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Judge Richard Mawrey ruling on Tower HamletsRichard Mawrey QC, the Commissioner of the forthcoming Tower Hamlets election court hearing, yesterday overturned a decision to hold the trial at the Town Hall and ruled it must be heard instead at the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand.

He ruled it will start at 10am on February 2 in Court 38.

It is an early victory for the four petitioners, who are led by Andy Erlam and represented by barrister Francis Hoar.

Another judge at a preliminary hearing had previously rejected their request for it to be heard outside Tower Hamlets and had recommended the town hall.

However, in a written ruling yesterday, Mr Mawrey said the town hall could not be considered a “neutral venue”.

He said there was now “considerable hostility” in the borough to the arrival of Eric Pickles’s commissioners.

And he noted that George Galloway and Ken Livingstone had made “very public calls for campaigns of harassment to be directed against what they describe as interference with the democratic process”.

At a rally last month, Livingstone called for Lutfur’s supporters to protest outside the homes of the commissioners.

All this has been clearly observed by Mr Mawrey.

He said a “considerable” volume of evidence/allegations against Mayor Lutfur Rahman and Returning Officer John Williams had now been placed before him.

He stressed he had made no judgment whatsoever on the veracity of the allegations.

However, he said the allegations included suggestions there was a significant body of support for the mayor in the town hall–where an election petition would normally be heard.

He wrote: “The witness statements include a body of evidence to the effect that the Town Hall staff contains a significant body of political supporters of Mr Rahman whose conduct in the past is said to have gone well beyond what is permissible in the case of local civil servants. There are also allegations (which may or may not be well founded) of Town Hall staff having been involved in (or at least complicit in) active electoral fraud.”

He also revealed in his written ruling that the Metropolitan Police had been present at the recent confidential scrutiny of the Mayor’s vote at the Royal Courts of Justice. He said the police were conducting their own investigations into electoral fraud.

This time, it seems it’s all being taken much more seriously.

Here is Mr Mawrey’s explanation in full. Paragraphs 7-12 are particularly interesting.

NOTE: In the interests of conversational debate, I am going to allow comments on this post BUT please do not ascribe any guilt to any individual. Keep the discussion around the general issues of the election petition and the venue. I stress that allegations have been made, all of which are denied and are yet to be tried. Comments will be moderated.

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE M/350/14

QUEEN’S BENCH DIVISION

IN THE MATTER OF THE REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE ACT 1983

AND IN THE MATTER OF A MAYORAL ELECTION FOR THE LONDON BOROUGH OF TOWER HAMLETS HELD ON 22 MAY 2014

BETWEEN:

(1) ANDREW ERLAM

(2) DEBBIE SIMONE

(3) AZMAL HUSSEIN

(4) ANGELA MOFFAT

Petitioners

-and-

(1) MOHAMMED LUTFUR RAHMAN

(2) JOHN S WILLIAMS (RETURNING OFFICER)

Respondents

DIRECTIONS ORDER No 7: 19 DECEMBER 2014

REASONS (not part of the order)

1 I have confirmed with the Rota Judges that the powers conferred on an Election Commissioner under the Representation of the People Act 1983 (‘the 1983 Act’) s130(5) entitle a Commissioner to order that the trial should take place outside the electoral area under s 130(6). Such an order may be made if the court is ‘satisfied that special circumstances exist rendering it desirable that the petition should be tried elsewhere’.

2 I appreciate that an application was made to Mr Justice Supperstone for an order under s 130(6) and that on 31 July 2014, he dismissed that application. I have read his judgment on that occasion which sets out the grounds on which the Petitioners were then contending that the trial should take place outside the Borough and the reasons why the Judge rejected those grounds and refused the order. Having considered that judgment I would say, respectfully, that I entirely agree with it and that it was the correct decision to be made on the limited grounds and the equally limited evidential material before the court on that occasion.

3 The position today is entirely different from that which was before Supperstone J in July. The parties’ cases have been fully pleaded and a very considerable volume of evidence has been served.

4 May I emphasize at this point that I have, as yet, seen and heard none of the witnesses and I have formed no conclusions on the evidence whatsoever. At this stage of the proceedings the allegations made by all parties in their witness statements remain allegations, to be proved or disproved at trial. Insofar as I have taken those witness statements into account when making this decision, I have in no way prejudged their reliability or veracity. My approach is to treat the allegations on the basis that they might be true or they might not.

5 In general the most likely venue for the trial of a petition challenging a local authority election is the authority’s Town Hall. It is not the inevitable venue and I have tried other petitions (notably Birmingham) in some other building within the electoral area. In this petition, however, the Town Hall was put forward as the most suitable venue and I shall approach the question by considering that venue first.

6 As the parties are aware, I have been uneasy about the Town Hall as a venue from an early stage. This case differs from the norm of local authority petitions. Historically, local election petitions have concerned events in a single ward (occasionally two wards as in Birmingham in 2005). In those circumstances, the Town Hall of the Borough represents both a convenient and a relatively neutral venue. Here the challenge is to the election of an executive mayor whose headquarters is inevitably the Town Hall itself. Even were feelings not running as high as they are here, there must be grave doubts as to propriety of a petition to unseat an executive mayor being tried in his own Town Hall.

