Islamists establish a bridgehead in Parliament, get Commons pass: MP and peer resign

In November, I disclosed how the new All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Islamophobia had unwittingly appointed a group of Islamist sympathisers called Engage (or iEngage) to act as its secretariat.

Engage are an extremely dubious bunch of people who have repeatedly attacked Muslim moderates and defended extremists. After I publicised the evidence on this blog (detailed below) the chair, the Tory MP Kris Hopkins, and the vice-chair, Labour’s Lord Janner, requested the sacking of Engage as the secretariat to the all-party group.

Now, however, after what is described as an “orchestrated lobbying campaign,” Engage have apparently convinced a number of the more gullible members of the APPG that they are authentic representatives of Britain’s Muslim communities.  They appear to have been reinstated as the secretariat. Their “head of research,” Shenaz Bunglawala, has been given a Commons pass allowing her unrestricted access to the building without passing through security checks.

Mr Hopkins and Lord Janner on Friday resigned both from their positions and from the group.

In an email circulated to members, they say: “It is our belief that the Group needs to be seen as above reproach and political leaning in order to maintain trust and confidence in its work.

“Whilst iEngage are perfectly entitled to express their views, we did not believe it appropriate for them to do so whilst continuing to act for the Group.

“An orchestrated lobbying campaign on behalf of iEngage since we issued our statement has only served to reinforce our opinion.

“However, after consulting with several colleagues since Parliament’s return from recess, it appears that this campaign has also persuaded some that iEngage should remain in place.

“Whilst it is obviously a matter for members to decide on what – if any – role iEngage should play in the Group, we no longer feel able to remain a part of it.

“We have therefore decided to relinquish our positions as Chair and Vice Chair, and our memberships, with immediate effect.”

iEngage has consistently defended fundamentalist organisations such as the East London Mosque and the Islamic Forum of Europe. It routinely attacks all criticism of them as “Islamophobic.”

It attacked the BBC’s recent Panorama documentary on racist Muslim schools – showing that some children are being taught anti-Semitism and Sharia punishments – as a “witch-hunt.” Typically, it launched its attack before even seeing the programme. It was almost alone in this criticism – faced with Panorama’s clear evidence, even some of the usual Islamist suspects kept quiet.

It attacked me for writing about the East London Mosque’s hosting of the terrorist preacher, Anwar al-Awlaki, in 2009 – advertised with a poster showing New York under bombardment. It peddled the straightforward lie told by the mosque that no-one had realised Awlaki was a bad egg at that stage. In fact, Awlaki had been identified by the US government two months before as a spiritual leader of the 9/11 hijackers – and the mosque knew this.

iEngage’s chief executive, and secretary of the new parliamentary group, Mohammed Asif, wrote to the Home Secretary to protest against the ban on the extremist preacher, Zakir Naik. Mr Naik has stated that “every Muslim should be a terrorist.” But Mr Asif and iEngage said that Naik’s exclusion would “put at risk good community relations.”

iEngage publicised a grotesquely misleading report issued by another Islamist-sympathising group, iEra, purporting to show that three-quarters of non-Muslims believe Islam is negative for Britain. As I demonstrated, this result – massively more than the true figure – was only achieved by systematically twisting the data as part of iEra’s agenda to sow suspicion and discord between communities.

iEngage has attacked the Independent columnist, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, one of the country’s major voices of moderate Islam, for her opposition to the niqab and the burka. She is far from the only Muslim to be attacked by iEngage. It is interesting that no Muslim MPs attended the launch of the all-party group.

There are countless other examples.

Acting as the secretariat will give iEngage a key role in preparing the APPG’s reports. These will no doubt now follow Engage’s agenda of claiming a “rising tide of Islamophobia” in Britain –  even though, as I detailed, the available evidence simply does not support this.

Haras Rafique, of the anti-extremist thinktank, Centri, said: “If Engage is promoted, it will not only undermine any attempt to tackle anti-Muslim bigotry, but will boost precisely the kind of extremist Islamist groups whose activities fuel anti-Muslim hatred.”

