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biggs2One of the reasons given for the disastrous move to a directly elected mayoral system of governance in Tower Hamlets in 2010 was it would end the inherent instability of the ‘leader and cabinet’ model.

The latter entailed the ruling party group, ie Labour councillors, voting each April for their leader. This led to endless faction fights that eventually resulted in the rise of Lutfur Rahman.

It turns out these were the halcyon days of Tower Hamlets politics. As I write, the party is again at war with itself in a tragic case of history repeating.

In most councils, I think I’m right in saying that what most people care about is the efficient running of frontline services: bins, schools, street lights, housing etc etc. In Tower Hamlets, the discussions among many politicos at least (but more widely as well) centre more on race and Islamophobia….and when will there be another Bengali mayor. Of course, these are then wrapped up as one.

So the smear tactics that eventually led to the ousting by a court of Lutfur Rahman are once again being deployed against Mayor John Biggs. On a Bengali TV political chat show tonight (‘Straight Dialogue’), the topics due for discussion were “police brutality, harassment, racism, hate crime, Islamophobia and any other issues of concern”.

Panel members due to appear included former Labour and Respect councillor Gulam Mortuza, ex-Labour councillor Abdal Ullah and, lo and behold, Shiraj Haque, who everyone knows as ‘Curry King’ and who used to boast he was Lutfur’s main financial backer until people started to realise that accolade actually resided with the taxpayer’s grants pot.

Mr Haque is a Labour member although for how long is another question. He is currently in league with former (Labour) council leader Helal Abbas and a number of others to “stand up for democracy” and ensure there is no stitch up over who is chosen as the party’s mayoral candidate in 2018.

One of the consequences of the Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum show at Westminster has been a significant increase in party membership in Tower Hamlets. [I am also told that influential activists have been busy buying up party memberships for people. One informed source told me this “has long been the custom in Tower Hamlets” so that you have people who can turn up to branch meetings and vote as puppets. Some convince themselves this is democracy in action but the reality is that it is fraud and if anyone has any information on this please do get in touch – confidentiality guaranteed.]

Possibly because the “wrong” kind of members may have joined (legitimately and otherwise), Labour has decided to very quickly settle the important issue of who will be its candidate for 2018.

A series of trigger ballots among all the borough party’s wards and affiliates has just got underway. The intention of the party leadership is to affirm there is no need for an open election process for the 2018 candidate and that the incumbent is automatically chosen, ie John Biggs.

It’s my understanding that John has genuinely impressed the Government appointed commissioners and senior officers who oversee and run the council. The council is regaining respect in Whitehall.

But for a great many people, and not just loons, this doesn’t really matter. For them, partly because of his character (dry and sometimes blunt), but more because he is not Bengali, it’s time for another Bengali mayor.

So they are seeing this decision to “impose” him as candidate for 2018 as an undemocratic stitch up. The rallying calls have gone out. These trigger ballots must be completed by November 16. Only those who were registered Labour members before April 16 are entitled to vote.

If he loses the trigger ballot (he has to win a majority of wards and affiliates), there will be new selection process. And that will mean new hats into the ring. What is probable if that happens is that John will not win.

Who those new hats may belong to is a fascinating question in itself. I am told Helal Abbas has not ruled himself out, although he also fancies himself to take over Jim Fitzpatrick’s seat in whatever becomes Poplar and Limehouse in 2020.

But the really wild card hat is Rabina Khan, who, with her husband Aminur Khan, yesterday quit the Tower Hamlets Independent Group. This was as I predicted last month when THING and Lutfur chose Ohid Ahmed as their 2018 candidate for mayor. I am told she was subjected to a certain degree of misogyny by some of her former group colleagues, which does not surprise me. So good on her.

 

img_3718So here’s the interesting scenario. Remember she is a former Labour councillor who defected to Lutfur in 2010. She and others would like to return. Senior local figures like Abbas have made it known that the party should be “reaching out” to her and others (to Ohid Ahmed, even), to draw a line and readmit them to the fold. Some regard this as breathtakingly cynical.

But I would not bet against it happening. And if she is readmitted, there is a very good chance that the woman who lost to Biggs in 2015 could defeat him in an internal selection process next year. Even if Biggs wins the Labour trigger ballot this month, she could take him on outside the Labour tent as an independent.

Oh, the machinations, eh… . Well, they’ve only just begun. Last night, the first of the affiliates to hold the trigger ballot, the Women’s Forum, descended into farce and acrimony — and resulted in an official complaint by Shiraj Haque to Labour’s general secretary Iain McNicol about the way it was conducted.