7 This case is unusual in that there are persistent and highly publicised allegations that witnesses, in particular witnesses for the  Petitioners, have been subject to intimidation of themselves or their families both within the Borough and, indeed, in Bangladesh. Certain of the witness statements have been served with the names and addresses of the witness redacted and there is a possibility that I shall be asked to make witness anonymity orders. As said above, I cannot and do not at this stage decide whether these allegations are well-founded but it would be irresponsible to discount them and to decide the venue in a vacuum. 

8 I have also to look at the question of intimidation in the context of the allegations, supported by witness statements, of widespread voter intimidation at the polls. These allegations also cannot be ignored. I fully appreciate that the first Respondent denies the allegations of intimidation and denies that, if it did occur, it can be laid at his door. None the less the evidence submitted does raise at least a triable issue as to intimidation.

9 Furthermore the Town Hall cannot realistically be regarded as a neutral venue. The witness statements include a body of evidence to the effect that the Town Hall staff contains a significant body of political supporters of Mr Rahman whose conduct in the past is said to have gone well beyond what is permissible in the case of local civil servants. There are also allegations (which may or may not be well founded) of Town Hall staff having been involved in (or at least complicit in) active electoral fraud.

10 In this context, though I accept that it is not yet evidence in the case and may never become so, these allegations find considerable support in the PwC report commissioned by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. It would do little to enhance the view of the court as a neutral and impartial venue if it were held in a venue which is perceived (rightly or wrongly) to be staffed by people who are, to put it neutrally, partisan. There would be legitimate fears that the staff might obstruct or identify vulnerable witnesses and, whatever precautions are taken, the security of documents would always have a question mark over it (however unjustified that might turn out to be).

11 When the matter was before Supperstone J the concern raised was of disorder at the trial and the Judge pointed, quite rightly, to the powers of a Commissioner to enlist the assistance of the Police. Events have, as said above, moved on somewhat. It is no longer primarily a question of maintaining an orderly trial. If that were the only concern, I would not be revisiting the earlier decision. The fact is that the position of the Metropolitan Police has become more complex, as it is no secret that the Met is conducting its own enquiries as to potential criminal offences committed in the course of the May election (hence the involvement of officers at the Scrutiny) and has been further dragged into this case by the allegations made on both sides of witness intimidation. Nor can I overlook that the case itself does involve criticism (which, as I say, may be entirely unfounded) of the involvement of the Met in policing the election itself. Thus the issues raised before Supperstone J have been overtaken by the subsequent history of this petition.

12 An additional change of circumstances arises from the Secretary of State’s publication of the PwC report and his appointment of commissioners to take over certain of the functions of the Council. Those commissioners have already started work at the Town Hall. The appointment of the commissioners has been met with considerable hostility in certain areas and I cannot overlook the fact that, at a rally attended by the first Respondent, certain of his high-profile political supporters such as Mr Ken Livingstone and Mr George Galloway MP made very public (and much broadcast) calls for campaigns of harassment to be directed against what they describe as interference with the democratic process.

13 This might be mitigated if the Town Hall were otherwise a suitable venue for a trial but it is not. I carried out an inspection last week and the facilities are simply not appropriate for a lengthy trial. The only available courtroom is the Council Chamber. This cannot really be converted into an acceptable courtroom. It has fixed desks which are not convenient for a three-party case, especially one with copious documents. There is no real space for a ‘witness box’. Everything would have to be cleared out for Council meetings. There are no practicable rooms for the judge’s retiring or for the parties’ legal teams. More to the point, the Council Chamber is in the heart of the office area with the staff problems already referred to.

14 For all these reasons I have ruled out the Town Hall as a venue.

15 I indicated at an early stage, when the Petitioners raised their objections, that the parties should attempt to find possible alternative venues within the Borough. The Returning Officer and his solicitors have made considerable efforts to find an alternative venue and I made a tour of the four venues they had located. None of them was remotely suitable and some of the problems involved in the Town Hall as a venue would have applied to those venues even if they had been suitable.

16 I have thus, with great reluctance, come to the conclusion that there are here the kind of special circumstances envisaged by the 1983 Act and that the proper course is to order the trial to be held in the Royal Courts of Justice.

17 Supperstone J remarked, quite correctly if I may say so, one of the reasons for holding election courts in the electoral area concerned is to allow local public access to the court. This is fair as far as it goes but it must be seen in context. When the rule developed in the nineteenth century public transport was much less available and much less affordable than today. In any event, the rule itself does carry its own limitations. In my experience, petitions challenging the election in a ward of the council are heard centrally (often in the Town Hall) which in a large electoral area (Birmingham is a good example) may be several miles away from the ward concerned.

