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.

 

Lutfur Rahman can be described as 'extremist-backed,' rules Press Complaints Commission (but we will publish his denials)

Closely linked to Islamic extremism: Lutfur Rahman

Since April Lutfur Rahman, the extremist-backed mayor of Tower Hamlets, has been pursuing a PCC campaign against the Telegraph. He has over the last eight months made four complaints, all of which were finally resolved to our satisfaction last week.

1. That we described him as “extremist-backed” by virtue of his “close links” to an extremist Islamic organisation, the Islamic Forum of Europe. Rahman claimed that he had “repeatedly and consistently denied links to the IFE.” We pointed out that he had in fact repeatedly refused to deny having links to the IFE, including here and here. We pointed out that many others in Tower Hamlets politics, including the chief coordinator of his own mayoral election campaign, Bodrul Islam, have stated his links with the extremists in terms and on the record.

The PCC rejected Rahman’s complaint, saying that to describe him as being “extremist-backed” and as having “close links” to the IFE was “not misleading.”  We will continue to detail Rahman’s many links with extremism, but have agreed to start including the denials which he has recently started making.

2. That we gave the impression he had been charged with fraud in a blogpost headlined “Lutfur Rahman councillor is charged with fraud.” Rahman claimed that the article, about one of his supporters, Cllr Shelina Akhtar,could confuse people whose English was poor. As we pointed out, the very first sentences of the piece read: “One of the most prominent supporters of Tower Hamlets’ extremist-backed mayor, Lutfur Rahman, has been charged with fraud. Councillor Shelina Akhtar appears in court next month.” The piece goes on to say that “Akhtar is accused… She is charged with… She remains a member of Tower Hamlets council at the time of writing.” As we said, it is perfectly clear that the mayor was not the individual charged. His name is not Shelina Akhtar, he is not a councillor and he is not a woman.

The PCC rejected Rahman’s complaint,saying: “The article made clear from the opening paragraph that it was the councillor and not the complainant who had been charged. The Commission did not agree that readers would be misled.”

3. That in our reporting of his decision to give a character reference to a convicted sex attacker, we failed to mention that the reference had subsequently been withdrawn. We pointed out that the man, a minicab driver, had pleaded guilty to a serious sexual assault on a helpless woman passenger seven full weeks before Rahman gave his reference in court, at the sentencing hearing. Rahman withdrew the reference only once the matter got into the press, well after the man had already been sentenced. By that time it was too late to do the attacker any harm or his victim any good.

The PCC rejected Rahman’s complaint, saying: “As the reference had been a feature of the active consideration of the case, the Commission did not consider the omission of any mention of its later withdrawal would have significantly misled readers.”

4. That in our reporting of allegations from October 2010 onwards that Rahman took illegal donations, we failed to point out that a subsequent police enquiry had (in February 2011) found “no case to answer.” We pointed out that Rahman had refused to respond to our inquiries about the allegations, or to deny the allegations in other forums, when they were first made. He had subsequently started denying them, and we had reported those denials. We told the PCC (and have also reported) that the allegation was never investigated seriously (the police did not, for instance, interview several key witnesses), and that the main complainant, Tower Hamlets’ opposition leader Peter Golds, continues to make the allegations, which he and many other figures across the political spectrum believe to be true. Nonetheless, two blogposts after February 2011 made reference to the allegations without adding the police point. We offered to add the police point to the first blogpost, and have done so. We unfortunately omitted to add the police point to the second blogpost.

The PCC said that our adding the police point to the first blogpost was a “sufficient remedy,” but said it should also have been added to the second blogpost, upholding this part of the complaint. We have now added the police point to the second post. 

As this blog will detail in the coming days, Rahman and his cronies have in recent months embarked on an aggressive campaign on several fronts, not just the PCC, to stifle criticism of their car-crash mayoralty. In our case, despite eight months of trying, they have comprehensively failed. We are delighted that all the key pillars of our reporting have, once again, been vindicated.

Press Complaints Commission – Lutfur Rahman adjudication

Mr Lutfur Rahman, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, complained to the Press Complaints Commission that two blog postings, headlined “Lutfur Rahman councillor charged with fraud” and “Lutfur Rahman: all his controversies in one place”, published on The Daily Telegraph’s website (telegraph.co.uk) on 13 April 2011 and 20 October 2011 respectively, were inaccurate and misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The complaint was upheld.

The April 2011 blog reported that a Tower Hamlets councillor had been charged with fraud. As part of the posting, the article made reference to the complainant having been “accused of failing to declare substantial donations” to his campaign, “a criminal offence under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act”.

The complainant said that, following a full investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police had confirmed in February 2011 that there was no case to answer: none of the allegations was found to have breached the Act. The newspaper had not contacted the complainant to establish the outcome of the police investigation prior to publication.

