Sometimes life as a journalist can be a bit surreal. As I was having lunch in a restaurant near Spitalfields Market last Sunday, a handwritten note on a paper napkin furtively winged its way to me.
“Rahman not at Tower Hill Remembrance Service, despite being expected by Kevan Collins!!” it said. I know who sent it; I won’t name them but it was a couple of well-known political activists.
That day’s edition of East End Life seemed to back up the note. While there was plenty of coverage of the various Remembrance services in the borough, there were no pictures of our new executive mayor.
The Tower Hill service is particularly special because it commemorates those who died in the Blitz of the East End.
I asked Tower Hamlets council’s press office for an explanation on Monday morning. Five full working days and several chasing emails and phone calls later, I still have had no reply. One council press officer told me my question was not “a priority”.
That press officer was, I’m told, acting on the orders of Takki Suliaman, the £100,000 a year head of communications who was apparently a bit of a figure of fun when he was a Labour councillor in Haringey a few years ago. He was appointed the town hall’s chief spin doctor in March after being recruited under Lutfur Rahman’s leadership by that notorious moonlighter, Lutfur Ali.
Since Lutfur Rahman became mayor, the council’s controversial press office has become a bit of a miserable place. Staff are going through a redundancy process and, quite frankly, some are dying to leave. However, two things are certain: Mr Sulaiman is certain to dump others to protect his six-figure job and East End Life will continue to be published.
In the meantime, Mr Sulaiman would do well to let the people who pay his exorbitant wages why the Mayor he serves was unable to attend one of the most important and symbolic events of the year.
Lutfur, who also did not wear a poppy at last month’s cabinet on November 11, came to office promising to unite communities and to respect the borough’s history. He may well have had a valid reason for his absence at Tower Hill, but silence doesn’t get him anywhere. Without Labour’s advisers there to help him, he’s making some silly mistakes.
I’ve written a bit about this in tomorrow’s Sunday Express.
UPDATE: Tuesday, November 30
The following was sent to me by a serving councillor who attended the Tower Hill event:
Lutfur Rahman had notified the organisers that he would be attending the main borough ceremony at Tower Hill, the memorial to the 42,000 merchant seamen who lost their lives in wars.
He was allocated seat B12, which is on the right hand side, front row. When he did not appear the seat was discreetly occupied.
There are a number of ceremonies in different parts of the borough including Bethnal Green Library, Poplar War Memorial, Tower Hamlets Cemetery and many more. According to lists from the Town Hall councillors attended all of these. Cllr Abbas was at Poplar War Memorial.
East End Life did not refer to the elected representatives because of “purdah” relating to the Spitalfields by election. It would be interesting to see who issues that particular decree.