I’m not sure that Mehdi Hasan, the New Statesman’s senior editor (politics), is quite ready yet for a place in the top ranks of Scotland Yard. The magazine has today published his fearless and probing interview of Lutfur Rahman, the extremist-backed mayor of Tower Hamlets. Sample extract:
Q: Do you believe in a secular Britain?
A: I do.
Phew! So that’s all right, then!
Mr Hasan unfortunately declined to put to Lutfur any of the detailed evidence assembled by Channel 4, the Telegraph and this blog about his close links with people who very much don’t believe in a secular Britain, set out here. Nor was he rude enough to mention the filmed evidence of Lutfur’s vote-rigging in Tower Hamlets which we obtained. Instead he asked largely general questions and was content to accept Lutfur’s denials without further challenge.
If he had put the specifics to Lutfur, the mayor might have found himself less able to deny them – as in this interview with me earlier this year.
There were, however, a few nuggets in the Hasan piece. Fascinatingly, you’ll notice that Lutfur does not deny having “close contacts” with the Islamic Forum of Europe, the fundamentalist group which believes in transforming society into an Islamic state. (He starts talking instead about his “close contacts” with the Bishop of Stepney. They can’t be that close, Lutfur: the bishopric of Stepney has been vacant for the last four months!) Asked: “Is the IFE an extremist group?” he replies, pricelessly: “I don’t believe we have extremist groups in Tower Hamlets.”
Lutfur also, interestingly, refuses to condemn the extraordinary smears against his main opponent issued by his supporters. And he confirms a deeply damaging report which I too have heard – that the mayors of the two adjoining boroughs, Hackney’s Jules Pipe and Newham’s Sir Robin Wales, are refusing to work with him. What does that tell you?
Mehdi Hasan has form on defending the IFE – in a debate with me on Sky News last summer, he denied that they were an Islamist organisation. But this piece, though clearly intended as a rehab-Lutfur effort, is perhaps less tub-thumping that I might have expected. Perhaps he’s realised that defending Lutfur is a lost cause.