The newspaper stood by the statement that the complainant had been accused of failing to declare substantial donations. The allegations had been, and continued to be, levelled against him by individuals who considered that the police investigation had been inadequate. The allegations had been reported in detail on numerous occasions by the newspaper in various blogs in September and October 2010 without complaint. While the allegation had been presented as such, the newspaper nonetheless was willing to add a statement to the post making clear that the police investigation had been concluded, and its finding was that there was no case to answer.

The second blog post sought to summarise the complainant’s first year in office, presenting a timeline of what the newspaper considered to be his “controversies”. One of the entries read as follows: “September 18 [2010]: Lutfur is accused of failing to declare thousands of pounds in donations from Shiraj Haque – a criminal offence, if true”. The complainant said that, despite being in possession of evidence that the police investigation had been concluded (by virtue of the ongoing complaint), the newspaper had failed to make clear the outcome of the matter, which would have misled readers. The newspaper offered to add a similar statement to this article, and subsequently updated each blog post to include the outcome of the investigation.

Adjudication

It was not in dispute that allegations had been made over the complainant’s disclosure of donations and that the issue had been subject to considerable scrutiny, including a police investigation. In the blog posts – which fell under the remit of the PCC owing to the fact that they were subject to editorial control – the newspaper had been wholly entitled to refer to these allegations, which were serious and a matter of public interest.

However, under the Editors’ Code, the newspaper was also required to take care not to present the allegations in a manner which would be inaccurate or misleading to readers.  This included reporting the outcome of the relevant police investigation, which had concluded in February 2011 that there was no case to answer.  The Commission considered that, by failing to include this information, readers would have been misled into believing that the investigation was ongoing. This raised a breach of Clause 1.

The Commission considered that the newspaper’s offer to update the April blog with the outcome of the police investigation was a sufficient remedy to this breach, and represented a public acknowledgement of the full position.

The case should have rested there.  However, the newspaper had then repeated the allegations in a timeline about the complainant, without reference to the conclusion of the investigation (despite having been provided with evidence of the outcome as part of the PCC complaint). This was regrettable, and preventable. The blog had made reference to the claim being “a criminal offence, if true” without any mention of the position in regard to the police investigation.  This would have clearly misled readers in breach of Clause 1.

It was the publication of this second blog that has led to the Commission finding an outstanding breach of the Code, and the complaint has been upheld on that basis.

 

*****************

Lutfur Rahman also complained that the April 2011 blog contained additional inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code.  The complaint was not upheld.

The complainant said that the headline gave the misleading impression either that he had been charged with fraud, or that he had been connected to the charges against the councillor, which was not the case. The councillor in question was independent and not part of any group. In addition, the article stated that the complainant had given a character reference for use in court to a convicted sex attacker. This was misleading as the article had failed to make clear that the complainant had subsequently withdrawn the character reference.

The complainant had raised a further concern over a description of him as “extremist-backed” and the claim that he had close links with an organisation called the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE). He considered that the article implied that he was an extremist. He had repeatedly denied links with the IFE.  While it was not unusual in a borough such as Tower Hamlets to be supported by members of the IFE, this did not mean he had close links to the organisation. Allegations of these links had been made following his selection as Labour Party candidate for the Tower Hamlets’ directly-elected mayoralty, but had never been investigated or conclusively proven.

The newspaper said that the councillor who had been charged had been one of eight who had left the Labour Party in order to support the complainant. As such, it was not misleading to draw an association between them. The headline referred to a councillor – which the complainant was not – and the opening paragraphs stated that one of his “prominent supporters” had been charged with fraud. This was not misleading.

On the second point, the newspaper said that the complainant had withdrawn the character reference only after it had been used at the sentencing of the individual. He had pleaded guilty to sexual assault seven weeks earlier, and the complainant had had ample time to withdraw the reference, yet had failed to do so. Once more, the newspaper’s position was that this was not misleading.

Finally, the newspaper said that it had described the complainant in the blog as “extremist-backed” because he was “backed” by an organisation it considered to be extremist. The ideology of the IFE warranted, in its view, such a description. The newspaper had never claimed that the complainant himself was “extremist”. The newspaper said that the complainant was certainly linked to the IFE and pointed to specific examples of individuals connected to the politics of the area asserting that a relationship existed between the complainant and the IFE. Moreover, the complainant had been removed following his selection as Labour candidate for mayor owing, amongst other things, to his alleged links to the IFE. Nonetheless, the newspaper was prepared in any future blog posts on the subject to include the complainant’s denial of links to the organisation.