The feebleness of the remaining members of the APPG and their willingness to bow to an “orchestrated campaign” by Islamists has dealt a fatal blow to the credibility of the group. No report it produces can now be taken seriously and no credible MP or peer should wish to be associated with it.

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Ken Livingstone forced to stop taking Iran's money

Ken Livingstone (Photo: AP)
Ken Livingstone (Photo: AP)

Eight days ago, after it became clear that Ken Livingstone, Labour’s official candidate for Mayor of London, had taken thousands of pounds from Press TV, the Iranian dictatorship’s official TV channel, he told BBC London News that he would not resign. Ken stated: “Press TV is one of the few TV channels anywhere in the West that fairly presents the Palestinian case,” adding, quite falsely, that Press TV was “a British company, wholly owned in Britain, that makes and sells programmes to Iran and to other places”.

He has compared working for Press TV to working for Fox News, though as far as I am aware Fox’s owners have never tortured people, killed homosexuals or stoned adulterers to death.

Today, it has been announced that Ken will, after all, be stepping down from the channel, though not until March. His spokesman denied that he had been ordered to do so by the party – and claimed he always intended to stop. Now if that was the case, why didn’t he tell us last week?

I’m told that when ITV’s London Tonight asked a Labour Party spokesman about Ken’s Iranian gig, they said words to the effect of “What? Are you serious?” Since we know that Ken doesn’t do U-turns, at least not when he’s in the wrong, it seems clear that somebody from Labour must have put the thumbscrews on their suicide candidate.

As one commenter on the Standard’s story points out, Ken’s decision may also not be entirely unconnected to the fact, reported in the paper, that Press TV’s bankers have frozen its British account and plan to close it.

Ken has presented at least 17 shows for Press TV – not seven, the figure today’s Standard gives – and on such politically-correct topics as “the invention of the Jewish people” and “Zionist Israel and apartheid South Africa”. He will have earned around £8,500 from these shows.

(Declaration of interest: I too presented a show on Press TV, though I gave up the year before last. Voluntarily.)

Tower Hamlets: Labour finds 'concerted effort' to sign up fake members

An inquiry by Labour’s national executive committee into Tower Hamlets Labour Party has found that there was “membership abuse,” with a “concerted effort” to add fake members to the party. Last October, the inquiry found, 149 members of the Tower Hamlets party were not on the electoral register at the address they gave and in 75 of these cases there was no evidence that they ever had been on the register.

“It is membership abuse to claim to be a member at any address where you do not live,” the report concluded. “The number of cases strongly suggest that this would not have come about through accident or through individuals acting alone to abuse the system. The evidence outlined above is sufficient to suggest a concerted effort to add people to the membership list in Tower Hamlets was being undertaken by one or more individuals.”

Last year, one Tower Hamlets Labour MP, Jim Fitzpatrick, told this newspaper and Channel 4’s Dispatches how the Islamic extremist group, the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), based at the hardline East London Mosque, was infiltrating the local Labour Party in the same way as Militant did in the 1980s. Our investigation showed how Labour membership in one of the Tower Hamlets constituencies, Bethnal Green and Bow, had more than doubled between 2006 and 2008, at a time when Labour membership nationally was sharply falling. Ninety per cent of the new members were Asian, in a constituency which is only about 50% Asian.

Dozens of the new “members” joined on the same day, with up to eight “members” purportedly living in the same two-bedroom flats. Some of the new members were people with the same names as individuals we can link to the IFE. When we called to these places, we found that the actual residents often had no knowledge of the people who claimed to be living there.

In one of the clumsiest attempts at spin I have ever seen, one far-left, Lutfur-supporting Tower Hamlets resident, Jon Lansman, headlines his blog: “Tower Hamlets: membership inquiry reveals no conspiracy.” But he then goes on to give precisely the same passage about a “concerted effort” to recruit fake members which I just quoted! It’s the neatest demonstration for some time of the fantasy world inhabited by people like Mr Lansman, where words mean nothing beside political allegiances.

