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Archive for April, 2012

Here’s a question: who do you trust more, Tower Hamlets councillors or our beloved security services?

Tricky one isn’t it?

Well, it seems from an email sent by the council’s head of communications on Saturday night that the MoD was either incompetent in how it went about its plan to put missiles on top of a crumbling Grade II-listed water tower in the Bow Quarter conservation area, or it read this blog and concluded our politicians couldn’t be trusted with classified information.

This was sent by council communictaions head Takki Sulaiman at the request of interim chief executive Aman Dalvi on Saturday night:

Dear Councillors

The Interim Chief Executive has asked me to inform you that Sky News are reporting that missiles and troops are to be sited at Bow Quarter during the Olympic Games.  This follows the MoD’s decision to leaflet the area informing residents of their decision.  There are a number of important elements that Aman is keen to impart to you as local representatives:
 
1.    The security services met with council representatives on two occasions – the last being late on Thursday afternoon
2.    The MoD sought permission to use the privately owned building directly from the landlord
3.    The information was deemed to be classified
4.    It was agreed that councillors would be notified of the decision first then residents.  However it appears residents were notified first by leaflet today.
5.    The security measures including troop deployment and missile sites are also being used in other host boroughs and around the capital during the Games
 
Aman is offline at the moment but able to talk by phone tomorrow if you require further information.
So it seems that all the MoD has to do if they want to put a few missiles on private rooftops is to ask the permission of the owner. I said it on Twitter yesterday, but here it is again: they are more than happy to put them on my rooftop (although I would like some say in where they’re aimed).

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I don’t know about you but for me this is the story of the day. I wonder if the MoD has applied for planning permission? Would love to be a councillor deciding on that one. (See the leaflet on Bow Quarter resident Brian Whelan’s blog.)

From the BBC:

The Ministry of Defence is considering placing surface-to-air missiles on residential flats during the Olympics.

An east London estate, where 700 people live, has received leaflets saying a “Higher Velocity Missile system” could be placed on a water tower.

A spokesman said the MoD had not yet decided whether to deploy ground based air defence systems during the event.

But estate resident Brian Whelan said firing the missiles “would shower debris across the east end of London”.

The journalist said: “At first I thought it was a hoax. I can’t see what purpose high-velocity missiles could serve over a crowded area like Tower Hamlets.

“They say they’ll only use them as a last resort, but… you’d shower debris across the east end of London by firing these missiles.”

Mr Whelan, who claims to have seen soldiers carrying a crate into the building, said his property management company put up posters and gave out the leaflets on Saturday.

He continued: “They are going to have a test run next week, putting high velocity missiles on the roof just above our apartment and on the back of it they’re stationing police and military in the tower of the building for two months.

“It [the leaflet] says there will be 10 officers plus police present 24/7.”

Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, said: “It looks like it’s been imposed without proper consultation.

“I will be asking the government to explain why. The MoD does need to look at this again.”

The leaflet states that members of the Armed Forces will be at the location for a military exercise between 2 and 7 May.

It goes on to say there will be a “major national exercise” from 2 to 10 May to test the Armed Forces’ capabilities for providing security during the Olympics.

The document added that if the government decides to use the missiles during the Games, the soldiers could be “operationally deployed for a period of up to two months this summer”.

The weapon being considered is a High Velocity Missile (HVM) system, which would be based on the Lexington Building Water Tower. The tower contains residential flats.

The MoD says in the leaflet that the missiles will not pose a hazard to residents and “will only be authorised for active use following specific orders from the highest levels of government in response to a confirmed and extreme security threat”.

The document states: “Having a 24/7 Armed Forces and police presence will improve your local security and will not make you a target for terrorists.

This part of the leaflet assures residents that their residence will not become a terrorist target

“The location has been chosen as it is situated close to the Olympic Park and offers an excellent view of the surrounding area and the entire sky above the Olympic Park.

“The top of the tower also offers a flat, uncluttered and safe area from which to operate.”

The Army website says the HVM system is “designed to counter threats from very high performance, low-flying aircraft”.

