Lutfur Rahman: all his controversies in one place

Tower Hamlets, where Lutfur Rahman is mayor
Tower Hamlets, where Lutfur Rahman is mayor

It is almost exactly a year since Lutfur Rahman was elected mayor of Tower Hamlets after being sacked from the Labour Party for his links with the Islamic extremist group, the IFE, and a controversial local businessman, Shiraj Haque. His term so far has indeed, as I predicted, been a “slow-motion car crash.”

The latest row, the other week, was caused by his council’s decision (now reversed) to hire out the Merchant Navy War Memorial gardens for City bankers’ Christmas piss-ups. Here are the other highlights of Lutfur’s recent political career: let me know if I’ve missed any.

March 1 2010: The Telegraph and Channel 4’s Dispatches reveal that Lutfur, then the Labour council leader, achieved the position with the help of the IFE, which works to create an “Islamic social, economic and political order” in Britain. In a filmed interview, he refuses to deny the charge.  Under Lutfur, large sums of council money are diverted to IFE front organisations, a man with close links to the IFE is made the council’s assistant chief executive despite being unqualified for the job, and the respected white chief executive is summarily sacked. In undercover filming, senior IFE activists boast of their “consolidated… influence and power” over the council.  The local Labour MP, Jim Fitzpatrick, tells us that his party has been “infiltrated” by the IFE.

May: Lutfur is replaced by the Labour group as council leader. The IFE-linked assistant chief executive is forced to resign. However, the IFE now aims to “get one of our brothers” into the powerful new directly-elected mayoral post that is to replace the council leadership in October.

July/August: Lutfur is excluded from Labour’s shortlist for the mayoral candidacy, but goes to court to force his reinstatement. The solicitor he uses was closely connected to the al-Qaeda-supporting group, al-Muhajiroun, and signed a fatwa calling for a “full-scale war of jihad” against Britain and the US.

September 3: In filmed interviews (transcripts here), local residents tell how Lutfur has personally signed up their entire families as sham Labour members to win selection as the party’s mayoral candidate.

September 4: Lutfur is selected as the Labour candidate.

September 15: Evidence is submitted by one of the defeated candidates and others to Labour’s National Executive Committee detailing Lutfur’s links with the IFE and Shiraj Haque and alleging massive fraud in the selection.

September 18: Lutfur is accused of failing to declare thousands of pounds in donations from Shiraj Haque – a criminal offence, if true. We have been asked to point out that Lutfur was later sent a police letter saying that there was “no case to answer.” However, the complainant, Cllr Peter Golds, insists that the police never investigated the matter seriously. (See PCC adjudication here.)

September 21: Labour’s NEC sacks Lutfur as the candidate.

September 25: Lutfur stands as an independent. Under Labour Party rules, he is automatically expelled from the party. Six of the people who sign his nomination papers have the same names as senior office-holders and trustees of the IFE.

October 15: Thousands of copies are distributed of publicity material smearing Lutfur’s Labour opponent as a wife-beater and an enemy of Islam. The chief coordinator of Lutfur’s campaign, Bodrul Islam, later says that the material was produced by people “embedded” in the Rahman campaign and with its full knowledge.

October 19: Ken Livingstone, Labour candidate for mayor of London, who has also benefited from IFE support, and been personally paid money by Lutfur’s council, campaigns for Lutfur against his own party’s candidate.

October 21: Lutfur Rahman elected mayor. The chief coordinator of his election campaign, Bodrul Islam, later says that the new mayor had a “strategic relationship” with the IFE and “most of [Lutfur’s] campaigners during the election were either Respect or IFE activists.”

October 28: Lutfur furious as the council votes to deny him a 98 per cent pay rise, awarding instead a 71 per cent rise. One of his key supporters, Cllr Oli Rahman, describes it as a “cynical” attempt to “undermine the mayor.”

November 3: Tower Hamlets places CDs of sermons by an extremist Islamic preacher, Abdurraheem Green, in the Town Hall reception area. Green believes that “Islam is not compatible with democracy” and that a husband should have the right to administer “a very light beating” to his wife.

November 10: Lutfur appoints Alibor Choudhury, a former employee of an IFE front organisation with a long track record of encounters with the police, to the key post of cabinet member for finance. Alibor was committed for trial for violent disorder in 2006, but the case was dropped due to what he insists was an “abuse of process.”

