Lutfur Rahman: a defence based on lies

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I’ve been marvelling at last week’s Guardian article by Richard Seymour and Ashok Kumar defending Lutfur Rahman, the extremist-linked mayor of Tower Hamlets. Ashok is the man who celebrated Rahman’s election victory under the headline: “The last outpost of the Raj falls.” There are also interesting things online about Richard which open, shall we say, new windows into his views on racism. With friends like these, etc, etc.

Even by the standards of the Guardian’s reporting of Tower Hamlets – most unlikely to win another Pulitzer! – this is an amazingly dishonest piece. Its 950 words contain by my count at least 18 separate falsehoods, many of them copied directly from council press releases and Rahman leaflets (see above.)

It’s worth going through the claims from the leaflet (and – where different – the article) to deconstruct some of the things we’ll be hearing endlessly from Rahman and his defenders in the weeks ahead. “Judge me by my record,” he keeps saying. Not, presumably, his and his supporters’ cronyism, favouritism, links with extremism, bullying, intimidation, unscrupulousness and general political sleaze but his many alleged policy accomplishments to help the people of Tower Hamlets.

Even some of his opponents half-buy the line that Rahman’s success is due as much to his populist policies as to vote-buying, ethnic bloc favouritism and so on. See what you think once you’ve read this.

Claim: A racist smear campaign has been launched against Rahman.

Reality: This is presumably a reference to my and other people’s reporting. In fact Rahman and his supporters have lost countless complaints to the PCC and Ofcom about my reporting, which has been upheld on every substantive point. In particular, the PCC ruled that it was not inaccurate to describe Rahman as extremist-linked.

The claim of racism is the standard charge made by Rahman against all who question him. But a majority of my sources, including three of those quoted in my latest article, are themselves Bangladeshi.

Claim: Tower Hamlets has “built more council housing than any other council in England or Wales.”

Reality: Tower Hamlets did not build a single new council home last year, according to DCLG figures. Nearly all new social housing in England is built not by councils, but by private developers as part of bigger schemes or by housing associations. Nearly all public funding for newbuild social housing comes not from councils but from Whitehall (or, in London, the Mayor of London.)

Claim: Tower Hamlets “introduced [the] Decent Homes programme to refurbish every council home.”

Reality: Decent Homes is a national programme introduced by the last Government in 2000, two years before Rahman even became a councillor and ten years before he became mayor. It is also paid for by the Government – though that hasn’t stopped Rahman sending thousands of publicly-funded direct mail letters to council tenants, claiming the credit.

Claim: Tower Hamlets is the “only council in the UK to replace the full Educational Maintenance Allowance.”

Reality: When abolished in 2011, the full EMA was worth £30 a week, or £1170 per academic year (39 weeks). Tower Hamlets’ scheme pays a maximum of £400 a year and is in any case due to end this summer (p4 of this PDF).

Claim: Tower Hamlets provides a “£1500 bursary for students attending university.”

Reality: Only 400 bursaries were available – although 800 students from the borough start university each year – and even these were a one-off, given only to students starting in the 2013/14 academic year (p4 of this PDF).

Claim: Tower Hamlets has “introduced free school meals for every primary school child.”

Reality: Free school meals have in fact only been introduced in two of the seven primary years – reception and Year 1.

Free school meals will be introduced for the other primary years only in September. The cost for the the three infant years will actually be met by the Government under its new national scheme, not by the council. The free meals for junior school children (years 3-6) will be funded by the council, but only for twelve months. It is not clear what happens after that.

Claim: Tower Hamlets has “kept full council tax benefit for every recipient.”

Reality: This actually applies only to “most” recipients, according to the council website. And even that is only guaranteed until April 2015, after which it will be “reviewed on an annual basis taking into account the needs of residents, the cost of provision and the funding available.”

Claim: Tower Hamlets was the “first in the UK to introduce the London Living Wage for all contractors.”