It says the missile travels at more than three times the speed of sound, using “a system of three dart-like projectiles to allow multiple hits on the target”.

The missiles can be fired from the shoulder, from a lightweight multiple launcher or from armoured vehicles.

A MoD spokesman said: “As announced before Christmas, ground based air defence systems could be deployed as part of a multi-layered air security plan for the Olympics, including fast jets and helicopters, which will protect the skies over London during the Games.

“Based on military advice we have identified a number of sites and, alongside colleagues from the Metropolitan Police, are talking to local authorities and relevant landowners to help minimise the impact of any temporary deployments.

“As part of our ongoing planning, we can confirm site evaluations have taken place.”

The MoD has previously said it was considering plans to install surface-to-air missiles in south-east London at Blackheath and Shooters Hill during the Olympics.

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There is a quite amazing row going on between George Galloway and the New Statesman whose interviewer Jemima Khan claims that he converted to Islam in a special ceremony 10 years ago. Galloway says her claims are “categorically untrue” and is demanding a retraction from the Staggers.

But when I asked George’s long time aide Ron McKay just now whether he was a Muslim (and that he may have converted at some other time), he refused to answer saying religion was a private matter.

I’m racking my brains on this, but I’m fairly sure George, when he was MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, used to refer to his Catholicism in his speeches. I’m sure there are readers out there who can help with this.

Anyway, here is George’s denial:

“The opening paragraph of Jemima Khan’s piece in the New Statesman (referring to an alleged conversion ceremony) is totally untrue. Moreover I told her it was fallacious when she put it to me. I have never attended any such ceremony in Kilburn, Karachi or Kathmandu. It is simply and categorically untrue.’

“Apart from the deliberate falsehoods in the article, it is littered with schoolgirl howlers which would earn banishment from a first-year journalism class.

“For instance, she misspells the name of my ‘glossy haired’ secretary, who is not my special assistant. Snidely, she claims that I have a slow and over-enunciated delivery – even then she failed to pick up the facts! – and, absurdly, says that’s because I have a Glasgow accent which would require subtitles for those for whom English isn’t a first language. Putting aside the regional and racial slurs and the cloth ear for accents, I’m from Dundee! Which most of the rest of the world knows, but certainly the entire British press corps. I could go on.”

And here is an extract from the New Statesman piece, which was sent out in this press release:

In this week’s magazine, from an interview between Jemima Khan and George Galloway, the New Statesman exclusively reveals the background to Galloway’s conversion to Islam:

George Galloway, MP for Bradford West, is a Muslim. He converted more than ten years ago in a ceremony at a hotel in Kilburn, north-west London, attended by members of the Muslim Association of Great Britain. Those close to him know this. The rest of the world, including his Muslim constituents, does not.

Over a halal, alcohol-free lunch at a cafe on Bradford’s main high street, Khan tells Galloway “I know someone who attended your shahadah[the Muslim conversion ceremony].

He stares at me across the table, penetrating blue eyes squinted, pausing for the first time in an hour. His special adviser, a glossy haired Asian Pakistani called Ayesha, looks into her daal while his new bride, Gayatri Pertiwi – a Dutch-born Muslim of Indonesian descent 30 years his junior, seated beside him throughout the interview – smiles at me.

George and Gayatri performed the nikah, the Muslim marriage ceremony, four weeks ago at the Royal Theatre in Amsterdam, the day after his sensational and unexpected victory in Bradford. This means, presumably, that they are unmarried under British law. Galloway has had two previous Muslim marriages (and this marriage to Gayatri is his fourth marriage in total). However, a Muslim woman is not permitted to marry a non-Muslim man under Islamic law – although the other way round is allowed.

