Ken Livingstone's running mate attacks his 'misjudgement' on Islamic extremism

Ken with Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who has justified rape

Ken Livingstone’s mayoral running-mate, Val Shawcross, yesterday denounced Ken’s support for the Muslim extremist, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, as a “misjudgment” and a “mistake” and criticised Ken for “not apologising sooner” for the “stupid and unpleasant things” he said to Oliver Finegold, the Jewish journalist he likened to a “concentration camp guard.”

Ms Shawcross confirmed to me today that she had said the remarks, to a mayoral hustings at a Jewish conference at Warwick University. It’s a very interesting development. My first thought was whether it could possibly be preparing the ground for a new approach by Ken, to try to reduce some of the huge cluster of negatives that surround him by admitting that he was wrong. It would be unprecedented, if so – and it does not seem to be the case.

Ms Shawcross told me that her remarks had not been discussed with Ken. “It was a Q&A. I didn’t discuss a script with Ken, I didn’t discuss the hustings at all [with him] apart from who would attend,” she says. “I was speaking in my capacity as a London Assembly member.”

Ken’s links with Muslim extremists are one of his most disturbing features. As mayor he channelled hundreds of thousands of pounds to a hardline mosque run by the Islamic extremist group, the IFE, and in return benefited from some, shall we say, interesting help from them at the 2008 election. Last year he campaigned against his own party in order to back the IFE’s candidate for mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman.

Ken also continues to defend Qaradawi, who has cost him support among liberals, gay people, Jews, feminists and democrats. As recently as March, he told questioners who raised the issue at a campaign event in strongly-Jewish Barnet that “you shouldn’t smear a man you haven’t met. I met Sheikh Qaradawi. Am I to believe the Daily Mail rather than what I hear a man say with his own voice? Here was Sheikh Qaradawi saying, not just to me in private but the audience he addressed in City Hall and then to Paxman on Newsnight: No-one should discriminate against a homosexual.  No man should physically assault his wife.”

I don’t know about the Mail. But the good Sheikh did tell that well-known tool of the right-wing lie machine, the Guardian, that he supported a husband’s right to “lightly” beat his wife, and that homosexuality was “a clash between morality and immorality.” In his own book , The Lawful and Prohibited in Islam, not published by Associated Newspapers as far as I know, Qaradawi has reiterated his views on wife-beating and called for gay people to be killed. And Ken unfortunately forgot to mention that among Yusuf’s other statements on Newsnight was strong support for suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. He has also defended rape, saying that “to be absolved from guilt, the raped woman must have shown some sort of good conduct.”

It is not the first time Shawcross has shown a clearer understanding than Ken himself of where his interests lie: last year, after her adoption as Ken’s official deputy, she fired a little shot across the great man’s bows over the Lee Jasper fiasco. “Ken didn’t attend to the nature and performance of his team as much as he should have last time,” she said. Ken, of course, continues to defend Jasper – even claiming, absurdly, that he has been “exonerated.”

If Ken is to be diverted from his suicide trajectory, he must apologise and admit his mistakes himself. That still looks highly unlikely. In the meantime, it’s come to something when you are criticised by even your own running-mate.

Update: Ken’s spokesman has contacted me to say that Ken is “very relaxed about Val’s comments.”

Ken Livingstone draws 'diving' lines

Underwater: Ken campaign wants to create "diving lines"

A year and a quarter since he became their candidate, Ken Livingstone’s supporters are having to dig pretty deep for victory these days. The latest issue of the Labour paper Tribune claims that recent polling has shown “a decisive advantage opening up for Mr Livingstone.” Those would be the polls showing Boris seven and eight points ahead, respectively!

Second place in the desperation stakes goes to a claim, earlier this month, by Tom Copley, a Labour London Assembly candidate, that “the mayoral race is narrowing towards eye-wateringly close percentages” with Ken “just 1.4% short of the swing across London he needs to seize victory.” This was based on a poll showing Boris 1 per cent ahead of Ken in the London byelection seat of Feltham and Heston, compared with 5 per cent in the same seat at the 2008 mayoral election.

I hope somebody’s had a chance by now to explain to Mr Copley the folly of extrapolating a London-wide swing from one single, solidly Labour constituency. Equally dubious is comparing byelections with “proper” elections. Older readers will remember those “just for fun” Peter Snow graphics predicting that the Lib Dems would sweep Westminster on the basis of some great byelection triumph.

