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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)

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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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A High Court judge today rejected Tower Hamlets council’s long running legal challenge to Eric Pickles’ decision to send in inspectors to the town hall.

Mr Justice Goss refused the council permission to proceed to a full judicial review of the legal basis for the inspection, which culminated in PricewaterhouseCooper’s highly critical report of the town hall last week.

Today was the second rejection of the council’s legal bid by a senior judge and its costs are in the region of £50,000.

In August, Mr Justice Kenneth Parker in a written ruling (here and here) had described the application as “hopeless” and “unmeritorious”.

Undeterred, the council, led by Mayor Lutfur Rahman and advised by Interim Monitoring Officer Meic Sullivan-Gould, then requested today’s oral at the Royal Courts of Justice.

However, the council’s barrister, Jonathan Swift QC, lost his argument.

The council’s legal costs on this case alone are at least £40,000.

Today’s judge also ordered the town hall to pay DCLG’s legal costs of £8,500.

When Eric Pickles announced the inspection in April, the council issued a statement “welcoming” the chance to prove it spent taxpayers’ money in a “best value” way.

The council was then criticised by the Government for dragging its heels during the inspection and while it contested its legal basis.

Local Government Minister Kris Hopkins said after today’s hearing: “We are pleased that the courts have thrown out Tower Hamlets’ legal challenge for a second time.

“However, it is disappointing that local taxpayers are having to foot the bill for the Mayor’s legal costs.

“This reflects a culture of denial in the local authority about the dysfunctional governance of the mayor’s administration.”

Mayor Rahman said: “Our case challenged the £1m cost of the audit and raises fundamental questions about the legal relationship between local and central government.

“We are disappointed that the judge refused permission for us to proceed to a full Judicial Review hearing. We are now fully engaged with responding to the Secretary of State’s proposals and will continue to do all we can to ensure that our residents interests come first.”

…………

This was Mr Justice Kenneth Parker’s written ruling from August:

3 - Tower Hamlets Judicial Review Judgement 3a - Tower Hamlets Judicial Review Judgement

Today, Mr Justice Goss said he could not do any better than his colleague. He read out ground three again in its entirety.

The first ground (on timing) was not considered again today as it was regarded as “hopeless” first time round, and Tower Hamlets decided not to put it forward.

……and two days ago, Ken Livingstone at the Water Lily rally urged Lutfur to hire the best lawyers and challenge Eric Pickles’ proposal to send in Commissioners.

Ken did not say that he would personally fund such a challenge. Funny that.

It’s always easier with other people’s money.

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One veteran of the Respect party said to me as I was leaving last night’s rally at the Water Lily centre in Mile End: “It’s just like the old days again.”

Depressingly, in many ways he was right. Lots of pretty tedious and predictable speeches, a few cheap and several offensive jokes about Eric Pickles’ weight. It’s strange how the so-called Left get off on making these remarks about a man’s appearance.

But how the audience giggled! …And then cried racism against the man one not-so-svelte union official called “the fat controller”.

They also mocked DCLG’s spending on limousines. But failed to mention Lutfur’s four years of travelling around the borough in a chauffeured Mercedes.

The lack of self-awareness and introspection was and is frightening.

The audience was huge. I’d guess easily upwards of 500.

The theme was “Defend Democracy in Tower Hamlets”, but that was a bit of a smokescreen. In reality, it was an election rally of the Left against the Tories.

I understand that Cllr Abjol Miah orchestrated it. The former leader of the Respect group and a serial failure in his attempts to become MP wants another crack at Westminster. He wants to challenge Rushanara Ali in Bethnal Green and Bow.

So too do Cllrs Rabina Khan and Ohid Ahmed.

Galloway, whose aides used to rail against Lutfur when he was in Labour, warned that if Tower Hamlets First didn’t field a candidate, Respect would. Some interpreted that as he would stand again but even he knows he’d be laughed out of the borough again.