I have been sent a copy of that letter, which was copied to Jeremy Corbyn, Len McLuskey, Shami Chakrabarti, loads of others, and Christine Shawcroft. I’ve copied it below.

The facts are that 67 people signed in to vote, but somehow 80 ballots were cast (so the usual story, really). The organisers, Victoria Obaze and Catherine Overton, who are John Biggs supporters, say they had no choice but to declare the vote null and void. It is claimed by John’s opponents that the vote would have gone against him.

Over the next few days, there will be many more such ballots.

Oh, we also have the matter of the Whitechapel by election on December 1 after the demise of jailbird Shahed Ali who is serving time for housing tenancy fraud.

Labour is selecting its candidate tomorrow night. John I think favours ex-councillor Motin uz-Zaman, but Abbas, Khales Uddin and Shiraj Haque are said to be lobbying hard for Tarik Khan. (Update: Tarik denies this; at the shortlisting session on Wednesday night, Motin, Asma Islam (Wais’s wife) and Victoria Obaze were chosen: the full selection is Thursday night. This is also being viewed as a stitch up.) 

Oddly, THING is not putting up a candidate. A certain Shafi Ahmed is believed to be standing on behalf of something called the ‘Residents’ Alliance’ and THING are standing aside for him. Any more details on Mr Ahmed gratefully received.

Here’s the letter sent by Shiraj Haque and friends to Labour’s general secretary. One person who was at the meeting has told me the letter is “bollocks”.

 

Dear Mr McNicol,

Affirmative ballot for the mayoral candidate in Tower Hamlets

We write to formally inform you on behalf of a number of distressed members the Tower Hamlets Labour Party whom have been victims of intimidation, bullying, harassment and blackmailing by members of John Biggs’ campaign team; some of whom are senior and leading figures of the local Labour Party including Jim Fitzpatrick MP.

These allegations include threats of being blocked on shortlists of future councillor selections in Tower Hamlets, being expelled from the Labour Party and threatening to refuse and withhold support for community events.

Additionally, there are also serious concern of data protection violation whereby members of John Biggs’ campaign team have been seen with membership data when approaching members for support and it is unclear how such data was obtained and with which permissions.

It is quite clear that Mr Biggs’ team are clearly lobbying support for the trigger in every ward in Tower Hamlets which of course they are entitled to do, however in the process there are clear violations of due process taking place. We shall be following up this letter with evidence and affidavits which shall be sent to you shortly.

As you will be aware the first trigger ballots of Tower Hamlets Labour Party was from the Women’s Forum organised trigger ballot this evening, 1 November 2016 at 7pm at St Margaret’s Hall.

There was a large turnout of members. Many have complained about a lack of organisation, transparency and being denied access to the hall, being asked for photographic ID is which was not communicated beforehand and a new requirement for these types of meetings. Many members did have identity cards in their possession in form of student photo card, driving licence and so on, but due to not presenting their Labour Party membership cards they were asked to stand to a side of the hall, treated like outsiders and entryists and made to suffer humiliation in front of other members.

Finally when members demanded the production of Labour Party rulebook evidence stating that the only acceptable identity cards has to be Labour Party membership cards, they were allowed entry. The vast majority of the members did not receive notice of the meeting to attend this women forum ballot in the first place disenfranchise many eligible to attend and vote.

Members attended the meeting after hearing this via word of mouth and as a result the attendance was high, demonstrating that this is a vote members want to participate in and be heard on.

Many will be relatively new to the Party therefore unaware of the process and some of them did not carry their Labour Party membership cards. Those that did receive notice were not informed in that notice that they needed to bring proof of identification. It has come to our attention that a member and organiser known as Catherine Overton arrived at least half hour after the closing of the door. She was allowed to canvass for Mayor Biggs, take part in the voting process and become a teller while other women who arrived at the same time were turned away. A clear example of discrimination. Members were individually counted numerous times and had to sit through three registration and verification processes before the release of the ballot papers which was done by two people running through the attendee list and yet again verifying each member present individually before issuing them a single ballot paper. The public announcement by Victoria Obaze which announced the opening of the meeting during which she categorically stated that she was delighted that at least 80 members had turned up for the meeting.

