGAN: Did he make any promises or threats to councillors on your behalf?

CLLR LUTFUR RAHMAN: Under no circumstances.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: That is the allegation from councillors to us.  From some of your own councillors.

CLLR LUTFUR RAHMAN: Sure.  It saddens me.  It concerns me. We have a proper process within the Labour Party.  No one should be going round making threats to anyone.  I do not condone that kind of behaviour.

Life at the Town Hall started to reflect religious practices and demands.

TED JEORY: Proceedings changed, they were adjourning more for prayer breaks, occasionally meetings cancelled during prayers, even during Ramadan as well.

And two years ago, councillors attending meetings which did go ahead during Ramadan were met with a new request, in an email from a council officer.

CLLR PETER GOLDS (Conservative), Tower Hamlets council: It suggested that all councillors should refrain from eating.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: So councillors felt they were being ordered not to eat during Ramadan.

CLLR PETER GOLDS: Yeah, and there was certainly an implication of that.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: What was your reaction to that?

CLLR PETER GOLDS: I wasn’t the councillor that raised it, but I was concerned because I do think we are, this is a multicultural borough and certainly the Muslim population is large and important but it is not the dominant culture in the borough.

We have been told that at the Annual Labour Group meeting last year, a previous council leader  – Labour’s Helal Abbas – accused the IFE of controlling the council.  Several councillors present have confirmed this to us.

A wall of silence surrounds the council on this.  None of the Labour councillors we’ve approached will talk on the record.  But they are clearly extremely concerned.  And councillors of all the major parties on the council call a key council appointment into question.

Eighteen months ago, the council needed a new Assistant Chief Executive.  It’s the second most powerful job in the borough.

CLLR PETER GOLDS: Very very important, he’s one of the members of the council’s senior management team, and sits alongside the chief executive with the principal officers actually guiding the policies of the council.

Many well qualified people applied – and some less well qualified. One of these was a man called Lutfur Ali, who’d left a previous job in troubled circumstances.  At Tower Hamlets, Peter Golds was a member of the panel that considered the candidates.

CLLR PETER GOLDS: I thought his CV was completely inappropriate, in fact it was downright dishonest.  His CV states that he left the Fire and Emergency Planning Authority in July 2001.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: Which isn’t true.

CLLR PETER GOLDS: Which is not true.

In fact, Lutfur Ali had had to resign from the London Fire Authority – in 2002.  He had broken a basic rule of politics. His job at the Fire Authority was politically sensitive. He wasn’t allowed to side with any one party. But he stood as a Labour Party candidate in local elections.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: Were you aware that he claimed on his CV to have left the fire authority in 2001, and made no mention of the circumstances in which he actually left a year later?

BRIAN COLEMAN, chairman, London Fire Authority:  He was employed by this authority well into 2002, and the reasons he left were well known and they were to do with the council elections which took place in May 2002.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: Would you have confidence in someone who omitted such a thing from his CV?

BRIAN COLEMAN: I think that in public and professional life you’ve always got to be fully open and honest on your CV.

The council’s headhunters did not know about this, but even without it they had doubts about Mr Ali.  Though he scored well on some tests, and they note that he may be an experienced operational manager, they considered him a  ‘marginal candidate’ for the shortlist.

CLLR PETER GOLDS (reading): “Rather limited, one-dimensional, mixed, rather superficial – and very importantly – may struggle with the intellectual challenges, in a highly strategic role.”

ANDREW GILLIGAN: And that was the verdict of the professional headhunters?

CLLR PETER GOLDS: That was the verdict of the headhunter.

Despite all this however, Mr Ali was put on the shortlist, and then given the job.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: I am told that all the Bengali councillors on the appointments panel voted for Lutfur Ali.

CLLR PETER GOLDS: You are absolutely correct.  They all also declared as an interest, in that they knew him.

Peter Golds complained to the council’s standards committee about the decision: his complaint was rejected.

Mr Ali said the incorrect dates on his CV were down to a “typographical error,” and the council said there was “no evidence that the relationship between the candidate and the councillors went beyond ordinary contact.”