In a “leaked strategy document” last week (indistinguishable, to the naked eye, from a press release – but getting more coverage because it had “confidential” written across the top) Simon Fletcher, Ken’s chief of staff, made a characteristically brilliant and timely campaign play. In order to create what Fletcher called a “clear diving line” the campaign would, he decided, paint Boris Johnson as… a Tory! This searing insight emerged at pretty much the same moment as the Tories went back into the lead in the national polls.

It is fun to mock Livingstone’s hopeless thrashing around. Has there ever been a campaign which has worked so hard, for so long, to so little effect? How much further, I wonder, can Ken “dive?” But at this end of year assessment it is clear that Boris’s campaign, too, has weaknesses, though they are small compared to Ken’s.

The first is that Boris’s rebuttal operation is useless. Earlier this month Ken announced something which was reported by the BBC as a pledge to introduce rent controls. This could be a popular idea, but isn’t actually Ken’s policy – for the very good reason that the mayor has no power to control rents. Part of the reason it was reported as if it was Ken’s policy was that Boris responded as if it was, attacking the notion of rent controls.

Livingstone’s actual promise was merely to “campaign for” a “living rent” – though he has absolutely no levers to deliver that, either. In the campaign for a “living wage,” the GLA, as a major employer, did have power to set both wages, and an example in the labour market. It sets no rents whatever and has no such presence in the housing market. The rebuttal should have quickly exposed Ken’s policy as yet another fantasy offering; instead, it actually gave it more substance than Ken could have hoped.

Last month, when Ken announced a plan to “bring back” the zones 2-6 Travelcard, a spokesman for Boris defended the “abolition” of the card. It was left to this blog to point out that the zones 2-6 Travelcard never went away.

All this also illustrates the broader risk – that Boris allows his opponents to define terms. I am reasonably sure that Ken’s hoped-for Exocet, his fare cut, can work for Boris if the mayor can define it as an issue of Ken’s honesty: pointing out that Ken has neither the money, nor the intention, to carry it through; lovingly listing the many times he has promised to hold down fares, then proceeded to do the precise opposite.

Just before Christmas, however, Boris raised the possibility of some fares cuts of his own. It may have been a careless response to an Assembly question, but it was still pretty stupid – it gave just a breath of legitimacy to Ken’s fantasy policy, undercut the argument about there being no money and moved the debate on to Livingstone’s ground. Time, perhaps, for Johnson to announce that he’s looked into the idea and it’s unfortunately not possible after all.

In the end it may not matter much: this election will be about personalities, not policies, and Boris just has a nicer personality. Even on policy, Ken has unleashed his big guns very early – perhaps another sign of his desperation, but risking their being old news by the time most voters start tuning in.

It never does any harm, though, to guard all your flanks.

Lutfur Rahman's tax-avoiding cabinet member buys himself a Porsche

Shahed Ali's "new toy"

It’s been “Lutfur Rahman week” on the blog, as we look at some of the people around Tower Hamlets’ extremist-linked mayor. On Tuesday I introduced you to Cllr Shahed Ali, Lutfur’s cabinet member for the environment, who liquidated his restaurant business owing £25,000 to the taxman – though the restaurant continued to be owned by him, and continued to trade exactly as it always has.

Tuesday, as it happens, was also Cllr Ali’s 41st birthday – and to mark the happy occasion, happy at least before the blogpost went up, he bought himself a Porsche.

As Shahed puts it on his Facebook page: “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to. My new toy for my Birthday treat!”

That’s it in my photo – a Porsche Cayenne 4.5ltr 4×4 with a V8 turbo engine, currently retailing at up to £87,000. Being a Lutfur Rahman councillor must pay more than I thought…

To be fair, Shahed’s model appears to be last year’s, available on the secondhand market for as little as £46,000. But that, er, “saving” his company was able to make on tax must still have come in handy when he was amassing the pennies in the piggybank.

Shahed receives just under £23,000 in “special responsibility allowances” from the taxpayer for his council role and is responsible for spending about £70 million of taxpayers’ money. But he told me this week he would not be paying the money his company owes in tax.

And has Shahed had yet another helping hand from the taxpayer, too, I wonder? In January this year, according to Companies House, he registered a new company, Arts Worldwide, giving his home address as a flat in Harkness House, Christian Street, E1. The flat concerned is a council property. You know, those things, subsidised with public money, that are supposed to be for people in urgent need.

But Shahed owns at least four properties of his own – his Essex restaurant, the property next door, a flat in Cannon Street Road, Shadwell, and yet another flat in Manchester Road, on the Isle of Dogs. Whatever can his urgent need be? A parking space for his new Porsche?

