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Archive for September 11th, 2010

The selection of Lutfur Rahman as Labour’s candidate for mayor has sent his opponents into a tailspin of despair. And not just among Labour members.

Politicians in all parties are trying to work out how he can be stopped. Those in Labour cling to the belief that Labour’s NEC will be so horrified by his selection that they will refuse to confirm his candidacy and instead impose their own choice before nominations for the election close on September 24.

There are others within Labour, especially those concerned about the people with whom Lutfur is surrounding himself, who are quietly encouraging another possibility – one which would underline the seriousness with which they view the situation. They are suggesting an anti-Lutfur candidate from the other main national parties, ie a single Coalition candidate for both the Tories and Lib Dems. And this idea is winning cross-party support.

This afternoon, the Lib Dem candidate, John Griffiths, held his launch party for the press at a restaurant in Brick Lane. Some fifteen party activists turned up, as did a cameraman from Channel S and a couple of photographers, but apart from that I was the only reporter there. Oddly for a press conference, no time was allotted for questions. It summed up the state of the once mighty Lib Dems in the borough.

Which is a shame, because in Griffiths they have a good candidate whose track record as a councillor until he lost his seat in 2006 was excellent. If you’ve been to York Hall in Bethnal Green recently, thank John: he was the man who initiated and led the campaign to save it from closure six years ago.

The party retains good ideas, including a thought-provoking pledge to devolve power from Tower Hamlets HQ in Mulberry Place to the various districts that comprise the borough. How many people say they live in Tower Hamlets, the Lib Dems ask. Rather, residents prefer to say they live in Bow, for example, or on the Isle of Dogs, or in Spitalfields, Wapping, Whitechapel, Stepney, or Shadwell. The Lib Dems therefore argue that these areas should have the chance to run some of their own affairs, along the lines of town councils. Moves are already afoot in Wapping to make this happen.

However, even Lib Dems quietly agree that they have little chance of seeing these ideas put into practice on their own. So their brightest minds are actively considering talks with Tory counterparts to run just one candidate. Such a deal would of course require either John to stand down, or Neil King from the Tories to do so – or both. Or they could run as a mayor and deputy mayor joint ticket. Or, more likely, given that this is Tower Hamlets, where race counts, a ticket that includes candidates from both the Bangladeshi and non-Bangladeshi “communities”.

Would Tory and Lib Dem HQs accept such a proposition? In normal circumstances, undoubtedly no. But Tower Hamlets politicians are arguing that these are exceptional circumstances. They say they would tell their superiors that, given the controversy of Labour’s selection process, they are acting in the interests of democracy and that it is a good opportunity to take control of a £1.2billion Olympic borough.

Crucially, they also argue that the ramifications of such a move would ensure national press attention, which would help boost what is otherwise expected to be a terrible turnout of about 25% next month.

In other words, strategists hope the move would create its own momentum. They have about 10 days in which to decide…

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Lutfur’s lieutenant

In the YouTube video I posted of Lutfur Rahman’s acceptance speech last Saturday, here, you’ll see that he gives specific thanks to a Cllr Ohid Ahmed. Appropriately, given that he’s Lutfur’s campaign manager, he’s standing directly behind his right shoulder and cheering with all the theatrical passion of Peter Mandelson circa 1997.

No one has been able to work it out, but Ohid’s career has really taken off in the last few years. Officers who have dealt with him cringe at the mention of his name. They say he has a slightly aggressive style and that he becomes frustrated when he can’t make himself understood.

Yet, come October 21 he could well be one of the most powerful men in Tower Hamlets: a victorious Lutfur is bound to reward him with a top job, possibly even as deputy mayor. So, let’s take a closer look at him.

His declaration of interests can be seen here. You’ll notice that he owns two properties in the borough. Land Registry records show that he bought the flat in Aberfeldy Street from Poplar Harca housing association in 2003 for £87,000. What a good deal that was! And according to the electoral roll, he actually lives in the townhouse in Oban Street. I can’t find any Land Registry documents for that purchase.

You’ll also see that he likes his jollies.

17.11.07: Hospitality received from Eurostar (free tickets to Paris (return)) for Cllr Ahmed and Son to mark the re-opening of St. Pancras Station.

15th Jan – 26th Feb 2010, Guest of Labour Friends of Bangladesh (LFB) Private fact-finding trip to Bangladesh- Economy return flights, hotel, transport etc approx £1,200 partly sponsored by Canary Wharf Group PLC

27th May – Guest (Box Ticket) for Cricket Match between Bangladesh and England approx £100.

A month in Bangladesh?? Shurely shome mishtake….

Free tickets for Eurostar for the opening of that well known Tower Hamlets terminus, St Pancras International….

A corporate box for the cricket…., but as a guest of whom?? I think we should be told!