18 The RCJ are, of course, situated in the City of London which is the borough immediately adjacent to Tower Hamlets. If the contested election had been in, say, Merton or Enfield, then the difficulty of the citizens of the borough attending court would be a significant factor. The RCJ may be considered one of the easiest places to get to by public transport in central London and I cannot see any appreciable hardship involved in the citizens of Tower Hamlets attending a trial there.

19 I have therefore liaised with Mr Evans of the Elections Office and he has secured the use of Court 38. It is a large court and its position in the West Green Building will obviate many of the problems attendant on use of a court in the main building.

20 I realise that this may cause some inconvenience to the Respondents but I am satisfied that the interests of a fair and publically transparent trial require the move to be made.

_

21 Finally I should wish to record in these reasons my thanks to Mr Emyr Thomas of the second Respondent’s solicitors for his part in locating and inspecting the alternative venues.

Richard B Mawrey QC

Commissioner

This is the Written Ministerial Statement from Eric Pickles in the Commons today. It explains why the Commissioners have been sent in and gives his opinion on the representations made by Mayor Lutfur Rahman and Tower Hamlets council on the PwC report.

In short, Eric says: “It is disappointing that there is a culture of denial in the mayoral administration about its systematic failures.”

Here’s the statement (I’ve underlined and put in bold font what are considered the key sections).

I would like to update hon. Members on a series of steps we are taking to improve the quality of local government services and ensure value for taxpayers’ money.

London Borough of Tower Hamlets

On 4 November, I informed the House that I was satisfied, having considered the report of the inspection by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) of Tower Hamlets Council, that that Council is failing to comply with its best value duty, and proposed to statutorily intervene to secure the Council’s compliance with that duty.

I gave the Council until 18 November to make any representations it wished on the inspection report and my proposal for intervention, and I sought and received from the Council certain undertakings not to take further specified actions on grant making, appointment of statutory officers, and transfer of property to third parties, until I had reached decisions about the use of my intervention powers.

I have now carefully considered all the representations that the Council has made. I have also considered afresh the PwC inspection report and the report the Election Commission published on 1 July 2014 into the elections in Tower Hamlets, and I have had appropriate regard to other representations that I have received about my proposed intervention.

I remain satisfied that the Council is failing to comply with its best value duty. It is disappointing that there is a culture of denial in the mayoral administration about its systematic failures.

As I said in my previous statement: “Localism requires local accountability and local democracy. Municipal corruption undermines the local checks and balances that are vital in a democracy and essential in mayoral systems with their concentration of power. We cannot risk such corruption”. But this is not just about the money. The abuse of taxpayers’ money and the culture of cronyism reflects a partisan community politics that seeks to trade favours and spread division on the rates. Such behaviour is to the detriment of integration and community cohesion in Tower Hamlets and in our capital city. This remains my view.

I have concluded that it is both necessary and expedient for me to exercise my intervention powers in the Local Government Act 1999 as I have proposed, and accordingly, I have today given the Council the necessary directions under section 15(5) and 15(6) of the 1999 Act to implement the proposed interventions.

These are centred on putting in place until 31 March 2017 a team of Commissioners to oversee or exercise certain of the Council’s functions. It is open to me to review this in the light of the progress made by the Council to secure compliance with its best value duty. I have nominated Sir Ken Knight to be the Lead Commissioner. Max Caller CBE has also been nominated  as a Commissioner, and I will announce a further Commissioner in due course.

In summary, the specific intervention measures are as follows.

(1) To require the council

to draw up and agree with the Commissioners within three months from the date of the direction a strategy and action plan for securing the Council’s compliance with its best value duty (to include as appropriate complying with the specific requirements set out below), and to submit this to the Secretary of State;

to prepare under the direction of the Commissioners and submit to the Secretary of State at 6 monthly intervals thereafter until 31 March 2017 a report on progress against the strategy and action plan;

to undertake as a matter of urgency a recruitment exercise, under the direction of the Commissioners, with the aim of making as soon as practicable, permanent appointments of suitable persons to the positions of the three statutory officers (Head of Paid Service, Chief Finance Officer, and Monitoring Officer);

until 31 March 2017 to obtain the prior written agreement of the Commissioners to (a) any dismissal or suspension of a statutory officer; and (b) any proposed appointment or designation of a replacement;

until March 2017 to obtain the prior written agreement of the Commissioners before entering into any commitment to dispose of, or otherwise transfer, to third parties, any real property other than existing single dwellings for the purposes of residential occupation;

within 3 months from the date of the direction, to prepare a fully costed plan for how the Council’s publicity functions can be properly exercised and agree that plan with the Commissioners; and until 31 March 2017 adopt any recommendation of the Commissioners with respect to that plan or to publicity more generally;

by 1 February 2015 to prepare and implement an action plan, in consultation with the Commissioners, to achieve improvements in the Council’s processes and practices for entering into contracts, and until 31 March 2017 to adopt all recommendations of the statutory officers in relation to the processes and practices to be followed in relation to entering into contracts, unless the Commissioners’ prior written agreement is obtained not to do so.

