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Archive for August, 2011

Anyone who thought the question of the EDL protest in Tower Hamlets had simply vanished the moment Home Secretary Theresa May announced a ban last week is in cuckoo land.

The following email has just been sent out by the Respect party to its supporters (it makes reference to an email from Fozol Miah – he’s a Respect councillor in Spitalfields).

New meeting place for anti-EDL protest in Tower Hamlets.

Further to the recent email from Fozol Miah about the EDL in Tower Hamlets, the meeting place for the anti-EDL protest has now been changed to Whitechapel.

The new assembly point and time is 11am, corner of Vallance Road and Whitechapel Road, London E1.

Further details from http://uaf.org.uk/2011/08/new-whitechapel-assembly-point-for-3-sept-anti-edl-demo/

Although it has been banned from marching, the EDL has confirmed it still intends to turn up in Tower Hamlets for a “static protest”.

The Home Secretary’s ban, of course, referred to all marches through Tower Hamlets and four other boroughs. It means that Unite Against Fascism is also banned from marching.

However, UAF, on its website, is still issuing a rallying call for the largest possible turnout on Saturday and it many hope and probably intend to march. UAF has this petition:

Right to march against racist EDL

We, the undersigned, welcome the banning of the racist English Defence League’s march through Tower Hamlets.

However, we believe the headlines claiming the EDL have been ‘banned’ from Tower Hamlets are misleading. The EDL will still be holding a static protest in the borough.

We are also appalled to discover that the home secretary, Theresa May, has agreed to the Metropolitan Police’s application for a blanket ban on ALL marches across five London boroughs – Tower Hamlets, Newham, Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest – and the City of London for 30 days.

This is a huge attack on everyone’s civil liberties and prevents people’s rights to oppose racism.

We have the democratic right to peacefully march through Tower Hamlets on 3 September to show unity of Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, Black, Asian and LGBT communities, trade unions and all those against fascism and for freedom, and to voice opposition to the EDL’s attempts to divide us.

Our legal advice says there is no law that says if one march has been banned, all marches in that area must be banned.

It is our human right to peacefully march in Tower Hamlets.

We therefore support the joint Unite Against Fascism / United East End protest on Saturday 3 September.

I’ve just spoken to the Metropolitan Police who told me that anyone who marches on Saturday will be “liable to arrest” under Section 13 of the Public Order Act. The protests will be “policed accordingly” in terms of numbers and officers will use “discretion” in deciding what constitutes a march.

It’s looking like a recipe for disaster on Saturday.

UPDATE – 6.45pm

The Press Association reports that Theresa May has now extended the ban to the City of London. I guess they’ve just realised how close Tower Hamlets is to the City..

 

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When I was at the East London Advertiser, I tried to persuade the bosses at Archant that we should be running restaurant reviews. Hardly a revolutionary idea as local newspapers had been doing this for decades, the idea being that reporters claim back the expense of a meal in return for writing a review.

Archant’s bosses declined the request by insisting it was an expense they could not afford. I thought they missed an easy marketing trick: restaurants, particularly the smaller, non-chain owned ones, love those reviews and often frame the cutting on a wall inside or on the door to boast to passing trade. I argued that would get our brand to a wider audience. But the argument was over-ruled by short term cost management.

On Tower Hamlets Council’s East End Life, they don’t have those problems and they run a restaurant review every week. They are mostly written by the paper’s staff and council press officers who spend about £50 every week and claim the cash back from the taxpayer. (Intriguingly, we don’t know who the authors are because all reviews are written under silly pseudonyms such as Munchin’ Minnie or Pot-Bellied Pig; why their identities need to be protected I don’t know, but if I were a councillor I’d be trying to ensure genuine bylines were used – I suspect there would be fewer volunteers for the freebies as a result… .)

We used to complain regularly about these reviews at the ELA, as did Tory councillors Tim Archer and Peter Golds; more recently, Local Government Minister Grant Shapps has voiced his own criticism. However, Tower Hamlets Council continued to press on with the practice, claiming – disingenuously, in my view – that the review brought in external advertising to that page.