Reality: Untrue. Tower Hamlets does not pay the London Living Wage to all contractors, as this officer report (para 8.2) makes clear. A number of authorities, including Tory-controlled City Hall, do pay it to all contractors. Nor was Tower Hamlets even the first in London to extend the LLW to contractors.

Claim: Tower Hamlets is the “only council not to charge for elderly personal care. All provision remains free.”

Reality: Untrue – 32 other UK councils do not charge for elderly personal care.

Claim: “All children’s centres, libraries, leisure centres and youth services remain open.”

Reality: Untrue. In youth services, Tower Hamlets has cut its budget by 65 per cent – double the national average. It is one of only 12 authorities in England to receive an official Government warning about its failure to track young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs).

Children’s centres were restructured in 2011 and the service offered from fewer main sites. According to a quarter-on-quarter comparison by the council’s scrutiny committee, the restructuring resulted in 153 fewer classes, 715 fewer hours’ service provided and 3,372 fewer children using the service.

Claim: Tower Hamlets was the “first council to ban contracts with firms that blacklist trade unionists.”

Reality: The ban in fact applies only to construction firms which blacklist trade unionists. Tower Hamlets was not the first council to ban such contracts – Hull, for instance, acted sooner. The ban appears to have only symbolic effect because the companies involved in the blacklisting say they have stopped doing it.

Claim: An investigation following allegations by the BBC’s Panorama “turned up no credible evidence of wrongdoing.”

Reality: Both a police investigation and a separate Government investigation remain ongoing. See my earlier blogpost for an account of the wholly misleading statement issued (and later corrected) by the Met on this issue.

Claim: The Electoral Commission found “insufficient evidence to prove an offence” of voting fraud in 2012.

Reality: As my detailed post on the issue describes, many of the allegations of fraud were investigated and dismissed not by the Electoral Commission or by the police, but by Tower Hamlets Council – in other words, by people working for Lutfur Rahman. Where the police did investigate, they found “evidence to suggest that offences may have been committed” for at least five – possibly more – allegations. However, their investigation was desultory and made little effort to gather sufficient evidence for prosecution.

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Lutfur Rahman adviser: there will be street violence unless people stop complaining about Tower Hamlets election

Lutfur Rahman

You may not be familiar with Kazim Zaidi. He is the man who cost Exeter University substantial amounts in costs and damages after writing a chapter in a book it published which comprehensively libelled many people in the Tower Hamlets Labour Party. (Read the university’s grovelling apology to them here.)

Mr Zaidi is now, as he was then, political adviser (a council appointee and publicly funded post) to the extremist-linked mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman. Now his unique communication skills are going to land him in further difficulty.

Desperate to stop the widespread concerns about voter intimidation which have completely ruined his boss’s great re-election triumph, Mr Zaidi has today written a quite extraordinary post on the Trial by Jeory blog saying: “If those who still seem unable to accept the result continue as they are, it will spill out onto the streets where even the cleverest machine politicians will not be able to manage it.”

He will no doubt say that this is not a threat, but a prediction. The truth is that whatever his intentions it will be read as a threat.

We saw Lutfur Rahman’s ability to mobilise a crowd at the count on Friday, when a huge group of 2,000 Rahman supporters gathered outside the count centre, effectively barricading Rahman’s opponents inside.

As the count dragged endlessly on late into the night, Labour’s London campaign director, Sadiq Khan MP, and many others were told by police that they could not leave the building. The returning officer pleaded with those inside not to pass count details to the crowd for fear of them invading the premises.

We saw Rahman’s ability to mobilise a crowd at the polling stations on Thursday, when despite the promises of police many stations were picketed by groups of Rahman supporters, through whom voters had to push to reach the ballot box. There are disturbing stories of these crowds following some voters right into the ballot booth to insist that they marked their vote in the correct box.

Most of Mr Zaidi’s article is a cunningly worded pitch for Labour to readmit Rahman. That is, of course, the mayor’s great hope of redemption – and there are a few in the Labour group who actually believe it would be sensible to join up with him. There are many reasons why it would not be.