The members explains their frustration and intimidation that they had suffered from some of the women councillors during this process. They were strongly advised by some of these women councillors and the organisers to support the trigger ballot in favour of Mayor John Biggs. These members state that upon the first counting of the ballot papers most of the councillors and organisers gathered around the counting table and started gossiping. They then announced to re-count the ballot papers again, but did not explain the reasons. They finally re-counted these papers up to four times before declaring the ballot to be invalid and gave their reasoning as receiving 80 completed ballot papers when they had only 67 members registered and the “discrepancy” in numbers was too large. One councillor went as far as to say publically that perhaps the ballots were tampered with while unattended and extra ballots added to the pile sending a message to members that their presence was unwelcome or some way underhand.

It would follow that if at the start of the meeting Victoria announced the number in attendance having completed the registration was 80 members, you would expect that same number of votes to be cast as was the case. How was there suddenly a 30 vote discrepancy which allowed the vote to be nullified?

For a women’s meeting late on a cold night to have a high turnout is something to be celebrated and encouraged. The above examples show a lack of respect for the wider membership by officers and councillors and makes a mockery of the efforts many women made to attend the meeting despite work, childcare and other commitments. It is unacceptable to Labour Party values of fairness, democracy and transparency to treat members this way. The Tower Hamlets membership list is perhaps one of the most scrutinised in the country and having undergone rigorous due diligence in recent years has been confirmed as robust and on the whole accurate. To treat members this way is appalling.

It is with regret the members wish to know from you whether the process applied tonight by the organisers and some of the councillors was the process held under the Labour Party rulebook.

In addition, we seek the Labour Party to immediately suspend the trigger ballot process in Tower Hamlets with immediate effect pending an independent investigation into our concerns raised above in order to ensure a fair and just process is adhered to. In the absence of any action we shall seek legal advice on this matter.

Yours faithfully,

Apsana Begum

Shiraj Haque

Sabina Akther

CC:

Jeremy Corbyn

Chris Weavers

Tarik Khan

Ali Craft

Dan Simpson

Ann Black

Claudia Webbe

Christine Shawcroft

Darren Williams

Rhea Wolfson

Peter Willsman

Francis Prideaus

Shami Chakrabarti

Even colour blind me can see the brass necks in this photo of the crooked and the corruptly elected.


Last night, the ramshackle group of councillors known as THING (Tower Hamlets Independnet Group) named their candidate for the 2018 mayoral elections. 

After months of rows, they have settled on Ohid Ahmed, Lutfur’s former deputy. Privately, Lutfur always regarded him as a mug and now it seems he has made those views public with this open endorsement of him at Toynbee Hall last night. Spot him at the centre of the group. (Toynbee must be delighted to see their venue used for such purposes… .)

Lutfur of course is ineligible to stand because he’s banned, but the idiots in his party still believe he is a rightful role model to those they claim to serve. What morals!

Here’s Ohid’s statement: 

Here’s another two pictures.

All men, of course.

You may note a couple of absentees: Rabina Khan and her husband (and former best mate of Lutfur) Aminur Khan.

Rabina has also declared herself a mayoral candidate for 2018 – and stands head and shoulders above Ohid – so quite where this leaves her as a THING member is anyone’s guess.

There have been huge rows about this in that group and some have been switching allegiances to prospective candidates as many times as, well, Oli Rahman and a couple of others have switched parties over the years. 

Still, good to finally see on which side they see their bread as buttered. The next challenge is to determine who is funding them now. As ever, tips and information grateful received.

UPDATE 7pm, Oct 18

Below is a statement from Toynbee Hall about last night’s meeting. They are furious. Yet again Lutfur and his crew have abused the notion of charitable status. When will they learn to respect the rules?

Political meeting at Toynbee Hall

Last night a meeting with clear political purposes was held at the Toynbee Hall Community Wellbeing Centre in Tower Hamlets. 
Our Community Wellbeing Centre exists to promote and support the wellbeing of older people in the Tower Hamlets community. Toynbee Hall was not told of the political nature of that meeting which was described to us as a community meeting to discuss local issues. 

 As a charity seeking to support the whole Tower Hamlets community, as a matter of principle, we do not support any political parties or causes at any time. 

As a result we must disassociate ourselves from last night’s meeting and ask that photographs featuring our logo and name not be used in any publicity materials or on any form of social media.

cropped-lutfur-and-ohid.jpgI’ve written before about the strange parallels between the 2010-15 Clown Period of Tower Hamlets politics and the current circus of Corbyn’s Labour party (threats of legal actions, Respect and Momentum, infiltration, intimidation, Ken Livingstone, Jon Lansman etc etc…

So it wasn’t particularly surprising that last night, as Labour’s NEC squabbled over their party’s rule book and who could stand for leader, a similar meeting was being held at the Teviot Centre in Poplar by the collection of councillors currently calling themselves Tower Hamlets Independent Group, or THING.