Khan and Galloway were scheduled to meet at the local mosque for juma (Friday) prayers, “where Galloway usually meet the community each week, but the plan was cancelled when it transpired that I was coming with a photographer”. Although Galloway denies it was only the Muslim vote that won him the Bradford seat, Khan writes:

Galloway may have successfully out-Muslimed Labour’s Muslim British-Pakistani candidate, Imran Hussain, during the election campaign, with his speeches full of “inshallahs”, his invocations of the Quran – “the people who invaded and destroyed Iraq . . . will burn in the hell-fires of Hell” – and his smattering of Arabic words: “We stand for justice and haq [truth].” Pamphlets were distributed declaring: “God knows who is a Muslim and he knows who is not. Instinctively, so do you . . . I, George Galloway, do not drink alcohol and never have.” (Galloway has denied he was responsible for these.)

In the media, Galloway is often referred to as a Catholic. However, as Khan finds, the Muslim constituents of Bradford knew otherwise:

There must have been some white constituents in Bradford, who, although natural Labour supporters, preferred to vote for the white Catholic candidate rather than the brown Muslim one representing Labour. Meanwhile, his Muslim constituents delighted in the hints – “a Muslim is somebody who is not afraid of earthly power but who fears only the Judgement Day. I’m ready for that, I’m working for that and it’s the only thing I fear.” Many favoured a possible or a potential Muslim over a “lapsed” one, such as Labour’s Hussain, who, Galloway claimed in his campaign, was “never out of the pub”.

On local issues, Galloway says his first task is to highlight the “sheer scale and extreme danger of youth unemployment”, then put Bradford on the global stage. Galloway tells Khan he hopes to attract investment to the city from the Gulf, “because those kings in the Gulf would like good relations with me”.

Libelled 20 times (he has won every case, and a total £3m in damages), Galloway tells Khan he is “challenging the prevailing orthodoxy”:

“I’m dangerous to these people because I’m able to persuade people of the correctness of what we’re arguing for . . . One day, maybe I’ll be a national treasure like Tony Benn, but not yet, I hope.”

While he dislikes everything about David Cameron, Khan writes, Galloway is equally contemptuous of Ed Miliband. He tells her:

I think one of the problems, call it Shakespearian or call it biblical, is that he is marked with the original sin of doing something that is unnatural, doing something against the natural order of things. It is moral turpitude to stand against your older brother and, in doing so, plunge a dagger into his breast. And I think that might, in the end, be a very telling point in what comes next. Because it would be even more Shakespearian if the brother got up out of the grave and murdered the brother that had murdered him . . .

UPDATE: April 26, 5.50pm:

We now have a New Statesman denial of Galloway’s denial and a Galloway threat of libel against the New Statesman denial. This is a comedy epic. This from PA:

The New Statesman later issued a robust statement in response to Mr Galloway’s denial.
A spokeswoman said: “It is notable that Galloway does not deny being a Muslim convert – and he did not deny it when it was put to him at the time of the interview, which is on tape.
“Contrary to his press release, nor did he deny that the ceremony took place when it was put to him during the interview. This is also on tape.
“Furthermore, he failed to clarify how, by his own admission, he had a ‘nikah’ (a Muslim marriage ceremony), despite the fact that a non-Muslim man cannot marry a Muslim woman under Islamic law.”
As the row escalated, Mr Galloway responded with a threat of legal action against the magazine.
“The further allegations from the New Statesman in response to my rebuttal moves the issue into the area of defamation,” he said.
“Jemima Khan asked me on tape about this phantom ceremony in Kilburn and I told her that it was a lie and whoever told her it was a liar.
“No trace of this exchange appears in the New Statesman piece, which is predicated upon it.
“Now that they are denying my denial it places the matter in the hands of my solicitor.”
I should add that when I asked Big Ron earlier whether George would sue the NS, he laughed and said, ‘What for?’ I said well, given that you’re denying the NS claims aren’t they effectively calling George a hypocrite with the electorate? He just laughed it off and told me not to be daft.
Oh, how I’ve missed GG and his team!

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I wrote here in February that Lutfur Rahman had authorised a search for a permanent chief executive of Tower Hamlets council, a position that would pay up to £194,000 a  year. The position is currently held on an interim basis by former regeneration director Aman Dalvi.

