Here’s my piece from yesterday’s paper:
A LONDON council leader used staff paid by the taxpayer to campaign for the Labour Party in a recent parliamentary by–election.
Lutfur Rahman, the controversial directly elected mayor of Tower Hamlets, took a coachload of people, including a number working for the council, to canvass for Labour at the Leicester South by–election. The visit took place during working hours on a weekday. Asked by The Daily Telegraph, the council refused repeatedly to deny that the staff were on duty at the time.
Mr Rahman was elected as an independent after being expelled from the Labour Party for his alleged links to an extremist Muslim group, the Islamic Forum of Europe, which has been accused by the local Labour MP of infiltrating his party. The April 27 visit to support Labour’s candidate, Jon Ashworth, was part of Mr Rahman’s so far unsuccessful attempt to win readmission to the party.
In emails to Peter Golds, the Tory opposition leader in Tower Hamlets, the council’s head of democratic services, John Williams, admitted that “staff from the youth service did attend in Leicester, but did so in their private capacity”. The staff were from the “rapid response” team, a community–based outreach service.
However, Isobel Cattermole, the council’s director of children, schools and families, stated in a further letter to Mr Golds that “no staff were on leave” on that day. Another council officer told The Daily Telegraph: “The staff attended the event as paid staff and did not take leave.”
Mr Golds said: “It is a blatant abuse of public money for party political purposes. If a minister had taken civil servants in a coach to campaign for a political party during working hours, we would never hear the last of it.
“We will be sending our full dossier to the District Auditor.”
Footage of the visit broadcast by a local television channel shows people working for Tower Hamlets council among a group wearing red Labour rosettes and campaigning for Mr Ashworth.
A spokesman for the council said the staff present were “not necessarily” working at the time of the event because they might have been part–time or rostered to work outside normal hours. He insisted that “no staff due to be working on that day were absent from their ordinary duties”.
But he refused to respond to questions about how the council monitored whether community–based staff were performing their “ordinary duties.” Invited to deny that any staff from Tower Hamlets were in Leicester during their duty hours, he three times refused to do so.