(2) The Commissioners to exercise until 31 March 2017 all functions of the Council relating to the making of grants, including responding to Freedom of Information Act requests in respect of grant payments, with the Council providing at the request of the Commissioners its views on proposed grants.

(3) The Commissioners to exercise until 31 March 2017 the Council’s functions of appointing persons to and removing them from the posts of Electoral Registration Officer and Returning Officer for Local Elections (this will also apply to their general election duties).

The Council will be required to comply with any instructions of the Commissioners in relation to the exercise of those functions for which the Commissioners are responsible, and  to provide the Commissioners at its expense with such services, amenities and administrative support as the Commissioners may reasonably require, and with access to the Council’s premises, documents, and to any employee or member as appears to the Commissioners to be necessary. The Council will also be required to pay the Commissioners’ reasonable expenses and such fees as I determine.

Intervention was not a decision taken lightly, however I could not allow the overwhelming evidence of the serious failings within Tower Hamlets to continue unchecked. I do not accept the Mayor’s representations that the problems in the Council can easily be put right.

Residents need to know that decisions are being taken properly in an open and accountable way. The Commissioners I am appointing are experienced and talented professionals who understand that transparency and accountability are vital to the functioning of local democracy.

Local government transparency

The Coalition Government has taken many steps during this Parliament to place more power into citizens’ hands to increase democratic accountability and make it easier for local people to contribute to the local decision making process and help shape public services. Transparency is the foundation of local accountability and the key that gives people the tools and information they need to play a bigger role in society.

In October, we issued the Local Government Transparency Code 2014 and have made it a legal requirement for local authorities to publish much of the data specified in the Code. Today, we have taken another step forward in ensuring that local people have key information to hold public bodies to account by publishing a Transparency Code for smaller authorities.

Under the new local government audit regime smaller authorities will be subject to the transparency requirements laid out in this Code in place of routine external audit. The Code will require the on-line publication of information that provides taxpayers with a clear picture of authorities’ activities, spending and governance, improving the ability of communities to hold local public bodies to account.

The Transparency Code for Smaller Authorities applies to parish councils, internal drainage boards, charter trustees and port health authorities with an annual turnover not exceeding £25,000. Published initially as recommended practice, we intend, subject to Parliament, to make the Code mandatory by the start of the 2015-16 financial year and will offer support to this local government sector to help authorities comply with these requirements.

Backing locally-supported joint working

There are many ways that local authorities can work together to save money and improve services, but there is equally no one-size-fits-all model either. The Dorset Fire Authority and the Wiltshire and Swindon Combined Fire Authority have formally made representations requesting a merger. We have today published a consultation paper on their proposals.

Contrast to the last Administration, we do not believe in top-down restructuring. Nor do we agree with the current proposals of the HM Opposition to force more mergers. The botched FireControl programme is a prime example of how such restructuring is expensive and distracting. Rather, we will support locally-led partnerships, where there is genuine support from all members of the local community, and the consultation will test this local support.

Improving support arrangements for local councils

It is important to have in place the most effective arrangements to help councils across the country to continue to improve and reform – essential if they are to deliver sensible savings.

Councils have a right to expect services designed to support them are the best they can be, provide the support they need and provide best value for money.

In 2015-16, we intend to provide grant of £23.4 million to the Local Government Improvement and Development (formerly IDeA) to deliver effective support to councils. This will be accompanied by robust scrutiny to ensure that every pound spent by them is spent appropriately and on providing direct support to councils. We expect of them the same standards and value for money as we expect of councils delivering frontline services, and we expect them to be transparent with councils about how they have spent the grant and the services they deliver to support councils.

The Coalition Government’s policy is to open up budgets to competition wherever possible. We intend to explore how the budget given for improvement services can be opened up to competition with contracts in place for 2016-17, allowing councils, council groupings, think thanks, mutuals and other interested parties to bid for such funding, and drive further best practice in local government.

At last. Two of the three Commissioners to be appointed by Eric Pickles to run parts of Tower Hamlets council arrive for work this morning.

They are Sir Ken Knight, who will be the lead Commissioner, and Max Caller. The third will be announced in due course.

Both Sir Ken and Mr Caller are heavy-hitters.

Sir Ken is the better known nationally, while Mr Caller has a huge reputation as a local government Mr Fixit man: he was in charge of Hackney council from 2000-04 when that authority was being transformed under special measures.

First, Sir Ken:

s300_ken_knight

He’s currently a director of his own consultancy company, Ken Knight Consulting Ltd, having retired from the fire service.

He has a distinguished career. He oversaw the London Fire Brigade as London Fire Commissioner from 2003-07, including during the July 7 terror attacks.

Since that stint ended in 2007, he has worked on a number of high profile projects for central governments, both in the UK and abroad. In Britain, he worked until last year as the Government’s first Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser.

He wrote the Rising to the Challenge report on the 2007 floods and was in charge of the review into the Lakanal House fire disaster in Camberwell in 2009.

