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john biggs

John Biggs outside the Royal Courts of Justice on Thursday

A quick update: (With further updates added this afternoon after the official announcement).

A sub-committee of Labour’s NEC met yesterday to discuss the selection of their candidate for the forthcoming post- and ex-Lutfur mayoral election next month.

A Tower Hamlets selection panel then met in the evening with the authority to select a candidate. This panel comprised representatives of the local party and the regional board.

I understand that John Biggs was the only name out forward for selection and that Cllr Rachael Saunders decided not to accept a very rushed and last minute invitation to attend an interview.

So John is once again Labour’s choice.

This is what he said this afternoon

I am delighted to have been confirmed as Labour’s candidate. Tower Hamlets must now move on from the divisive politics of Lutfur Rahman and his disgraced regime of corruption and mismanagement.

We need leadership that is once again open and accountable and restores the trust of the people we’re here to serve. I want to put the council back on everyone’s side.

Only Labour can beat Lutfur Rahman’s candidate in Tower Hamlets. My focus will be to restore confidence and to serve local families, addressing the big issues and great opportunities we face in our borough – on affordable housing, on education, on safety and most of all helping build a better future for everyone in Tower Hamlets.

Some on the NEC committee believe this is the law of natural justice and that technically the May 2014 does not now exist in law.

There was also some discussion this morning about what went wrong from Labour’s point of view last May. One of the main concerns was that the campaign was something of an ill-discplined shambles and it lacked proper leadership.

When you think about it, given what was at stake last year, that’s a bit surprising. So John will now be surrounded by heavyweight party officials until polling day on June 11.

I think he’s also going to need a decent running mate who’s better able to communicate with and more popular with the Bengali community.

Labour will treat this as a parliamentary by-election so there will be masses of foot soldiers from outside the borough arriving to pound the streets and knock on doors for the next seven weeks. Lucky Tower Hamlets.

It’s inevitable the turnout will be lower than last time because there will be no other elections on that day. When this happened in October 2010, Lutfur walked it. This is a real worry for Labour, even without the worry of facing ‘great man’ (as Richard Mawrey QC mocked him).

I need someone to advise me on this: if Lutfur does go for judicial review, and judging from this tweet from legal expert David Allen Green/Jack of Kent…

…that would seem unwise, would there be an automatic injunction on the election? My understanding is that nothing can interfere with an election once it has been called. So could we have a new mayor elected by the time that JR is complete?Were Lutfur to succeed in the JR, surely he would be reinstated as the mayor elected in May 2014.

I know Tower Hamlets is a parallel universe, but having two mayors is a bit too much like Doctor Who.

Which brings us to the Tory candidate for Mayor. Dr Anwara Ali, a GP in Brick Lane and a former Labour councillor from 2006-10, is putting herself forward for the post. The Tories have yet to decide how to play it. One Labour source has even speculated to me that Peter Golds may be asked to run.

AnwaraAli(1)But Anwara is very keen. This is what she sent me:

As a married, mum of one child, GP cum international business women and ex Council Cabinet member, I believe I am well-placed to be the unity Conservative Mayoral candidate for fragmented Tower Hamlets communities. I have always put my British foot forward – because that is my only foot & first identity – that is who I am.

I believe in families, hard work and a prosperous TH and UK. Religion and ethnicity are personal and I confine them to my home. I have never used them as electrol weapon and will not do so in future. Labour ruled TH for 50+ years and divided whites and blacks into Muslims and non-Muslims.

Lutfur, a creation of Labour and a true disciple of Labour, took it to the extreme. British justice has won the day. Would you disagree if I said that Labour Party still continues to use divisive politics in many parts of the country where there are large ethnic concentrations?

I spoke on this matter at a Conservative conference fringe meeting. The media must also move away from stereotypes – you are the eyes and consciousness of society: you must critique candidates on meritocracy.

You must not look at ethnicity as a unifying essential. It is a Conservative party that delivered UK out of a recession and TH needs an experienced politician but also one with a fresh outlook to deliver unifying non divisive and a healthy local government.