This meeting, held to discuss among other things who would be THING’s mayoral candidate for 2018, was not only attended by Lutfur Rahman, but he presided over it as well.

And, quelle surprise, it ended in bitterness – and allegations of physical intimidation.

By way of background, Lutfur has apparently for the past couple of months been anointing that seesaw of a councillor, Ohid Ahmed (one day’s he’s a defecting independent, the next he’s back with THING), as his chosen candidate for 2018.

rabina khanQuite why he’s chosen Ohid is anyone’s guess. It’s mysterious. Why not stick with Rabina Khan, who polled 27,000 votes in last year’s mayoral election and who could quite easily broaden her support base? Perhaps he’s worried if Rabina won in 2018, he’d never get back in after his ban expires in time for 2022. Rabina was not of course Lutfur’s first choice for mayoral candidate after he was kicked out of office last year. He had to be persuaded to back her. He originally wanted a man.

So at the meeting last night, there was a disagreement about the process to choose the official candidate.

The disagreement, according to those there, turned into a full blown shouting match with what some felt was an air of physical intimidation.

So much so that group leader Oli Rahman, Aminur Khan, his wife Rabina and Shah Alam have filed an official complaint to their own party about Mr Selfie himself, the not-always-so-mild mannered Mahbub Alam.

The complaint was sent to THING’s chair, Abdul Asad, who has apparently since resigned for personal reasons.

Here it is:

Cllr Abdul Asad

Chair of TH IG

Date: 13 July 2016

We are writing to you as the Chair of the THI group to make an official complaint regarding the verbal, physical behaviour and conduct of Cllr Mahbub Alam at the group meeting took place on 12 July 2016.

We are shocked and saddened how Cllr Alam behaved, getting up from his chair threatening leader of the group Cllr Oliur Rahman, Cllr Shah Alam and Cllr Aminur Khan. We believe, his behaviour was a breach of council’s code of conduct and our group Constitution. We expected him to be reprimanded, however to our disappointment that did not take place.

His behaviour was unacceptable and we seek for you to take appropriate action. Cllr Mahbub Alam stood up from his chair and threatened firstly Cllr Rahman, then Cllr Shah Alam and Cllr Aminur Khan, then Cllr Mahbub Alom tried to attack Cllr Khan physically, which was totally unacceptable.

We are now asking you as group chair to take appropriate action and if no action is taken  then we will have no alternative but to complaint to councils monitoring officer.

We, look forward to your reply.

Kind Regards

Cllr Aminur Khan

Cllr Oliur Rahman

Cllr Rabina Khan

Cllr Shah Alam

Throughout much of this, sources tell me, Lutfur sat there allowing the fighting to continue before finally intervening.

I suspect the upshot of it all will be another split in THING, with the group of four forming their own group.

If you thought Lutfur was gone for good, think again. It’s amazing how bankruptcy can focus the mind.

Although Tower Hamlets voted Remain by 68 per cent to 32, the numbers should have been far higher, argues Cat Overton. While campaigning, she detected fears about immigration among ‘white working classes’ and beliefs among British Bengalis that Brexit could deliver more non-EU migrants for local businesses. She says Labour needs to do far more to reconnect with its grass roots.

Cat Overton is a lawyer and Labour party campaigner. She is also chair of Wapping Labour and Treasurer of the Tower Hamlets Labour party.

This is her guest post:

Cat OvertonIt is, admittedly, not something you hear uttered very often, but the EU is close to my heart.

I attended the European School of Brussels from primary school through to sitting the European Baccalaureat leaving exam. My identity is European as well as British, this dual identity I had always felt to be compatible and complimentary.

Like so many Londoners, my cultural identity is multi-layered. So for me the Brexit vote feels like a personal tragedy as well as a tragedy for our country and our local community.

Londoners are in shock and are angry. People living here from other EU countries are variously wondering what their future holds and whether they are still welcome here. A (albeit somewhat far-fetched) petition is circulating calling for the Mayor of London to declare London independent from the rest of the UK.

