Lutfur Rahman: an election Labour chose to lose

He’s back

Lutfur Rahman, the extremist-linked mayor of Tower Hamlets, narrowly won re-election last night – by 52 per cent to 48 after second preferences – with the help of a repertoire of tactics for which the borough has become notorious.

Promises of a police presence at every polling station were not kept, at least for the whole of the day, and even where police were present they were often ineffectual. Large and intimidating groups of Rahman supporters picketed the entrances to many polling stations, remonstrating with some voters who refused to take Rahman leaflets. Other non-Rahman voters may well have decided not to run the gauntlet.

Some polling stations were moved to new, unfamiliar, and harder-to-reach locations. One, in the not very pro-Rahman territory of Canary Wharf, was placed on a traffic island, at the bottom of a ramp, in the middle of a busy four-lane road!

Some dramatic and highly unexpected changes in vote share took place in wards which Rahman’s Labour opponents had thought completely safe for them. I will be looking more closely at some of these numbers in the days ahead.

Above all, of course, Rahman has been working for literally years to buy votes with council money. Including his personal weekly newspaper, East End Life, and countless items of direct mail, he has sent out millions of copies of what is essentially campaign literature at public expense. He paid tens of thousands in council funds to the Bengali media, which in return gives him fawning coverage. He has passed gigantic sums to his political and religious allies for often ill-defined projects, while cutting grants to many established, secular and non-Muslim organisations. Power gave him formidable advantages. (For a summary of the case against Rahman, see here.)

But the fact that Labour did come pretty close – within 3,250 votes on the final tally – shows that, despite all that, this was an election they could probably have won. Instead, they chose to lose it.

Just as the national party failed to take the fight to Ukip, so Labour in Tower Hamlets failed to take the fight to Rahman’s equally chauvinistic, populist and cynical Bangladeshi version. They fought the election almost entirely on conventional local-government issues. When they talked about “cleaning up Tower Hamlets” they meant collecting more rubbish bags from the streets.

But Tower Hamlets’ refuse collection is no different than that of many other councils (except, of course, for the large pictures of Mayor Rahman carried on the sides of the dustcarts). Council services are not what is wrong with the borough and were never going to be a strong enough issue to defeat Rahman’s vast bloc vote.

As with Ukip, the only attack that could have worked was the direct one – on Rahman’s nastiness, on his indulgent car, office and taxi expenses, on his troubling links with extremists and bigots and on his blatant and unashamed favouritism towards only one of Tower Hamlets’ diverse skin colours. This is a man who has evidenced little more than token interest in anyone who is not Bangladeshi. This is a man whose council is under two separate investigations for corruption and misuse of funds.

Yet we heard scarcely a word about that gigantic open goal from Labour’s candidate, John Biggs – he seemed scared to mention it. Rahman, like Ukip, talked directly to his core voters in language they understood – though he had literally nothing to say to anyone else. Biggs, like Ed Miliband, talked in cautious, over-calculated political-speak that didn’t really get the point across.

Biggs’s devastating rapier thrust on the grants investigation was: “The council should be about providing services to people without favour. I think [Rahman’s] got a case to answer.” He even tried to make friends with the IFE, Rahman’s extremist ally, pooh-poohing its absolutely clear Islamist agenda and soft-soaping it as “a forum where people can share ideas and understand the relationship between their faith and their role in society.”

But as the result last night shows, the forces supporting Rahman chose their side long ago and were never going to be won over by clumsy appeals of this sort. They could, however, have been outnumbered and out-organised. Only 32 per cent of Tower Hamlets is Bangladeshi. Not all Bangladeshis, and hardly any non-Bangladeshis, support Rahman. Labour knew that the key to victory was getting the 68 per cent, plus the non-Rahman Bangladeshis, to turn out in numbers approaching the Rahman crowd. The party did raise turnout, greatly. But it didn’t have a strong enough message to raise it by enough.

Labour may have calculated – or over-calculated – that direct attacks on Rahman would have allowed him to play the victim and race cards. But he did that anyway, and always was going to. The fact is that Labour, too, had a race card to play. It is a party which represents and draws support from all races. Rahman, by contrast, is a perpetrator, not a victim, of racial favouritism.

One of the most disturbing aspects of last night was that, in the council elections happening alongside the mayoralty, the Rahman camp appears to have organised heavily against white Labour councillors but not against (most) Bangladeshi Labour councillors. People who have seen the councillor ballot papers say there is an unusual amount of split-ticket voting, with Bangladeshi councillors of both Labour and Rahman’s Tower Hamlets First party doing far better in several wards than white Labour councillors (and the handful of white Tower Hamlets First candidates) in the same wards.

It seems likely, when the council results are announced today, that the council will become even more Bangladeshi-dominated than it already is. As we have noted, only 32 per cent of the population of Tower Hamlets is Bangladeshi. But even in the old council, 60 per cent of councillors were. That could rise even further, to 70 or 75 per cent, today.

Round One, the election, has been won by Rahman. Now comes Round Two, the Government investigation, due to report by the end of next month. The narrowness of Rahman’s victory helps here, making it less difficult for ministers, if sufficient evidence is found, to remove him. But it would have been far better if it had been done last night.