It would be a betrayal of all those voters who only last week put their trust in Labour as a force for non-racial, clean and democratic politics. It would place Labour locally in a position of enormous weakness, signalling that they were prepared to accept Rahman and his cronies running the show and signalling their consent to the council’s dodgy practices.

The fatal weakness of some in Tower Hamlets Labour is to believe that the Rahman camp are essentially decent people with whom it is possible to compromise. As Team Rahman have surely shown in the last four years, they are vicious and ruthless people who treat compromise as surrender.

It would also be highly damaging for the party nationally. At the moment Rahman is a problem only for Tower Hamlets, not the Labour Party. If Rahman were allowed to rejoin, or any Labour councillors allowed to serve under him, every act of his administration would become Labour’s problem.

The mayor is a man whose council is under police and Government investigation for corruption and misuse of funds. The manner of his election win has actually further tarnished him, shaming Tower Hamlets before the country and bringing its extraordinary political culture to much wider national attention than before.

And if any more proof were needed of Rahman’s unsuitability for readmission to the political mainstream, today’s words from Mr Zaidi ought to provide it.

For a summary of the case against Rahman, click here.

For a detailed account of his Muslim favouritism, click here.

For a full transcript of my 2010 Channel 4 Dispatches programme on Rahman and his extremist backers, click here.

For a chronological account of his career to 2013, click here.

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.


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 and police denials fall apart: there is a criminal investigation of Tower Hamlets

Lutfur Rahman: facing new questions

The Metropolitan Police today stated that there was “no credible evidence” in files about Lutfur Rahman’s Tower Hamlets Council supplied by the BBC’s Panorama programme “to suspect that fraud or any other offence has been committed at this stage. Therefore the MPS will not be investigating at this point in time.”

Rahman, the extremist-linked mayor of Tower Hamlets, and his council have understandably been crowing about this statement today. The statement “is to be welcomed,” the council said. Rahman tweeted that there was “no evidence” of fraud. Rahman-friendly media outlets such as The Guardian newspaper have been carrying the statement prominently.

There’s only one problem – it’s not true. There is a criminal investigation. And the BBC files do form part of it.

The Metropolitan Police confirmed to me tonight that Tower Hamlets CID is investigating alleged fraud at the council involving a grant to an organisation called the Brady Youth Forum. A member of the mayor’s staff is involved in the alleged fraud, I separately understand. The Met said the investigation was at “an early stage”.

I understand that detailed evidence on this specific allegation did form part of the dossier that Panorama’s reporter, John Ware, passed to the DCLG and which was then passed to the Met. The material supplied by Ware includes evidence implicating one of the mayor’s staff in an operation where cheques for public money were sent to what appeared to be a bogus address.

This blog has previously noted the local police’s cosy relationship with Lutfur’s council – but what on earth is the Met playing at here? Serious questions – more serious questions – need to be asked about whether we can ever trust what this force is saying.

Even, of course, if the statement by the Met had been true – even if Tower Hamlets didn’t face any allegation of criminality – the list of charges against Rahman is long.

In four years of writing about the mayor, for instance, this blog has never made any allegation of criminality against him. There’s quite enough evidence about his cronyism, favouritismlinks with extremism, bullying, intimidation, unscrupulousness and general political sleaze to make clear that he is entirely unfit for office..

Panorama, too, alleged favouritism in the allocation of council grants and misuse of council resources for electioneering purposes. The fraud allegation didn’t form part of the programme because it wasn’t ready for broadcast in time.

But be in no doubt – as well as the auditor investigation into Tower Hamlets into all the non-criminal sleaze, there most certainly is an ongoing police investigation, for all the Met’s denials to the contrary.

 

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.

 

Lutfur Rahman faces government investigation after failing to stop BBC Panorama exposé

A worried man

Lutfur Rahman, the extremist-linked mayor of Tower Hamlets, is a worried man today. As I reported in this morning’s paper, the Government finally appears to be gearing up for a full investigation into his incredible regime, the subject of a broadcast by the BBC’s Panorama tonight.

Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, tells the programme that the allegations against Lutfur are of “a completely different magnitude to the worries and concerns that I have with other councils” and accuses him of “abusing his position”.

He added in a statement to the Telegraph: “There is a worrying pattern of divisive community politics and mismanagement of council staff and resources by the mayoral administration in Tower Hamlets. I will be carefully examining the evidence provided by Panorama’s thorough investigation and will consider the appropriate next steps, including the case for exercising the legal powers available to me.”

Lutfur, the former Labour council leader, was replaced, deselected and subsequently expelled by the Labour Party after I revealed his close links to an Islamic extremist organisation, the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), which believes in turning Europe into an Islamic state under sharia law. He was subsequently elected mayor as an independent.

As we have catalogued in the paper and on this blog, Lutfur has channelled millions of pounds in council grants to IFE front organisations and to close colleagues and associates, often at the expense of established, secular groups serving the whole community.

Panorama found that Lutfur, who has taken personal control over council grants, had repeatedly overruled his own council officers and given Bengali- and Somali-run organisations two and a half times more money than the officers recommended.

In a memo leaked to the programme, Tower Hamlets’ head of environmental legal services, Jill Bell, warned the council was “vulnerable to legal challenge” after Lutfur and his allies added 94 extra grants, “a number of which were ineligible” under the council’s own rules. Ms Bell’s is now leaving her Tower Hamlets job.

Rob Whiteman, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, told the BBC that the degree of “material change” which Lutfur exercised over the officer recommendations was “very unusual.”

The desperation that Panorama has caused in Camp Rahman is gigantic – and possibly just as revealing as anything likely to be in the programme itself. Lutfur’s attempts to stymie the broadcast are a whole story of their own. He hired a law firm and PR specialists to try to stop it. He’s produced an expensively-produced counterattack film (did public money pay for that, I wonder?) and making predictable charges of racism and Islamophobia.

Most interestingly of all, in their fight against the BBC, he and his staff have been using confidential programme research material removed from the Panorama computers by a freelance they hired for a few days who then defected to the Rahman camp. Lutfur is claiming, entirely falsely, that the Beeb is under “criminal investigation” over this material. Shouldn’t it be Team Lutfur and the researcher who are under criminal investigation?

The tactics are familiar to any of us who report on Rahman – endless bullying threats and complaints, shameless playing of the race card, straightforward lying and denial of reality – but, as I have also found, they can be seen off easily enough if you have done your reporting properly. The programme goes out tonight at 8.30pm.

Many of its themes are likely to be familiar to readers of this blog (though I’ve had no involvement in the making of the film) but it is significant, and might possibly be a turning-point, that an organisation with the BBC’s clout is finally taking notice of this scandal.

Welcome back to the blog, by the way. I went quiet for a while because I have less time than I used to, but you will be hearing from me more over the next few months.

For a full account of Lutfur’s remarkable career to 2013, click here.

Tower Hamlets: the Met's new phone-hacking?

 

Older readers will remember how that brilliantly successful organisation, the Metropolitan Police, satisfied itself that no widespread phone-hacking could possibly have occurred at the News of the World. They simply refused to investigate seriously, doing just enough to enable them to claim that they had looked into it but failing to follow obvious leads and neglecting to interview key witnesses.

It looks like something similar is now happening in respect of persistent allegations of postal vote fraud in Tower Hamlets, run by the extremist-linked mayor, Lutfur Rahman (above). At every major election in the borough in the last eight years, including before Lutfur took power, well-documented allegations of fraud have been made by very large numbers of people: many journalists (including me) and dozens of councillors from all parties (including some who now support Rahman). I myself have spoken on the record to plenty of victims, all named in my various stories. The response of the police has nearly always been the same – inadequate investigations followed by a clean bill of health.

Today the Electoral Commission publishes its report into the dozens of allegations of postal vote fraud and irregularity, some made by me, at the April 19 2012 byelection in Tower Hamlets’ Spitalfields ward, only a fortnight before the mayoral election in May. And the pattern of previous inadequate investigation appears to be repeating itself.