I quite like the tone of that. Former Respect and Tory councillor Ahmed Hussain is also likely to put his name forward.

So who will the discredited Tower Hamlets First ‘party’ stand? They’re already squabbling. Four names have been mentioned to me: Acting Mayor Oli Rahman, former deputy mayor Ohid Ahmed, Cllr Rabina Khan, and G(h)ulam Robbani. All four would keep the auditors happy.

I don’t know what Ukip will do: Nick McQueen ran last time but he’s busy fighting a parliamentary seat in the borough at the moment.

It looks as if it’s going to be very messy and divided for quite some time to come.

Might it not be better for the sensible figures from all parties create a rainbow coalition that tries to lance the boil from Tower Hamlets politics? I suppose that would require Biggs running alone with the blessing of the Tories. Biggs could state that Peter Golds would be his deputy mayor.

He could even offer a cabinet seat to one of Lutfur’s crew.

Ok, ok, I need a lie down.

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Here’s the piece I’ve written for the Independent today. I promise I will write more over the weekend!

In many ways I owe Lutfur Rahman a great deal of thanks. After his first election victory in 2010 I blogged he would, over the coming years, create the Nirvana sought by all reporters: Storyville.

He didn’t let us down. Within days of his election a fed up official at Tower Hamlets town hall leaked that one of Lutfur’s first requests as Britain’s first directly elected Asian mayor was to require a staff member to traipse across London to Covent Garden to buy him the new iPhone4. In fact, the staff member had to buy two because Lutfur’s new deputy, Ohid Ahmed, also wanted one.

Not long afterwards, he exercised his next executive order: a rather nice executive Mercedes car. With a chauffeur to boot.

He went on to make another extraordinary and significant decision early on in his mayoralty. Very quietly and without any genuine debate or consultation, he wrested control of the council’s grants system.  I warned about it at the time.

Grants had previously been awarded to community groups via an open committee of councillors. That committee had for years published details of each decision, including the advice and assessment of council officers. That no one apart from anoraks like me read them was beside the point.

Lutfur sucked the scrutiny and transparency from the process and gave himself ultimate sole discretion on who got what. He then created a brand new grants stream: millions of pounds to “refurbish” faith buildings in the borough.

Now why would he want to do all that, we asked. As a result of yesterday’s judgement, we can now safely say the answer: as a targeted bribe for bloc votes.

Even some in his own team thought his actions on grants unwise. But Lutfur doesn’t like to be questioned. In fact, he declined to answer any questions put to him at council meetings, or at sessions of the crucial Scrutiny committee. During last year’s mayoral elections he even refused to attend a single hustings.

Why? Because he was concentrating almost entirely on the Bengali and Somali community for votes. That had been his re-election strategy from day one, all the while espousing a One Tower Hamlets theme…and labelling critics who dared challenge this ‘racist’ or ‘Islamophobic’. Irony is not one of his strong points.

I must say, he personally never branded me that and, to his credit, when his supporters did, or when they verbally attacked my British Bangladeshi wife, he called them out.

In many ways, he was a victim of a toxic brand of politics that has festered in Tower Hamlets for decades. Many believe he learnt his tricks from Labour, his former party. Local Labour leaders also recognised this and they’ve been trying to clean themselves up.

There will always be rogue politicians who somehow make it to senior office. Invariably they will be found out. But for me there are two more far-reaching issues from yesterday’s judgment. Lutfur was found guilty of undue spiritual influence, a centuries old law rooted in pre-Home Rule Ireland. Some wanted it removed from the state book. Judge Mawrey advised it shouldn’t be. In fact, he suggested it be updated for a modern age when simple adherence to Islam by millions of voters can be exploited.

And lastly…I started my spare time blog in 2010 when I realised my former paper, the East London Advertiser, was no longer able or willing to keep an eye on the detail of the council administration. I kept plugging away where it should have been. For that, I received numerous legal threats from the town hall. None succeeded. But the retreat of so many local papers across the UK is deeply worrying. How many other Lutfur Rahmans are there out there?