PS: The Guardian’s London blogger, Dave Hill, polished his reputation as the capital’s sharpest political brain when he tweeted, within about ten minutes of the polls closing: “Think it’s true and now OK for me to say that Labour confident of Mayoral triumph in Tower Hamlets, possibly by a good margin.” Dave has annoyed plenty of people in Labour with his credulous coverage of Rahman – I do hope no one was trying to make him look silly.


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Lutfur Rahman: 30 things you need to know about the extremist-linked mayor of Tower Hamlets

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Tomorrow thousands of real voters – plus, if past Tower Hamlets elections are any guide, quite a few fake ones – will deliver their verdicts on the borough’s extremist-linked executive mayor, Lutfur Rahman. Rahman’s council is currently under investigation by both the police and an official inquiry ordered by the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles.

In case anyone’s still wondering why, here (in no particular order) are my Top Thirty facts about this great democrat, socialist and human being:

1) In 2008 Rahman (then a Labour councillor) won the leadership of Tower Hamlets council with the close help of an Islamic extremist group, the Islamic Forum of Europe, which which works to create a sharia state and an “Islamic social, economic and political order” in Britain. In secret filming, IFE activists described how they exercised “consolidated… influence and power” over the council.

2) Rahman channelled millions of pounds in council grants to IFE front organisations and appointed a senior IFE figure as assistant chief executive of the council, though he was wholly unqualified for this senior post. Both the assistant chief executive and Rahman were subsequently removed from their jobs.

3) An extremist preacher was invited to speak in the council chamber and extremist literature, including audio tapes by the al-Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, was stocked in Tower Hamlets libraries.

4) In 2010, after a campaign including large numbers of fake signatures led by the IFE, Tower Hamlets was changed from having a conventional council leader to a far more personally powerful, directly-elected mayor. In secret filming, senior IFE activists described how they would “get one of our brothers” into the new post.

5) Rahman personally signed up entire families as sham members of the Labour Party to win selection as the Labour mayoral candidate. He was selected, but was then removed by Labour’s National Executive Committee, and subsequently expelled from the party.

6) Rahman won election anyway as an independent, on a tiny turnout, after his (Muslim) Labour opponent was smeared as a wife-beater and enemy of Islam in thousands of newsletters produced with Rahman’s full knowledge. The new mayor was said by his campaign manager to have a “strategic relationship” with the IFE, with “most” of his campaigners being “either Respect or IFE activists.”

7) Even though Tower Hamlets is only 34 per cent Muslim, Rahman appointed a 100 per cent Bangladeshi and Muslim cabinet. He has never appointed any non-Muslim to any cabinet post and has no non-Muslim councillors.

8) Rahman has given control over the council’s finances to Alibor Choudhury, a former employee of an IFE front organisation with a long track record of encounters with the police. Rahman has himself taken personal control of all grants over £1000.

9) Under Rahman and Choudhury, council grants have been diverted away from secular bodies serving the whole community to IFE fronts and to other groups serving largely the Muslim community. Several of these groups, the council’s scrutiny committee found, are new and without any track record. Several appear to be based in people’s private homes. Several involve individuals with close personal connections to Rahman. (For a full account of Rahman’s Muslim grants favouritism, see here.)

10) Rahman has, in the words of the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, transferred council property, Poplar Old Town Hall, to “a company involving a person [Mujibul Islam] who had helped the Mayor with his election campaign, against internal advice, and the winning bid was submitted after other bids had been opened. A number of other property transactions similarly had dubious processes.”

11) Key Rahman allies have been witnessed, and have not denied, engaging in a practice known as “vote-harvesting,” registering people for postal votes and then collecting their blank ballot papers.

12) Some of the supposed voters do not appear to exist. “Ghost” voters registered to empty properties or huge numbers of voters registered to small flats have been regular features of Tower Hamlets elections.

13) Rahman has presided over an atmosphere of menace and intimidation at council meetings. Phalanxes of Rahman supporters drafted in to the public galleries shout homophobic abuse at several key opponents of the mayor, who are gay. Rahman’s cabinet members, such as Alibor Choudhury, abuse their opponents as fascists.

14) Rahman has used council officers to hound and bully opposition councillors, spending tens of thousands of pounds of public money to make spurious, but time-consuming, legal attacks on them.

15) At council meetings, Rahman refuses to answer questions about any of these or most other issues, with officers saying that to do so would breach his human rights.

16) Rahman also refuses to engage with most other questioning. He has made almost no public appearances in this election campaign at any event where he would be required to answer questions.

17) Rahman largely ignores the non-Bengali media but pays tens of thousands of pounds of public money to UK-based Bengali-language TV stations – including £50,000 a year personally to one TV channel’s chief reporter. In return, they give him fawning coverage. The channels have been repeatedly censured by Ofcom, but it appears to make no difference.

18) Rahman has channelled further millions of taxpayers’ money into an extensive cult of personality. He has a weekly newspaper delivered to all households at public expense, containing often as many as a dozen pictures or mentions of himself.

19) Rahman has had hundreds of copies of his own picture displayed at public expense on billboards, lampposts, and even council dustcarts (to comply with election law, most have recently been removed.)

20) Rahman has used public funds to send thousands of personal letters, again with his picture on them, to residents claiming credit for things which are not his doing, such as the Government-funded council housing refurbishment programme.

21) Rahman has been hostile or indifferent to the borough’s non-Muslim heritage, threatening to close the local history library (reversed only after a storm of protest), selling off pubs and threatening them with closure, and attempting to dispose of a Henry Moore artwork whose form offended Islamic sensibilities. At the same time, he has created a new programme to channel hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money to (mainly Muslim) faith buildings.