I suspect there is a demand for reviews of local restaurants and by failing to serve its readers properly, the ELA is shooting itself in the foot – and also from a strategic point of view. If it carried them, it could cite that as another area where East End Life is competing in its space.

However, there is a gap in the market and East End Life can argue (albeit weakly) that it is performing a public service. But the review in the current issue is taking the mickey. On p29, under the headline “Firm ribs, boozy Ribena and the best ‘slaw ever”, a council officer hiding as Pot-Bellied Pig reviews the cocktails and food at the chain restaurant Giraffe in Spitalfields Market.

Is there really another need for a review of Giraffe? Aren’t East End Life reader able to do simple searches of the internet finding reviews here, here, or here for example?

Surely this is just an example of a council officer enjoying a perk at our expense. If those reviews are to be run in East End Life, shouldn’t they be reserved for genuinely local restaurants?

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Lutfur’s new blog

Shows you how informed I am…I hadn’t realised that our dear Mayor has found time to start a new blog. It’s here. I’ll also add it to my blog roll; let’s see if Lutfur reciprocates… .

Interestingly, he’s writing it on a WordPress site, just as this one is (although his looks far neater; he clearly has an artistic eye, just like one of his predecessors as council leader, Denise Jones).

I have to say though, having listened to Lutfur countless times, the writing on his blog doesn’t sound like him. I wonder who’s penning for him.

Any guesses?

 

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My own view, as outlined here, is that the EDL should be banned as an organisation. I’ve seen them for myself on marches and they’re little more than a bunch of football hooligans who give both football and free speech a bad name. They go out to provoke and they glory in trying to outwit the likes of Anjem Choudary and the police when it comes to the former’s demonstrations.

So the Met’s decision yesterday to ask Theresa May to ban the EDL marching through Tower Hamlets last week is a good thing. Well done to Mayor Lutfur Rahman and all the other politicians and grass roots activists who helped persuade Scotland Yard. It was an easy win-win for Lutfur, but he grabbed the opportunity.

Let’s hope he’s not thrown away his success by what I hear might be some grubby backroom dealing and political opportunism over a planned Eid in the Park prayer meeting that was due to be held in Stepney Green park next week.

I’m awaiting confirmation from the council (I placed the enquiry with Takki Sulaiman’s press team on Tuesday), but senior figures there tell me a gathering had been planned for next Wednesday. It had been organised with the help of Labour’s Abdal Ullah and with the backing of the Islamic Relief charity. In previous years, it had passed off without incident and had attracted some 3,000 people who stay in the park for an hour.

Last week, though, the organisers were told it had been cancelled. An email was sent by Heather Bonfield, the council’s head of culture, saying “we are a borough that is severely under-provided with open space”. Given her previous attitude to the exploitation of Victoria Park as reported in comment 22 of this post here, this a touch ironic.

However, she seems to have more underlying concerns. Reading between the lines of her email — she says the prayers would damage “community cohesion” — it’s clear the council is concerned about attracting the presence of the EDL. That seems a fairly preposterous position: I doubt even the EDL would disrupt a prayer meeting, particularly one of 3,000 people. There’s nothing wrong with having prayers in the park for an hour or so. If the Pope had come to Tower Hamlets last year, I’m sure no one would have objected to Victoria Park being used.

Here’s Bonfield’s email:

I am writing with regard to your application on behalf of Islamic Relief for
the use of Stepney Green Park for Eid Prayers.  As you know, the Arts and
Events Team have processed your application, but there have been recent
developments which have an impact on your booking.

Whilst the Council acknowledges that the Park has been successfully used for
Eid Prayers for the past two years, this year it has received multiple
requests for Tower Hamlets parks to be used for Eid-related faith events,
including an additional application to use Stepney Green Park for a large
number of participants.  This level of applications has not been received in
previous years.