It is perhaps just a coincidence that Shahed’s Christian Street flat first popped on to the public record soon after he announced his support for Lutfur, the man expelled from Labour for his close links with Islamist extremism. But there does seem to be a link between Lutfur supporters and Tower Hamlets council flats.  In August, I exposed how Shiraj Haque, Lutfur’s chief backer and a millionaire, was the proud tenant of a housing association house in Bethnal Green, despite owning at least eight properties of his own, a chain of restaurants and a supermarket.

Nothing’s too good for the workers, as they say.

PS We do of course have printouts, in case Shahed is tempted to change his Facebook.

PPS Lutfur denies links with extremism.

Lutfur Rahman cabinet member: 'I luv my weapons'

Oh dear – here’s the social networking website that Cllr Rania Khan forgot! The picture above, of a rather ferocious-looking hand dagger, is taken from Rania’s pages on the “Hi5″ site. In the caption beneath it, Lutfur Rahman’s cabinet member for culture declares: “This is wat i m takin about. I knw its not lady like, but i luv my weapons.”

However many “weapons” has Rania got, I wonder? The one in the pic alone is almost certainly worth two years if she’s caught with it in the street…

There’s also a delightful outbreak of homophobia (completely unprecedented on Planet Rahman, of course.) Beneath a shot of a young man with his arm round another one, Rania tenderly declares: “My cozn’s gone batty brav.” Batty is of course slang for gay in leading progressive circles, such as school playgrounds, English Defence League demonstrations, and the vocabularies of Lutfur Rahman supporters. And I’m sure the reason the two lads are holding a rose in their picture can’t be anything to do with mocking other people’s sexual orientation.

Other pictures on Rania’s site include one of the extremist cleric Zakir Naik, banned from Britain after saying that “every Muslim should be a terrorist,” and Rania herself with publicity material from the hardline Islamic Human Rights Commission, which busies itself with attacking the prosecution of such notable victims of British imperialism as – er- Abu Hamza. Visit soon before she takes them down!

Rania was a keynote speaker at last month’s Fem 11 conference; one of the top subjects on the agenda was defeating violence against women. The possession of instruments of violence by women, however, seems to be something she’s held rather more mixed views on.

Let’s hope Rania has grown up a bit since posting these pics – they are six years old. But when she put them up, she was only a few months off becoming a councillor. And her ghastly English is almost as bad for someone who’s supposed to be promoting high cultural standards. None of it will do much for Lutfur’s attempts to deny his links to Islamic extremism. Is there a single member of the mayor’s inner circle, I wonder, who is not a complete embarrassment?

(Update 23 Dec: Rania has now changed the captions to her pics. Don’t worry, printouts of the originals available on request…)

 

Lutfur Rahman council suspends ex-leader after complaint by Islamic extremist

Lutfur Rahman: extremist links

A man called Hira Islam was a key figure in our expose, last year, of the Islamist takeover of Tower Hamlets council. He is a close ally of Lutfur Rahman, the borough’s extremist-linked executive mayor. He is a senior member of the extremist Islamic Forum of Europe, which controls the East London Mosque. He is a former trustee of the mosque. He is a member of the Labour Party. And he is also an officer of the council.

Now, astonishingly, Hira Islam has managed to get Helal Abbas, a former leader of Tower Hamlets, suspended from office for saying precisely the things about him which this blog has said, without complaint or challenge, for the best part of two years.

In September 2010, Cllr Abbas – and many other people appalled at Lutfur’s selection as Labour candidate for the first directly-elected executive mayoralty of Tower Hamlets – submitted information to Labour’s National Executive Committee that resulted in Lutfur being sacked as the Labour candidate. Abbas, a long-term Rahman rival, was imposed as Labour’s candidate instead but Lutfur won election anyway, as an independent. Abbas’s statement was later leaked.

Cllr Abbas told the NEC that Hira Islam had played a central role in Lutfur’s previous election as leader of the Labour group, and thus of the council, in 2008. He said that Mr Islam had canvassed councillors on Lutfur’s and the IFE’s behalf, “offering and negotiating positions [in] Lutfur Rahman’s cabinet” in return for their support.

He also said that Hira Islam was “undergoing council disciplinary proceedings” after being seen hanging round a local polling station (a common IFE tactic) in Lutfur’s company and interfering with the May 2010 elections.