The councillors included Labour’s Lutfur Rahman and Respect leader Abjol Miah, both linked to the IFE. And unknown to Peter Golds and the standards committee, Mr Ali also had links to the IFE.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: He is in fact director of something called the Centre for Muslim Affairs, whose co-directors include a senior member of  the IFE and several other people in IFE-linked organisations.  Does that explain in your eyes how he came to get this big job?

CLLR PETER GOLDS: I think it explains a great deal, yes.

One of Mr Ali’s key responsibilities in this new role is among a group of councillors and officials who hand out money to community organizations.

People working for secular organizations, like this one, complain that council funding is moving away from them, and towards IFE linked projects.

GOLAM MUSTAFA, community activist, Udichi cultural group: In the late eighties we have started lots of activities, particular culture activities, and co-operated with lots of multicultural groups. Lots of other groups, mainstream groups to bring cultural advancements of the community. And at that time we were receiving support from the Tower Hamlets Council.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: But you say that has changed now.

GOLAM MUSTAFA: Resources is going to the Islamic and fundamentalist group.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: So there is a move away from secular organizations, like you, to Islamic organizations.


Badrul Islam runs another local secular group – the Ethnic Minority Enterprise Project.

BADRUL ISLAM, director, Ethnic Minority Enterprise Project: We are finding it increasingly difficult to work with the local authority.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: Are you getting any funding from them?

BADRUL ISLAM: Not at the moment, no.

Last year, a previously unknown organization called CCAP, the Community Consortium Against Poverty, appeared.  It includes three key IFE linked organizations, as well as a number of others.  In February last year it was given £1.8 million by Tower Hamlets Council.

BADRUL ISLAM: The perception is that the current political leadership is promoting IFE and associated groups more than others. The fear is the promotion of a particular brand of Islam, that is not going to bode very well for us in the future.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: Fundamentalist Islam?


It seems to be a widespread concern in the borough.

CLLR PETER GOLDS: The council spends a billion pounds of public money and it is being run by a clique, within a political party, and a clique, many of whom have a religious agenda rather than an agenda which is for the benefit of the whole of the population of this borough.

BADRUL ISLAM: That’s not the basis on which local councils should be run. That’s not the basis on which any political party should try to get into power and run the council full stop. It’s simply not how it should be.

Tower Hamlets Council told Dispatches that all grants to voluntary organisations were allocated within open and transparent processes that are subject to external scrutiny.

Labour has realised it’s got a problem in Tower Hamlets. So, after suspending the normal working of the party, it sent in the head of the London region to keep an eye on events.

TED JEORY, East London Advertiser: He’s there at the back of the room with his pen and pad, taking notes, marking councillors, observing what’s going on.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: What’s he looking for, do you think?

TED JEORY: I think he’s looking to see how they interact with Respect and with other groups and how they actually perform as a bloc.

So the IFE is already shifting its focus.  Abjol Miah, the IFE activist and councillor you saw earlier, has organised a petition to demand a directly elected mayor for Tower Hamlets. Unlike a council leader, a mayor would be unsackable – except by the voters every four years.  And they will also be enormously powerful.  The law says that if enough people sign a petition, the council must hold a referendum on switching to a directly elected mayor.

Our undercover reporter asks an IFE activist about the campaign.

MR Z, undercover reporter: How does it work, though? I mean, like, who’s the guy there now?

ABU TALHA, IFE activist: Some Somali brother.

MR Z: Is it? You’ve got a Muslim mayor?


MR Z: Didn’t know that.

ABU TALHA: We’ve had a Muslim as mayor for a long time.

MR Z: So what’s wrong with him then?  Is he not performing?

ABU TALHA: Thing is, the new mayor, the difference is gonna be that he’s gonna have a lot more control.

MR Z: The new one?

ABU TALHA: The new.

MR Z: Right.

ABU TALHA: That’s why we need to get someone, one of our brothers, in there. Which we will do.  It will be, whether it will be brother Azad or someone else.

Brother Azad – that’s Azad Ali, of the IFE – or another IFE-favoured candidate, may yet become mayor of Tower Hamlets. In November the petition, organized by Respect and IFE activist Abjol Miah, was handed to the council.