Adjudication

The Commission has ruled on many occasions that – owing to their brevity – headlines must be considered in the context of the article when read as a whole. Given the public support the councillor had given the complainant in the past, it was not misleading or inaccurate, in the Commission’s view, to link them in the headline. The article had made clear from the opening paragraphs that it had been the councillor and not the complainant who had been charged with fraud. The Commission did not agree that readers would be misled and did not find a breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) on this point.

On the second point, there was no dispute that the complainant had withdrawn the character reference used in the court case of a man who had pleaded guilty to sexual assault. However, it was also not in doubt that it had been withdrawn after it had been used in court and the man sentenced. As the reference had been a feature of the active consideration of the case, the Commission did not consider that the omission of any mention of its later withdrawal would have significantly misled readers. This part of the complaint was not upheld.

There were some final issues to consider: the reference to the complainant being “extremist-backed”, and the claim of his links to the IFE (to which the newspaper had referred in several blog posts on the topic). The Commission was satisfied that the article at no point stated that the complainant himself was extremist, or that readers would have been misled into thinking that he was.  The claim in the article was rather that the complainant was “extremist-backed”. It was not in dispute that members of the IFE supported the complainant.

In considering whether the group could reasonably be described as “extremist”, the Commission had to have regard for the context in which the claim had been made. The article was a blog post which clearly reflected the journalist’s position on the events he reported. Readers would have been aware, not least because of the nature of the claim itself, that this represented his opinion, which may have been disputed. The newspaper had, in addition, explained the grounds for using the term to describe the IFE.   Ultimately, however, this was a matter of opinion and interpretation.   The Commission – which has not received a complaint from the IFE about the article – did not consider that it could establish that the term “extremist” was misleading.

The newspaper and the complainant held incompatible positions as to whether the complainant had “close links” to the IFE. Reference to “links”, close or otherwise, might often be disputed, as the term could be interpreted in several ways.   It was not in doubt that there had been prominent allegations of links between the complainant and the IFE at the time of his de-selection as the Labour candidate for the mayoral election. Nor was there dispute that the complainant had had contact with members of the IFE, or that members of the IFE supported him.

In these circumstances, the Commission did not consider that the term “close links” was misleading in breach of the Code. Nonetheless, given the complainant’s stance on the matter, the Commission welcomed the newspaper’s offer to include his denial of such a connection in future posts, for the benefit of its readers. This part of the complaint was not upheld.

Relevant posts are here and here.

Happy Christmas Aslef, says Ken Livingstone

There was a fascinating vignette on Ken and David Mellor’s LBC show on Saturday. Mick Whelan, the general secretary of the rail union Aslef, worked on a weekend to put the case for his downtrodden Tube drivers (they are, you’ll remember, striking on Boxing Day and three other days for triple time and extra holiday in lieu, even though they already get £45,000 and seven weeks’ holiday a year.)

Boxing Day is, of course, one of the key shopping days of the whole calendar – a day which London’s struggling retailers badly need to be a success. Gently probed by Mellor on whether it was fair for Aslef’s handsomely-rewarded members, in their totally secure jobs, to jeopardise the employment of much less well-paid shopworkers, Whelan came out with some classic phrases which deserve a wider audience.

“We see ourselves as stakeholders in London, we always have,” he said. “Most of your days off aren’t yours because of the strictures around alcohol and whatever.” You’d actually have to get utterly plastered on your last day off to fall foul of TfL’s alcohol policy – and I’m intrigued at the Aslef view that no leisure can be considered complete without large amounts of alcohol…or “whatever.”

“People don’t just give you your salary for nothing,” went on Whelan. Being a Tube driver was “one of the hardest, most responsible roles in transport.” By now, listeners across London were openly weeping at the sheer pathos of the drivers’ plight. Or perhaps they were just tears of laughter?

Second only to head of compliments at Virgin Trains, being a Tube driver is in fact the easiest job in transport. Unlike almost every other kind of transport employee, you almost never have to deal with the public. You never have to drive in traffic. You spend your whole time sitting down. The service pattern, with all the trains travelling at roughly the same speed along the same few routes, is nothing like as complicated as a surface railway. The system is substantially enclosed. You don’t even, on an increasing number of Tube lines, actually have to drive the train: it drives itself. All you do is sit in your chair and press a button to open and close the doors. A machine could do it – and in many cities, it does.

Ken, of course, wasn’t about to point this out. As the London Tory MP Jane Ellison, co-chair of the parliamentary retail group, noted today, Labour has taken £35,000 in donations from Aslef already this year, much of it for Ken’s campaign, and Ken personally has had nearly £40k from the union over the years. Ken ended the Whelan interview with a cheery message to his paymasters: “I suspect I’m not speaking for the unanimity of all Londoners,” he chortled. “But do have a good Christmas.”

I somehow think they will, Ken. Now how about getting round to the rest of us?