22) Rahman’s cabinet member for education, Oliur Rahman, appeared on a public platform with a group campaigning for the “unacceptability of homosexuality.”

23) Rahman’s cabinet member for the environment, Shahed Ali, avoided £25,000 in tax by liquidating his restaurant business, then immediately reopening the restaurant under a new name. He boasts that he used the proceeds to buy a Porsche.

24) Rahman’s cabinet member for culture, Rania Khan, mocked gay people and published pictures of knives on her social networking site, saying: I know it’s not ladylike, but I luv my weapons.”

25) Rahman’s key funder, Shiraj Haque, a restaurateur, has a criminal caution for selling counterfeit wine. He was sacked from his chairmanship of a council-sponsored festival after suspicions that it was being used as a front for illegal immigration, but was reappointed by Rahman. Despite being a millionaire who owns at least seven properties, Haque has been given subsidised social housing by the council.

26) Rahman has repeatedly given character references for convicted criminals, including a sex attacker.

27) Rahman charges taxpayers up to £60,000 a year for a Mercedes car and chauffeur, which he has used, among other purposes, to collect his dry cleaning. No other elected mayor, including Boris Johnson, has a limousine. He claims he has now given it up, but this appears to be only for the election period.

28) Rahman has also spent large sums of public money on taxis for himself, including one purported fare of £71 to travel a distance of 400 metres and another £28 fare from a local McDonald’s to his office.

29) Rahman is accused by the Government of practising divisive community politics” and the “mismanagement of council staff and resources.”

30) Neither of the neighbouring boroughs, Hackney and Newham, will work with Rahman.  The Labour mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, describes Rahman as “very bad news” and as creating a form of apartheid in his area.

For a full chronological account of Rahman’s career to last year, click here.

For the transcript of my 2010 Dispatches programme on the IFE and Rahman, click here.

For detailed analysis of Lutfur’s Muslim favouritism, click here.

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Lutfur Rahman's Muslim favouritism: the evidence

Lutfur Rahman (Photo: PA)

Over the next few weeks, this blog will be setting out in detail the truth about Lutfur Rahman, the extremist-linked mayor of Tower Hamlets, and the full evidence against him. I should stress that, over the last four years, all our material about Lutfur and his extremist allies has survived literally hundreds of complaints to Ofcom and the Press Complaints Commission.

Rahman’s supporters make two main defences: first, that in the words of the Guardian’s Dave Hill, “if Rahman has sinned, how many others are doing so all day, every day in ways that, in the end, differ if at all only in the means and detail?”

To the contrary, this series of blog posts will show that what is happening in Tower Hamlets is on a completely different plane from normal political behaviour. (What is it with Dave, who has embarrassing form as Ken Livingstone’s chief media poodle? Has he some psychological need to act as a public excuse-maker for the least scrupulous politicians he can find?)

The second defence, inevitably, is to claim that all scrutiny of Rahman is racist – again, without any factual basis. Instead, as I show below, it is Rahman who is practising racial and religious favouritism and it is his ethnicity that has saved him from scrutiny. Any council led by a white politician responsible for even half of what Tower Hamlets has done would by now have been picked apart by the media and placed under official investigation. But many journalists and officials are afraid of being branded racist for criticising Rahman.

Finally, however, following the BBC’s Panorama on Rahman this week, it looks as if the dam is breaking. A Government investigation is now looking extremely likely. In the days ahead, I will describe the kind of things it should be about.

We start today with the evidence which shows how the Rahman adminstration’s grant-giving in many areas strongly favours Muslim groups, even though their presence in the borough is actually falling.

First, some facts about the ethnic and faith makeup of Tower Hamlets. According to the 2011 census, its largest single ethnic group is white – 45.2 per cent of the population. Bangladeshis make up 32 per cent – down from 33.4 per cent in 2001. Muslims make up 34.5 per cent of Tower Hamlets people – again down, from 36.4 per cent in 2001.

You wouldn’t know this from the makeup of Lutfur Rahman’s ruling cabinet, which is 100 per cent Bangladeshi and Muslim, or from his grants. In 2012, the council changed its policy to ensure that “the decisions for all awards over £1,000 were to be made by the Mayor under his executive authority”.

After that time, as both the BBC and I have catalogued, there was a clear diversion of funding away from secular bodies serving the whole community to faith-based or religious groups serving only sections of the community. As councillors on Tower Hamlets’ cross-party scrutiny committee put it, “new, untested organisations with no track record of delivering for the community” suddenly sprang up, paid substantial sums for often ill-defined projects. As I will describe in future posts, several of these very well-funded new projects appear to be based in people’s private homes. Several involve individuals with close personal connections to Lutfur Rahman.

There are a number of grants programmes with which we will deal in turn.

Community faith buildings support scheme

This is a new £2 million fund invented by Lutfur Rahman to pay money to religious buildings. No other council in Britain does this, or anything like it.  Of the first £600,000 awarded, the only round announced so far, £388,000 (64 per cent) went to Muslim faith buildings.

Some places got grants without even having to say what they wanted them for – for instance, the Bow Muslim Cultural Centre got £10,000 for work simply described as “to be confirmed.”  Let’s hope they think of something to spend it on soon, shall we?