Seventy-five fake members would probably not have been enough, on their own, to swing Labour’s mayoral selection for the IFE’s chosen candidate, Lutfur Rahman. But Labour’s NEC has called for further investigations, and the inquiry isn’t complete. It does not, for instance, seem to have addressed some of the other membership abuses we uncovered – that people who are real and who do live where they claim to live were nonetheless signed up, without their agreement, as members of the Labour Party by Mr Rahman. These allegations played a part in getting Lutfur sacked as the Labour candidate for mayor. With the enthusiastic help of the IFE, he later won election as an independent.

The inquiry also takes someone’s presence on the electoral roll as proof of their existence. But you can manufacture fake electors just as easily as you can manufacture fake members of the Labour Party, indeed perhaps more easily. Just like the Labour Party membership roll, the Tower Hamlets electoral roll has gone up and down like a yoyo from year to year, depending on whether there are significant elections that year. And there were some very interesting results indeed at the 2008 mayoral election.

Some on Labour’s hard left are still trying to rehabilitate Lutfur – he’ll be speaking at the Labour Briefing AGM this weekend, a bizarre new direction for a man who supported David Miliband for the party leadership less than four months ago. But the deadly embrace of the Dave Spart crowd will probably only seal his exclusion from the party.

Also today, as Ted Jeory reports, there has been a new outbreak of hostilities between Tower Hamlets Labour and Lutfur. He won’t be getting back in the Labour Party any time soon, methinks.

Ken Livingstone: Iran hits back

Press TV, the Iranian government-funded channel which pays Ken Livingstone thousands of pounds, has deployed its very own weapon of mass destruction to defend its embattled star. Yes, it’s (drum roll) Derek Conway, Ken’s colleague and co-presenter. Could this be the same Derek Conway who was sacked as a Tory MP after paying more than £40,000 in parliamentary allowances to his student son, with “no record” of the boy having done any work for him? It surely could…

According to Mr Conway, recent media interest in Ken’s fondness for dictators’ money has nothing to do with the fact that he is, at least theoretically, seeking an important public office. It is, instead, like most other things, a Zionist plot.

“Britain’s state-funded BBC launched another attack on Press TV last night. ITV did the same,” he stormed on the channel’s phone-in programme, Comment, on Friday. “This time, they’re using Ken Livingstone as an excuse. Both channels needed to have an analyst to comment on Ken Livingstone and Press TV – so who did they use? The head of the Zionist Federation.”

Damning indeed, I think you’ll agree. The station’s audience certainly did, and a lively dialogue soon followed. What it is to have friends, eh, Ken?

Caller: [Ken] does what he thinks is right, not politically expedient… I think the problem he has, is perceived to have, with the Jewish community was used by the BBC to pull him down.

Conway: Ken doesn’t attack the Jewish community, [but] what the state of Israel is doing… and fortunately stations like Press TV can air what’s going on in Palestine, because you wouldn’t see much of it on the BBC…

Emailer: Amazing, this is getting really creepy! What is wrong with the BBC! It is so obvious that this is a plan to silence their young, upcoming rival…

Conway: What was interesting about this latest attack on Ken is that it happened in about the same timeframe. That suggested to me that it wasn’t accidental timing. I don’t believe in coincidence much…

Emailer: It makes me sick that [the BBC] keeps going on about Press TV being funded by the Iranian government. Which is worse? The Iranian government that executes a few criminals each year or the British government that has killed hundreds of thousands in its wars? I know who I’d rather work for, NOT the British government’s BBC!

Conway: The BBC should look a bit more broadly at Press TV, I don’t know what the BBC should be scared of.

Caller: The only reason the BBC’s jealous is because Press TV puts on better programmes…

Conway: What do you think Press TV does that scares the other channels so much? Do you think it’s jealousy?

Caller: Press TV has risen and has revolutionised, like the revolution in Tunisia…

Ken Livingstone refuses to stop working for Iranian dictatorship

Iranian women stand in line to cast their votes in the presidential election, at the Masoumeh shrine in Qum (Photo: AP)
Iranian women stand in line to cast their votes in the 2009 presidential election, at the Masoumeh shrine in Qum (Photo: AP)

A hilarious defence today of Ken Livingstone’s decision to take thousands of pounds from the Iranian dictatorship to present a show on its official propaganda channel, Press TV, which has been attracting a certain amount of flak.