City workers are fearing for their jobs, following announcements by JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley and HSBC that they may be relocating thousands of jobs to the continent. If realised, this will of course have a knock-on effect on our local economy in Tower Hamlets, in addition to the more obvious impact on Canary Wharf.

[The sheer scale of the Brexit challenge is mind-boggling. We will have to see whether Boris has the guts to pull the pin from the grenade that Cameron has dutifully handed to him by triggering Article 50, or whether he will somehow find a way of wriggling out of it. There could even be a second referendum. Remember we have not yet “left” Europe, despite the loose words of pundits and politicians alike. The referendum may have been an exercise in democracy but it is not binding on Parliament.]

But turning the focus more sharply on Tower Hamlets.

In the build-up to the Brexit vote, Tower Hamlets was listed as the tenth most pro-European local authority in the country. Sociologically, this was presumably because Tower Hamlets has a very young demographic, with many young professionals, a high graduate population and many liberal-minded residents working in the creative industries. Much of the local population could be described in ‘journo-speak’ as “cosmopolitan”.

It is a place where people from all over the world and from all over Europe live and work side by side and it feels to me like a culturally open place. It is forgotten that there are also massive levels of poverty, social deprivation and overcrowding. Nevertheless, there are opportunities here that are not necessarily enjoyed by the northern Labour heartlands.

In the event, Tower Hamlets did vote to Remain. However, London lost the tug-of-war with the rest of England, partly because of unexpectedly high turnouts in Labour northern and midlands heartlands that voted heavily for Leave, but also because the Remain vote in London was not large enough to counterbalance the haul of Leave votes in those areas.

Tower Hamlets voted 67.5% (73,011) for Remain, 32.5% for Leave (35,224). By contrast, the high watermark was Lambeth where 79% voted to Remain. Turnout in Tower Hamlets was 64.5%. So turnout in Tower Hamlets was high compared to other elections, but Remain needed it to be significantly higher.

In the tenth most pro-European local authority, Leave still managed to secure a third of the votes. One in 3 people who voted in Tower Hamlets voted for Leave. Of course, many of those 35,224 Leave voters will have been Conservative or Ukip voters who could finally express their euroscepticism explicitly at the ballot box. But many of the Leave voters will also have been Labour voters.

Our two local Labour MPs firmly backed Remain, as did the Labour Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs and the newly elected GLA member Unmesh Desai. And yet thousands upon thousands of Labour voters in Tower Hamlets voted for Leave.

The following observations are unscientific and based solely on my anecdotal experience as a campaigner who went out on the doorstep many many times during the referendum campaign:

1. Some of the white working class residents who we spoke to, typically over the age of 50, were very clear they would be voting Leave in order to lower immigration, whether immigration from outside the EEA or internal EU immigration. Time and time again I heard that their children and grandchildren had been forced to move out of Tower Hamlets due to pressures on housing caused by migrants. Others spoke of their wages being under-cut by EU migrants.

2. Again, anecdotally, there were apparently several splits in the British Bengali community. During the course of the campaign some activists spoke by way of hearsay of Priti Patel meeting the owners of catering companies telling them that if we left the EU it would be easier to secure UK visas for chefs from Bangladesh. We later heard on the doorstep that if internal EU immigration were to fall, it would perhaps be easier to bring others in from Commonwealth countries. We Labour activists campaigning for Remain (many of them themselves British Bengali) tried to persuade voters on these issues. It was unclear how successful we were being with that endeavour. [Note from Ted: Cllr Oli Rahman, leader of the Lutfurite Tower Hamlets Independent Group also voted Leave, according to his Facebook page.]

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 17.35.35

3. Closer to the day and on polling day itself, others splits appeared to be emerging. We noticed that previous Respect voters were telling us they were voting Leave. An articulate young man candidly told me that, whilst he believed that Remain was in the national interest, the economic meltdown that a Brexit vote would herald would prove to be his young family’s best chance of moving out of a council flat and buying their own home.

So unscientific as they may be, these anecdotal observations as a Labour campaigner in Tower Hamlets suggest a not dissimilar dynamic to what was happening in the working class communities in the northern and midlands Labour heartlands.

There can be no doubt now that Labour has a massive uphill battle to reconnect with its grassroots supporters. Labour is fighting for its very survival. Forces have been unleashed that appear to be out of control. But we have to carry on in the face of national despair and fight for the values we believe in and for the communities that we are in politics to serve.

One of the accusations regularly chucked the way of Newham mayor Sir Robin Wales is that he buys off the support of his Labour colleagues by giving them all paid jobs.