Many of the recipients were in no need whatever – such as the East London Mosque, which got £10,000 for “professional fees” even though it has an income of more than £1 million a year. The East London Mosque is the home of Lutfur’s key backers, the extremist Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), whose front organisations have received millions from the council under various programmes.

Community events and community chest schemes

Rahman has created funds that organise pre-election events and reward his supporters and potential supporters with public money. Of the £593,512 granted, at least £327,645 (55 per cent) has gone to Muslim organisations.

Grants (listed here and here) included a total of £37,195 to several groups closely associated with the IFE. A further £32,500 of public money has been paid to UK-based Bengali-language newspapers, media organisations and TV stations – influential with Rahman’s electorate – which have given the mayor fawning coverage.

Other grants included £1,800 to an Islamic religious teachers’ organisation for its annual day out to the Isle of Wight and £1,500 for a “festival of sneakers.” Someone else has bought themselves a coffee machine on the public dime. In a number of other cases, as with the faith grants, the council hasn’t troubled even to agree what it is paying for before it hands out the dough.

Rahman’s own officers and the council’s cross-party overview and scrutiny committee strongly objected to several of the awards, but the mayor brushed them aside, saying (in a written decision – he’s refused to answer any questions on the issue) that “although officers may come to the view that an application is poor and/or that it should not receive funding, there are from time to time cases where, when taking account of wider circumstances, projects are worth supporting in view of the perceived potential community benefits” (Page 5 of this PDF).

At its meeting on 7 January, members of the overview and scrutiny committee said that the grants were “not benefiting the Borough as a whole” but were “being directed to certain areas in the west of the borough where the Mayor had the majority of his vote.” The Bengali areas, they meant. Two maps, published by the committee, of the chosen locations for the grants make this favouritism starkly clear.

The pre-existing, and much larger, “mainstream grants” programme, too, has been changed to favour Rahman’s client groups, as the council’s own documents admit. Several key elements of the programme are affected. The full list of grants is here.

Older people’s lunch club programme

Of the £907,180 given to run lunch clubs for residents over 50, £515,280 (57 per cent) was allocated to Muslim organisations, to lunch clubs described by the council as exclusively for Bangladeshis or Somalis, or to clubs which from their own publicity are aimed at an exclusively Muslim clientele.

As the council’s own equality impact assessment admits (p5 of PDF), 22 out of the 34 lunch clubs funded (65 per cent) are targeted at ethnic minorities, even though 60 per cent of the borough’s over-50s are white and only 23 per cent are Bangladeshi. There was an increase of nine ethnic minority-only lunch clubs from the previous funding round, and “a reduction in lunch clubs for the general population, which primarily impacts the white British, Irish and non-Bangladeshi or Somali ethnic minority population”.

Community and economic engagement

Of the £1,235,000 in grants for community and economic engagement, £858,500 (70 per cent) went to Muslim organisations. Beneficiaries included the IFE front, the Osmani Trust, which received £80,000.

Children, schools and families

Of the £526,000 in grants for children, schools and families, £334,500 (64 per cent) went to Muslim organisations. Beneficiaries included two IFE fronts, the London Muslim Centre and the Osmani Trust, which received a total of £140,000.

As the council’s own documents admit (p3 of PDF), “this funding stream primarily supports Bangladeshi and other BAME [ethnic minority] communities.”

Study support

Of the £207,850 allocated in grants for study support schemes, £130,750 (63 per cent) went to Muslim organisations.

Mother tongue classes

Of the £313,486 in grants for mother tongue lessons, £296,016 (94 per cent) was allocated to Muslim organisations. The neighbouring secular borough of Newham spends money on teaching recent immigrants to speak English. Lutfur’s Tower Hamlets spends money on teaching people not to speak English.

Youth and Connexions services

Of the £667,000 in grants for youth and “connexions” (career advice) services, £437,500 (66 per cent) was allocated to Muslim organisations. Beneficiaries included the IFE front, the Osmani Trust, which received £130,000.

Lifelong learning

Of the £156,000 for lifelong learning, £87,000 (57 per cent) was allocated to Muslim organisations.

In only a handful of programmes in the grants portfolio, mainly those handed out under national guidelines such as the early years nursery grants, do Muslim groups not take the lion’s share of the funding.

It may be argued that Bangladeshis, in particular, are a poor community who need more help than others. They do – but in the past, as is still the case elsewhere in east London, that help was provided by long-established secular organisations with a strong track record of delivering for all communities, not organised into faith or race silos and not operating out of individuals’ private homes.

 

Government accuses Lutfur Rahman of 'divisive community politics' and 'mismanagement of council staff and resources'

The extremist-linked mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman (above), is under deepening pressure on all fronts today. His attempt to abuse the local government standards code to hound one of his most effective opponents, Cllr Peter Golds (see my account of it here) has humiliatingly collapsed, leaving council taxpayers tens of thousands of pounds out of pocket.

From the Labour side, the party’s leader in Tower Hamlets, Josh Peck, today attacked the council as a “basket case” suffering a “massive failure of governance, with some seriously worrying things happening.” Even Lutfur’s newly-crowned Young Mayor of Tower Hamlets, 16-year-old Mahdi Alam, has got himself into bother after posting threats to kill on Twitter. The lad’ll fit right in!