GILLIGAN PIECE TO CAMERA: But I’ve been to see it – and it’s a worrying document.  In the more than 17,000 signatures on that petition, I counted just 130 non-Asian names. That’s in a borough where 60 percent of the people are non-Asian.

We saw entire pages of names in the same handwriting.  Some of the names on those pages are the same as people we’ve linked to the IFE.

And an official report we’ve seen from council officers says that 40% of the signatures are invalid.  Some didn’t exist, some weren’t on the electoral roll, some didn’t give full names. Even so, the officials decided that enough signatures were valid, and Abjol Miah is getting his referendum. It will be held in May, though some local residents are fiercely opposed.

The IFE told Dispatches that it denied any part in the forgery of petition signatures.

People who’ve seen entryism at work before aren’t surprised to see the IFE operating in different organisations, campaigns and parties.

PAUL RICHARDS, former DCLG adviser: If you don’t believe in democracy, in mainstream pluralist political parties, if you have a disdain towards them, the idea of taking them over and subverting them and conning them into your way of thinking is quite an appealing thing.

In part three, where the IFE are going next – and the people trying to stop them.

HARMUZ ALI, vice-chair, Brick Lane Mosque: I don’t want my children to grow up in a society which is being segregated in the name of religion, or in the name of culture.



We’ve been following the road to political power of the Islamic Forum of Europe.  But the IFE’s ambitions aren’t just political. They’re social.  They want to bring other Muslims into line – and non-Muslims, too.

(Film of Tower Hamlets Baishaki Mela, street festival) Tower Hamlets Muslims are mainly Bengalis, from Bangladesh – inheritors of one of the richest cultures in the world. The annual Baishaki Mela celebrates that culture. But the IFE isn’t keen. A decade ago they handed out this leaflet.

IFE LEAFLET (read by actor): Enjoyment through music, dance, immodesty and free mixing of men and women is not the culture of Islam. This is a shameless western culture.

Muslims who take part – even if they pray and fast –

IFE LEAFLET (read by actor): …will be burnt in hellfire.

More recently, Golam Mustafa says he got in trouble with some people from the Mosque, just for hanging up a banner advertising the event.

GOLAM MUSTAFA, Udichi cultural group: They’ve attacked me myself. I was hanging a banner in the Altab Ali Park [Aldgate East] one day, in the night, evening before the Mela, and they came us and to attack us.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: What did they do?

GOLAM MUSTAFA: They said, what are you doing?

ANDREW GILLIGAN: Did they physically attack you?

GOLAM MUSTAFA: Yes. They said: “It has to come down,” and it was very very bad because we are two, they are five.

(Undercover footage) ABU TALHA, IFE activist: I’ve seen yeah, so many un-Islamic practices that people have brought into Islam.

Abu Talha, a prominent young IFE activist, describes to our undercover reporter how the East London Mosque’s imam has helped Islamicise the area.

ABU TALHA: He has changed this whole area. He’s brought it back

MR Z, undercover reporter: Teaching, yeah?

ABU TALHA: Yes, and its tadarruj, yeah? Tadarruj means gradualism.  He’s done it gradually.

Talha uses the flag of the Islamic caliphate – and quotes a founder of Hamas in his signature when he posts on Islamic forums on the web.  And, using the name of the IFE, he’s threatened a local Muslim: a young Bengali woman who had the temerity to start up a dating service for Muslims.  Abu Talha was not pleased.

ABU TALHA EMAIL THREAT (read by actor): I am asking you kindly to stop these activities as it goes against the teachings of Islam … we shouldn’t stoop to the levels of the westerner … Let me remind you that I have a huge network of brothers and sisters who would be willing to help me take this further, but I wish that you would listen to my words NOW and stop the service. If by tomorrow you haven’t changed your mind … then the campaign will begin … like I said I can take this further. PS – I am not threatening you, I am just pressuring you to stop what you do.

He only stopped when she told him that she had notified a lawyer, and the police.

RASHAD ALI, Centri, counter-extremism consultancy: You have this extreme puritanical political perspective, so you actually have this very divisive political ideology operating in your communities, and you’ve mainstreamed them – by giving them this legitimacy which they didn’t have before.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: Could it lead to conflict with other communities?

RASHAD ALI: Oh, it always leads to conflict with other communities – and intra-communal conflicts, because other people are not going to be religious enough.