His underlying message, I inferred, was he’d endorse Abjol as his candidate. Rushanara is said to be anxious but I think she’s safe.

As for Ken’s input last night:

1. He said he and fellow Labour NEC member Christine Shawcroft (who made the most boring speech of the night, and that’s saying something) would submit a motion at their next meeting calling for Lutfur’s re-admittance into the party. (He really does have a dry sense of humour, doesn’t he?)

2. He called on Lutfur’s hot-headed supporters to find the home addresses of the three Government Commissioners when they arrive in Tower Hamlets, and then protest outside “to make their lives intolerable”.

That remark prompted this response today from Local Government Minister Kris Hopkins:

I am appalled at Ken Livingstone’s comments which run the risk of stirring up a lynch mob mentality in Tower Hamlets. 

The borough is already riven by the politics of intimidation and division, and stupid remarks like his will only worsen community tensions. 

We will not be intimidated from taking any action necessary to ensure a free and fair democracy operates in the borough.

As for the PwC report, the only person to make more than a passing reference to it last night was in fact Lutfur. He said he would learn from the process failures and that the council would “embrace the Commissioners” when they arrive.

Well said, but let’s see.

Radio 4’s Today programme was there last night as well. Their reporter Zoe Conway broadcast this excellent report this morning.

Listen to how she puts Ken on the spot, how he flounders; how she puts Galloway on the back foot; and how she reduces Lutfur to robot mode, monologuing his usual mantra about all things One Tower Hamlets.

A nice hat-trick.

listen to ‘Tower Hamlets, Mayor Rahman rally’ on audioBoom

//

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When the Press and Journal newspaper broke the story yesterday that Takki Sulaiman had been named as Aberdeen City Council’s preferred candidate for a newly created post as communications boss, there were a few raised eyebrows.

Councillors who had been on the appointments committee there claimed they’d been unaware he’d been a member of Haringey Council between 1998 and 2006. They’d been supplied a version of his CV but there was no mention of that illustrious period in his life. I understand he had notified the council at the “application stage”.

The omission has caused something of a row in Aberdeen.

The Press and Journal’s political editor Dave McKay reports today:

Aberdeen City Council’s chief executive has been asked to suspend the controversial appointment of a London-based PR chief amid a row over his background as a Labour politician.

Takki Sulaiman yesterday confirmed he had accepted an £80,000-a-year post to help fix the public image of the local authority, which has taken a battering in recent years.

As exclusively revealed by the Press and Journal, Mr Sulaiman was chosen as the preferred candidate to fill the position, which has been described as a “spin doctor” or “happiness tsar”.

Mr Sulaiman, who is leaving a head of communications post at crisis-hit Tower Hamlets Council in East London, is expected to begin his new role early next year.

However, opposition SNP group leader Callum McCaig has called for the process to be halted pending an inquiry.

He said Mr Sulaiman’s CV did not mention the fact that he was a Labour councillor for Haringey, and members of the appointments panel were not informed.

Four councillors who were on the nine-man panel said they were not aware of his political past either.

Last night, Labour finance convener Willie Young, who said on Monday that he “did not know” Mr Sulaiman had been a councillor, insisted the authority’s human resources team had in fact been told at the application stage.

Mr McCaig said: “Given that this is a politically restricted post, we need some clarification on this point.

“We need 100% assurances that this post holder’s loyalty is to the city of Aberdeen and not to the Labour party.”

Ross Thomson, a Conservative councillor who was also on the panel, said he was aware that Mr Sulaiman had worked as a fundraiser for Labour.

However, Mr Thomson added: “I did not know that he was a councillor, but I knew there was a connection with the party.

“Would I declare that? I would say yes, but I don’t think it should impact upon him getting the job or not.”

Labour group secretary Mr Young, who was also on the panel, accused the SNP group of “playing politics”.

He said: “Four out of the nine members of the appointments panel were SNP councillors, they had the majority on the committee.