But the most important intervention of all came from the local government minister, Brandon Lewis. Yesterday, the Tower Hamlets Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick had the answer to his Commons question about Lutfur’s misuse of taxpayers’ money on dozens of illegal propaganda TV commercials for himself (sharply condemned by the regulator, Ofcom.)

In his response, Mr Lewis went further than ever in condemning Lutfur’s regime. He called the illegal broadcasts “further evidence of a worrying pattern of divisive community politics and mismanagement of council staff and resources by the mayoral administration.”

This is striking stuff, which deserves to be heeded and quoted whenever Lutfur is mentioned. (For the benefit of new readers, he was elected with the close help of an Islamic extremist group, the IFE, which believes in turning Britain into a sharia state under Islamic law. In office, he has recruited people with close links to the IFE to key council positions, and channelled millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to IFE front organisations. For a full account of Lutfur’s many controversies, see here.)

The minister also said that the Government was looking at putting the local authority publicity code – which bans taxpayer-funded propaganda newspapers like Lutfur’s East End Life – on a statutory basis to stop Tower Hamlets and a couple of other boroughs ignoring it. Great idea, Mr Lewis – but act soon. East End Lies will be Lutfur’s key weapon at the local elections, which are only 15 months away.

 

Lutfur Rahman: some facts the Guardian forgot to mention

 

For reasons I can’t quite understand, the Guardian newspaper, “the world’s leading liberal voice,” has appointed itself spokesperson for some of the most illiberal forces in London, notably the extremist-dominated East London Mosque and the council leader closely connected to it, Lutfur Rahman (above).  Maybe the Guardian likes them simply because the Telegraph doesn’t like them – but even for the left, that seems an outstandingly stupid reason to embrace people who oppose everything you’re supposed to believe.

The paper’s latest panegyric for Rahman, last week (“what inspires and energises me is the community”) was so poor a piece of journalism that it even briefly trended on Twitter. As Private Eye’s Tim Minogue put it, “the Order of the Brown Nose profile of Rahman worth it for comments alone. Readers put record straight – and how! More comments deleted from Guardian toadying profile of Mayor Lutfur than an Alan Rusbridger piano piece.”

The writer, Saba Salman, presented Rahman’s exclusion from the Labour Party as “a gulf between national leadership and grassroots activism,” described the allegations against him as “mudslinging,” and accepted at face value not just his denials of extremist links but his claim not to be cutting frontline services (tell that to, say, the users of the Appian Court day centre in Bow, which faces closure – while new millions are to be poured into religious buildings, mainly mosques.)

So I thought I’d update my earlier summary of the evidence against Lutfur just to remind you of all the things Ms Salman had to ignore. What follows is not mud – but fact, which has withstood literally hundreds of complaints to Ofcom and the PCC from Rahman and his supporters. Let’s hope the Guardian gets back to doing some actual reporting about this subject soon.

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 Islamic Forum of Europe, based at the East London Mosque, which works to create a sharia state and 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 a powerful local businessman, 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.

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.” (Lutfur’s cabinet was, and remains, 100 per cent Bengali, in a borough which is only about 35% Bengali.)

November 14: Lutfur fails to turn up to Tower Hamlets’ annual Remembrance ceremony at the borough’s man war memorial, despite promising to attend. All the borough’s other civic leaders make it. The following year (see Oct 10, 2011 below) he will make front-page news by trying to hire out the war memorial grounds for City bankers’ Christmas piss-ups.

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 2010- February 2011: 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 2011: 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 and immigration fraud, with the Mela used as a front to bring in illegal immigrants under the guise of performers.

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. (She already has one conviction for the same offence.)

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: The Telegraph reveals 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.

Nov 18: A key Lutfur ally, Shah Yousuf, appears in court on criminal charges under the Representation of the People Act for producing the smear leaflets falsely claiming that Lutfur’s main opponent, Labour’s Helal Abbas, is a wife-beater and enemy of Islam (see Oct 15, 2010.) The leaflets were produced with the Lutfur campaign’s full knowledge, according to the chief coordinator of the campaign. The charges are later mysteriously dropped.

Dec 20: An eight-month campaign of complaints by Lutfur to the Press Complaints Commission about our coverage fails, when the PCC rules that he can be described as “extremist-linked” or “extremist-backed.”

Dec 20: The Telegraph publishes Companies House records showing that Lutfur’s cabinet member for the environment, Cllr Shahed Ali, has avoided £25,000 in tax by liquidating his restaurant business, which immediately reopens under a new name and carries on trading as normal throughout. He uses the proceeds of the tax avoidance to buy himself a Porsche.

Dec 21: The Telegraph reveals leaked Tower Hamlets documents showing that Hira Islam, a Tower Hamlets council officer who is also a key figure in the Islamic Forum of Europe, Lutfur’s extremist backers, has been disciplined by the council for interfering with the May 2010 parliamentary and local government elections. Hira Islam is given only a written warning but the man who first exposed the scandal, the former council leader Helal Abbas, is suspended from the council for “breaching confidentiality” – after a complaint by Hira Islam!

Dec 22: The Telegraph publishes pages written on a social networking website by Lutfur’s cabinet member for culture, Cllr Rania Khan, in which she publishes pictures of knives, declaring: “I know it’s not ladylike, but I luv my weapons,” mocks gay people and backs extremist clerics.

Jan 9 2012: One of Lutfur’s key supporters, Cllr Shelina Akhtar, is convicted of benefit fraud – against her own council – for the second time in eighteen months. Despite pleading guilty, she refuses to give up her council seat and Lutfur refuses to call for her resignation until eight days later.