In Tower Hamlets, there are 23 Labour councillors (out of 45 in total), so they control the town hall.

At Wednesday night’s full council meeting, the Labour group will nominate (and so highly likely vote through) paid/Special Responsibility Allowance posts for, er, all 23 of its councillors.

And of course, as my last piece detailed, all these will in some way receive a pay rise.

The proposals agreed at the recent AGM of the Labour group are:

Cabinet/Mayoral advisors: Helal Uddin, Dave Chesterton, Denise Jones

Chair of Development: Marc Francis

Chair of Licensing: Rajib Ahmed

Speaker of the Council: Khales Uddin Ahmed 

Deputy Speaker: Sabina Akhtar

Chair of Overview & Scrutiny Committee: John Pierce

Scrutiny Lead Members for Labour: Amina Ali (Development & renewal); Clare Harrison (Chair of Health Scrutiny); Abdul Mukit Chunu MBE (Resources).

Chief Whip and Chair of the new General Purposes, Appeals and HR Committee: Danny Hassell 

Chair of Audit Committee: Candida Ronald

Chair of Pension Committee: Andrew Cregan

And the Cabinet members remain the same, so:

Sirajul Islam: Housing management and performance (and statutory deputy mayor)

Shiria Khatun: Community safety and deputy mayor

Rachael Saunders: Education and children’s services, and deputy mayor

Rachel Blake: Strategic development 

Asma Begum: Culture 

David Edgar: Resources

Ayas Miah: Environment

Joshua Peck: Work and economic growth

Amy Whitelock Gibbs: Health and adult services

Mayor: John Biggs

That Cllr Chunu Mukit MBE, formerly the chair of Spitalfields Housing Association’s audit committee, is to be given a scrutiny lead for resources, eg examining the way money is spent and how expenses are claimed, is of particular note. Senior Labour figures are full aware of this. Watch this space.

 

At Lutfur Rahman’s first full council as mayor in October 2010, the East London Advertiser reported the following:

Lutfur Rahman will not have appreciated that his first matter of council business last night (October 27) as the borough’s new mayor was a £10,000 cut to his salary.

Appearing at the first council meeting at the Town Hall in Mulberry Place since his election, he spoke of his pride in his new role in front of over 100 supporters in the public gallery.

Tower Hamlet’s first-ever directly-elected mayor also rewarded his campaign manager, Ohid Ahmed, by appointing him as deputy mayor but will wait until November 11 to announce his cabinet.

Mr Rahman’s joy at the occasion soon turned to dismay though as he accused the council’s Labour Group of pettiness in putting forward an amendment to cut his annual salary from £75,095 to £65,000.

The amendment to a constitutional report, which also limits the number of paid advisers the Mayor can employ, was passed by the council.

Mayor Rahman said: “It saddens me on the first day that we indulge in this kind of petty politics.

“During my two years as council leader I was the only leader in this council’s history that took a 25 per cent pay cut for the year.

“Let me say, I don’t do this for money but let me remind you I have given up a successful legal career and a partnership in a legal firm.

“What drives me is will and the urge to serve. I am happy with whatever I am paid.”

The mayors of Hackney, Lewisham and Newham earn salaries of between £75,000 and £78,000 a year.

Speaking to the council, Labour councillor Josh Peck, chairman of the working group which put forward the constitutional report, said there had been an ‘oversight’ after the report was originally agreed in August.

At an internal Labour meeting in September, members narrowly voted to increase the salary for the full-time role to £75,000 but Mr Peck told The Advertiser today this shouldn’t have been included in the report because it was not agreed by other parties.

Last night, Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem councillors all voted in favour of the amendment.

But Independent councillor Oliur Rahman, one of the ‘gang-of-eight’ councillors expelled from the Labour Party for backing Lutfur Rahman’s mayoral bid, said: “This can only be a petty and cynical response to losing an election.”

Mr Peck replied that the lower salary was set before mayoral candidates were selected and said the new mayor proposed a salary of £32,000 before he was shortlisted.

He said today: “£65,000 is the right salary, it is a good salary.”

This coming Wednesday, the full council will in Item 11 debate the pay arrangements for elected representatives over the coming year.

In an email to councillors eight days ago, Mayor John Biggs explained the proposal from the majority Labour group (which is likely to pass).

This is the proposed table of pay:

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 11.13.49

[Since his email, proposed pay rises have been suggested for the Speaker to £10,000 and for the Deputy Speaker to £5,000.]