One Labour-supporting blogger – who knows a thing or two about propaganda – has deployed the killer argument that the great man’s decision is less bad because… err… I work for Press TV.

There are, alas, some problems with this line of reasoning:

1. I am not a candidate for public office.

2. This may be the first time in history that one of Ken Livingstone’s groupies has cited me as a moral arbiter.

3. I do not work for Press TV. I gave up (apart from two one-off shows last May)  thirteen months ago – not all that long, indeed, after Ken started.  It began as a perfectly reasonable operation – and to the end, my show was always allowed to host anti-regime voices – but the channel as a whole increasingly became a government mouthpiece. Not that this has cut any ice with Ken…

Unlike me, Ken refuses to give up his show. On the BBC’s London news, where this was the lead story last night, he said: “Press TV is one of the few TV channels anywhere in the West that fairly presents the Palestinian case.” He also claimed:  “The important thing to remember about Press TV is that it is a British company, wholly owned in Britain, that makes and sells programmes to Iran and to other places.” This is totally untrue. Press TV is a television channel based in Iran and owned by the Iranian state. (Watch the BBC item here.)

Among Ken’s programmes was one publicising a book called Zionist Israel and Apartheid South Africa. He has also done a show about “the invention of the Jewish people”. Ken has always had a bit of a problem with Jews – they’ll be so relieved to know that they’re still in his thoughts! And as for the rest of us, Ken’s gig is just what we need to set at rest our concerns about his links with Muslim extremists.

Money from the Tube strikers! Money from the Iranians! And he’s still taking both! One wonders – does Ken actually want to commit political suicide?

Boris Johnson gets his facts wrong on air travel

 (Photo: AFP/Getty)
The capital's airports are full, Boris says (Photo: AFP/Getty)

The Mayor was the target of ill-informed nonsense last week, when his perfectly practical proposal for driverless Tube trains was attacked on almost absurdly spurious grounds. This week, however, on a different transport topic, it is Boris who has deployed the dodgy arguments.

Launching his latest appeal for another London airport yesterday, Boris is quoted in the FT as saying that “the capital’s airports are full” and “our runways are rammed.” This is untrue. Heathrow is (almost) full, but none of the others are. There is substantial spare capacity at Stansted and Luton, and there could be even more if Luton’s plans to expand are approved.

In yesterday’s Standard, Boris wrote that “twenty years ago Heathrow served more destinations than any other European airport. It has now slipped to seventh place, way behind Paris and Frankfurt.” Well, it is true that Heathrow alone now offers fewer destinations – but there are five airports in London. And between them, they have direct international flights to more places, more often, than any other city on earth. In fact, they handle almost as many international passengers as Paris and Frankfurt put together.

Boris also claimed yesterday that London is being cut off from new tiger markets, claiming that our airports can “collectively muster” only “five flights a day to China, to Beijing and Shanghai” while “Paris Charles de Gaulle airport already sends 11 flights a day to four destinations in China and Frankfurt sends 10 flights to six destinations.”

Even if these figures were true, it seems unlikely that any Chinese businessmen would decide where to invest on the basis of whether a city has five or ten flights a day. Alas, however, Boris has been fiddling: he is not comparing like with like. His numbers for Frankfurt and Paris appear to include flights to Hong Kong. However, Hong Kong has been carefully excluded from his London figure – no doubt because it means that London in fact decisively wins this contest.

Frankfurt does have more Chinese destinations than London, though the smaller ones are served only by a handful of flights each week. But overall, London decisively outstrips the German city on frequency. Including Hong Kong, London has 92 flights a week to China, or an average of 13 a day. Paris has 73 and Frankfurt has only 69.

The biggest flaw in the Johnson argument, however (I’ll pass over his lovely idea of “a new generation of Prius planes”) is the view that a hub airport is a particularly important factor in a world city’s prosperity. Hub airports’ benefits to their host cities are only tangential – since transfer passengers, of course, never leave the airport. If achieving the business crown of Europe was about having a world-class hub airport, Frankfurt and Paris would have won it decades ago. Instead, even as they have streaked ahead of London in runway capacity, both cities have fallen further behind in their share of world commerce.