And last year, he completed the cost-saving review of England’s 46 fire authorities, which found £200million could be saved.

You can see why ministers like him. Unions have a different opinion. How Lutfur Rahman and he will get along is anyone’s guess. However, Lutfur’s mentor Ken Livingstone did once have a legal run-in with him in 2007.

Here’s an extract from Sir Ken’s Linkedin profile.

Sir Ken Knight linkedinThere is more on his own website, here, which states he is the independent chairman of the board of Exova, a large company specialising in providing fire safety materials. I can’t find his name on Exova’s website so that might be an old listing.

He is also one of the Queen’s Deputy Lieutenants for London, so he will probably know Commander John Ludgate, the Deputy Lieutenant for Tower Hamlets who does a fabulous job of looking both bemused and amused during council meetings.

And so to Max Caller.

Max Caller

In this interview here, he talks about how his career started off as a sewer inspector in the underbelly of London. So fantastic training for the current situation in Tower Hamlets.

Actually, I think he will be great for the borough: he’s a former chief executive of Hackney, Barnet and Haringey councils and he’s been an election observer in Albania. What more do you need…

The Government’s biography of him states:

Max Caller CBE has amassed 33 years experience in London boroughs with the majority at Chief Officer level.

As Chief Executive of Hackney, he managed the transition of the authority from the worst in the country to one of the fastest improving.

As Chief Executive of Barnet he introduced a cabinet form of governance and an effective scrutiny system, which was one of the models for subsequent legislation.

Max was appointed the first Regional Returning Officer for London for the 1999 European elections, was Deputy Chief Counting Officer for the UK wide Alternative Vote referendum and has been involved in electoral pilot arrangements on an all-postal/electronic counting system for borough and mayoral elections.

He has also served as a short term observer for OSCE overseen elections in Albania and Montenegro and as a Commonwealth observer for elections in Kenya and Ghana.

Since April 2010 he has been chairman of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England.

He grew up in South Wales and is an engineer by background. He’s also on the advisory board of Norwood, a leading Jewish charity whose president (in the interests of transparency) is my employer (until Friday), Richard Desmond.

Here’s an extract from Eric Pickles’s press release issued this morning:
The team will, with immediate effect, take control of grant making within the council, will approve any sale or disposal of property and will agree a plan for publicity after independent inspectors PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) concluded the Borough was failing in its best value duty in these areas.

The PwC report, published on November 4, severely criticised how grants were handed out to organisations which failed to meet basic criteria for public funding, property was sold without proper process and taxpayers’ money was spent on political advertising for the Mayor.

The authority, under the direction of the Commissioners, will have three months to prepare a strategy and action plan setting out how it will comply with its duty to act openly and transparently, serving all of its communities fairly and securing value for money.

The Commissioners, due to be in place until 31 March, 2017, will drive forward the action plan, updating the Secretary of State every six months on progress.

Secretary of State Eric Pickles said: “Intervention was not a decision taken lightly however I could not ignore the overwhelming evidence of the council’s failure, and allow this to continue unchecked. I do not accept the Mayor’s representations that problems are easilhy put right.

“Residents need to know that decisions are being taken properly in an open and accountable way. The Commissioners I have appointed are experienced and talented professionals who understand that transparency and accountability are vital to the functioning of local democracy.

Lead Commissioner Sir Ken Knight said: “We are determined to restore faith in how Tower Hamlets operates. Local people deserve a council that not only makes decisions in an accountable and transparent way but also with the benefit of all residents in mind

“Today marks the start of a long but necessary journey to ensure public confidence in the council is restored, community cohesion maintained and that Tower Hamlets is no longer a by-word for poor governance.”

Cllr Shahed Ali, Tower Hamlets council’s cabinet member for the ‘clean and green’ (ie street cleaning and refuse etc), was yesterday arrested on suspicion of multiple voting in May’s elections.

He was arrested early in the morning and asked to explain how two votes were cast in his name earlier this year.

It’s understood he was registered to vote at two different addresses.

A source close to Shahed said he voted just once in person and that was it. The source said the police investigation centres on the ballot cast from the second address.

He is said to be helping police solve the riddle, and strenuously denies any wrongdoing.

He is a member of Lutfur Rahman’s Tower Hamlets First party, having been expelled from Labour for having backed the Mayor in 2010.

He has been ward member for Whitechapel since 2006 when he was first elected for Respect.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said a 44 year old man had been arrested on suspicion of multiple voting yesterday.

Let me stress that Shahed has not been charged. My source said he wouldn’t be making any comment on the issue for fear of jeopardising the police investigation.

This is cross-post from Democratic Audit, a public policy group based at the London School of Economics. It was published two weeks ago and was written by Professor Michael Keith, the former Labour leader of Tower Hamlets council, who is now the Director of COMPAS at Oxford University.

This precis was written by Democratic Audit’s editors: “The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government recently appointed commissioners to run the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, following the publication of a Government-commissioned PWC report which was damning about the failings of the current adminstration, led by Mayor Lutfur Rahman. Michael Keith, a former Leader of the Council, argues that the affair highlights some inherent tensions in local and municipal government, which the Mayoral structure is ill-equipped to deal with.

