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.