The byelection was narrowly won by Lutfur’s candidate (and former election agent and paid Tower Hall adviser) Gulam Robbani, a man with close connections to Lutfur’s extremist backers at the East London Mosque and no stranger to questionable paperwork (Freedom of Information requests show that Robbani appears to have massively overcharged the taxpayer for his Town Hall services.)

Here are some interesting facts about the Lutfur man’s win. Despite heavy rain throughout polling day, turnout (31 per cent) was extremely high for a council byelection (the previous byelection in the same ward, sixteen months before, had seen a turnout of 17 per cent). Only 14 per cent of people in Tower Hamlets at the time had postal votes – but 36 per cent of the votes cast at the Spitalfields byelection were postal. And that’s after 135 postal ballot papers were rejected by the counters, mainly because of doubts over their authenticity. Robbani’s margin of victory, by the way, was 43 votes.

Allegations of postal vote fraud and irregularity centred on, among other places, a council block called Brune House, in Bell Lane. In the two weeks between March 16 and April 4 (the deadline for registering for the byelection) the number of postal voters in this property more than doubled, from 34 to 71.  Fifty-five of those 71 postal votes were actually cast in the byelection – a turnout of 77 per cent. How did this run-down block turn into such a beacon of electoral participation and political involvement? Through a practice known as “vote-harvesting.”

I went from door to door in Brune House on polling day. The son of a resident in the block told me: “My mother normally votes down at the polling station but Gulam Robbani supporters came and got my mother to sign up for a postal vote. After the ballot paper arrived, this girl came into my mum’s house and asked her to hand it over. I was there at the time and saw it. Another guy came into the house too and they walked out with my mum’s blank ballot paper. My mum doesn’t speak English, she has no idea she’s not supposed to give her vote.”

A second voter in Brune House, Husneara Khanam, said that Mr Robbani’s workers had collected her and her husband’s vote. Another resident took a picture, which I have, of one of Mr Rahman’s councillors, Aminur Khan, holding a sheaf of papers which the resident said were ballot papers, collected from Brune House voters. Brune House that day also contained several of the Tower Hamlets election “usual suspects,” such as the small flat which supposedly contained eight adults, all of whom had recently applied for postal votes.

Mr Khan categorically denied that he had been involved in collecting any ballot papers. Despite my repeated attempts to contact him, Gulam Robbani refused to comment.

Now the Electoral Commission report reveals the outcome of police investigations into the 64 complaints of electoral malpractice, including 18 complaints of postal vote fraud, made to the Met in respect of the 2012 Tower Hamlets elections. Even the Commission, one of Britain’s feeblest regulators, could not deny that there has been a “breakdown of trust” between the people who run elections in Tower Hamlets and the wider political community.

But guess what? “Despite the large number of cases of alleged electoral fraud in Tower Hamlets which were reported to and investigated by the MPS [the Met], only a small number of allegations have been substantiated by evidence or statements by victims or witnesses. Investigations… have identified no evidence to suggest that there was any large scale attempt to affect the outcome of any of the April and May 2012 elections in Tower Hamlets.”

By pure coincidence, no doubt, this happily accords with the Electoral Commission’s own verdict on the day the scandal was revealed – the “no evidence” line was being cranked out even before they’d had the investigation!

But look more closely at Appendix B of the report, which briefly describes 53 of the 64 cases, and the reasons the Met “identified no evidence” are often all too clear. First, in at least four (probably significantly more) of the cases, despite the claim that they were “investigated by the MPS,” the police do not appear to have done the investigation. They subcontracted their detective work to Tower Hamlets Council – in other words, to people working for Lutfur Rahman!

The most disturbing of these is numbered as case 6 in the report, and is one I first revealed in my original coverage. It involves a flat in Hobsons Place, Hanbury Street, and a man named Abdul Manik, who cast a postal vote in the byelection. Alas, when I called at the flat Mr Manik’s daughter, Jona, told me that he was (a) a long-term resident of Bangladesh, having lived there for several years; and (b) dead.