By Michael Keith

Competent bureaucrats commonly believe they protect the public interest by delivering transparent decision making in public institutions. This is commendable. Politicians normally believe that they are elected to carry out the wishes of their voters. This is forgivable. But these imperatives rub against each other when politicians try reshaping things in an image they prefer and the bureaucrat wants to preserve an order they recognize. This is difficult.

This tension is not new. Recent events in the east end of London exemplify an old problem. Max Weber’s thoughtful and commonly misunderstood discussion identifies this tension as one of the diagnostic features of bureaucracy. The bureau is in and of itself without politics. In a vocabulary anachronistic in its use and counterintuitive in its usage it might even be argued that Weber suggested bureaucracy was fundamentally anti-political.

The bureaucrat could serve the Chinese despot, the papal machine or the liberal democratic reforming state equally well. But at its best s/he personified a particular kind of stasis, a performative form of repetition without difference.

The bureau reproduces a specific social, moral and political order; dispassionately and without fear or favour or individual exception. This predictable repetition is at the heart of the bureau’s strengths.  At its best it makes visible transparent process. But our conception of the ‘political’ is at heart about change, the juxtaposition of one moral order against another.

The politician – whether or not democratically elected – is for Weber a personification of the will to advance a preferred moral order and social settlement. A ‘conservative’ appeals to a particular set of pre-existing values threatened by social change, an alternative politics actively promotes a new moral order against an old one.

In cities of flux, characterized by high levels of demographic ‘churn’, migrant urbanisms and processes of regeneration and gentrification the social order is constantly on the move, generating particular challenges for the bureau.

Translated into local government, the most conscientious political actors become engaged in representative democracy for a reason. Councillors normally want to change things in the ward and the local authority they represent. They identify needs, community organisations they believe are doing good things unnoticed, campaigns they want to champion. Such interests sometimes can be advanced through the bureaucracy.

But such interests at other times have to be championed against the bureaucracy. Domestic violence only becomes an ‘object’ of local governmental gaze when community organisations campaign for it to be recognized. The consequences of an ageing population with multiple challenges are only recognized by welfare departments after a lot of knocking on doors at city hall.

And in multicultural settings both entrenched forms of systemic racial disadvantage and a politics of recognition of cultural difference depend on changing the local state to recognize properly the different needs of cultural groups and evolving and at times banal demographics.

In my own experience the mums’ clubs based in certain locations and the provision for the elderly that once appealed effectively to a past East End tradition of gathering, music and alcohol based conviviality worked accidentally to exclude those who did not gather in pubs, did not socialize around a cup of tea and a cigarette after dropping the children at school.

So the bureau only recognizes and changes with pressure. Multicultural realities challenge and change the bureau, belatedly some times, proactively when politcians advance in good faith an understanding of the complexities of new social formations through the architecture of city hall.

But such change is never without friction.

Such tensions can be constructive. But in British mayoral systems we are unsure what the proper checks and balances should be.

In Tower Hamlets when the will of a people so diverse, so rich and poor, so much a mix of different cultures is personified by one man, the challenges are particularly acute.

Price Waterhouse Coopers last week reported to Secretary of State Eric Pickles a situation that led the Secretary of State to suggest that the report “paints a deeply concerning picture of obfuscation, denial, secrecy, the breakdown of democratic scrutiny and accountability, and a culture of cronyism risking the corrupt spending of public funds.”

The report highlighted that in Tower Hamlets the three most senior bureaucrats are all on temporary contracts. The boss (head of paid service), principal lawyer (monitoring officer) and head of finance (section 151 officer) are insecure. They depend on political whim for their pay cheque.

The checks and balances for a mayor in one of the most socially polarized parts of Britain are diminished. As PWC suggest and illustrate by one example after another the result in today’s east end is potentially catastrophic.

This is why we need to think carefully how checks and balances for elected mayors should work, in the east end and elsewhere.

On the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on 13th November (and in other media) reports on recent events in Tower Hamlets have focused on whether or not there has been criminal behavior reported by PWC.

Former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone and former MP for Bethnal Green and Bow George Galloway, both supporting Mayor Lutfur Rahman, curiously mirrored the framing of BBC journalist Zoe Conway in focusing on the issue of criminality and fraud.

But this is a chimera. If the report is judged by whether criminality or fraud is eventually proven, if the mayoralty is judged by convictions in court, misses the point.

The true message of the PWC report and the lesson for putative mayoral innovations, in Tower Hamlets, in Manchester and elsewhere is that if the proper checks and balances on deliberative democracy are not in place then the result is dysfunctional, opaque and – most importantly – to the detriment of democracy and the disadvantage of local people.

It is why most people will welcome the potential role of three commissioners in east London that might mitigate the questionable deployment of democratically elected but executively absolute power in today’s Tower Hamlets.