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I’ll write later on today’s verdict but I thought it’d be useful to provide Richard Mawrey’s ruling in full as a separate document.

But nothing can replicate the tone with which he read his executive summary this morning.

The full ruling is here:

Richard Mawrey QC’s ruling on Tower Hamlets election court. I particularly like paras 201 and 421.

In short, Lutfur Rahman lost on seven of nine counts. He has been removed from office and is barred from standing in the re-run for Mayor, which is likely on June 11. He faces costs of at least £250,000. His agent, Cllr Alibor Choudhury, as also been removed from office.

Cllr Oliur Rahman is now Acting Mayor and must choose a deputy. The remaining Tower Hamlets First councillors remain in office. Mr Mawrey said their elections had also been corrupt but they weren’t named in the petition, so they can’t be removed. The council’s legal chief told me that would now be a matter for the police, should they want to take a case up.

Lutfur’s only appeal route is a judicial review, but the ruling was extremely damning. A judicial review could not in itself prevent a new election.

More later.

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That mystery man who, we’re told, abused hapless Ahad Miah’s Facebook page by posting a salute to Hitler was also busy hacking into his Twitter account, it seems.

As a reminder, on July 15 last summer “someone” posted this image on Miah’s Facebook page:

IMG_0408

Miah, a Tower Hamlets First candidate in last May’s elections and a friend of several senior figures in that “party”, immediately found himself in hot water with Mayor Lutfur Rahman. I’m told he admitted to neighbours he’d been an angry man during the Gaza crisis last summer and that he may have done things he now regretted. However, he then issued a statement on Facebook to say he had no idea how that picture got there. He said someone had gained access to his account.

Not many, if anyone at all, believed him.

I didn’t realise he also had a Twitter account. Perhaps he didn’t either. A reader of this blog sent me this Tweet that Miah posted on July 17, two days after that Facebook salute.

But enough said on Miah; he’s now history and I doubt very much we’ll see him again trying to make his way in politics. The reason he popped on this blog was because he was part of a DCLG-funded weekend away in Suffolk discussing faith and “promoting integration” with the Salvation Army.

You’ll recall that the weekend at Kentwell Hall was paid for by a £2,000 grant from the Near Neighbours fund, which is from a DCLG pot and administered by the Church Urban Fund.

The grant was submitted by Nick Coke of the Salvation Army in Stepney. His application outlined the purpose of the trip (which was meant to be to Devon at that point and thus requiring quite a bit of diesel and a minibus):

A weekend away to deepen relationships, build understanding and develop plans for future working for 15 leaders from Stepney Salvation Army, Stepney Father’s Group and The Stifford Centre.

The work will have four main areas of impact:

1) Leadership development. The project will develop the capacity of individuals in each institution to work together with others for positive change in Stepney.

2) Cross-institutional relationships. The project will help to build a better working relationship between the Salvation Army, Stepney Father’s Group and The Stifford Centre on issues of shared concern.

3) Building a wider Stepney alliance of organisations. The project will help to build the momentum of a Stepney citizens movement that will seek to reach other institutions and build partnerships in the neighbourhood

4) Influence beyond Stepney. Our desire for the ‘film’ is to share our project with Muslims and Christians outside Stepney and to raise aspirations about what can be achieved in UK communities.

The 2 leaders of the work will be:

Captain Nick Coke – co-leader of The Salvation Army – has 12 years of experience living and working in Stepney. He has built a Salvation Army congregation in Stepney from scratch, is a co-chair of the Tower Hamlets branch of Citizens UK and has a proven track record of building relationships with people of all backgrounds and faith in Stepney.

Ishaque Uddin – leader of Stepney Father’s Group – has lived in Tower Hamlets for 25 years. He founded the group 10 years ago, has previous experience of inter-faith initiatives in Stepney and has been trained in community organising.

They will be supported by secondary leaders in their institutions and by the director of the Stifford Centre.

