Lutfur Rahman: the Bob Lambert fantasy version

One aspect of Robert Lambert’s richly comic “Islamophobia” report that I didn’t cover in my post yesterday is its chapter on my Channel 4 Dispatches programme about the fundamentalist Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE) and Tower Hamlets. The chapter is written by someone who, the report says, “has asked to remain anonymous on this occasion.” Wisely, I think.

The argument of my nameless critic is that I and my witnesses have got it all wrong. Lutfur Rahman, the council leader (now mayor) in Tower Hamlets, wasn’t dumped by Labour because of his close links with the IFE. It was instead, apparently, because the “white New Labour elite” wanted to “systematically marginalise” the Bangladeshi community; and because Lutfur’s “brand of left-wing populism represented a direct threat to the established hierarchy within Tower Hamlets Labour Party.”

As Ted Jeory, former deputy editor of the local newspaper, points out, this is a blatant rewriting of history. Jeory covered the council closely and often saw Lutfur in action. Rahman was in fact, he says, “one of Labour’s main ringleaders against Respect’s populist Left-wing policies and motions in the council chamber.” As for the charge of racism by the “New Labour elite,” Lutfur’s principal opponent, Helal Abbas, is himself a Bangladeshi.

Jeory also describes the Lambert report’s dishonesty over one of Lutfur’s most discreditable episodes – his hiring of Lutfur Ali, an ill-qualified CV cheat with close links to the IFE, as the council’s assistant chief executive, followed by his effective sacking of Tower Hamlets’ widely-respected chief executive, Martin Smith. In Lambert-land, this is presented as “by no means extraordinary,” a statement described by Jeory as “inaccurate and disingenuous in the extreme.”

My own favourite bit of this chapter is the anonymous author’s lip-trembling outrage at Labour’s decision to put the local party into “special measures” – something amply justified by the extraordinary movements in its membership, which rose by 110 per cent in a matter of months and saw dozens of new “members” joining on the same day, sometimes up to eight of them in a single two-bedroom flat. Many of the new members had the same names as people we can link to the IFE. “Special measures” meant that such “members” no longer had a say in selecting Labour’s council candidates.

To our bashful writer, this was the Tower Hamlets equivalent of Guantanamo Bay. “Special measures have the same essential characteristics as a so-called ‘state of emergency,’ whereby state authorities are free to override the law and even the constitution in the interests of national security,” he says. “This culture of impunity has enabled a series of abuses.”

The sheer silliness and lack of proportion here is striking. The Labour Party constitution gives head office the perfect right to intervene if it suspects manipulation or corruption. On behalf of the dark forces of neo-con evil which I am said to represent, I hereby promise that Lutfur Rahman will not be assassinated by an unmanned CIA drone or bundled off in an orange jumpsuit.

Almost as stupid is the claim, earlier in the report, that the Dispatches investigation prompted an upsurge of “intimidation” in Tower Hamlets by the English Defence League. What actually happened is that fifteen members of the EDL paid a visit to a local pub, and an even smaller number subsequently came back to the same pub. A planned demonstration by the group never took place. To my knowledge, there has not been even one single incident of violence or intimidation against the East London Mosque as a result of my film; I’m quite sure the mosque would have let us all know if there had been.

From the Islamists’ point of view the real problem, of course, with Labour’s behaviour in Tower Hamlets is that it is pushing them out of the party they so carefully infiltrated. Islamists still, through Lutfur, exercise power in the borough – but only as outcast independents with no good future in front of them. I can quite understand why our anonymous author isn’t happy about that.

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