Ken Livingstone campaign begs Labour councillors to support him

There was a fascinating private meeting earlier this month at the Bancroft Library in Tower Hamlets. Paul Harrington, the operations director of the London Labour Party, came to persuade the borough’s Labour councillors to support a Labour candidate.

Unusual, yes – but then that candidate is Ken Livingstone. As well as all his other negatives, Ken is the man who sabotaged the Tower Hamlets Labour Party last year, campaigning against the Labour candidate for the mayoralty of the borough and backing instead an independent, Lutfur Rahman, sacked by Labour for his links with Islamic extremism. Lutfur won; Labour lost.

Next year, Ken will be trying to regain a mayoralty of his own – London. It’s not going terribly well at the moment – despite the Tories’ national unpopularity, the latest poll puts Ken further behind Boris Johnson than when he lost in 2008 – so he’ll need all the help he can get. He’s hoping that his amazing disloyalty is now forgiven and forgotten. From the reports I’ve received of the meeting, it doesn’t seem to have been.

“Harrington gave a rallying speech and said he wants the [Tower Hamlets] Labour group to fully support Ken,” said one councillor who was there. “But everyone was pissed off – there was some quite sharp questioning.”

The candidate Livingstone campaigned against, Helal Abbas, the former council leader, spoke, saying how disloyal Ken had been to Tower Hamlets and Labour. Councillors then asked Harrington whether Ken would apologise to the party for his behaviour. No, said the official – Ken doesn’t do apologies. Oh yes he does, said another councillor – when he’s forced to by the courts.

One councillor asked whether Ken would share a platform with Lutfur. Harrington said he would not – though Lutfur has already had a recent “pre-election rally” for Ken at which the two men shared a platform.

Another councillor asked whether Ken’s campaign would be run by the East London Mosque – the fundamentalist institution, controlled by the extremist Islamic Forum of Europe, that backed Lutfur and arranged some pretty interesting help for Ken at the last election. Harrington promised that it would not be. That such a question is even asked is, however, highly significant. Ken’s links with, and support for, Islamic extremism are one of his key weaknesses, sure to be exploited to the full by his Tory opponents.

“Everyone was angry at Ken’s conduct,” said another councillor. “Most of us will support him because we are more loyal to the party than he is, but it won’t be enthusiastic support and quite a lot of our members will not turn out on the doorsteps for Ken.”

This is not, incidentally, a phenomenon confined to Tower Hamlets. Ken does have fervent pockets of support in the London Labour Party – but also attracts strikingly high levels of antipathy. Labour activist friends of mine in three boroughs say they are finding it difficult to get people to work for Livingstone’s re-election. Even in 2008, and even in places like Hackney, many activists were unenthusiastic.

What does it tell you about Ken’s chances that even active members of the party need persuading to support him?

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East London Mosque bags itself a bishop

The East London Mosque - the extremists flagship
The East London Mosque - the extremists' flagship

The Islamists of East London, led by their flagship the East London Mosque, have been loudly condemning a proposed march by the English Defence League through Tower Hamlets on September 3. Actually, of course, they are thrilled.

The EDL is wrong in so many ways – look at this video for how one of its previous marches, in Leicester, ended – but not least because they hand their supposed enemies, Muslim radicals, the perfect way to build support and legitimacy. The Islamists’ attempts to blame the EDL for the Norway massacre are perhaps a bit of a stretch – but who could dispute that the EDL are a racist rabble? Who could possibly object to campaigning against them?

The mosque has duly placed itself at the head of a campaign to resist the march – called, with beautiful irony, “One Tower Hamlets – No Place for Hate.” I think they must mean “No Place for Hate – Apart From The East London Mosque.” The mosque, as we have frequently reported, has hosted literally dozens of racist, terrorist, homophobic, misogynistic, anti-Semitic and Islamic supremacist preachers, and continues to do so, despite its lies to the contrary. It is controlled by an Islamic supremacist group, the Islamic Forum of Europe. The East London Mosque, in short, is a far greater source of hate in Tower Hamlets than whatever handful of yobs the EDL manages to ship in for a few hours in September.