In London, there might be more barriers to getting through the airport. But there are fewer barriers in things that matter far more to international business. There is less regulation, more openness to outsiders and a critical mass of skilled people and companies.

A new London airport in the Thames Estuary, in Kent or Essex, would do more than anything in history to shift the capital’s centre of gravity to the east. It could be a decisive blow against the unemployment and poverty of the East End, which astonishingly is the highest in Britain. It would reduce aircraft noise over London – though flights from the Americas and Ireland would probably have to fly over far more of the capital, and some areas would see more noise.

So I support a new airport, in principle – but only if Heathrow or Gatwick, or preferably both, are closed. That would probably be necessary to stop the new airport being a white elephant, too. But it is not Boris’s plan. He wants a massive expansion in flying, with all the environmental cost that implies, talking some fairly spurious stuff about fulfilling the country’s “natural demand for air travel” (Mother Nature, or perhaps the airline lobby, has apparently calculated this at roughly double the current level.)

And the bigger problem is that Boris is not the mayor of Kent, or Essex. He simply has no power to do anything about his vision. Everyone who does have the power, from the local councils to the Government, seems either uninterested in the proposition, or actively hostile to it. Meanwhile, there are rather a lot of other priorities in London, which he actually does have some power over, that he could be getting on with.

Daniel Moylan, the deputy chair of TfL who produced yesterday’s report, says that coalition proposals to allow councils to keep more of the business rate will make them keener to have an airport on their doorstep. The lucky authority which lands the new hub will never have to charge its residents council tax again. That could be persuasive. But to get the public on side, Boris will need arguments which stand up better than the ones he used yesterday.

Fundamentalist IFE banned by Labour council

The Labour-controlled London borough of Newham has made the important and valuable decision to deny the use of its facilities to the fundamentalist, Muslim supremacist group, the Islamic Forum of Europe.

The IFE – which controls the hardline East London Mosque, host of many terrorist sympathisers and hate preachers – openly advocates Sharia law in Europe and the destruction of democracy. Last year, one London Labour MP, Jim Fitzpatrick, accused it of infiltrating and “corrupting” his party in the same way as Militant in the 1980s.

Fitzpatrick’s brave decision to speak out started the process of Labour cleansing itself of the snake. First, the party sacked its leader in Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, as a mayoral candidate, expelled him from the party, and voted to boycott his administration when he was elected as an independent. Lutfur, as even one of his senior campaign coordinators has now said, is deeply in bed with the IFE.

Now Newham, as the Harry’s Place blog reports, has reaffirmed its decision to bar the IFE. They originally tried to book the council’s Old Stratford Town Hall for a meeting in September, but were refused because of “activity and statements that had been made by individuals who were associated with the organisation or previous events it had organised” which might conflict with the council’s “duty to promote equality and maintain community cohesion.” The IFE appealed against the decision; the decision has been upheld.

Sir Robin Wales, the directly-elected mayor of Newham, has a good record against extremism. He and his Labour counterpart in Hackney, Jules Pipe, have refused to work with Lutfur. The IFE has made little secret of the fact that after Tower Hamlets, its next target is the heavily-Muslim borough of Newham. The council clearly doesn’t want to let that happen.

One disturbing feature of this story, however, is that the IFE did not book the Town Hall under its own name, but in the name of a body called TELCO, the East London chapter of the community organising group London Citizens (though the IFE didn’t use TELCO’s address, which is what triggered the council’s suspicions in the first place.)

London Citizens are good people, regularly praised by mainstream politicians. But they have the significant problem that the IFE and East London Mosque are deeply embedded within TELCO. London Citizens’ lead organiser, Neil Jameson, has become the principal non-Muslim whom the IFE and mosque wheel out in their defence (indeed, virtually the only one remaining, outside the ranks of the far left and a single, eccentric Tory member of the London Assembly.) Their membership appears directly contrary to 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.

With the important exception of the mayoral election in Tower Hamlets, the political tide in East London may be turning against the Islamic fundamentalists. The worry, though, is that as one mainstream, democratic institution – the Labour Party – becomes more hostile to them, they are, as with this room booking, using another essentially decent group, London Citizens, as cover.