RASHAD ALI: Other Muslims are not religious enough, let alone non-Muslim communities.

One of the many channels of wider IFE influence is its radio programme. (Undercover footage inside radio studio.) Azad Ali is a star presenter.

AZAD ALI, IFE (undercover footage): Democracy, if it means at the expense of not implementing the sharia, no one’s gonna agree with that. Of course no one agrees with that.

Mr Ali is the community affairs co-ordinator of the IFE. He has posted regularly on the blog which it hosts.

In 2008, he praised a key mentor of Osama Bin Laden, calling him one of the “few Muslims who promote the understanding of the term jihad in its comprehensive glory”, as both a doctrine of “self purification” and of “warfare”.  Mr Ali is a civil servant and was suspended from his job for six months after the controversial posting. In January, he lost a libel action over another part of this blog.  The judge ruled that Mr Ali was ‘taking the position that the killing of American or British troops in  Iraq …would be justified.’

AZAD ALI (on radio show): We are all Islamists in the studio.

CALLER TO SHOW: What do you think about working for the Khilafa?

The Khilafa, or Caliphate, is an Islamic superstate, ruled by clerics, under sharia law. Many Islamist thinkers argue that it should start in Muslim majority lands, but expand afterwards to cover the world.

AZAD ALI: That’s something that you should be doing, yes.

CALLER: Definitely, yeah?


ABUL KALAM, co-presenter, IFE activist: You have to, man!

The IFE told Dispatches:

IFE STATEMENT (read by actor): The IFE does not support violent jihad, including attacks on British soldiers in Iraq, or sharia law in the UK. The IFE does not support or promote the idea that the Caliphate should extend to non Muslim countries.

Azad Ali’s influence extends far beyond his radio phone-in. In this document,the Metropolitan police also agreed to treat him and his IFE-linked group, the Muslim Safety Forum, as ‘the principal body in relation to Muslim community security and safety’.   And he was,until January, head of the Civil Serice Islamic Society.

The police are not the only organization of the state to have worked with the hard-liners from the IFE. There’s a Government fund called Preventing Violent Extremism. The theory was to boost moderates and marginalize extremists.  But almost a third of a million  pounds of  this money has gone to the East London Mosque, the London Muslim Centre and to other IFE-linked organizations.

Paul Richards says the policy has backfired.

PAUL RICHARDS, former adviser, DCLG: If you’re part of a revolutionary organisation and you hold these views as part of a fundamental canon of belief, having a chat and a cosy cup of tea with a minister is not going to change your mind.  But being around that table inside a government department, what it does do, is strengthen your hand in your own community. It gives a platform to people who actually should be – are – off the scale.  Shouldn’t be in the room at all.

Although the IFE claim to speak for the Muslim community as a whole, and their members have access to government, the fact is, they don’t even represent the Muslim community in Tower Hamlets.

This is a Bangladeshi area. But the IFE are the descendants of a fundamentalist party, Jamaati Islami, that opposed the very creation of Bangladesh.

Ansar Ahmed Ullah has lived and worked in Tower Hamlets for thirty years.  He campaigns against Jamaati Islami and its presence in Britain.

ANSAR AHMED ULLAH, Nirmal Committee: They are gaining a foothold over the whole community and gaining a sense of respectability as well. The government thinks they are the spokesperson of the Muslim community.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: But why is that?  Do they just not know any better?
ANSAR AHMED ULLAH: It’s a mystery to us, especially those of us who’ve been campaigning for years.

So the IFE continues to represent Muslims in Tower Hamlets, and beyond.  And their national profile is growing, in part, through the Muslim Council of Britain.  This group calls itself the most representative body of British Muslims.  But it, too, is increasingly dominated by the IFE.

The MCB’s secretary-general, Muhammad Abdul Bari is a former president and trustee of the IFE, as well as the current chairman of the East London Mosque.  IFE activist Azad Ali chairs the MCB’s membership committee.

In a statement to Dispatches,the IFE rejects our allegations of entryism or that it is infiltrating British political parties.  They say:

IFE STATEMENT (read by actor): There is no IFE policy … or strategy which directs its members to join [Tower Hamlets Labour Party] … or that is has influenced or sought to influence key funding decisions.