In my original post on Sunday I said the trip to Suffolk involved the Sally Army, the Stepney Fathers and the Stifford Centre. I said those three groups had been meeting for some time and that they had played badminton and socialised generally.

Well, the Stifford Centre trustees have been in touch and they’re really very angry. They say they’re not Bengali dominated (they are). They say they don’t have clandestine meetings (who mentioned clandestine?), they say they’re “transparent” (really, see a few sentences later), they say they don’t play badminton with the others….and that none of their “representatives” were on that weekend away.

This email came from Salman Alam and Ahbab Miah. The latter is the centre’s committee secretary, while the former is the centre’s director–the man Nick Coke said was supporting the grant application.

So this was curious. Might the grant application have been written on a false premise; might the Near Neiighbours fund have been misled? I asked the Stifford people if they’d had any involvement at all with the project. This is what they said:

We were consulted a long time ago by Salvation Army/Stepney Fathers Club representative about a possible Near Neighbours project involving a weekend away day and while that was an aspiration of the project, we had not heard more about the project development.

I asked them to be more specific about “a long time ago”. They said they “were unable to comment any further on this matter” and that they’d publish a statement in due course. That’s transparency for you.

I also asked Nick Coke for an explanation. I asked whether any Stifford people had been on the trip, whether his grant application had been made on a false premise, and why the venue had been changed from Devon to Suffolk. He said he’d been told to refer all questions to the Church Urban Fund. I’m awaiting their response. Maybe they need a weekend away to work it all out.

As for extended breaks, there might be a few in need of those after tomorrow’s Election Court verdict, which comes at 10.30am.

Many have their fingers crossed, many are praying. I’m informed this was being circulated day on a Whatsapp ‘Muslim Professionals Forum’ that includes Lutfur advisers:

Pls prey…
for 1st Muslim executive MAYOR of Britain.  

Mayor Lutfur case
judgment tomorrow 

The commissioner has decided that the judgement will be given tomorrow Thursday. He will disclose the decision on Thursday and has not given any indication either way.

Win or lose 
We will respect Allah’s
Decision 
He is the Master planer.

Preying? Couldn’t be planer.(sic)

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As a result of my post yesterday about Ahad Miah, the Tower Hamlets First candidate who published a salute to Hitler on his Facebook page during last summer’s Gaza crisis (and who was later chosen to go on a DCLG-funded outing to Suffolk to “promote integration”), Mayor Lutfur Rahman has been in touch.

Lutfur has asked me to publish the following statement and letter he sent to Miah today:

STATEMENT

We were utterly unaware of Mr Miah’s alleged Facebook posting and deplore such postings. The Mayor has written to Mr Miah to ascertain what happened and to demand that this offensive posting is removed.

Tower Hamlets First is proud of its record on standing up to racism and fascism and operates a zero-tolerance policy on any form of bigotry from its councillors and supporters.

LETTER

Dear Mr Miah,

I’m writing in regard to an alleged posting on your Facebook page that came to our attention through the Trial by Jeory blog.

I was shocked to see this as we at Tower Hamlets First have always assumed you supported Tower Hamlets First due to sharing our values – values to which strident opposition to racism is central.

You will be fully aware that Tower Hamlets First has always worked to facilitate understanding among faiths and cultures whilst standing up to fascism, and that we have the deepest respect for our borough’s Jewish community. In a year when anti-Semitic attacks in Britain have doubled it is essential that we show our solidarity with and support for the Jewish community.

With this in mind I would ask that you immediately delete the post and provide us with an explanation for the post.

Racism of any form will not be tolerated in Tower Hamlets First.

Yours,

Lutfur

I’ve just had a look at Ahad Miah’s Facebook page and he’s written this statement:

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 21.48.26

To everyone,

I would like to emphasis the recent image which has been shared amongst many people and pointing finger at me has nothing to do with me.

My Facebook account access was close for several weeks until recently when I finally got access.

I am not a highly computer literate person but I do NOT agree anything in that message that was circulated..