Below is a letter that Labour’s John Biggs has sent to a few local papers in which he criticises Ken Livingstone’s support for Lutfur Rahman.

John lost of course by some 3,000 second round votes in May to Lutfur. He remains a London Assembly member for the City & East constituency.

He is also likely to be called and cross-examined as a witness for the Tower Hamlets election petitioners in the forthcoming court hearing.

That hearing, by the way, is likely to start at the end of January. It could well last between two and three months, which would mean any mayoral election re-run taking place after May’s general election.

It’s not at all certain, of course, who would contest such a re-run. Were Lutfur to lose the hearing he might be barred from office. It could be, however, that the judge rules the actual count unlawful, but that it was not Lutfur’s fault. In that case, Lutfur might be free to stand again.

Would John Biggs want to contest a re-run anyway? Would the party locally or regionally want him to?

Would Lutfur want to stand again?

He seems to be trying to raise/improve his national profile at the moment as a darling of the Left. He’s changed his Twitter photograph to show a more workmanlike down-to-earth image: tie loosened, shirt sleeves rolled up.

lutfur rahman, twitter

And the people who write his Tweets for him are concentrating far more on national, as opposed to local, political and social issues.

I’ve written on here a few times about the internal battle within his Tower Hamlets First party over who might stand against Rushanara Ali in Bethnal Green and Bow next May.

Speculation has previously centred on Abjol Miah (who still encourages people to “vote Respect” on Twitter), Rabina Khan and possibly Ohid Ahmed.

But I wonder whether Lutfur himself might be interested?

[He has wanted to become an MP for many years. It was during his campaign to become Labour’s PPC for the seat in 2007, when Rushanara eventually triumphed, that he fell out with his “friend” Helal Abbas. Here’s a letter he wrote to my former paper, the East London Advertiser in March 2007.]

Lutfur Letter March 2007

Were Lutfur to stand next May, it would mean campaigning during the period of the Election Court…when his expensively assembled legal team could be making headlines for him.

Curious and curioser…

Anyway, here’s Jogn Biggs’s letter:

I have great respect for the achievements of Ken Livingstone, and was proud to have worked alongside him for eight years at City Hall. His vision for London is, in my view, unmatched.

The Olympics, massive transport investment, and a focus on policing which helped to restore public confidence, would not have happened without him.

His focus on the plight of those on low incomes, and on helping people to get the skills they need for employment and to help themselves, was a vital part of his work too.

While not everything he did was right, a lot was and his successor, Boris Johnson, has coasted on his achievements, unwisely reversing some while, as with the Olympics, Crossrail and police numbers, brazenly trying to claim credit for others (even while, in some cases, undermining them).

Ken’s genuine passion for our City made him, in my view, a great and visionary London Mayor.

And I pay great respect also to his work while at the GLC. In particular he will be remembered for his work on equalities, challenging discrimination and disadvantage faced by many simply because of their race, gender, sexuality, physical ability or the disadvantage or poverty of their background.

At the time he was attacked as dangerously left wing and ‘politically correct’. Nowadays those views are generally seen as part of proper mainstream thinking – not about a free lunch, but about a greater fairness.

Again, not everything he did was right but his legacy is solid.  

However, he is absolutely wrong in his recent comments about Tower Hamlets politics.

Politics is about passions, strong opinions and different priorities. However, his representation of Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman as a victim of a stitch up is just plain wrong.

I and others am proud to have played a part in helping East Enders from different backgrounds and cultures to have access to power.

But we are in a different age now – people who are in power have a duty to act properly, and high standards apply to everyone.

The local Mayor, who has, I am sure, many positive qualities, has seriously failed the East End and Ken does nobody a service, in any community, by pretending it is someone else’s fault.

While Ken Livingstone and a small minority of those who claim to be on the Left, believe Lutfur Rahman is a victim, in my view, and that of many, many others, it is the people of Tower Hamlets, including in the Bengali community, who are the victims of his misuse of power in the Town Hall.  

I am proud to have worked with Ken but disappointed that he is unwilling to see this. He is at risk of the classic error of the Left, of fighting internal battles and living in the past.

We need to move on from this.

John Biggs AM (and 2014 Tower Hamlets Labour Mayor Candidate)

At the weekend, The Sunday Times reported that Tower Hamlets council has started to encourage parents and teachers in its schools to report “concerns about young people’s safety, including racist or extremist behaviour”.

Its article added this:

The appeal by Tower Hamlets council will coincide with the publication of damning reports by Ofsted, the schools watchdog, this week, which will brand at least four schools in the borough “inadequate”.

They include Sir John Cass’s Foundation and Redcoat School, a Church of England state secondary under the control of Tower Hamlets council, and three private Islamic schools: Al-Mizan primary, the London East Academy and Jamiatul Ummah secondary for boys. The first two are run by the East London Mosque Trust.

Inspectors who examined Sir John Cass are understood to have been alarmed at the slow response to claims about a Facebook page created by Muslim sixth formers that linked to an extremist speaker.

