Slightly off-topic from the world of east London politics, but this needs getting out there….
A PANEL of 13 “faith advisers” appointed by former Labour Communities Secretary John Denham is to be scrapped by the new coalition Government. His Tory successor Eric Pickles wants to move away from a “cronies-based” approach to faith issues and instead tackle problems by direct “face-to-face” contact with ordinary people themselves.
Within days of becoming minister, Mr Pickles ordered a review of the panel which was set up by Labour in January. I’ve been told by a senior Government source that the unpaid panel is “highly unlikely” to meet again.
The panel has met twice, the last time in March. Although a spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government (CLG) said its membership and remit was “under review”, sources close to Mr Pickles said: “It’s unlikely to meet again. We’re going to end this habit of Labour appointing its mates and then kicking issues into the long grass. We very much want to engage with faith groups, but we’re going to do it face to face and not through panels.”
Panel members included Canon Dr Alan Billings, a former director of the Centre for Ethics and Religion at Lancaster University, and Rosalind Preston, the president of the Jewish Volunteer Network.
The panel also included Cheshire dentist Wakkas Khan, who was president of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies from 2004-2006. The Department of Communities and Local Government press release at the time of the announcement gave a misleading impression of his background. Specifically, it stated that as well as being a founder member of the Government-backed Radical Middle Way, he was director of the Exploring Islam Foundation.
I learn from Carter Ruck libel lawyers (who contacted me when I was researching a possible story on this last week) that, contrary to widespread belief, this is NOT the same Exploring Islam Foundation that last week launched an advertising campaign on the side of London cabs. Here’s the Times report detailing that. Instead, Mr Khan’s lawyer at Carter Ruck tells me that “at university, and subsequently while he was from 2004-6 President of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies in the UK and Ireland, ‘Exploring Islam Foundation’ was one of the concepts Wakkas Khan initiated and sought to develop as a discussion forum”.
Carter Ruck tell me that he submitted his CV to CLG in September 2009 and listed the directorship under “past positions…2006…”. He has never had any connection with the current campaign group.
It was therefore the Government and Mr Denham who misled the public into believing that Mr Khan was a current director of something called the Exploring Islam Foundation. It’s not the first error CLG has made in this area.