The IFE also said that Abu Talha was a recent member, who …

IFE STATEMENT: …has no authority whatsoever to speak for the IFE and his words do not reflect the IFE’s views.

Around Britain, the IFE’s network of grassroots groups is growing. The Oldham Muslim Centre, modelled on the East London Mosque complex. An IFE centre in Bradford. Newcastle, where the IFE recently advertised for an Imam. Plus 32 other places in Britain. And they claim branches in 14 other European countries.

But as the IFE goes international, in its heartland of Tower Hamlets a backlash is starting. For the first time on television, non-Islamist, mainstream Muslims in Tower Hamlets are fighting back.

HARMUZ ALI, vice-chairman Brick Lane Mosque: They are using the name of the IFE and they are using the house of Allah, the house of God – the East London Mosque- as the shield.  And the ordinary Muslim brothers, they go there to perform their prayers, they don’t know, they are not quite aware about the politics behind it.

We’ve spoken to many leaders of the Tower Hamlets Muslim community, like Harmuz Ali, who are furious at the way the IFE is spreading its influence and claiming to speak for them.

BADRUL ISLAM, Ethnic Minority Enterprise Project: IFE doesn’t have the sole licence for Islam, or promoting Islam, or working for Muslims.

SAJJAD MIAH, community activist: I think the community’s almost been pushed into the wall, even myself, pushed into the wall.  I can’t go back.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: People have been pushed too far.

SAJJAD MIAH: Too far, yes.

NURUL ISLAM, community activist: If somebody wants to become a member of IFE, good luck to him.  Somebody wants to become a member of the National Front, you can’t stop, I can’t stop them.  It’s their right.  But at least they know what they are doing.  And this I think everybody has a responsibility, bringing out the total picture, the truth, and present to the people.

Clear signals from government would help.

PAUL RICHARDS: Saying this particular organisation, at this time, under this leadership , is beyond the pale, would help bolster the very many moderates more mainstream voices, and give them a better platform.

But that’s not happening. The state doesn’t seem willing, or able, to tackle this.  The IFE and its allies are fond of saying that any attack on them is an attack on Islam. But it is Muslims themselves who are taking the lead, and speaking out.

HARMUZ ALI: I don’t want my children to grow up in a society which is being segregated in the name of religion, in the name of culture.

RASHAD ALI: We need to stop funding institutions that undermine every single civic, civil institution that we have in our society.

HOURIYA AHMED: I think a lot of politicians understand the issue but are too scared to touch it because they are scared of being labelled as Islamophobic, or anti Muslim.

ANDREW GILLIGAN: How can that position be changed, how can you give those politicians the courage to stand up against it?

HOURIYA AHMED: By standing up against it.  Just by doing it. The more politicians stand up against Islamist type of politics, the more Islamists understand that they are not welcome. By politicians and by Muslim communities.



Labour: London borough becomes 'Islamic republic'

Islamic republic? Tower Hamlets, east London (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty)
Islamic republic? Tower Hamlets, east London (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty)

Outside the Wellington Way polling station in Tower Hamlets yesterday, as at many other polling stations in the borough, people had to run a gauntlet of Lutfur Rahman supporters to reach the ballot box. As one Bengali woman voter went past them, we heard one of the Rahman army scolding her for her “immodest dress.”

That incident is perhaps a tiny taste of the future for Britain’s poorest borough now it has elected Mr Rahman as its first executive mayor, with almost total power over its £1 billion budget. At the count last night, one very senior figure in the Tower Hamlets Labour Party said: “It really is Britain’s Islamic republic now.”

For the last eight months – without complaint or challenge from Mr Rahman – this blog and newspaper have laid out his close links with a group of powerful local businessmen and with a Muslim supremacist body, the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE) – which believes, in its own words, in transforming the “very infrastructure of society, its institutions, its culture, its political order and its creed… from ignorance to Islam.” Mr Rahman has refused to deny these claims.

We have told how the borough’s change from a conventional council leader to a mayoral system came about as a result of a campaign led and financed by these two groups – and how the IFE, in its words, wanted to “get one of our brothers” into the position.