None of the schools responded to requests for comment but Robert McCulloch-Graham, corporate director of education, social care and wellbeing at Tower Hamlets council, said: “There is simply no room here in Tower Hamlets for racist or extremist behaviour from any quarter.”

The Ofsted reports will be published on Friday morning and they follow a number of “emergency inspections” over the past couple of months.

Sources in Westminster have told me that Sir John Cass, in Stepney, will definitely be going into special measures because it has failed the “safeguarding” aspect of the inspection. A failure on that automatically triggers special measures, as I understand it.

This will be devastating for the school, both for its students and staff.

It genuinely is a “flagship” school. Its results are at the top end in the borough and it has in Haydn Evans a headteacher who is regarded as one of the best. He was awarded a CBE in the New Year’s Honours List for services to education and the last time the school was inspected it was rated “outstanding”, the highest ranking available. I hope he remains in place.

And let’s be clear what this is not.

It is not a failure by the council (whose senior managers, Anne Canning and Robert McCulloch-Graham, are also considered excellent).

Neither is it a failure by or the fault of Mayor Lutfur Rahman: he’s understood to be angry at how the problems have come about.

And nor is this Trojan Horse 2. In Birmingham, there was a said to be a subversive plot by governors to change the ethos of schools. At Sir John Cass, the apparent problems are rooted in the activities of some sixth form students themselves.

The failures at Sir John Cass have arisen through a lack of governance oversight, or “grip” as they say in the Civil Service. Processes, and checks and balances are important, as PwC underlined in their report on council grants.

The governance failures also raise some extremely interesting questions about freedom of expression, British values, religion and religious identity in state secondary schools.

The Ofsted report will centre on several issues, but I suspect the headlines on Friday will centre on two things: the activities of the school’s sixth form Islamic Society (which uses school premises for meetings and which has been innocently raising cash for a charity under investigation for its activities in Syria); and the fact that the school allowed segregated playgrounds for boys and girls.

On the second issue, which sounds disturbing, we’ll await the school’s explanation.

On the first, Islamic Societies (ISOCs) at sixth form colleges and universities have been a headache for educational authorities and beyond for several years.

Radical outfits such as Hizb ut-Tahrir see them as fertile recruiting grounds. Perhaps most notably, Ed Husain, one of the co-founders of the Quilliam Foundation counter-extremism think tank, was radicalised in the Nineties via the Islamic Society at Tower Hamlets College, Poplar.

But I had no idea there were ISOCs in state secondary schools. However, I now understand this has been the case in Tower Hamlets for a few years. As far as I can make out, Mulberry School for Girls in Mile End also has one.

One Bengali Muslim councillor in Tower Hamlets told me this week there was a concern that sixth formers were increasingly being encouraged by imams and Arabic teachers at after-hours supplementary schools to organise themselves this way.

Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with ISOCs at school. Many schools have Christian Unions and Jewish Societies.

It’s the activities that matter; and that’s why there needs to be good oversight by school authorities.

At Sir John Cass, the ISOC set up its own Facebook page and as I understand it, at least one link was posted on it to an extremist preacher.

Apparently, the school bosses, who are responsible for the safeguarding of all students, failed to deal with this properly.

It may well be there was other material on that Facebook page which also alarmed Ofsted’s inspectors.

The Facebook page has now been deleted, but you can still find archived material for the SJC ISOC Sister’s page in Google’s cache.

Here:

SJC ISOC Facebook

On that page was a poster for an ISOC event at the school’s Great Hall earlier this year. Here:

SJC ISOC EVENT

There’s nothing to suggest any of the speakers were, or are, of concern.

The ISOC also has its own YouTube channel, which is still live:

SJC ISOC youtube

So three innocuous videos and 57 views as of 5.30pm today. Hardly popular or dangerous.

The ISOC also had a Just Giving Syrian charity appeal, which was linked via Facebook. The details of that appeal for Human Aid are here:

SJC ISOC charity

Human Aid, which is based in Whitechapel, is one of five UK charities operating in Syria that are currently under statutory investigation by the Charity Commission. Human Aid denies any wrongdoing on this.

The ISOC’s Just Giving page no longer exists:

SJC ISOC charity 2

So that’s just a flavour of some of the potential problems faced by the school’s bosses when you have an active Islamic Society operating among impressionable teenagers in such a volatile climate for foreign affairs. They will probably seek guidance from ministers at the Department for Education.

That all this is happening at a Church of England governed school, where 80 per cent of the pupils are Bengali Muslims (and where there is no religious assembly but a “thought for the day” broadcast over the tannoys, makes it more interesting.

This was no subversive governors’ plot. The governors include(d) highly respected names. The Bishop of Stepney has a representative on the board.

David Pascall CBE, a City financier, was until very recently the chair of governors. He has decided not serve another term and The Rev Trevor Critchlow, the Rector of the wonderful St Dunstan’s Church across the road from the school, has taken over.

I would imagine action has already been taken in the relevant areas and I hope the special measures aren’t in place too long.

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