Earlier this month, in a secret ruling which has found its way to me, Tower Hamlets’ standards committee found that by saying all this Cllr Abbas had “brought the authority into disrepute” and “disclosed confidential information relating to staff matters.” He had, they said, “made his statement [to the NEC] for a political purpose.” They suspended him for a week, or for four weeks if he refused to apologise to Mr Islam.

The judgment is so ridiculous in so many ways: the fact that the council claims jurisdiction over a private statement made in an internal Labour Party process, which only became public because it was leaked; the condemnation of a politician for acting for a “political purpose;” the preposterous, ponderous (and expensive) report of the council’s “investigators,” with their “witness statements” and “mitigating factors;” the absurd, Orwellian letter of apology they drafted, which Cllr Abbas is meant to sign; the idea that a salaried council official committing democratic wrongdoing should somehow be considered “confidential information.”

But the main problem with it is simple: everything Cllr Abbas has been condemned for saying was true.

On 26 July last year, I can reveal, Hira Islam was indeed disciplined by the council for conduct which “could have been interpreted as interfering with the elections.” He was given an oral and written warning. It’s true that the disciplinary process had concluded a few weeks before Abbas wrote to the NEC, and wasn’t (as he said) still under way, but that is of no significance.

On the other matter, I have spoken to five serving or former Tower Hamlets Labour councillors who tell me in terms that Mr Islam did indeed canvass them on Lutfur’s and the IFE’s behalf, sometimes offering jobs. Ted Jeory, another close media observer of East London politics who broke the Abbas suspension story, has been told exactly the same thing by councillors. “Ted, IFE, we are petrified by these guys; they’ve got us by the balls,” he describes one councillor as saying.

We first reported this in March 2010, naming Mr Islam as “Mr A,” and using his real name since August 2010. (We didn’t initially use Hira’s name because we couldn’t prove his links to the IFE. We can now; indeed he now freely admits his membership.)

No complaints have ever been received by the Telegraph about this from Lutfur or Hira Islam. Indeed, when approached for comment before first publication, neither man would deny the claims (Lutfur denied that threats or promises were made, though did not deny that Hira canvassed for him; and Hira in his complaint against Abbas now does deny that he made threats or offers of jobs.)

Cllr Abbas is now appealing against his suspension, which has, so to speak, been suspended. But the resort to this sort of bullying is quite clearly another of Lutfur’s tactics to stifle criticism of his car-crash mayoralty. Abbas is not the only Lutfur opponent to have been reported to the standards committee. I will write about the others in the days ahead.

While we await the outcome of the appeal, meanwhile, we can savour Mr Islam’s complaint against Abbas, bathetic in its lip-wobbling outrage. “The whole incident has affected my reputation, both in the council and the community,” he trembles. “It has affected my family. It has caused me worry, anxiety and associated stress.”

But Mr Islam’s reputation deserves to be affected. He ought to suffer stress. He is supposed to be a neutral council officer with a professional and indeed legal obligation to refrain from politics. Instead, he is at the very least interfering in elections, at worst lobbying councillors on behalf of a particular political candidate and a particular extremist ideology. In any normal council, anyone who espouses the IFE’s repellent ideas would not be given a position of responsibility. In any normal council, Hira Islam would be in the dock, not the man exposing his wrongdoing.

But this, of course, is Planet Lutfur Rahman.

PS  Lutfur denies any links with extremism.

Boris Johnson's new bus: an infallible stupidity detector

Last week the new Borismaster bus made its debut on the London streets, for a photocall in Trafalgar Square, before entering passenger service in February. I couldn’t go – I was doing something for the paper – and as you might know, I have mixed feelings about the compromised design anyway.

But there’s no doubt that aesthetically and environmentally the new vehicle is streets ahead of London’s current buses. And it has one other cardinal virtue: it is an infallible stupidity detector.

The Labour Party has spent the last two years demanding state investment in public services, in manufacturing, in green technology and in British jobs. This bus delivers all four. So why is Val Shawcross, Ken Livingstone’s mayoral running-mate, campaigning against it? Clearly on Planet Ken, the real need is for public services, manufacturing, green technology and British jobs – except any delivered by Boris Johnson.

Ms Shawcross, of course, has a long-standing interest in manufacturing – manufacturing fantasy figures for the cost of the Borismaster, that is, based solely on the cost of the first eight prototypes. Prototypes are always expensive, of course, but with hundreds of the buses to be produced the unit cost will come right down.