But the most intriguing fact of all is his new job at Camden Council, which is led by fellow Labour Friends of Bangladesh supporter, Nasim Ali – who, according to his own declarations, also attended the same Lord’s test match in a corporate box. Funnily enough, Nasim and Ohid were also on the same “fact finding” trip to Bangladesh in February: see here.

If anyone knows what job Ohid does at Camden, where and when the job was advertised, and how he was selected, can you please drop me a line….?

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Following my post last night about the role of Shiraj Haque, it’s time to raise a couple of points with Lutfur Rahman and his two closest lieutenants, Cllr Marc Francis and Cllr Ohid Ahmed.

(By way of background, Marc has spent his professional and political life working for and with the likes of Shelter to tackle the issues of housing and overcrowding. Ohid, a “regeneration specialist”, has spent his professional and political life working with big developers…)

In this article for the Tower Hamlets freesheet, East End Life, last October, both Lutfur and Marc are quoted as follows:

The green light has been given for 17 new council homes to be built in the borough.

Tower Hamlets Council has been awarded £1.7 million from the Government to build the affordable homes as part of the biggest council house building programme in almost two decades.

It was one of 49 local authorities that successfully bid for a portion of the £127 million fund – and the council will match the Government’s investment in order to fund the project.

Most of the homes will be three or more bedrooms to help meet the demand for larger properties, and will be completed by March 2011.

Lead councillor for housing and development Marc Francis welcomed the funding: ”Tackling the desperate shortage of affordable homes is right at the top of this council’s priorities.

”Overcrowding is undermining our children’s health, education and life chances. And the shortage of affordable homes has forced far too many of our young East Enders to leave the borough.”

He said local housing associations had done a great job building thousands of new homes in recent years. But council leader Cllr Lutfur Rahman and he believed that local councils should play their part too.

”That is why the council has developed an Overcrowding Reduction Strategy,” he said.

Here’s an extract from that strategy:

The strategy aims to tackle overcrowding by:

  • Reduce overcrowding in existing housing stock, and put in place preventative measures to reduce future overcrowding.
  • Increase the overall supply of housing for local people including a range of affordable, family housing.
  • Prevent overcrowding and homelessness by providing access to the right housing options at the right time

Tower Hamlets has invested in pilots to determine how the Council with partners might best support not just overcrowded families but also under-occupiers in order to make best use of stock.

One of the reasons why overcrowding exists is because some large family-sized homes provided by the council and housing associations are occupied by people who could very easily afford to live elsewhere. I suspect the four-storey home in Pritchard’s Road, which millionaire Shiraj Haque rents from the Peabody Trust, is one such case.

I’ve no idea how long Shiraj has lived in the modern-looking property, but according to the Land Registry, the freehold for the land was transferred, presumably for development, by Tower Hamlets council to Peabody in 1998. Electoral roll records show that Shiraj has been registered there at least seven years, (ie from 2003), while one member of his family – I think it is his wife – has been registered there for nine years, ie from 2001.

Again, I don’t know whether their home is classified as social renting or whether they rent it from Peabody on the open market; if it is the former, however, it is worth looking at Peabody’s own requirements here:

How to apply for a home
To apply for social housing, you must initially apply and complete the application form at your local council. They will assess your housing need and may house you in their own property, refer you to Peabody or to another housing association.

You can only apply direct to Peabody if you are looking for supported living for older people.

Choice-based lettings
Some local authorities operate a choice-based lettings scheme. Instead of simply waiting until you reach the top of the list and taking the property that you are offered, choice-based lettings allows applicants to bid for those properties they are interested in.

If more than one person bids, then the property is given to the person with the greatest housing need.

We are committed to ensuring that social housing residents (those in general housing needs) have more choice and control over where they live and we run our own choice-based lettings scheme, selections.

If your council runs a choice-based lettings scheme, then you can choose to view our homes which are advertised locally.

You can also view the full range of homes available on the selections website and bid for any home for which you are matched.

So, I’m intending to send the following questions to Lutfur on this issue.

1. Do you welcome the support of Shiraj Haque?

2. Has he or any company in which he has a control provided any cash or non-cash support to your mayoral campaign? If so, please detail.

3. Were you aware that Shiraj Haque owns, through his company Renegade Investment Properties Ltd, £2.4million of property assets, and through Redstar Assets Ltd, in which he has a 50% share, a further £0.75million?

4. Given that issues of overcrowding, lengthy housing waiting lists and the lack of family-sized accommodation are central to your campaign, do you think it is morally right for wealthy individuals to live in large homes provided by housing associations?

5. Have you visited Shiraj Haque’s four-storey home in Pritchard’s Road, which is owned by the Peabody Trust and where, according to the electoral roll, he has lived for at least seven years?

6. Were you aware that it was owned by a housing association and have you asked him why he does not vacate it in favour of a family more in need?

7. Have you asked him, or will you ask him, when he or his family applied to Peabody Trust to live in the property, who made the application, what proof of need they provided and whether he made his fortune since moving in?

If anybody has any more questions you’d like me to pose, let me know.

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