November: Lutfur’s publicly-funded political adviser at Tower Hamlets, Kazim Zaidi, anonymously writes a chapter in an Exeter University report attacking Lutfur’s critics and libelling six senior figures in the Tower Hamlets Labour Party and the local Labour MP as racists. The university is forced to withdraw the report and issue a grovelling apology.

December-February: At council meetings, Shiraj Haque and a crowd of other Lutfur supporters shout homophobic abuse at the mayor’s opponents from the public gallery. They abuse Peter Golds, the Tory leader, as “Mrs Golds” and a “poofter.” They heckle another gay councillor, Labour’s Josh Peck, and a gay local resident speaking at the meeting with animal noises and cries of “Unnatural acts! Unnatural acts!”

January 27: An official Labour Party inquiry finds a “concerted effort” to add fake members to the party during the campaign to select Labour’s candidate for the Tower Hamlets mayoralty.

February 23: Lutfur’s voting bloc on the council passes a motion to “campaign against the pariah state of Israel.”

March 8: Lutfur gives a character reference on Town Hall notepaper for Zamal Uddin, a minicab driver who had six weeks earlier pleaded guilty to a serious sexual assault on a woman passenger. When the press finds out, he claims that he did not know the nature of Uddin’s crime before agreeing to provide the reference.

March: Shiraj Haque is appointed chair of the advisory board for a major council-subsidised festival, the Baishakhi Mela. The council had previously removed him from all involvement with the festival and severed relations after allegations, which he denies, of massive financial irregularities.

April 4: Shiraj Haque’s premises are raided by police investigating a major counterfeit wine ring.

April 5: Disclosure logs reveal that the council is paying £50,000 a month of taxpayers’ money to three front organisations for the IFE.

April 12: One of Lutfur’s key supporters, Cllr Shelina Akhtar, is charged with fraud.

April 17:  The council’s official propaganda newspaper, East End Life, runs a series of adverts for a training centre closely connected to Anjem Choudhury, the al Qaeda supporter who runs the extremist group al-Muhajiroun.

April 27: Lutfur takes a number of council staff paid by the taxpayer to campaign for the Labour Party in a parliamentary byelection. The District Auditor is called in.

May 8: Lutfur and Shiraj Haque turn the taxpayer-funded Baishakhi Mela festival into a platform for Ken Livingstone, who makes the keynote speech attacking Boris Johnson.

June 8: Defying a new local authority publicity code against taxpayer-subsidised council “Pravdas,” Lutfur rules that East End Life will continue publishing, at a cost to the public purse of around £1.3 million a year.

June 17: As the council passes budget cuts of £70 million, Lutfur spends £115,000 to refurbish his personal office and treble it in size.

July 4: One of Lutfur’s cabinet, Oli Rahman, appears on a platform with a group campaigning for the “unacceptability of homosexuality.” Lutfur has earlier pledged “zero tolerance” against a wave of homophobic attacks in the borough.

July 14: Lutfur acquires a luxury Mercedes and council-employed chauffeur at a cost to council taxpayers of up to £60,000 a year. No other elected mayor in London, Boris Johnson included, has an official car.

July 22: Tower Hamlets loses its second chief executive in two years as its top official, Kevan Collins, quits for a lower-paid job. He praises councillors (but not Lutfur) in his resignation statement.

August 7: It is revealed that Shiraj Haque has been given a Tower Hamlets council house at the subsidised rent of £135 a week, even though he is a multi-millionaire owning at least eight properties worth around £5 million.

August 8: As riots sweep London, Tower Hamlets’ enforcement officers are given the day off.

Sept 12: Lutfur scraps the official car of the borough’s ceremonial mayor and tells him to travel to functions, in his robes and gold chain, by taxi.

Oct 10: Tower Hamlets hits the front pages after hiring out its war memorial garden for City bankers’ Christmas parties. The decision is reversed after a storm of protest.

Oct 12: The council’s official newspaper, East End Life, promotes an extremist preacher previously banned from speaking on council premises.

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The Islamic Forum of Europe becomes a three-time loser in the complaint stakes

The East London Mosque in Tower Hamlets, run by the Islamic Forum of Europe
The East London Mosque in Tower Hamlets, run by the Islamic Forum of Europe

The Islamic Forum of Europe, the extremist group which runs the East London Mosque and has been accused of taking over Tower Hamlets council, has lost yet another complaint – its third – against my coverage of its affairs.