After two months of searching, the council’s appointments committee was due to choose their favoured candidate from a shortlist of three on Monday.

But as with everything in the dysfunctional borough of Tower Hamlets, there is a problem with the process….and a touch of race.

Aman, who is on the shortlist along with two white men, the chief executive of another London borough and the boss of a large unitary authority in the south east of England (I know who both are but I think it’s only fair to them that their names remain confidential), is Lutfur’s favoured candidate. And, of course, this is a double-edged sword.

I’m told by several councillors he’s been doing a good job, that he’s been known to stand up to Lutfur and that they’d be happy for him to carry on. However, others believe he is too close to the Mayor and that a clean pair of hands is needed.

The position is the gift of the full council, so the process is this: a sub-committee of the Appointments Panel makes a recommendation to full council which then essentially rubber-stamps that recommendation. As such it is highly desirable for the sub-committee to reach a consensus.

But on Monday, that didn’t happen. The sub-committee was made up of Lutfur, two of  and one of his independents, Oli Rahman and deputy mayor Ohid Ahmed, Labour councillors Judith Gardiner and Motin uz-Zaman, and Tory member Gloria Thienel.

Labour leader Josh Peck, who I think was against Aman’s appointment, was meant to be on the committee but he was advised at the last minute by council legal chief Isabella Freeman that he ought to withdraw. More on that another time.

I don’t know how the vote split but I suspect Lutfur, Oli and Ohid plumped for Aman, while the two Labour councillors were against. It’s quite possible that Gloria would also have gone for Aman.

So what happens next? Well, because it is a council appointment, the three names will go to the next council meeting on May 16. In theory, councillors could vote from the shortlist of three but that would be highly risky because no incoming chief executive would want to take up the position knowing the council was split on the matter.

So it’s probable that councillors will simply move to extend Aman’s interim appointment by six months or so while their colleagues continue to squabble….and keep the headhunters in business.

Personally, I think it’s incredible anyone wants to come here with all this going on.

UPDATE, Saturday, April 28 10.30am

For the avoidance of any doubt, when I said “I think” Josh was against Aman’s appointment, I meant “I think”, it is my speculation (largely based on the fact that Aman is Lutfur’s favourite) and it is not something Josh has mentioned to me. I’ve not had any conversation with him about the recruitment process.

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There’s always been a something of a whiff about postal voting in Tower Hamlets, yet the council consistently tells us there isn’t a problem. They point to the lack of prosecutions and boast of their stringent controls.

It’s all media muck-raking, they insist, the latest being this piece in the Sunday Telegraph.

So what are we to make of the following information given by the council to regular commenter Grenville Mills. He had asked for a breakdown of the postal vote returns for last week’s by-election in Spitalfields and Banglatown, which was won by Lutfur Rahman’s candidate G(h)ulam Robbani by 43 votes. The anecdotal evidence posted as comments on this blog suggested that Robbani was way ahead on the early postal vote returns. I’ve no idea if that was true or not.

The council, of course, is not able to say how the postal votes broke down but what they did say was this: there were 1,418 postal ballots issued and 956 were returned, a rate of 67.4 per cent. Of the 956 returned, 135 were rejected, a rejection rate of 14.1 per cent.

And here is the council breakdown of the 135 rejected (apologies for the formatting: I haven’t got to grips yet with how to format tables in WordPress).

No signature

No date of birth

No sign & no DOB

Signature – No match

DOB – No Match

Sign & DOB – No match

Valid PVS/ No BP

BP/No PVS

0

1

5

72

30

17

7

3

So what I hope you can see is that there were 119 postal ballots returned which did not have the correct signature and/or date of birth.

Depending on how much coffee I’ve had, there are times when my signature does look different, so the council scrutineers could just be doing their job understandably strictly. However, 119 is a pretty high number.

And it might just be my lack of understanding of the process, but I would have thought it a pretty easy task to track down who supplied those ballots and investigate what happened.

But no doubt the council and the police will say they have more important things to deal with…

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The following article has appeared in the Nottingham Post today.

