Sir Robin Wales, the Labour mayor of Newham, is one of many mainstream politicians who will not deal with Lutfur Rahman (above), the extremist-linked independent mayor of neighbouring Tower Hamlets. In a piece I did for Saturday’s paper, Wales says:
“Lutfur is following policies that will not benefit anyone in the future. I’m extremely worried that you create an enclave, and whenever you have segregation it is an unmitigated disaster.”
Both boroughs have relatively low “white British” populations. The proportion in Tower Hamlets (31 per cent white British, 44 per cent total white) is much higher than in Newham (16.7 per cent white British, 29 per cent total white). But the two boroughs have taken completely different paths on the issues of integration and community cohesion. As I put it:
Mr Rahman’s ruling council cabinet is 100 per cent Bengali, in a borough where Bengalis make up only about a third of the population. While Newham will not fund projects aimed at just one community, Tower Hamlets pours enormous sums into Bengali-only drugs projects, arts projects, youth projects and lunch clubs – many of them run by front organisations of the IFE [Lutfur’s extremist allies]. Other groups are funded too, though less generously, but again more often in racial and faith silos than on any kind of general, community-wide basis.
While Newham pays for recent immigrants to learn English, Tower Hamlets, incredibly, pays enormous sums for British-born children, who have grown up speaking English, to learn Bengali. Since his election two years ago, Mr Rahman has sought to “Islamicise” Tower Hamlets, clamping down on strip clubs and a gay pub. And he has just launched a “community faith buildings support scheme” to pour further millions into religious organisations – substantially, though not exclusively, mosques.
The most interesting thing for me about Newham’s approach was the support I found for it among local people, of all races, and the relative lack of push-back when the council decided to, for instance, remove ethnic-language newspapers from libraries and end grants aimed only at one community group (there was some opposition, naturally, but it was overcome.) The politics of racial separation is of course self-fulfilling: by funding on a racial and faith basis, you create client groups who can be relied on to emphasise race and faith differences, because their funding depends on it. By funding only on a general, community-wide basis, you will in the long term deprive such sectarianism of oxygen.
The domination of Tower Hamlets by Rahman’s clique is even more surprising given that this is a genuinely diverse borough in which, for instance, the Bengali population (32 per cent) continues to be substantially outnumbered by the the white one. There are also sizeable numbers of black and mixed-race people. The proportion of the population which is Bengali has in fact declined slightly (from 33.4 per cent) since the last census as more eastern Europeans and white hipsters have moved in. And of course, there are thousands of Tower Hamlets Bengalis who despise Lutfur Rahman, and what he represents, just as strongly as anyone else.
Read the full piece here. More soon on how Lutfur and his allies are trying to handle Tower Hamlets’ increasingly adverse demographics.