Most of the campaign’s supporters appear to be the usual suspects: the mosque, its front organisations and their fellow-travellers and useful idiots. There’s the IFE’s Azad Ali – the man whose contribution to the fight against hatred includes calling for British troops to be killed, and who stated (not realising he was being secretly filmed): “Democracy, if it means not implementing the sharia, of course no-one agrees with that.”

There’s Mohammed Rabbani, head of the IFE youth wing, whose belief in inter-community harmony is so deep that he teaches his young recruits: “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. This will lead to social change and iqamatud-deen [an Islamic social, economic and political order.]”

And there are those Ken Livingstone/ Lee Jasper creations, One Society Many Cultures and Unite Against Fascism (Jasper’s typically measured intervention in the Norway killings story yesterday was to compare Boris Johnson to Anders Behring Breivik.)

But amid this dreadful crew there are a couple of people from legitimate and untainted organisations, notably the Church. The new bishop of Stepney, Rt Rev Adrian Newman, will speak at a “No Place for Hate” pre-rally at the East London Mosque on Friday, his first public engagement since taking office.

The Bishop is the mosque’s most important recruit so far to what appears to be its new strategy of legitimisation. After they were thoroughly exposed by this newspaper and Channel 4, the mosque and IFE have realised that they can no longer simply rely on lies and empty threats of legal action to see off their critics.

They have therefore embarked on a policy of creating stand-alone campaigns which no-one can on the face of it object to, and involving non-extremists in those campaigns to lend themselves a sheen of respectability. Another such campaign, the IFE’s “My Neighbours Project,” aiming to foster neighbourliness, was launched last week and managed to snare Rushanara Ali MP. No doubt soon we will see IFE-sponsored groups to promote motherhood and the eating of apple pie.

I say the Church is untainted – but if it starts mixing with people like Azad Ali that won’t last long. There are plenty of far more representative Muslim groups to work with. By all means protest against racism, bishop. But don’t do it through the East London Mosque – you’re in danger of making yourself look ridiculous.

Lutfur Rahman's chief executive resigns

Sources at Tower Hamlets council tell me this evening that the council’s chief executive, Kevan Collins, has resigned. He is moving to head the Education Endowment Foundation, a new body to improve social mobility through education.  

This is another huge blow for Lutfur Rahman, Tower Hamlets’ directly-elected mayor – kicked out of the Labour Party for his links with the extremist Muslim group, the Islamic Forum of Europe. It is the second permanent chief executive Lutfur has lost in just over two years. As council leader in 2009, he controversially forced out Mr Collins’ highly-respected predecessor, Martin Smith, an act that cost the council a six-figure sum in compensation.

In a statement to councillors, Mr Collins said: I am grateful for the support and guidance I have received from Councillors from all political groups…the role of Councillors is critical your role as community leaders, insights, knowledge of our communities and democratic mandate has driven our improvements and will continue to be critical as the Borough goes from ‘great things to greater.’”

Notice who he didnt mention there? One Lutfur Rahman, no longer a councillor but the directly-elected mayor.

It will be interesting to learn whether Mr Collins’ departure was forced or voluntary. It may well be the latter. Mr Collins may well have reached the conclusion that many others in London politics have formed – that Lutfur is a slow-motion car-crash who will end up taking down anyone associated with him.

For Lutfur, there might be a silver lining: perhaps he can now appoint a suitably pliant crony who will present less of an obstacle to his efforts to reward with taxpayers’ money, council office and public assets those who helped elect him.

Alastair Campbell: Prime Minister says he falsified government documents

It hasn’t been a great week for Alastair Campbell, has it? Last Thursday, a senior MI6 official called the great persuader an “unguided missile” and said the spooks had concerns “from the outset” about the way their intelligence was presented in his and Tony Blair’s famous Iraq dossier.

Then, earlier this week, over Hackgate, Alastair could be seen touring the TV studios in his new role as an apostle of truth, arbiter of good journalism and enemy of Rupert Murdoch. This has provided much-needed amusement, at a difficult time, for both politicians and journalists – but does the poor man not have even an atom of self-awareness?