A NOTTS businessman has denied taking corrupt payments of nearly £50,000 to secure council and Government work for a company. 

Frank Milford, 50, is alleged to have taken 16 bribes from Witold Kuzminski, 55, between 2005 and 2007.

Milford is charged with accepting payments totalling £47,909.76 while working as an “active conduit” between Transaction Analysts Ltd and both the Department of Constitutional Affairs and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

Milford, of Main Street, Norwell, denies two counts of corruption, as does Kuzminski, of Chalford Grange, Fareham, Hampshire.

Both men appeared at Southwark Crown Court yesterday.

A trial is set for April 15, 2013. Both men were remanded on unconditional bail.

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This is a cross-post from Left Futures by Jon Lansman who edits that site, is a member of the Tower Hamlets Labour Party in the Weavers ward and who is a longstanding Bennite ally of Michael Meacher MP.

Tower Hamlets Labour Party is like nowhere else. Throughout London, every constituency party campaign team is doing its best to get the vote out for Ken. They recognise that for the party nationally and in London, that is Labour’s political priority. But here the local vendetta takes priority. Against Lutfur Rahman, independent Mayor overwhelmingly selected by Labour members and then elected by the public after being dumped as Labour’s candidate without investigation and replaced by his accuser.

Here hatred drives priorities:

“Hate George Galloway? Help us fight his party and his friends in East London. We campaign every day.”

So tweeted Tower Hamlets Labour Party within minutes of the Bradford West result.

Whilst much of the rest of Tower Hamlets is left uncanvassed and piles of Livingstone leaflets sit undelivered, everyone is encouraged to work in just two out of seventeen wards — those where there are council by-elections. Last night, Labour’s candidate in Spitalfields & Banglatown lost what was, at the last borough election, a safe Labour seat:

Kirsty Blake (Green) 99
Richard MacMillan (Lib Dem) 39
Gulam Robbani (Independent) 1030
Matthew Smith (Conservative) 140
Ala Uddin (Labour) 987

On May 3, Labour’s candidate in Weavers, where Labour ousted three Lib Dems at the last election, faces a serious challenge from local Respect leading light Abjol Miah.  The Lib Dems previously enjoyed significant Bangladeshi support in the ward but this time, as they did in Spitalfields, they are standing a paper candidate. I don’t know if they favour one side over the other — they are probably happy just to see the Labour family tear itself apart. On this occasion, the Bangladeshi community leaders seem to be united behind the Respect candidate who is also backed by Lutfur Rahman and his supporters.

Until last night, my expectation was that Respect would win. However, the Spitalfields result was surprisingly close. And that was undoubtedly the result of a last minute poison-packed leaflet distributed anonymously, which appears highly defamatory, and is certainly grossly misleading in some respects.

Hatred runs deep on both sides. Lutfur Rahman and his supporters feel they have been denied justice, that charges were made against them maliciously and see themselves as true Labour. There are no significant political differences between the two sides. The Labour group on the council, now in opposition, would have been making essentially the same cuts and protecting the same services as Lutfur Rahman is now.

Every councillor that is full of hatred, whether Labour or independent, whether hard-working or idle, whether they’ve always been in Labour or spent some time in Respect or any other party, whether they’ve led a blameless life or have the odd skeleton in their past, every one of them was elected as a Labour councillor in 2010. Every one of them was vetted by Labour officials and imposed as a Labour candidate. Some of them were still in primary school when Labour Party members were last allowed to select their council candidates.

The person chosen from the ward membership to help choose the Labour candidate in Weavers was the former CLP Chair, who resigned when he backed the academy bid of a school whose governing body he chaired, against the policy of both party and council Labour group. When I texted him to ask if he would join a doorstep session for Ken in Weavers, his response was:

“I’d rather sick hot needles in my eyes.”

The text is still on my phone. Hatred runs deep.

The losers are the people of Tower Hamlets. And possibly Ken. And, if Ken loses as a result, the people of London. And the Labour Party.

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