“It is my information that (SNP councillor) David Cameron definitely knew. If they had any problem with this guy I am sure the four members would have flagged it up.”

So Takki’s job at Haringey is yet to be ratified is being challenged, but his departure from Tower Hamlets council was confirmed by head of paid service Stephen Halsey yesterday. (UPDATE: Takki has accepted his offer at Aberdeen so were that council to withdraw it he would have a legal claim against them.)

It may be that Takki had included his political career on a standard application form that headhunters or HR in Aberdeen then redrafted into a CV. I don’t know.

He refused to tell me when I asked him this afternoon. He told me it was “none of my business”.

For the record, here are two articles that reference his time as a councillor in Haringey during the Sharon Shoesmith/Victoria Climbie era: here and here.

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Further to my last post (and the council’s failure to answer my questions), here’s why Lutfur Rahman failed to attend the solemn Remembrance Sunday event in Tower Hill on Sunday:

Lutfur rahman, george gallowayHe was in Bradford for a “young people’s educational awards ceremony”. It was, according to Takki Sulaiman’s press office, a “longstanding commitment”.

But it actually took place on Saturday lunchtime: there are tweets from the event timed at 2pm that day.

Bradford is less than a four hour drive away from Tower Hamlets. I presume he stayed overnight in Bradford on Saturday rather than returning.

It’s his call, of course, but he does invite some pretty justifiable criticism with decisions like this.

The awards at the Shapla Community Hall were hosted by a Bangladeshi organisation called BEAP (Bangladesh Education Achievement Project).

From the video it seemed a reasonably small event, but clearly Lutfur is something of community leader in the wider Bengali community and not just east London. His audience would have been grateful for his attendance.

The video below is fascinating.

George Galloway is the warm-up act for the Tower Hamlets mayor and makes a speech defending him as some kind of ex-Labour/real Labour blood brother.

And at 7.20mins, you can see Lutfur arriving with his kitchen cabinet from Tower Hamlets, ie Cllr Gulam Robbani, Cllr Aminur Khan (Rabina Khan’s husband) and Cllr Maium Miah. If there are others, I’ve missed please let me know.

You then see Galloway embracing Lutfur. It seems Lutfur isn’t that bothered by Galloway, that he’s somewhat embarrassed by him.

They spend a few seconds posing for the cameras and Lutfur barely looks Galloway in the eye as George fawns over him. I was half-excpecting George to lap up some imaginary Lutfur milk.

It seems Galloway is now desperate for Lutfur’s approval. Is it Lutfur who has now become the Real Deal?

Here’s some of Galloway’s speech to the event:

Mayor Lutfur and me and Ken Livingstone have some things in common. One of them is that we were all expelled from New Labour for standing up for principles and standing up for real Labour values. We all three of us then defeated New Labour in election after election.

..I campaigned for a directly elected mayor in Tower Hamlets. We started the petition that created this position and I was proud to work with Mayor Lutfur in both of his successful elections. We should be proud of his victories and his mayoralty in east London.

The authority that he has built is a beacon throughout the country in educational and in other social and political achievements. There are no academies in Tower Hamlets…

I wish we in Bradford had a council like Lutfur Rahman has in Tower Hamlets.

What he has now been subjected to is nothing short of a racist attack. They hate Lutfur because he has proved that Bengalis can win elections and can carry out their promises made to the people.

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During my three years at the East London Advertiser, I spent a fair amount of time with George Galloway’s aides in the Respect party.

I’m fairly confident in saying that had the PwC report been written about the Labour administration in Tower Hamlets back then, they’d have milked it for all its worth.

They were as scathing about the then council leader in 2008, Lutfur Rahman, as they were about his predecessors, Denise Jones and Michael Keith. In particular, they disliked what they believed to be the whiff of cronyism…in both the awarding of grants and also the appointment of useful mates to political positions.

In fact, Respect’s decision to organise successful petition that heralded the directly elected mayoral system in 2009/10 was an attempt to end such a culture, they argued.