January: A gay pub in Limehouse, the White Swan, says it faces closure after Lutfur proposes to ban its popular amateur strip night.

Feb 6: Shelina Akhtar is finally forced to give up her seat after being jailed for 16 weeks.

Feb 15: It emerges that Lutfur has hired a former adviser to Ken Livingstone, Tony Winterbottom, at a fee of £1000 a day. A key Livingstone crony, Murziline Parchment, is also hired as his chief of staff, even though council headhunters described her as “very unconvincing,” “disappointing” and “lacking in substance” in her interview for a previous Tower Hamlets role. In total, Lutfur employs 16 paid political advisers, more than any other council leader, the Mayor of London, any cabinet minister or the Prime Minister.

Feb 21: As the mayoral election approaches, new concerns are raised about vote fraud in Tower Hamlets after the electoral roll is found to contain up to 12 voters in the same small flat.

Feb: Lutfur refuses to answer questions from councillors at council meetings, with council officers explaining that to do so might breach his human rights.

March 21: It emerges that Lutfur has employed his election agent, Ghulam Robbani, a man with close links to the IFE, as a council advisor at a rate of £40 an hour. Freedom of Information requests show that he appears to have massively overbilled the council for his time, charging for instance £480 – 12 hours’ work – for attending an event that the other participants say only took 90 minutes. Robbani later resigns to stand as Lutfur’s candidate in the Spitalfields byelection caused by the jailing of Shelina Akhtar.

April 16: It emerges that one of the key figures in the IFE and East London Mosque, Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin, is to be charged with war crimes for his alleged involvement in a campaign of abductions and mass murders while opposing Bangladeshi independence in 1971. He denies the charges, saying they are politically-motivated.

April 19: Lutfur’s candidate, Ghulam Robbani, narrowly wins the Spitalfields byelection on an unusually high turnout, despite heavy rain throughout polling day. There is a late surge of applications for postal votes: in one large block, Brune House, Brune Street, the number of people with postal votes more than doubled in the two weeks before polling day. Turnout of postal voters is extraordinarily high: in Brune House, for instance, it is 77 per cent.

April 21: Residents of Brune House tell the Telegraph that supporters of Robbani and Lutfur, including at least one councillor, “harvested” their votes, signing them up for postal votes and collecting the blank ballot papers which were then filled in for Robbani. Council and police investigations are launched.

April 26: The Telegraph reveals that a number of dead or imprisoned people have supposedly voted in the byelection.

May: Lutfur steps up his cult of personality. Pictures of him are attached to the sides of council dustcarts. New council headed notepaper is produced with his picture on it. Large banners featuring his face are put up across the borough, including one which covers up an internationally-famous mural on Brick Lane. It is only removed after the owner of the building threatens legal action.

May 27: Nineteen people are arrested at the British High Commission in Dhaka, Bangladesh, accused of attempted immigration fraud in connection with Shiraj Haque’s Baishaki Mela. They admit they paid an unspecified individual £10,000 for fake documents claiming they were attending the mela as stallholders.

July 8: Eight Lutfur-supporting councillors are expelled from the Labour Party in a clear sign that Lutfur will not be readmitted to the party.

July 16: Shiraj Haque is given a criminal caution for selling counterfeit wine in his restaurant.

September: Lutfur announces plans to dispose of a number of pubs owned by the council, including the Queen’s Head in Limehouse, which claims to be the inspiration for the Queen Vic in EastEnders. The pubs, some of the few left in the area, may now be forced to close.

October: The heritage selloff continues after Lutfur announces plans to auction Old Flo, a Henry Moore sculpture gifted by the artist to the people of the East End, claiming it is necessary to balance the books (it later emerges that the artwork may not even belong to the council.) At the same time, however, he announces a £2 million grants programme for “faith buildings” – mostly mosques – and £6 million of further grants to “community organisations,” many of them linked to his supporters, in addition to the large and continuing grants given to front bodies for the IFE.

Oct 7: Despite the council’s pleas of poverty, it emerges that a Tower Hamlets officer has charged taxpayers £855 for two first-class rail tickets to attend a conference in Manchester. This is six times the standard walk-on fare and enough for a return flight to Australia. Some of the money is later repaid.

Dec 21: Defying Lutfur, councillors accept an offer of UN-style “support” from the Local Government Association after the departure of several key white officials and the repeated failure to appoint a new chief executive. Whitehall mulls intervention as the local government minister, Brandon Lewis, expresses “concern” over the situation in Tower Hamlets.

Jan 16 2013: Ken Livingstone is ridiculed by Labour’s National Executive Committee as he urges it to readmit Rahman and allow him to fight next year’s Tower Hamlets election as a Labour candidate.

Jan 16: The former local government minister, Bob Neill, accuses Lutfur and the council’s assistant chief executive, Isabella Freeman, of bringing the local government standards regime into “serious disrepute” by using it to bully, hound and threaten their opponents on the council on trumped-up charges. Councillors vote to discipline Freeman for her “bias,” but it makes no difference and she continues exactly as before.

Jan 23: The broadcasting watchdog, Ofcom, censures five Bengali TV channels after Lutfur’s allegedly cash-strapped council spends thousands of pounds on adverts promoting the mayor, up to 15 times every day for two weeks. Ofcom said: “The purpose of the advertisement was not to inform and educate the public [but] to promote the Mayor in a positive light.”