I do sincerely apologise to all who have been offended by this but I can assure restrictions to my account will be very restricted from now on..

I had to read it twice to make sure I wasn’t mistaken. But he really does seem to be saying it wasn’t him, doesn’t he? He’s implying someone else posted it and that he had no control over his account.

So I had a look at last summer’s postings. Here’s a reminder of the Hitler one I found yesterday:

IMG_0408

As you can see that was posted on July 15.

Indeed, he has now deleted it, but curiously others posted on or around that day, which all deal with the same topic, still remain there. For example:

Clearly he didn’t disapprove of everything posted by this mystery hacker. I wonder who it could have been.

Whether it’s enough to satisfy Lutfur, only the Mayor can say. Let’s put it this way: is it beyond reasonable doubt that what Miah is telling him is true?

Which brings us on to this coming Thursday when Election Court Commissioner Richard Mawrey QC will finally deliver his own ruling on the reasonableness of Camp Lutfur’s belief last year that John Biggs was a racist.

I think Lutfur would have jumped on Miah at any time he became aware of Hitler postings on his Facebook page, but coming just days before a decision that could ruin him politically and financially the timing is particularly sensitive.

But whatever happens on Thursday, he must know that this Hitler posting is not an isolated incident in Tower Hamlets. There have been several examples of antisemitism over very many years, including among political activists e.g. here and here.)

I was also verbally abused with antisemitic remarks last summer.

Whoever did post that image of Hitler on Miah’s Facebook page, I wonder how many others shared that view. Far more than people would admit methinks.

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kentwell hall

Kentwell Hall is a beautiful historic Tudor home in Long Melford, near Sudbury, Suffolk. It’s about 90 minutes away from Stepney and has a moat, wonderful gardens and a rare breed farm.

It also has accommodation for honeymooners and for anyone simply wanting a break from the Big Smoke. Its Hall Barn Lodge and Annexe can sleep up to 14 and a weekend break with a group that size in early May costs £1,150, according to a quote I was given.HB O whole back

The accommodation looks lovely. Here’s the master bedroom, another guest room and the lounge area.

And, thanks to photos posted on Twitter by the Stepney branch of the Salvation Army, these were the guests there this weekend:

Salvation Army

That’s the group having dinner on Friday night. On Saturday, they went horse-riding:

stepney fathers, near neighbours

They’d also wanted to go quad biking but I’m not sure they did in the end.

Regular readers will have spotted the grinning king of selfies, Tower Hamlets First Cllr Mahbub Alam, in the foreground of the group photo above.

Here is he is holding his stick at the front of this one, too:

I’m told there is one journalist in that group and some who are activists in the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE).

The chap to Mahbub’s right wearing the dark jacket is Ahad Miah. He stood and lost as a Tower Hamlets FIrst candidate for Wapping in last May’s council elections. He’s very close to Mahbub and this was their second trip away together in less than a month. They were also on deputy mayor Oli Rahman’s delegation to Athens three weeks ago.

Oli and Mahbub have strongly denied that that trip was publicly funded.

The weekend away in Suffolk, however, has been funded entirely by the taxpayer…through a fund set up by the man Mahbub and his Tower Hamlets First colleagues love to hate: Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

They were given a grant of £2,000 for their weekend break from the £5million Near Neighbours Fund which was set up by the Department for Communities and Local Government in 2011. The intention was to promote inter-faith dialogue in key areas throughout the UK. East London was of course one such area.

The Near Neighbours grants are administered by the Church Urban Fund, which is a charity arm of the Church of England. Community groups are requested to submit applications and explain the parameters of their proposed projects and explain what how the money will be well used.

There are many in Tower Hamlets who are well-practised of course in sniffing out grants and saying the right things to secure them. Unfortunately, there are also too many who fail to do their due diligence when checking these applications out.

For some time now, the Salvation Army in Stepney – run by Nick Coke – has been working with a group of Bengali Muslim men called Stepney Fathers, which is run by Ishaque Uddin, and the Stifford Centre, a Bengali dominated community centre in Stepney. Nick and Ishaque are both active members of Citizens UK, an umbrella group of community organisations including the IFE.