We have described in detail, again without complaint or challenge by Mr Rahman, his deeply problematic two years as council leader until he was removed from that post six months ago, partly as a result of our investigations. After he secured the leadership with the help of the IFE, millions of pounds were channelled to front organisations of the IFE, a man with close links to the IFE was appointed as assistant chief executive of the council despite being unqualified for the position and the secular, white chief executive was forced out. Various efforts were made to “Islamicise” the borough. Extremist literature was stocked in Tower Hamlets’ public libraries.

We have described, once more without complaint or challenge from Mr Rahman, how he signed up entire families of sham “paper” Labour members to win the party’s mayoral nomination – acts which caused him to be sacked as the Labour candidate by the party’s National Executive Committee.

Now, however, Mr Rahman has won as an independent – getting more than double the number of votes of the Labour candidate imposed in his place, Helal Abbas. As mayor, he will have far more power than he had as a council leader. And unlike a council leader, no-one can sack him, except the voters in four years’ time.

We should be clear what this result was, and was not. It was a decisive victory. But it was not much of an endorsement by the borough’s people. Turnout, at 25.6%, was astonishingly low, with most voters (particularly the white majority, and they still are a majority) unaware of, indifferent to or turned off by the process. Lutfur’s 23,000-odd votes are only about 13 per cent of Tower Hamlets’ electorate.

It was not a victory for any sort of democracy. It was the execution of a careful and sophisticated plan by a small, well-financed and highly-organised cabal to seize control of a London borough. It deployed not just volunteers from the IFE and other bodies but also people paid to campaign by Lutfur’s business backers. Someone also paid for tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of copies of the most pernicious literature ever seen in a British election, in which Mr Abbas was falsely smeared as a wife-beater, a bankrupt, a racist and and an insulter of Islam.

Yet even this would probably not have worked without a series of astonishing unforced errors by the Labour Party. Something else this was not, or not really, was Lutfur’s win; it was Labour’s own goal. For the last nine years, there have been deep concerns about IFE and other infiltration, and membership fraud generally, in Tower Hamlets (the Bethnal Green and Bow constituency Labour party more than doubled in size between 2006 and 2008, at a time when Labour membership nationally was sharply falling. Many of the new members have the same names as people we can link to the IFE.)

As a result, Tower Hamlets Labour members are not allowed to select their councillor candidates: it is done centrally, by the London regional office. Yet this safeguard was torn up for the far more important mayoral selection, despite the warnings on this blog and elsewhere that Lutfur’s vote bank would see him selected, as he indeed was.

Having then bravely crossed the Rubicon of sacking Lutfur as their candidate, Labour failed to follow through. Its campaign was slow out of the stocks, allowing him to present himself as a victim, with all the emotional advantage that brought. Above all, Labour seemed afraid clearly to explain why he had been sacked.

I knew the election was lost for Abbas when I saw him on the BBC last week, three times refusing to say why Lutfur had been ditched. The reporter, quite understandably, along with a lot of the Bengali and white electorate, ended up concluding that it was little more than a personality clash between the two men. Most Bengali voters didn’t back Lutfur because they support the IFE – they don’t – but because they believed he had been unfairly treated.

If Labour had spelt out to people the reasons why Lutfur’s sacking was entirely justified; told voters that this election was actually about the continued health of democracy and secularism in Tower Hamlets; and said that it was about the interests of the whole diverse borough versus the interests of Lutfur’s puppetmasters, it might have galvanised enough of those elusive white and Bengali secularist voters to outweigh Lutfur’s block. It wouldn’t have needed many – a few thousand would have done it.

Again and again, Labour people asked me why this story was not playing bigger in the media. I said it was simple: they weren’t giving the media anything to play with. I am confident in writing what I have done about Lutfur because I’ve been working on this story for more than a year. Most journalists, however, aren’t allowed the time to do in-depth research; they have to go with what people are prepared to say in front of their TV cameras or at their press conferences. But though senior figures in Tower Hamlets Labour were happy to speak on background, virtually none would ever go on the record.