First off, let’s have these facts in our minds: 1) deep Government cuts affecting frontline services; 2) pay for most local government employees is proposed to go up by just 1% this year; 3) councillors’ pay has remained frozen for a number of years; 4) some councillors rely on their allowances as sole (declared) income (not a good thing); and 5) very many councillors work extremely hard, while others do not.

Under these proposals, there will be inflation-busting pay rises for everyone. Basic pay for all councillors will go up by 5.3%. Oli Rahman would see his Special Responsibility Allowance for being leader of the THING go up to £11,300 (7.5%); and Tory leader Peter Golds would have a 40% jump in his SRA from £5,709 to £8,000. The total pot paid to councillors for all these roles would rise 6%.

But most of the political backlash will no doubt focus on John Biggs.

As I’m sure you’ve already spotted, the proposed mayoral salary goes back to the figure slashed by Labour more than five years ago – to £75,000. He has announced he accept only half that rise this year (to around £70k), and will take the rest next year if progress has been made. And although he’s entitled to £11,300 as a majority group leader, I think I’m right in saying he doesn’t take that.

The likes of Oli will also point out that John’s pay rise comes just a week or so after the loss of his salary for being a GLA member.
I think this is a difficult one. Pay at some levels of local government is outrageously poor; at others it’s ridiculously high. The council has just recruited a new head of communications, for example, at a salary of around £100k. Many believe that’s way too high, while others believe it needs pitching at that level to attract good candidates. But whatever the merits of that salary, should the executive mayor’s post, done properly, be valued almost a third lower?

I asked John to justify the rise in the context of cuts and value for money. His answer below is damning of his predecessor’s work ethic (something that is echoed among senior officers). This is what he told me:

Because of the stand-off between the former mayor and council there had been no proper review of allowances for some years. The proper time for such changes is in my view in the period immediately following the elections but this was missed. 

I am proposing a number of changes to committees and structures and as a part of this a short review of allowances. I have informed and involved the opposition leaders in these discussions. The main change is to update the general allowance paid to all members.  Increases are also proposed for those holding Special Responsibilities (SRAs), and for the Mayor.

If agreed the Tower Hamlets allowances will become fairly average for London and our Mayor would remain the lowest paid. If the Council agreed the change to my allowance I would only take half of it, with the other half next year provided we have made further progress in sorting the Council out.

As a further consideration for members, particularly those who rely on their allowances for a significant part of their income, it is worth noting that the Government recently banned members from membership of the pension scheme, which included employers contributions of over 10% on top of their allowance. This loss is partially also reflected in the updating of allowances proposed.

As far as the cuts argument is concerned: there is never a good time to agree allowances, but all are within or below the range suggested by an independent panel for all London councillors, whose report guided us. However, the increased cost of about £46,000 should be considered against the saving of about £300,000 in the costs of operating the Mayor’s office, and the mayors allowance compared the the scrapping of the chauffeured car, which saved about £30,000 a year.

A comparison with council staff is tempting but is based on soft foundations – whereas for example many council officers receive increments, promotions or upgrading, plus an annual increase in most years, elected members have no such opportunities and do not have secure employment as councillors, while making in most cases great personal and career sacrifices. It’s quite right that these are tough times but the proposals are a recommendation and up to the Council to agree or reject.

As regards my workload and whether I am worth a reasonable pay that is for others to judge, but I work at least 80 hours a week, am at my desk by 7.15am most mornings, getting home normally after 10pm. As an indicator, I read and respond to about 1000 emails a week, with more than this dealt with by my office. The council is in a worse state than I had expected – beyond the headlines of the misbehaviour of the previous mayor a whole number of key decisions had been missed, in an outrageous failure of leadership.  Were it not for the superb effort and commitment of many of our officers we would be in a far worse state. 

I anticipate working at this level for the foreseeable future. The previous Mayor on the other hand, as far as I can tell, rarely appeared before the afternoon, generally failed to keep appointments, never sent emails on official business and appears to have ‘kicked the can down the road’ where leadership was needed.

Those who said he was a hero should more accurately perhaps have scored him as a zero. And the borough will take some time to recover. It takes serious and dedicated effort to do that.

An executive mayor is full time job. If he had more hair, John I’m sure would say he’s a L’Oreal mayor (“because I’m worth it”.) Is he? What do you think?

