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.