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Archive for June, 2010

Terry Fitzpatrick charged

Anyone familiar with the politics of Tower Hamlets and Hackney more than likely knows Terry Fitzpatrick, a long time campaigner on various issues.

Today, he appeared at Thames Magistrates’ Court on Bow Road charged with racially aggravated harassment.

He was arrested on May 5, according to the Metropolitan Police. I understand that it followed a complaint by Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote.

Details about the charge in general, and not the specifics to Terry’s case, can be found here.

For legal reasons, I’m not allowing comments.

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Mayoral muck-raking

A quick update on the directly elected mayor contest for Tower Hamlets, which is due in October…

Labour has now (almost) decided how its candidate will be chosen. The deadline for applications is June 17 and a week later they will be interviewed by a four-strong panel of party apparatchiks. Two of the panel will come from the National Executive Committee and two from the London regional party. The current thinking is that the panel will then select a shortlist of six – three men and three women. However, this depends on how many people, and particularly women, actually apply. The final choice will be made by a ballot (using the single transferrable vote system) of the party’s Tower Hamlets membership on July 17.

Clearly, this raises a number of questions. Firstly, who is applying? Names that I’ve so far heard include current council leader Helal Abbas, his predecessors Cllr Lutfur Rahman and Michael Keith, London Assembly member John Biggs, Cllr Sirajul Islam, Cllr David Edgar and Rosna Mortuza – she’s an “equalities and diversity” director at Tower Hamlets Primary Care Trust. That makes five men and one woman.

Now, remember that for many within Labour the name of the game is to Stop Lutfur at all costs. There’s a feeling that he has strong support among the party’s paid-up membership, so I would be amazed if more women don’t apply, if only to force a three man/three women shortlist and thereby reduce Lutfur’s chances of making it. Cllr Shiria Khatun is certainly ambitious, so she could be one; and from what I’ve seen of Cllr Rachel Saunders, who has the makings of a being a good future MP, she should be another. Will Cllr Denise Jones ride to the rescue one more time?

The second question is who will be on selection panel and who chooses them? Labour is trying to keep this a secret because they don’t want the panellists being lobbied. The board of the London Region will pick its two names. As London Assembly member Len Duvall chairs the board, it’s a good bet that he will be one of its two picks. In the same way, it would be unusual if the chair of the NEC was also not on the panel. The current chair is Ann Black, an activist from Oxford. The other NEC pick is likely to be Keith Vaz: as one Labour source put it to me, “they can’t just have white folk judging Bengalis”.

So how does this affect Lutfur’s chances? Well, Ann Black is an unknown quantity, but I’m told that Vaz is on record somewhere as having previously declared support for Lutfur. In fact, here they are pictured together at the opening of a restaurant last December:

Lutfur also knows Len Duvall well: Len was assigned to be Lutfur’s “mentor” when he became Tower Hamlets council leader in 2008. During the time that Len acted as grandpa, Lutfur was the subject of press and party investigations, most notably Andrew Gilligan’s Channel 4 Dispatches documentary which detailed allegations about the Islamic Forum of Europe. Quite what Len made of all that is not officially known.

But what is a fact is that Len and John Biggs are very good friends.

Labour party politics…don’t you just love it…

PS we mustn’t, of course, forget that other Mayoral contest, ie the one for London. Although Ken Livingstone appears to have the backing of several London borough council leaders, I can reveal that Tower Hamlets boss Helal Abbas is not one of them – he’s backing Oona King.

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A week next Sunday a beautiful art deco venue that was once a favourite gathering place for the old East End community could well become a flashpoint for violent divide.

My old friend Caroline Merion, the veteran local historian and Labour activist who is currently recovering in Mile End Hospital after a fall (get well soon, Caroline), predicted three years ago that the former Troxy picture palace was falling into the wrong hands after decades of decline. Built with an ornate staircase and dazzling chandeliers, it opened in 1933 and locals loved the Hollywood glamour it brought to Stepney’s Commercial Road. The first film shown there was King Kong; the last, in 1960, was, aptly perhaps, The Siege of Sidney Street.

From 1963, it was used as a rehearsal venue for the Royal Opera House, then, from the Eighties until 2005, as a Mecca bingo hall.

Now fully restored, it is an event venue for all seasons. Its current owners, Deepak and Mohit Sharma of Walthamstow-based Ashburn Estates Ltd, have invested hundreds of thousands of pounds in their business venture.

And they make no bones that that is exactly what it is. For over the past three years, the Commercial Road venue has played host to weddings, cage fighting, a Miss England contest and a Ukip party conference. As long as guests are willing to pay up, they’ll hire it to anyone, it seems.

Even, sadly, to the organisers of a conference on June 20 featuring these lovely open-minded chaps: Bilal Philips and Hussein Yee. I urge you to read this link on Harry’s Place for a detailed background.

As well as attracting their own hordes and, no doubt, secret squirrels from the intelligence services, there’s also likely to be another couple of groups mingling outside. One will be the thugs from the English Defence League (who are reportedly sizing up Tower Hamlets for their next demonstrations), the other from Unite Against Fascism. They don’t like each other very much and the mingling is most unlikely to be of the “How nice to meet you” variety.

Those worried about what could happen have written to the Troxy’s owners to ask them to cancel the booking, so far without success.

As businessmen, they’re only likely to listen with their wallets. According to the latest accounts for Asburn Estates, they made a profit of £96,000 in 2008/09. Its turnover is below the £5.6million threshold required for disclosure to Companies House, but its bank balance as at March 31, 2009, was £38,765. Clearly, the owners like money and I’d imagine they’d need more to satisfy their appetites.

So here’s an idea: why don’t our council leaders, who profess to be deeply committed to the concept of a harmonious “One Tower Hamlets”, simply tell them that if this conference goes ahead, they will not attend any other event at the Troxy?
And that includes the Tower Hamlets Muslim Staff Forum gala dinner that’s held there every year and which is partly funded with public money.

That way our leaders show leadership and our businessmen show they care a little about the area in which they operate.

UPDATE

Thanks to a comment below by TowerHamletsWatch regarding his post here, we learn from the current edition of East End Life (that’s the council’s free-sheet; it’s never delivered to my corner of deepest Bow) that the owners of the Troxy, supported by Cllr Abdal Ullah, have signed up to the borough’s No Place For Hate campaign. The words “put”, “money”, “mouth” and “or not as the case may be” spring to mind.

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