The Council’s policy with regard to the use of its premises (which includes
parks) is clear.  The Borough is a multi-faith, multi-cultural community and
the use of a number of local parks for mass faith-based Eid Prayers would,
by their nature, prevent the use of parks at this time by local residents
who wish to use them as recreational spaces.  As we are a borough that is
severely under-provided with open space this may undermine community
cohesion.

The Council’s application documentation advises that the Council reserves
the right to withdraw permission for an event at any time.  As we cannot be
seen to be favouring one applicant above another, we have an unprecedented
number of requests to use the borough ‘s parks and open spaces for Eid
Prayers and we believe the risk to community cohesion is significant, we
will be adhering to our policy and no park will be used for this purpose
this year.  I therefore regret to inform you that permission for the use of
Stepney Green Park has been withdrawn.

I appreciate that this will be disappointing news, but I am sure that in the
current urban climate, you will understand the reason for this decision.

Heather Bonfield

Service Head (Culture, Learning & Leisure) 

Deputy Mayor Ohid Ahmed was more explicit about this: I’m told he has been telling colleagues that the police wanted the prayers off, an explanation rigorously disputed by those who have reliable connections to the borough police.

I’m told that what happened next sums up how Lutfur and Ohid operate. They apparently decided the prayer in the park was a good thing after all and that they would help organise an alternative. I was told they had even chosen Stepney Green park as the venue, but instead of using Islamic Relief as the preferred charity for donations on the night, they want to bring in Muslim Aid, a charity based at the London Muslim Centre.

As I said, I put all this to Takki Sulaiman’s team at Tower Hamlets council on Tuesday. I’m yet to have a reply. That usually means there’s substance to it.

UPDATE – 5.10pm 

Tower Hamlets Council’s press office has finally responded after four days. I suspect they’ve had a few queries about it because they answered me via a general press release. In it they do not state whether Muslim Aid or any public money is involved. Here’s the release.

Eid Prayers

To mark the end of Ramadan a community Eid Prayers event is planned to take place in Stepney Green Park.
This year Tower Hamlets Council received several applications from organisations requesting to use the borough’s parks for Eid Prayers.

As the events would have impacted on residents ‘ use of a number of local parks on the same day during the summer holidays the applications were refused. In addition there were also major concerns about the recent events that have swept the country and in particular the proposed march that was due to take place in the borough on 3 September.

However to ensure that an outdoor Eid Prayers event could take place in the borough, the council worked with all of the applicants to help to secure a single event. In partnership with the council, Islamic Relief is working with the other applicants to deliver this year’s Eid Prayers.

It is not possible to predict the date of Eid al-Fitr accurately because the month of Ramadan ends after a confirmed sighting of the new moon. The first day of Shawwal, the month of Ramadan, is marked with a feast and prayer.

Eid Prayers is likely to take place on Tuesday 30 or Wednesday 31 August.

The event in Stepney Green Park, Stepney Way, is open to all.


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While at the East London Advertiser, we regularly used a good photographer called Mike Wells. I know Mike very well; he’s a had a colourful career, including a stint as a UN elections monitor abroad.

He used to live in the Clays Lane housing co-operative that overlooked the former Eastway cycle circuit, which was a beautifully wild little spot next to the A12 by pass. He lived there, in fact, until it was demolished to make way for the Olympics.

Throughout the planning and construction phases of the 2012 Games, Mike has been (or hopes to have been) a Grade A pain in the arse to Seb Coe & co. He’s not against the Olympics per se, but rather he’s angry with the way they have gone about it.

Over the past five years, he and a few other friends who run the excellent Games Monitor website have ploughed through thousands of reports and other papers obtained under the Freedom of Information Act about the levels of contamination and remediation at the Olympics site. Mike, from his home in Clays Lane, even used to photograph site workers using their Geiger counters looking for radioactive material.