So it’ll be interesting to see if Galloway, or Glyn Robbins, the former chair of Tower Hamlets Respect, or John Rees, a founding father of the party, refer to any of this when they address the following rally the Water Lily centre in Mile End tomorrow tonight:

george galloway, lutfur rahman

Lutfur has sent this email to his Tower Hamlets first supporters:

Dear supporter,

You’ll probably have heard by now that Secretary of State Eric Pickles has ordered officials in to undermine local democracy in Tower Hamlets, and it’s local residents that are paying for it (sic). You also may have heard that despite Pickles’ decision to send in the attack dogs, the report he ordered found no fraud or corruption in Tower Hamlets. 

He’s seized on any flimsy excuse he can find to shut down the 37,395 voices that voted for Mayor Lutfur Rahman and for a council that stands up to the cuts and invests in education, affordable homes and our future. 
 
This is Pickles versus the people. And it’s up to all of us to stand up to him. 
 
Here’s some simple things you can do
 
- Sign the petition to stop the witch-hunt of Lutfur
 
- Join me at a rally with Ken Livingstone and other national leaders at the Waterlily, 69 Mile End Road on Weds 12th November at 6pm to discuss how we can stand up for democracy. (link to event page)
 
- Tweet and facebook your own opinions about all this under the hashtags #towerhamlets and #respectourvotes
 
- Get in touch with any ideas you have
 
Thank you so much for your help. We haven’t got big banks or corporate newspapers on our side, so every little thing you do really does count.
 
In solidarity, 
 
Tower Hamlets First

The petition they refer to is here, and at the time of writing has 675 votes.

Note its name: ‘Respect our democracy and treat councils equally!’ And note the Twitter hashtag supporters are being urged to use: #respectourvotes.

The word ‘respect’ is popping up a lot.

So of course Galloway won’t lash out at Lutfur for his policy and process failures: they’re merely “flimsy excuses”.

Lutfur is now a convenient “Pickles versus the People” general election tool. Convenient for Lutfur, too, of course: posing the bigger question acts as a smokescreen for the criticisms.

But that’s politics.

There’s even some talk among his supporters that Lutfur may call a mayoral by-election to re-establish his authority. I’m not convinced he would press that nuclear button and in any case, I’m not sure when he would press it.

The Election Court hearing is due to start in mid-late January and it could last until March. Even then, the verdict may be reserved for some weeks.

If he emerges from that victorious, I’m not sure why he’d want or need to hold a by-election (although he could emerge victorious but tainted and damaged).

Who knows what his priorities are.

Certainly, he didn’t prioritise Remembrance Sunday again this year.

He was again a no-show at the wreath-laying ceremony at Tower Hill on Sunday, when there were huge crowds in the area observing the ceramic poppy display in the Tower of London moat across the road.

Lutfur’s reserved seat next to the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of London, Commander John Ludgate, remained empty.

I asked the council’s press office for an explanation and this was their reply:

The Mayor was regrettably unable to attend the Merchant Navy Memorial Service on Sunday due to a long-standing commitment to attend an (sic) young people’s education awards ceremony outside London. In his absence the Mayor asked Mickey Ambrose, former footballer and Duke of Edinburgh Awards ambassador to represent him and lay a wreath on his behalf.

‪Mr Ambrose said: “I was honoured to be a part of such a moving service and pay my respects to the courageous men and women who have served our country.”

‪The Mayor attended a Remembrance Service on Friday at City Hall with other Mayors and Council leaders, and is looking forward to the Armistice Day event on Tuesday at the Town Hall. The Mayor will also host a reception for war veterans after the event.

Mickey Ambrose stood and lost as a Tower Hamlets First candidate in Bow East in May. Quite why Lutfur asked him to deputise and not any of his elected councillors is a mystery.

I also asked the council what this longstanding awards ceremony commitment was, when it actually took place and where it was held.

They’ve declined to reply.

Anybody know?

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