Let’s hope, at least, that Lutfur didn’t have to pay for his puff-piece in the Guardian.

East London Mosque condemns homophobia, yet advertised four anti-gay speakers last month alone

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I was offered the “Muslim patrol” story in Tower Hamlets, where self-proclaimed “Muslim vigilantes” filmed themselves verbally abusing and intimidating a gay man. Perhaps wrongly, I didn’t use it because I wasn’t sure whether a few kids on YouTube had national importance. I am glad, however, that the local police appear to be taking it seriously for once – in contrast to their lamentable attempts to ignore, downplay and cover up previous acts of “Islamic enforcement” and bigotry in the East End.

One Tower Hamlets organisation of undoubted national importance that continues to laugh up its sleeve at us is the East London Mosque, the capital’s largest. The mosque’s PR machine lost no time cranking out a statement condemning the “vigilantes” and claiming that the mosque was “committed to building co-operation and harmony between all communities in this borough. The actions of this tiny minority have no place in our faith.” This claim has been trustingly repeated by various journalists in the coverage this week. But, as the most cursory investigation would show, it is a brazen lie.

There is no evidence that the East London Mosque is directly involved in the latest attacks. But at least one activist in the Islamic Forum of Europe, the Islamic supremacist group that runs the mosque, has previously threatened and intimidated people for violating “Islamic norms,” using the IFE’s name.

And as this blog has repeatedly documented, the mosque itself and its annexe, the London Muslim Centre, host a constant stream of viciously homophobic and other hate preachers. In June 2011, after coming under particular pressure on the subject, the mosque promised: “Any speaker who is believed to have said something homophobic will not be allowed to use our premises.”

Sounds clear enough to me. But as I documented at the time, this promise was broken within eight days. It has been broken countless times since. And it appears to have been broken at least four times last month alone.

On December 29, the IFE advertised a fundraising dinner at the London Muslim Centre for Interpal, a charity banned in the US for its links with the terror group Hamas. Among the speakers was Interpal’s chair of trustees, Ibrahim Hewitt, who in a pamphlet likened homosexuality to child-molesting and said: “The spread of this depraved practice in a society disrupts its natural life pattern and makes those who practice it slaves to their lusts, depriving them of decent taste, decent morals, and a decent manner of living.”

On December 21, the London Muslim Centre was the advertised venue for a “charity dinner in aid of the world’s orphans,” addressed by one Murtaza Khan – a star of my Channel 4 Dispatches exposing the IFE and the mosque, and somebody who has spoken approvingly of killing gay people, saying that “not even animals behave in that manner” and calling homosexuality “this abominable action, which goes against humanity.”

On December 16, the London Muslim Centre was the advertised venue for an “unmissable winter conference” starring Hamza Tzortzis, who describes homosexuality as “behaviour that negates the Islamic vision of society.”

And on December 7, the London Muslim Centre was the advertised venue for a fundraising event with Suleiman Ghani, who believes that God created “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

As we’ve described before, gay people have been getting a tough time in Tower Hamlets recently. That simply cannot be unconnected to the fact that hatred of them is allowed to be openly and regularly expressed inside one of the area’s most prominent religious institutions. The mosque and IFE are also closely linked to the executive mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, one of whose cabinet members shared a platform at the mosque with one of its homophobic speakers.

This is not a “commitment to building co-operation between all communities.” It’s time for media colleagues to start probing the roots of bigotry in Tower Hamlets; or if they can’t manage that, at least stop tamely recycling the East London Mosque’s lies.

Hat-tip to Harry’s Place for the adverts and one of the videos.

 

Isabella Freeman: Lutfur Rahman's little helper who brings council standards 'into serious disrepute'

http://www.standard.co.uk/incoming/article7706943.ece/ALTERNATES/w460/+Isabella+Freeman

Among the most interesting members of the dreadful crew around Lutfur Rahman, the extremist-linked executive mayor of Tower Hamlets, is the council’s assistant chief executive, a woman called Isabella Freeman (above). She is one of the borough’s shrinking band of senior white officials who has not been sacked or decided to leave.

Last year, it can now be revealed, both Labour and Conservative members of Tower Hamlets council overwhelmingly passed a motion recommending disciplinary action against Freeman. It was passed in a secret session of the full council but has so far made no difference whatever to Freeman’s position. It has not even been reportable until now.

Freeman is responsible for the “standards regime,” the code of conduct for Tower Hamlets councillors. Last week in the Commons, under parliamentary privilege, the former local government minister, Bob Neill, told how Freeman and Lutfur’s supporters have “abused” the standards regime to hound the mayor’s opponents and protect him, bringing it into “serious disrepute.”

Anti-Lutfur councillors – including the Labour leader, Josh Peck, his predecessor Helal Abbas and the Tory leader, Peter Golds – have, said Neill, been subject to a “history of vexatious complaints” by Rahman supporters and placed under costly and time-consuming investigations by Freeman for Kafkaesque supposed “offences” which amount, in essence, to “doing what many people would regard as their duty.” What Neill called the most “frankly scandalous” example involves me.

You may remember that my interest in Tower Hamlets began, in March 2010, when I made a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary describing how Lutfur won the then council leadership with the help of the IFE, an extremist Islamic group which wants to turn Britain into a sharia state. (For a full list of Lutfur’s controversies, see here.)