The saving grace of last night is as follows. Now that Labour is in opposition on Tower Hamlets, it has at least been given the chance to oppose. The one gain for the party is that it can dissociate itself from, and campaign against, the slow-motion car-crash which Lutfur’s mayoralty is likely to become. Lutfur may well be the Derek Hatton of the 2010s, but unlike Hatton he is no longer Labour’s responsibility. Any thought of making up with Lutfur needs to be resisted – there’s only pain, not gain, there.

Finally, something else which Tower Hamlets is not. Some of my commenters are fond of saying that the borough is an example of “Third World” politics in the UK. There are indeed similarities – but actually the claim is an insult to the Third World. Bangladesh has got to grips with Islamism; the IFE’s Bangladeshi parent, Jamaat-e-Islami, gets about two per cent of the vote in elections there. No Islamist sympathiser in Bangladesh has unfettered control over a £1 billion budget. Bangladesh, in short, has less of a problem with Islamic radicals than Tower Hamlets.

Fundamentalist sympathiser 'wins control of billion-pound council'

Lutfur Rahman, the fundamentalist sympathiser sacked from the Labour Party for his links with a Muslim supremacist group and several powerful local businessmen, has been elected the executive mayor of Tower Hamlets, giving him almost complete power over a billion-pound budget, sources on both sides say. Labour’s candidate, Helal Abbas, has been substantially defeated, we are told. Turnout was just over 25 per cent.

If true, it is Christmas come early for London journalists – but desperately bad news for one of Britain’s poorest boroughs.

More later.

Boris Johnson's massive stealth fare rises: One Day Travelcards to rise by up to 74 per cent

Boris Johnson will oversee massive fare increases (Photo: AP)
Boris Johnson will oversee massive fare increases (Photo: AP)

The price of the Zone 1-2 one-day Travelcard will increase by almost 18 per cent in January – around four times the rate of inflation. The rise is one of a series of unnoticed, but hugely above-inflation, fare rises in One Day Travelcards and Oyster price caps that will hit thousands of users with rises of up to 74 per cent.

The rises are far higher than the average rise of 6.8 per cent briefed to the media today. A Zones 1 and 2 one-day off-peak Travelcard, a very popular ticket, will go up from £5.60 to £6.60 – a hike of 17.8 per cent.

Other one-day Travelcards (peak and off peak) will also rise by up to £1. The Oyster price cap on pay-as-you go fares will rise in each case by the same amount. The majority of One Day Travelcards currently sold will be withdrawn entirely – TfL calls it a “simplification.” The only one day cards now available, peak or off-peak, will be for zones 1-2, zones 1-4, and zones 1-6. This will mean further enormous rises for some users, particularly in the peak, who will be forced to pay for zones that they do not need.

Those travelling in the peak in zones 1-3, for instance, can currently buy a One Day Travelcard for £8.60. After January, they will have to buy a Zone 1-4 card costing £10. This is an increase of 16 per cent. Those travelling in the peak in zones 1-5 can currently buy a One Day card for £12.60. They will now have to buy a Zones 1-6 card for £15 – a rise of 19 per cent.

There aren’t off-peak versions of the 1-3 and 1-5 cards now, so off-peak users in these zones are less badly affected (they will still, of course, have to pay the general increase in the price of One Day Travelcards.)

However, One Day Travelcard users, peak and off-peak, who do not need to travel into Zone 1 will be worst hit of all.

The Zones 2-6 One Day Travelcard will be withdrawn. Users will have to buy a zones 1-6 Travelcard instead. In the peak this will mean a rise in price from £8.60 to £15 – an increase of 74 per cent. In the off-peak it will mean a rise from £5.10 to £8.00 –  an increase of 57 per cent.

All these changes are tucked coyly away in a “note to editors” near the bottom of TfL’s press release. The full prices of all the new cards are not given in the release, but they are shown below. The release also says that the new Oyster daily price caps on pay-as-you go fares will “mirror” the new Travelcard prices. Come January, some travellers are going to get very nasty shocks indeed.

One last little surprise: there is also a 50 per cent rise in the child One Day Travelcard, for children who need to use the Tube, from £2 to £3.

Boris has had a very easy ride from the press today – they don’t seem to have noticed these particular changes yet.