Stepney Fathers, the Stifford Centre bosses and the Sally Army guys have had lots of meetings together, they play badminton and they socialise generally. These meetings work for them and are no doubt useful to the narrow numbers involved.

So it was perhaps a natural step for a group of friends to suggest a weekend away together; even better if someone else could pay for it.

And so Nick Coke and Ishaque Uddin, supported by Cllr Mahbub Alam, submitted an application form for a grant to the Near Neighbours Fund in February.

They told the Church Urban Fund this would be for a range of activities at an outward bound centre in Devon, where the men (for they are all men) would eat together and take part in “team building” activities. They’d take some media guys along as well and film it so their fun and discussions about faith could be an inspiration to others.

They asked for £2,415, broken down as follows:

Self-catering cottage in Devon – £665

Minibus – £350

Diesel – £200

Food – £200

Activities (quad biking/horse riding) – £700

Media equipment (cameras and sound etc) – £300.

In assessing whether to give the grant, the Church Urban Fund’s local co-ordinator is meant to seek the views of the relevant parish priest – in this case, that was the Rev Trevor Critchlow, the rector of St Dunstan’s in Stepney.

He objected. He advised the Church Urban Fund that should these men want a weekend away, they should jolly well pay for it themselves. In his view it was a jolly. He said there were far better causes the money could be spent on.

But he heard nothing back, other than to learn that the grant had been awarded, albeit at a reduced rate of £2,000. It seems there was an objection to the £300 for buying camera equipment.

Well, Devon and quad bikes didn’t happen in the end. It seems (judging by the nice 4×4 in Mahbub’s picture) that they instead decided to spend their minibus and diesel cash on upgraded accommodation closer by.

There were no Jewish people invited on this weekend away together “promoting integration” and interfaith dialogue. Which is a shame because I wonder whether they’d have discussed this:

IMG_0408

This was posted by Ahad Miah on his Facebook page during the Gaza crisis last summer. You can see that a friend of his has written “miss him” underneath.

So a man who “salutes” Hitler for exterminating Jews has been the recipient of DCLG money that was earmarked for promoting interfaith dialogue and integration. I wonder how many others share his views. What checks did the Church Urban Fund carry out on the people going on this trip?

This, posted by Ishaque Uddin on his Facebook page, is not quite in the same league, but the imagery is similar.

Ishaque Uddin

I suspect that neither Pickles, nor the trustees of the Church Urban Fund will be very impressed.

The Rev Critchlow made his views clear in a Tweet last night:

Note his comments on the Facebook page where the weekenders have posted their pictures:

It’s an absolute disgrace that this is being paid for by the tax payer through Near Neighbours. If you want weekend away fine, but pay for it yourself.

And he said this to me when I asked him about it this evening:

We don’t need to throw money around to make connections with people. Just having a cup of tea with someone does that. That’s what decent human beings do naturally anyway.

Well said.

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The following is a guest post by Tower Hamlets deputy mayor Cllr Oliur Rahman about his trip to Greece last month. He went with fellow Tower Hamlets First councillors Shahed Ali, Mahbub Alam, Shafiqul Haque, and various trade union activists. I wrote about it at the time here. The verdict in the Lutfur Rahman trial is expected next week, according to my latest information. Should that judgment go against Lutfur, Oli could be acting mayor for a short period. Clearly there are discussions even among Lutfur’s Tower Hamlets First party about who might stand in any mayoral by election in the event of a ‘guilty’ verdict. They’re only human after all.

oli rahman, mahbub alam

Deputy mayor Oli Rahman is wearing the hat

 

As the General Election draws closer, this should be a time of excitement and interest in politics. But for many, the opposite is the case. Huge numbers of people feel alienated from the political process, cynical with politicians, and don’t see any real difference between mainstream parties united on wanting to slash public spending. As the rise of the SNP and decline in Labour in Scotland demonstrates, people want to shake up the political order. And not just in Britain.Nowhere is this more evident than in Greece which has recently seen the election of the left-wing Syriza party on a programme of tackling austerity. A few weeks ago I decided to lead the first ever British local authority delegation to Greece. I did so because I am committed to build European solidarity against the austerity that is destroying the lives of fellow EU citizens. But I went for another reason. I wanted to see up close what this new kind of politics that Syriza stand for actually meant in practice.