With Mike’s help, I’ve written several articles about this contamination. The first one was for the Sunday Express in 2006. It’s here (please forgive the cringeworthy second word in the intro – I was a mere cub reporter then!):

In 2009, we published this one about how 7,000 tonnes of radioactive waste was to be buried in a special bunker on the site.

In February 2010, we ran this piece about how a plastic sheet had been laid 3ft below the entire Olympic site to mark out potentially contaminated land for future developers, thus possibly affecting land and resale values.

Four months later, Ian Griffiths of the Guardian tied all these pieces together with his own investigation here.

Over the past few weeks, campaigning Mike Wells has brought all these strands together and highlights a couple of the articles in a new short film that stars Hackney lawyer Bill Parry-Davies and Hackney author Iain Sinclair.

Sinclair reads from his new book Ghost Milk in which he laments the loss of east London’s former wasteland and the arrival of an ugly corporatism (which has its nadir in Dow Chemical’s sponsorship of the main stadium). As Sinclair talks, Bill plays his saxophone. The film, Gold Dust, lasts seven minutes. You can read Mike’s blurb about it here and view it below.

http://vimeo.com/28065136

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You’ll remember I wrote this for the Sunday Express earlier this month. It was followed up by the Times and the Telegraph; it also caused outrage in India.

Seb Coe’s decision to allow Dow Chemical to try and detoxify its brand by sponsoring the 2012 stadium doesn’t exactly sit right with his boasts about leaving a legacy in east London free of contamination. Other than Coe, Boris Johnson and Sports Minister Hugh Robertson (who professed himself “delighted” at this month’s announcement), I don’t know one person who is happy with Dow’s involvement.

Since that original article, I’ve learnt that Dow’s wrap is not purely for decorative purposes: it will also act as a windshield against gusts blowing into the main arena that will hinder potential world records. It’s all for PR therefore.

Are we really saying that we couldn’t find a few million quid to fund our own unbranded wrap?

At the weekend, Labour’s Keith Vaz, who had just returned from India, offered his own thoughts in the Sunday Express here. This one is going to run.

By Ted Jeory, Whitehall Editor

A CAMPAIGN is mounting to force David Cameron to intervene in a row over a controversial sponsorship of London’s Olympic stadium.

Senior MP Keith Vaz has expressed “amazement” at a decision by Games boss Lord Coe to ask Dow Chemical to fund a £7million fabric wrapping bearing the company’s symbol that will adorn the stadium next year.

He has told Dow that if it has money to spare it should be donated to the victims of the Bhopal chemical plant.

Dow is the owner of Union Carbide, which operated the plant in India which suffered a catastrophic gas leak in 1984. Campaigners claim that and groundwater pollution before and after has killed up to 25,000 people. Although Dow says it didn’t own Union Carbide until 2001 and that a “full and final” settlement of $470million (£285million) was agreed with India in 1989, campaigners say the plant’s pollution causes babies to be born maimed to this day.

A Sunday Express article two weeks ago has provoked fury in India where politicians and Olympians have even called for a boycott of the London Games. Many highlight the irony of Lord Coe’s boast to have cleaned up a contaminated site in east London, only to help Dow detoxify its legacies now.

The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal has written to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, urging him to register an official protest with David Cameron to say that Dow is a “fugitive from justice”.

Dow remains the subject of a number of civil and criminal court actions in India. Last year, the Indian government filed its own court case asking Dow for another $1.1billion.

In their letter to Mr Singh, the campaigners write: “We have been waiting for you to register a strong objection to the UK Government.”

Labour MP Mr Vaz said: “Dow should honour the $1.1billion commitment if they feel they have enough to pay for the Olympics.”

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VOTE FOR ME!

Come on, Mr Mayor, I know you’re a fan.

Put your Merc class X here.

Voting is now open for the Total Politics Blog Awards 2011. Voting is here. This site is listed in the Total Politics blog directory here.

Spread the word, ring in the millionaires, print new newspapers…and let the smears begin

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