Update: TfL issued the following statement tonight and gave the full list of new prices (which are not shown in its press release.) “The fares package for 2011 will see fares rise on average by RPI plus 2 per cent as proposed last year. This is the minimum overall increase to protect vital investment in transport infrastucture and to protect frontline services.

“As with any fares package, there are some fares which rise more than others, while others will be frozen or fall.  One day off peak Travelcards have risen to bring them in line with other Travelcard prices, but are always cheaper than four off peak Tube journeys.  Using Oyster pay as you go will also always guarantee the lowest fare.

“Some very lightly used outside Zone One Travelcards have also been withdrawn and replaced with a Zone 2-6 Travelcards.”

One Day Travelcard prices

Product                                  Price Now           Price from Jan

Zone 1-2 offpeak                 5.60                      6.60

Zone 1-2 peak                       7.20                      8.00

Zone 1-4 offpeak                 6.30                      7.30

Zone 1-4 peak                      10.00                    10.00

Zone 1-6 offpeak                 7.50                       8.00

Zone 1-6 peak                      14.80                     15.00

Boris Johnson: western extension of congestion charge will be axed today

Cars pass congestion charge signs on Earls Court Road (Photo: AP)
Cars pass congestion charge signs on Earls Court Road (Photo: AP)

Boris Johnson will later today confirm the complete scrapping of the western extension zone (WEZ) of the congestion charge from Christmas Eve. It’ll be part of a “mini Comprehensive Spending Review” announcement by Boris in which the implications of the cuts to London’s budget announced by the Government will be spelt out.

The congestion charge for the remaining central zone is expected to rise to £10 a day (or £9 if paid through a new automated payment channel.) There will also be above-inflation fare rises on public transport and some cuts in services.

TfL, aka “Transport for Livingstone,” has been fighting a fierce rearguard action to keep the WEZ, claiming that its demise will increase congestion and air pollution. In fact, its  own reports show the WEZ has had virtually no impact on congestion, and no discernible impact at all on air pollution. (It has, however, as the same reports make clear, seriously damaged many local businesses.) TfL has successfully dragged out the process; but finally, two and a half years after they voted for it, the people of London will get what they voted for.

TfL also claims that scrapping the western extension will sacrifice revenues of £55 million a year (Ken Livingstone, Boris’s opponent, prefers a figure of £70 million). That seems like a lot of money to give up in an era of tight finances. Expect to hear a great deal of these figures from the likes of Labour’s Val Shawcross today. In fact, however, both figures are clear exaggerations of the extra revenue the western extension brought in.

To see the true position, you need to compare two TfL reports, the fifth C-Charge Impacts Monitoring Report (covering financial year 2006/7, the last year of the unextended C-charge), and the sixth Impacts Monitoring Report (covering 2007/8, the first full year of the extended charge.) The WEZ was introduced in February 2007, near the end of the 06/7 financial year.

On page 3 of the fifth report (for the unextended scheme) it states that “the scheme generated net revenues of £123 million in 2006/7 (provisional figures.)” On page 8 of the sixth report (for the extended scheme) it states: “Net revenues from the combined scheme in the year 2007/8 were provisonally £137 million.” That is a difference of £14 million, not £70 million.

TfL stopped producing these reports after 2007/8. But it may try to claim that the 2007/8 revenue figure is unusually low, because one-off startup costs of the WEZ have been set against it, and that the actual, gross increase in revenues in later years is therefore higher than £14m. But actually, most if not all the start-up costs of the WEZ were incurred in the year before 2007/8, because that’s the year it started.

The reports also include detailed breakdowns of costs and revenues (on pages 123 and 220, respectively.) These show that operational, publicity and enforcement costs were, in fact, almost exactly the same – £90 and 91 million  respectively – before and after the WEZ.

TfL reached its figure of a gross increase in revenues of £55 million by adding in an extra £40 million for costs for “TfL staff, traffic management and TfL central costs” to offset net revenues in the first WEZ year: a classic bureaucratic gambit.

Helpfully, the stats also show how much gross revenue was really received.They show that the actual gross increase in revenue after the WEZ was £37 million, not £55 million or £70 million.

At best, then, the extra revenue generated by the WEZ is only two-thirds of that which is claimed; at worst, it is only a fifth of it.