One of Lutfur’s key actions after taking control was to appoint a man with close links to the IFE, Lutfur Ali, as assistant chief executive of the council, its second most important job. We showed the absurdity of this hire by quoting a leaked headhunter’s report of his job interview, which described him as a “marginal,” “limited,” “superficial” and “one-dimensional” candidate who might “struggle intellectually” with the job. The CV submitted by Mr Ali was also leaked, showing he’d given false dates for a previous post and had omitted the fact that he’d been forced to resign from it for breaching the local authority code of conduct. After we revealed his links to the IFE, and after it also emerged that he was moonlighting for a second public-sector employer, Mr Ali was forced to resign from Tower Hamlets, too.

During the making of the programme, in late 2009, we filmed Peter Golds, the Tory leader, holding and reading from these leaked documents. Incredibly, in 2012, almost two and a half years later, one of Rahman’s supporters brought a complaint against Golds for “infringing” Lutfur Ali’s “right to privacy” in this interview and breaching council confidentiality by “leaking” the document to me.

At enormous public expense, Freeman hired an investigator to pursue this preposterous, bewhiskered claim, with a full panoply of interviews, witnesses and statements. Oddly enough, or perhaps not, the one person the fearless gumshoe didn’t manage to hook up with was the key witness, myself.

So I contacted the investigator to point out that the documents were not leaked to me by Golds; that they had in fact been circulating in the public domain since the previous year; that their contents had been referred to in the local newspaper, the East London Advertiser, as early as May 2008; and that even if Golds had been guilty of any disclosure simply by reading them out on TV the year after, the deceits and disqualifications of the council’s second most senior officer were surely not private, but matters of the clearest public interest.

I asked why Tower Hamlets was spending thousands of pounds to defend a long-gone employee who was forced out for essentially cheating it – especially since Lutfur Ali himself had never complained, either to the council or to Channel 4. I asked why this investigation was being launched so long after the supposed offence had taken place. And I also asked why, given something Golds said to me was the basis of the complaint, the investigator had made so little effort to contact me.

Answers came there none – presumably because the answer is that whole farrago was launched for the sole purpose of hassling Mr Golds, a regular thorn in Lutfur’s side, tying him up in legal knots, costing him big money in legal bills, and deterring anyone else from holding the Dear Leader to account too vigorously. Scandalous is almost too weak a word for it.

At the time of writing, despite a formal written statement from me making clear that the key allegation against Golds is false, the complaint against him grinds on. It was rightly rejected by the local government standards tribunal. Astonishingly, Freeman and Tower Hamlets are now considering appealing against the rejection – perhaps they’ll end up at the European Court of Human Rights! In the meantime, Peter Golds is faced with yet more hassle and potentially substantial legal bills. The poor old taxpayer, of course, is picking up the council’s side of the tab, which will not be small.

It is far from the only such example. After a similar case, as I described in 2011, Tower Hamlets suspended its ex-leader, Helal Abbas, following a complaint by an IFE bigwig. Abbas’s offence was to reveal the truth: about how that self-same IFE man – a council employee – had been disciplined by the council for interfering with the 2010 elections. This too was deemed an “invasion of privacy.” Twelve thousand pounds has also been spent on a complaint from the Lutfur camp against the Labour leader, Josh Peck, for walking on the cracks in the pavement something too tedious to describe at length.

As Bob Neill said last week, councillors’ beef with Freeman is not just her zeal in pursuing these ludicrous cases. It’s that, though theoretically a servant of the whole council, she seems rather less willing to pursue perhaps better-founded complaints against the mayor’s supporters – several of whom, as I’ve documented in the past, have somewhat burning questions to answer. Freeman, as he outlined, has also helped Lutfur in various other ways, giving a clean bill to his absurd weekly propaganda newspaper, East End Life, and ruling on at least one occasion that the Dear Leader need not answer questions from councillors – at a council meeting! – because it might breach his human rights.

This alleged bias, essentially, is why councillors from left and right voted to discipline Freeman. The proximate cause was her advice, whose impartiality they strongly dispute, in Tower Hamlets’ ongoing failure to appoint a chief executive. The reason why the vote against Freeman hasn’t come out in public until now shows, however, that the hounding tactic is having the desired effect. No councillor, until Neill raised it under privilege in the Commons, has felt able to risk Freeman’s wrath by talking to me on the record about the subject. They were worried about being subjected to yet another complaint.

As Bob Neill put it last week, Freeman’s behaviour “hardly gives the impression of an unbiased, open and transparent approach.” The council’s antics under her, he says, constitute the sort of “abuse of the system [which] brings local government into disrepute.”

By way of reply to Neill the council claims that Freeman “had no powers to reject [complaints]. It was the Standards Committee [of councillors and lay members] who referred claims for independent investigation. In relation to the substantive allegation of bias in investigating complaints about elected members,12 complaints were referred to [Freeman] in 2011 and 2012. Ten were subsequently referred by the Standards Committee for independent investigation: 4 relating to Independent members, 4 relating to Labour members and 2 relating to Conservative members.  The facts show that the Standards Committee has made referrals in respect of all political parties and independents.”

Let me just say that Golds, and other councillors, have provided me with information which quite clearly shows Freeman taking a rather more prominent role in the disciplinary process than this statement claims. I have a feeling you’ll be hearing more about Isabella Freeman.