As very attentive readers may remember, we reported last February how Lutfur Ali, a man with close links to the IFE, had been appointed assistant chief executive of Tower Hamlets despite being unqualified for the £125k job (the council’s professional recruitment consultants described him as “superficial,” “rather limited,” “one-dimensional” and a man who might “struggle with the intellectual challenges [of] a highly strategic role”.) On the panel which appointed him were the IFE-backed council leader, Lutfur Rahman, and another councillor, Abjol Miah, who is an IFE activist.

The IFE, bizarrely, waited more than a year before complaining to the Press Complaints Commission that it was wrong to describe Lutfur Ali as someone with close links to them. We pointed out, as patiently as we could manage, that Mr Ali had in fact set up a think-tank with a number of co-directors who were either senior officials of the IFE or closely linked to it. The PCC accepted this as evidence of a close link and ruled last week that “no inaccuracy could be established” in our pieces.

I still can’t quite understand why the IFE wanted to make an issue of this now – I can only speculate that their ally Lutfur Rahman, now the elected mayor, wanted to bring Mr Ali back to work at the council (he was forced to resign after our expose.)

Last year, the IFE also comprehensively lost an orchestrated campaign of complaints it waged against me at the broadcasting regulator, Ofcom. They later tried to take the Lutfur Ali point to Ofcom as well, but the complaint was rejected as out of time – not that stopped them claiming that Ofcom had found in their favour. Abjol Miah, too, made failed complaints to both Ofcom and the PCC. Not that stopped him lying about the outcome, either.

The reason this complaint took seven months to resolve is that the IFE simply would not take no for an answer, betting that we would get tired of responding to their endless new responses. Like the complaint itself, that was a bet they lost. Islamists use the tactics of serial pestering and legal threat (we’ve had one of those from the IFE, too) to escape media scrutiny, relying on the fact that most journalists do not have the time and energy to fend them off.

For the slower learners out there, I should state once again that we are the exception. We will always find the energy, and put in the time, to defend our journalism against the lies of proven liars.

Ken Livingstone 'cannot win', says top Labour official

Boris Johnson (left) and Ken Livingstone
Boris Johnson (left) and Ken Livingstone

The official in charge of the London Labour Party has been removed after saying that Ken Livingstone, Labour’s candidate for the mayoralty, “cannot win” next year’s election if he continues as now.

Hilary Perrin, Labour’s London regional director, has been moved back to her previous role overseeing all the regional directors after Ken and his chief of staff, Simon Fletcher, appealed to Ed Miliband’s office. Another London Labour official, Paul Harrington, has also left his job. An awayday to plan the campaign, supposed to take place last Friday, was cancelled.

Ms Perrin’s view about Ken’s chances was repeatedly expressed inside Labour HQ in front of witnesses, some of whom I’ve spoken to. But the remarks were not, I’m told, the immediate cause of her removal – her views are very widely shared in the higher ranks of the London Labour Party. Instead, Ken and Fletcher blamed her and her staff for his poor opinion poll showing (the latest poll puts Ken further behind his rival, Boris Johnson, than when he lost in 2008.) They say that she and the regional party have failed to galvanise grassroots support.

This seems unfair. In the same poll of Londoners that put Ken seven points behind Boris, Labour was 19 points ahead of the Tories. It is clear that Ken is the drag on the Labour ticket, and not vice-versa.

There has long been tension between Team Livingstone and Labour’s  professional campaigners. “You can cut the mistrust with a knife,” says one person in Labour HQ. During the 2008 election, many Labour staff and London MPs were aghast at the ineptitude of the Ken campaign and its refusal to take good advice. Though the organisations are now more closely integrated than before, Ms Perrin and many others are deeply worried that Ken is making many of the same mistakes as in 2008 – trying to paint Boris as a right-wing monster, not a theme with much credibility or traction, and in the process coming across as negative and nasty.

For the exemplar of this approach, look at Livingstone’s extraordinary speech to last month’s Labour conference – in which he said Boris “wished for” higher unemployment, appeared to blame the Mayor for the riots and explicitly equated them with Boris’s behaviour in the Bullingdon Club. The speech attacks Boris by name 22 times. Boris, in his own speech to the Tory conference, didn’t attack anyone, and didn’t mention Ken once.