I have done some telly too during the crisis – we very nearly bumped into each other a couple of times – and to my horror I’ve yet again provoked this normally calm and mild-mannered ex-spinner to uncharacteristic anger. “Helped by his frequent appearances on a non-challenging (to him at least) broadcast media,” stormed Alastair, “he has been busy parading himself as champion of a free press and peddling the  view that his story about Iraq and WMD was ‘right.’”

Well, it looks like no less a person than the Prime Minister seems to agree with me. Today he accused Campbell of “falsifying documents while in government,” prompting a wounded tweet from the former Spin King: “Look forward to Cameron providing the evidence that I falsified government documents. Given there is none, could be a long wait.”

Not that long a wait, actually. Here is a link to my summary last year of some of the ways in which Campbell (and his Joint Intelligence Committee “mate,” John Scarlett) falsified one government document, the dossier. Campbell himself wrote the foreword to the document, which included the false claim that the intelligence placed Saddam’s possession of WMD “beyond doubt.” Intelligence is never beyond doubt, and this intelligence certainly wasn’t.

As you will also see, with handy links to the original emails, Campbell by his own admission “bombarded” the supposed author of the dossier, Scarlett, asking for the insertion of two particular falsehoods – demands which were duly, in large part, granted. Chris Ames has many further examples on his website.

Unlike Cameron, I’m not covered by parliamentary privilege – so if Campbell wants to sue me for calling him a liar, he knows where to come.

Johann Hari: Martha Gellhorn Prize refuses to investigate serious complaint about their prizewinner

Johann Hari looks like he will keep his prize
Johann Hari looks like he will keep his prize

The following story appeared in Monday’s print edition of the Daily Telegraph:

A man interviewed by Johann Hari says the celebrated Left-wing writer “twisted,” “misquoted” and “misrepresented” his words in an article which won him a major journalism award.

Usman Raja, a counter-extremism expert for the Government’s “Prevent” initiative, was interviewed by Hari in 2009 for an article on those who have renounced extremism. He was described as a man who had “begged to become a suicide bomber” and quoted as calling himself a “papier-mâché Muslim.”

Mr Raja told The Daily Telegraph: “I did it very trustingly. But he twisted the facts around to [make] a point that I wanted to be a terrorist. Parts of a conversation were taken and things were changed in there. There was a lot of misquoting and misrepresenting in that article.

“I didn’t come across badly, so to speak, but it was a very low shot at that point to be wedged into a piece attacking the Prevent strategy. It was very disappointing.”

The article, in The Independent, was one of three which won Hari the Martha Gellhorn Prize, set up to “celebrate journalism that challenges secrecy and mendacity”.

The Martha Gellhorn Prize does not, alas, seem quite so concerned with alleged mendacity by its own award-winner. Having failed to get a response to my original request for comment from them (or Hari), I contacted the prize organisers again, asking if they proposed to investigate Usman Raja’s allegations. No, was the answer. “I understand that Mr Hari’s work is being investigated by the Independent,” said one of the award committee, Sandy Matthews. “We await the results with interest.”

It is notable that the organisers of Hari’s other major journalism award, the Orwell Prize, are investigating his entries for that – even though no specific complaints have been made, at least publicly, about those pieces. They will consider his case at a meeting tomorrow.

In a statement, the Orwell organisers said they had “received information from a variety of sources over the last few weeks” and were still seeking “further clarification” from Hari “in relation to other allegations which have since come to light.”

(UPDATE: The new edition of Private Eye magazine does make a number of serious allegations of fabrication against Hari’s winning Orwell Prize entry, quoting a charity worker he used as a translator for one of his winning pieces. For more, see here.)

Mr Raja’s allegations – effectively of fabricating quotes – are, with the new Private Eye disclosures, the most serious yet to be levelled against Hari. They are much more serious than his admitted passing off real quotes copied from books, or given to other journalists, as having been spoken to him.

If they’re not investigated, it won’t do much for the credibility of the Gellhorn Prize.

Murdochs: how can two communication leaders be such poor communicators?

Tom Watson was a better questioner than some
Tom Watson was a better questioner than some

Having myself been subject to select committee interrogation amid a media firestorm, I developed a low opinion of the format. During the David Kelly affair the Foreign Affairs Committee, under a Labour toady chairman, Donald Anderson (since rewarded with a peerage), allowed itself to become Alastair Campbell’s tool in attempting to hound David and discredit my story. The questioning was low-grade, unfocused and grandstanding. Typically, they would suggest some phrase they had dreamed up to get a soundbite on the news and invite you to agree with it.