He’s going to get a lot of flak for this – and as it was Labour which cut Lutfur’s pay, he knows where to point the finger of blame…

Personally, I think if he does the job well, he deserves it. I have more concern over SRAs paid to other councillors, and it will be interesting to examine who gets which posts for the coming year and then to check their attendance records thus far.

One thing I’ve noticed over the past 11 years covering Tower Hamlets is how easy it is to find some kind of link in national political rows to the politics of east London.

Today, the Mail on Sunday carries a story on comments made at a Palestine Solidarity Campaign hustings in Ealing in February 2015.

It quotes Rupa Huq, then the parliamentary candidate for Ealing Central and now its MP, telling the audience that a Labour government “could probably” ensure Britain apologised for helping to create the state of Israel in 1948.

The story says this is the latest episode in Labour’s anti-Semitism row.

It’s not been a good couple of weeks for Rupa Huq. Ten days ago, she unwisely went on to the Today programme in an attempt to defend Naz Shah over her anti-Semitic Facebook postings. She told Radio 4: “If it is career destroying it seems we are entering a phase where its trial by Twitter. As far as I know Naz Shah did not write antisemitic tracts or anything, she pressed ‘Share’ on a picture which was idiotic and foolish.

“I do think this does demonstrate the perils of social media. As far as I understand, this is before she was an MP, before she was a candidate even. She shared a post on Facebook. It’s easy to click those buttons.”

It’s not only the perils of social media. As Rupa is learning, it’s also the perils of speaking in public, on the hoof, on matters about which you’re not fully briefed, where anyone can record you, and particularly if those knowledge gaps include Palestine and Israel.

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 12.35.55I first met Rupa in 2007, when she was up against the likes of Lutfur Rahman, John Biggs and Rushanara Ali in Tower Hamlets trying to secure the Labour candidacy for Bethnal Green in Bow. She wrote a short diary piece (left) about her experiences for me at the East London Advertiser at the time – and asked it be headlined ‘Diary of a Nobody’.

She struck me then as being slightly naive about the poisonous waters of Tower Hamlets politics and I was relieved for her when she failed to beat Rushanara.

I’m not sure some of that general naivety has completely disappeared.

As a direct result of the Mail article (which, at her insistence, this morning changed the words ‘should apologise’ in its headline to ‘could apologise’), she has received some pretty vile hate mail by email.

This one has been forwarded to the police:

“Get out of my country you ugly racist cu*t! Ugly, smelly Muslim vermin.”

I won’t name the person who emailed this, but let’s look at what prompted him to send it.

In the article, Rupa was quoted in this context:

Answering a question about whether an apology should be made, Ms Huq said: ‘1948, that happened under a British government. To my mind, an apology – yes. You could do one. A Labour Government could probably get that through.’

She added: ‘But it sounds a bit Tony Blair to me though, and we all know what happened to him.

Ms Huq – whose sister is the former Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq – told The Mail on Sunday that the remarks she made did not reflect her actual views.

‘I don’t think that, those aren’t my views,’ she said. ‘I was answering a question. I went on later to say that there shouldn’t be an apology.

‘I have supported Labour Friends of Israel events and am a signatory to the We Believe In Israel charter.’

The video clip of the meeting is here:

Rupa told me today that with Angie Bray, the Tory candidate, declining to attend the February 2015 meeting, she was ‘probably the most right wing person there’ and was frequently jeered. She said she felt a little bit out of her depth on the specifics of questions raised.

She said the candidates were asked ‘Should the UK apologise for Israel?’ This was her answer in full:

“On the question of the historic legacy… I mean I said at the beginning that it’s a long, long history – you can trace it back to BC. I mean I think you’re referring more specifically to 1948 that happened under a British government? To my mind… an apology… Yes you could do one…. a Labour government could probably get that through, but it sounds a bit Tony Blair to me though, and we all know what happened to himHe did apologies for the Irish potato famine in 1998 amongst other things but he was pilloried. I mean you couldn’t make it up.

“But yeah, it would be possible to do an apology, but I think what’s more important is to move forward and to make sure that Palestinian people can live in peace in an independent state of their own, I think that’s what we need to focus on. I mean an apology – yeah you could do that, it might be symbolic but for the future we want a viable Palestine.”

So a bit more nuanced. She is a strong supporter of the two-state solution and strongly supports Israel’s right to exist. No doubt she’ll get vile emails from the other side now.

However, for the wellbeing of her own political career, she’d be well advised to stick to subjects on which she is a master of detail from now on…and stay away from the media for a while.

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