Still, even on Planet Ken, the numbers are heading in the right direction. On December 8, Ms Shawcross’s fantasy figure for the cost of the new Borismaster stood at £1.6 million per bus. By December 16, in heavy trading, it was down to £1.3 million – a £300,000 reduction in just over a week! At this rate, Val, by mid-January you’ll be paying us…

I have a feeling, too, that the new bus has really caught the public imagination: the only opposition I’ve found to it comes from the kind of people who think that putting the words “Bullingdon Club” in a blogpost constitutes a political argument.  You sort of have to admire the Ken Left’s absolute determination to attach themselves to the most unpopular causes imaginable. What’s next, I wonder – taking money from the striking Tube drivers? Oh, wait a minute…

PS: If you want to see the Borismaster for yourself, and missed its public displays in Shepherds Bush and Stratford at the weekend, it is on show next month in the following places:

Wed 4th Jan: Bexleyheath Broadway (10-12) and Bromley High Street (2-4).

Thurs 5th Jan: Romford High Street (10-12) and Ilford High Road (2-4).

Fri 6th Jan: Ealing Haven Green (10-12) and Golders Green Bus Station (2-4).

Sat 7th Jan: Sutton High Street (10-12) and Kingston High Street at Guildhall (2-4).

Lutfur Rahman cabinet member's company owes taxman £25,000, but won't pay

Lutfur Rahman: backed by the bad guys

Following Lutfur’s recent disappointment at the PCC, there is more bad news for Tower Hamlets’ extremist-linked mayor. His cabinet member for the environment, Cllr Shahed Ali, has been running a company that owes the taxman a great deal of money.

Companies House records show that Cllr Ali was company secretary and a director of a firm called Last Viceroy of British India Ltd. The company, which was based at the same address as a restaurant of the same name in Frinton-on-Sea, Essex, never filed any accounts. But on 7 October 2009 its directors placed it in voluntary liquidation and in August 2010 they dissolved it.

Almost the sole creditors were HM Revenue and Customs. The insolvency documents show that they are owed £16,000 in unpaid VAT and £9,000 in unpaid income tax and national insurance. There are, alas, no means to pay this bill: the company was wound up without assets of any kind. Happily, however, the restaurant appears to have carried on trading very much as normal!

Well, almost as normal. In December 2009, there was a slight interruption in service when the authorities raided the premises, arresting three of the staff who turned out to be illegal immigrants. One was found hiding on the roof. They probably didn’t pay all that much tax either.

The restaurant was still in business as of this Saturday, according to a review posted on the Qype website. It is now run by a company called Dinebest – which, surely by complete coincidence, popped up at just about the same time that the Last Viceroy of India company was placed into voluntary liquidation. Dinebest’s sole director is another Mr Ali, Anhar. Any relation of Shahed, I wonder? Interestingly, the contact for the restuarant’s management on Qype is still given as “Shaheduk.” Maybe Shahed/Anhar just forgot to change it.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention: Land Registry records show that Shahed Ali is still the owner of the restaurant, and indeed the property next door too. So he probably does have some assets which could be used to pay that tax bill, after all!

When I called Cllr Ali, he at first claimed not to have heard of Last Viceroy of British India. “Are you sure you’ve got the right information?” he asked. I pointed out that Last Viceroy is listed in his Companies House entry along with a number of companies which he declares in his register of interests at the Town Hall. I could also have pointed out that he owns the restaurant, and that the company secretary’s mobile phone number in Last Viceroy’s company records is the same as his.

Cllr Ali’s memory then staged a rapid recovery. He admitted that he had been secretary of the company. He insisted, however, that its liquidation had most definitely not been a ruse to avoid paying tax. So would he, I asked, now be paying the Revenue the tax owed? “The company is liquidated, that’s the end of the story,” he said.

Cllr Ali currently makes quite a lot of money from the taxpayer – he is paid £22,723 in “special responsibility allowances.” And he spends even more taxpayers’ money – his part of the council has a budget of at least £70 million. So I decided to ask the question again. Would he be paying the tax that is owed to the Revenue? “The company is liquidated, that’s the end of the story,” he repeated.

I think that’s a no, don’t you?

PS Cllr Ali is of course not the first of Lutfur’s councillors or supporters to attract controversy. There’s Shiraj Haque, whose restaurants were raided by the police for counterfeiting; Shelina Akhtar, shortly to stand trial for fraud; Alibor Choudhury, who has seen the inside of a courtroom more than once (and is now, incredibly, in charge of the council’s budget); and not forgetting Shah Yousouf, who will stand trial in April for alleged election crimes.

PPS Lutfur denies any links to extremism.