Today, however, the questioning is much better – mostly sensible and specific. And what has been striking has been the poor performance of those being questioned. Rupert Murdoch’s hesitations, and his clear (and probably genuine) difficulties of recall must mark the final end of his authority. James has been better, but still not terribly clear. What strikes me is how two men at the helm of one of the world’s greatest communication empires can be such poor communicators.

Ken Livingstone gets duffed up again over links with Murdoch

ken at sun 1There are three polls out tonight which show that Labour is not getting all that much of a boost from the phone-hacking scandal, and has indeed gone down in two out of the three.

ICM for the Guardian has the Tories (37%, no change) in the lead for the first time since March (Labour is on 36%, down 3.) In Populus, Labour has a 5-point lead (39%, down 1) over the Tories (34%, down 5.) YouGov’s weekday series shows Labour on 42%, unchanged and the Tories on 37%, up 1. The main beneficiaries in two of the three polls appear to be the Lib Dems.

What this suggests to me is that voters recognise that, for all Labour’s superior attack, both main parties were snuggled equally deep beneath the duvet with Murdoch and only the Lib Dems emerge with much credit. It’s a lesson that was – once again – thumped home to poor old Ken Livingstone on Monday’s Newsnight.

There Ken got another medium-sized roughing-up for his blatantly opportunistic attempts to blame Boris Johnson for all the evils of Murdoch, even though he was mayor at the time of the hacking and his own links with the Dirty Digger are far, far closer. (My pictures, courtesy of the former Sun journalist Ilana Fox, show the Kenster posing in the paper’s offices at Wapping in his incarnation as a Sun columnist, for which services he personally trousered thousands of  pounds. As Ms Fox says, “being a hypocrite never looked so desperate.”)

ken at sun 2

Not a single paper, not even the Guardian, has taken up Ken’s attacks – with the obvious and inevitable exception of Livingstone’s personal echo, Dave Hill. I thought the days when journalists were in powerful men’s pockets had just come to an end, Dave!

Here’s how it went for Ken on Newsnight.

Gavin Esler: Ken Livingstone, when you were mayor, why didn’t you see some of this coming?

Ken Livingstone: There was no evidence of it. This arises from the Guardian’s expose in 2009.

Esler: But there was closeness between Met Police officers and people at the News of the World going way back to when you were mayor.

Ken: Actually, it looks like going back for many decades. But that actually wasn’t ever an issue, it wasn’t raised. Unlike the current mayor, I did a press conference every week. No-one from the BBC, or the Guardian, or anyone else, came along and said, there’s more to this than meets the eye. What we saw was hacking into the Royal Family, and then in 2007 the people guilty went to prison. At that stage, no-one came to me and said, we think there’s more to this. Had they done so, I would have made certain that it was investigated.

Esler: But wasn’t your relationship with News International too cosy? You wrote columns for The Sun, there’s nothing wrong with that but you did do it, you must have been reasonably close. You also spent £350,000 on a PR company run by Matthew Freud, who’s married to Elisabeth Murdoch!

Ken: We looked for a marketing company to establish offices for London in India and China. They were the most successful bid. I think –

Esler: They just happened to be connected to the Murdoch family.

Ken: The simple fact here you can’t get away from. Rupert Murdoch phoned the four editors of his papers in Britain just before the last mayoral election to make certain they were endorsing Boris Johnson. I think I must be doing something right if Rupert Murdoch bothers to intervene. I think –

Esler: But you found that you had to use, out of all the PR companies on Planet Earth, you had to use one connected to the Murdoch family.

Ken: It was a very good one. And we got £21m of investment from China in the first year after he opened those offices.

PS: Little-known fact about Matthew Freud’s “most successful bid:” according to PR Week magazine, none of the normal roster of PR agencies used by the GLA (the Forster Company, Fishburn Hedges, GCI, Good Relations, QBO Bell Pottinger and Trimedia Communications) was even allowed to pitch for the China deal.