The Electoral Commission report states (para 2.21, page 12): “The MPS confirmed that they could find no evidence that offences had been committed” in this case. However, the description of the case in Appendix B (page 23) shows that this is untrue. The Met didn’t actually look for evidence, talk to the family or do the investigation – it was “the local authority” which did that.

Directly contradicting what Jona Manik told me, the council claimed that her father had been in Tower Hamlets until days previously, cast his postal vote, gone to Bangladesh and then at once died. This seems fairly unlikely, given that postal ballot papers are only issued just before polling day, but it would have been nice for the police to have actually investigated it themselves before dismissing the allegation.

Many other cases involving suspiciously large numbers of adults (seven, nine etc) squeezed into two and three-bedroom flats are breezily dismissed as having the residency numbers “confirmed” by the “2012 canvass” or “2013 canvass.” These canvasses, too, were presumably undertaken by Lutfur’s council, not the police.

Even where Plod did knock on some doors themselves, they don’t seem to have done it very vigorously. In another case, for instance, “the residents of the property where two postal votes were alleged to have been sent to and returned from were visited by officers investigating the allegation. They denied that they had applied to vote by post but would not agree to assist further with the enquiry. While it was possible that an offence may have been committed, the MPS was unable to substantiate the allegations or identify any potential suspects.”

In a third case, a property where two postal votes had been sent to and returned from “was confirmed as empty by the MPS investigation. It was not possible, however, to identify any potential suspects.”

How most police officers – outside Tower Hamlets – “identify potential suspects” is by asking “cui bono,” or who benefits. In this case, Cllr Robbani strikes me as a potential beneficary. Did they speak to him or his campaign workers? It doesn’t look like they did. Did they ask to Cllr Aminur Khan about his alleged role as a postal-vote harvester? Apparently no again. Nor, it seems, were several key witnesses approached. I could have put the Met in touch with any number of such people – but, you guessed it, I was never approached, either.

Did the cops, perhaps, examine these dodgy ballot papers for fingerprints and so on? No, “the MPS considered that submitting the returned postal ballot packs for forensic analysis would be unlikely to assist identification of suspects.” How did they know, I wonder, if they didn’t even try?

In numerous other cases listed, investigations did result in voters – many of whom voted in the April byelection – being removed from the register. In case 36, “seven people registered to vote at property who no longer reside. Four names deleted effective for May elections. No vote cast in any of the seven names at May elections. No offences.” But the election we’re most interested in was in April, not May, officer. On that election, case 36 maintains a discreet silence.

The Met’s lame performance on this is entirely in line with its general reluctance to disturb the worrying status quo in Tower Hamlets. In 2011, stickers promising Koranic vengeance against homosexuals and declaring the borough a “gay-free zone” appeared across the area. From very early on, as I documented, police had CCTV footage of an unidentified Muslim youth posting the stickers, but refused to release it for weeks and told campaigners they could not talk about it because they “did not want to upset” the Muslim community. When the images were finally released, the suspect was quickly identified and caught, though many were dissatisfied with the minor charge that was brought.

The police also did absolutely nothing to curb repeated homophobic abuse by Lutfur Rahman supporters against gay councillors – in Tower Hamlets’ own council chamber. One of the victims, Cllr Peter Golds, said at the time: “If that happened in a football stadium, arrests would have taken place. I have complained, twice, to the police, and have heard nothing. A Labour colleague waited three hours at the police station before being told that nothing would be done. The police are afraid of being accused of Islamophobia. Another Labour councillor said that the Met is now the reverse of what it must have been like in the 1970s, with a complete lack of interest when white people make complaints of harassment and hatred.”

The cops have also been accused of failing to take seriously repeated attempts by Muslim hardliners to impose “Islamic norms” about dress, hair covering, smoking during Ramadan and so on on local Muslims.

In short, the Met have a huge amount of ground to make up in Tower Hamlets. Their latest efforts have made no progress at all.

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.