On arrival our delegation – comprising of councillors, trade unionists and community activists – was taken into the Greek Parliament to meet with representatives of the International Aid Department. This was timely. The government was in the news for sticking to their pre-election commitment that they would not slash their international aid budget and ignoring demands from EU finance bureaucrats. It was refreshing to come across politicians who don’t actually pay lip service to humanitarianism, but put their words into practice.

The message from the Syriza representatives was loud and clear: for the peoples of Europe to defeat austerity we need a strong European-wide anti-austerity movement. This message was repeated in our meetings with activists in our visits to two social centres – these are citizen-run health clinics, food centres and legal aid hubs which have emerged to fill the gaps left by austerity.

The activists in the centre were at pains to emphasise that the aims of the centres is not about charity and just about helping people in desperate need. They are also about empowering citizens so that they can exercise power to shape and influence the political decisions affecting their lives. I was really impressed by the social centres and the representative from the Unite community centre on Cable Street agreed to look into twinning their centre with one in Athens.

As we travelled around Athens it had the appearance that all is well. The cafes were full, there seemed to be a buzz in the shopping malls. You see people sleeping in the streets but you do so in London too. However underneath the surface the figures tell a level of crisis much more severe than here. It is estimated that half the population are below the poverty line. Household incomes have fallen by a third since austerity hit. Many of those queuing at food banks belonged to the upper middle classes not so long ago.

Politicians with reactionary politics and simplistic solutions have done well in response to the crisis, and none more so that Golden Dawn, an openly neo-Nazi party that has scored up to 15 per cent in the opinions polls and whose members have been complicit in racist assaults and murder. They have made their gains on the back of trying to scapegoating migrants.

The reality of the impact of racism was brought home to us in a meeting we had with the anti-racist and anti-fascist organisation KEERFA which gathered together African, Pakistani and Bangladeshi members of migrant rights organisations. Their plight had been highlighted recently over the case of 35 illegal strawberry pickers who were shot at by their farm guards for asking for pay that was five months overdue.

Shockingly, when the case went before a court the guards were responsible were acquitted. We were privileged to meet with one of the leaders of the fruit workers, Tipu Chowdhury, whose testimony about their plight was very moving. We agreed we would organise a fundraising dinner in support on our return.The issue of the lack of basic rights for migrants was one that came up a lot on our visit. The local Bangladeshi community organised a dinner in our honour with over 200 people crammed into a tiny restaurant and we met members of the Greek Bangladeshi community who have been living in Greece for decades but still had not citizenship rights. As with all the Greeks we meet on our visits, the warmth of their welcome was overwhelming.

Hearing that we were in town we received a call on the eve of our departure from Athens from Zoi Konstantopoulo, the most senior woman in Greek politics, a human rights lawyer who sued Britain over the Iraq War, and Syriza’s President of Parliament asking us to come see her. We were honoured to meet her and were all impressed by her easy, relaxed style – she insisted we address her by her first name – and her lack of the airs and graces.

Zoi talked about how five years of austerity had strangled the Greek economy, the importance of building an international solidarity movement and the new government’s commitment to tackling racism. The Greek parliament has already made commitments to improving rights and Zoi affirmed the government’s commitment to redress this issue.

I know I am speaking for everyone on our delegation in writing that our trip to Greece was a really positive experience. It demonstrated the determination of the new Greek government to challenge the austerity agenda wreaking havoc in the EU.

I am came back from my trip more committed to the idea of a European Union, but one that is a Europe committed to the interests of all its citizens.

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