Ms Perrin is the second holder of her job to be effectively ousted by Ken in six months. Her predecessor, Ken Clark – who strongly opposed Livingstone’s support for Lutfur Rahman, the Tower Hamlets politician sacked by Labour for his extremist links – was also removed at short notice earlier this year.

Ms Perrin’s replacement is a Labour official, Patrick Heneghan. However, he will work under Fletcher, who now has a new title of campaign chief of staff.  “Ken is calling the shots,” said one Labour figure. “I’ve never worked on another campaign where the candidate is in charge of the campaign.”

In Labour circles, there are two theories about Ed Miliband’s role in the latest turmoil. The first is that he is simply in thrall to Livingstone. The second is that he is giving Ken enough rope to hang himself. Either way, this is another stage in the continuing meltdown that is the Livingstone comeback tour.

Update: Labour has issued the following statement, which I give in full. It is not, you’ll note, a denial. “London Labour has been put on an election footing as we approach 2012. Ken Livingstone’s campaign and the national and regional party are working closely together to deliver the strategy that will win in London and deliver an administration that puts Londoners and our city first. London deserves better than the mismanagement it is suffering under its Tory Mayor.”

Ken Livingstone ahead in latest poll

The latest tool of political statisticians
The latest tool of political statisticians

Got you there, didn’t I? Don’t worry – it’s only pizza politics. For the last few weeks Pizza Express has been offering diners the Ken and the Boris, two rival pizzas shaped in the likenesses ofLondon’s two thin-crusted political giants. The chain announced last night that the Ken (unnecessarily extravagant toppings on a Guardian-reader base, er sorry avocado on a tomato base) has outsold the Boris by a soaraway 4 per cent margin.

The fascinating thing is that Ken’s chief of staff, Simon Fletcher, has actually tweeted the joyous tidings to his followers. I suppose when the real polls are so bad, you need all the good news you can get.

Bob Lambert was a police spy, says the Guardian

Bob Lambert, right. (Photo via The Guardian)
Bob Lambert, right. (Photo via The Guardian)

Readers of this blog will know that I have often locked horns with Robert Lambert, one of Britain’s most important Islamist fellow-travellers, for the deeply shoddy work he has produced in his capacity as an Exeter University academic.

Lambert’s unit, the “European Muslim Research Centre,” is heavily funded by Islamist groups and serves its clients by producing pseudo-academic reports claiming, against nearly all the evidence, that life for British Muslims is going to hell in a handcart. You can see my explanation of the deceit involved in his last one here (another part of the same report even had to be withdrawn as libellous.) Lambert is a key defender of Islamism – and a key attacker of its critics, such as myself – and is to be found on every public platform where the East London Mosque,IFE, Muslim Council of Britain and others gather to mourn lost influence. Now, his credibility appears to have been destroyed.

Lambert, a former police officer, has made no secret of the fact that he used to work for Special Branch (as head of the Met’s Muslim Contact Unit, he pioneered the now discarded approach of officially anointing “good Islamists” in the hope that they would act as a bulwark against “bad Islamists.”)

Today’s Guardian, however, goes much further, calling him  “a former spy who controlled a network of undercover police officers in political groups” and “ran operations at a covert unit that placed police spies into political campaigns, including those run by anti-racism groups. The unit also disrupted the activities of these groups. Lambert became head of the unit after going undercover himself…he becomes the seventh police officer to be exposed as a police spy in the protest movement.” They are the Guardian’s claims – and we don’t have Lambert’s side of the story – but they are endorsed by at least one of the groups he allegedly infiltrated. The story has been up for nearly 24 hours now and I haven’t heard any denials.

The claims relate mainly to the 1980s and 90s, but the interesting question is whether Lambert has continued to work undercover since supposedly leaving the police. I must say I was always glad to have Lambert as an opponent, simply because his arguments were so easy to unravel. I thought he was just stupid – but maybe he was playing a much cleverer game.

Certainly, Britain’s Islamists are deeply upset and depressed today at the implosion of a man they thought was one of their key advocates. The East London Mosque is hosting an event next month to promote his “ground-breaking research.” I wonder if that one will stay on the calendar much longer?