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Archive for October 19th, 2010

In previous posts I’ve made reference to the poisonous comments and allegations made by anonymous individuals on this blog. While some have been directed against Lutfur Rahman, the target of most has been Helal Abbas. Those levelled against Lutfur have been dealt with elsewhere and denied (or not, as the case may be) by the man himself.

Until now, I’d decided not to repeat possibly the most outrageous of the lot. But a non-event tonight has helped me change my mind. And I also have Abbas’s permission to publish it.

Last week, this leaflet was handed out by supporters of Lutfur Rahman around the borough.

It was also published as a page 8 advert in the current disgraceful edition of the London Bangla newspaper, which I posted about here last week.

As you can see it alleges that Helal Abbas beat his former wife and that there would be a rally tonight outside Labour’s office in Bethnal Green to protest against domestic violence. The advert also provided a mobile number and said the organisers were a group going by the name of Domestic Violence Forum East.

Every time I tried the number, the phone was switched off. When I called Tower Hamlets council’s domestic violence support officers, they were aghast. They do have a forum, but it’s not called Domestic Violence Forum East. They’ve never heard of this supposed outfit. They were also furious that someone seemed to be passing themselves off as one. More on that later.

Abbas’s first marriage broke up a couple of decades ago. His ex-wife lives in Manchester and they have a 22-year-old son who I understand is at university. I also understand that Abbas met his ex-wife and son for lunch during the Labour party conference three weeks ago. I’m told that they get on well, that their divorce was amicable and that their relationship failed because, like many others, they married too young.

As for the allegations/smears, Abbas tells me he “totally and entirely” denies them.

I went along to see the demo at 6pm tonight, but guess what? Not only were there no speeches and “info stalls” being run by those dedicated to tackling domestic violence, but also there was not a single protester. It was all a despicable charade.

When these leaflets first appeared last week, I texted Lutfur Rahman and his aide, Cllr Oli Rahman, to ask whether they endorsed or condemned their content. Neither has replied.

Abbas said: “The people behind these kind of smears are utterly desperate. They are trying to assassinate my character. What does that say about them. They are disgusting.”

He has also found an ally on this issue in Cllr Peter Golds, the leader of the town hall’s Tory group. In fact, to his vast credit, Peter, who has been subject to homophobic and anti-Semitic abuse in this borough, seems to be sticking out his neck far more than his Labour opponents in fighting the thuggish elements of Tower Hamlets politics. Last week, he wrote to Ofcom to complain about the biased coverage and possible breach of broadcasting laws by the Bangla TV and Channel S satellite stations.

Today, he wrote to the Press Complaints Commission to report his concern over the London Bangla newspaper, which some observers also think could have breached election law. He copied his letter to Tower Hamlets Returning Officer Kevan Collins and Paul Ricketts, the Met Police’s Borough Commander.

Importantly, he makes the point that genuine victims of domestic violence could have been misled by the London Bangla advert into believing that forum and that phone number were genuine. The Advertising Standards Authority would also, no doubt, have a view.

Peter’s letter is below:

October 19th 2010

Stephen Abell

Press Complaints Commission

Halton House

20-23 Holborn

London

EC1N 2JD

Dear Mr Abell

Re: Electoral concerns complaint regarding London Bangla

On October 21st voters in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets will be electing an executive Mayor. This is a high profile position that has created considerable excitement within the Bangladeshi community who make up some 33.4% of the population according to estimates published in our borough guide.

The Labour party selection process was controversial and as a result there is an official Labour candidate, Cllr Helal Abbas and an Independent candidate, Cllr Lutfur Rahman, who had been selected as Labour candidate but was deselected by the national executive of the party. This is an internal matter for the Labour Party and the 1,600 or so local members. However, it has exploded into the campaign and has become the dominant issue amongst a vociferous section of the Bengali community.

Bangla News is a free newspaper, targeted at Bengali residents and published on a Friday. It is usually found in shops and Mosques.

As a private paper it is fully entitled to an editorial stand and also the freedom to endorse whichever candidate in an election it wishes. However, it’s coverage of the Tower Mayoral election goes beyond anything that a responsible newspaper would normally do. The coverage is wholly slanted towards the candidature of Cllr Rahman and the paper repeatedly makes unsubstantiated slurs and allegations about Cllr Abbas.  The three other candidates representing the Conservative, Green and Liberal Democrat parties are ignored.

On page eight, the paper publishes an advertisement, purporting to be from the  “Domestic Violence Forum East”. It makes extraordinary allegations regarding a candidate. It gives a (mobile) contact number and a yahoo email.

The Domestic Violence Forum is a much respected nationwide organisation. It has a proper email address and maintains confidential helplines. There is no Domestic Violence Forum East. This advertisement is a fraud and usurps the name and credence of a responsible and important organisation for pseudo electoral advantage. No credible newspaper would have accepted or published such an advertisement.

Furthermore what would happen if someone who was subject to violence used this (usually unanswered) telephone number or email address? What kind of advice or assistance could or would be offered. Certainly it there is no indication of a proper counsellor with back up.

To make matters worse this paper has been, for the first time ever, hand delivered to addresses across the borough. Hand delivered so subtly, that non Bangladeshi residents appear to have been targeted.

This paper is totally is completely irresponsible and this issue is a public scandal. I believe that a full enquiry is required.

I attach a copy of the paper for your consideration.

Yours sincerely

Councillor  Peter Golds

Copied to:

The Returning Officer

Commander Paul Rickett, Metropolitan Police

 

 

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A fairly angry Labour source has highlighted this article from the Times of Malta to me:

Monday, 18th October 2010 – 16:52CET

‘Unique opportunity’ as top UK travel agents meet in Malta

Photo: Jean Louis Wertz viewingmalta.com

ABTA, the association of British travel agents, which represents the majority of travel agents and tour operators in the UK, will be holding its annual Travel Convention in Malta as of tomorrow at the Hilton Malta Convention Centre.

The theme of this year’s Convention is “Drivers of Change”. The convention, which will see over 700 of the UK’s top travel and tourism executives convene in Malta for the first time, will also feature presentations and addresses by a number of well-known speakers, including British Airways CEO Willie Walsh, ex-Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, Lord Norman Fowler, former UK Cabinet minister, as well as Christopher Rodrigues, chairman of VisitBritain, amongst many others.

Josef Formosa Gauci, Malta Tourism Authority CEO, said that this was a unique opportunity for the Maltese islands to be showcased among an elite selection of the top British travel trade executives.

“The UK remains Malta’s foremost source market for tourism and this is precisely why the MTA, Air Malta and various other local tourism stakeholders worked tirelessly to bring the Travel Convention to our shores. Many distinguished speakers will also be present for this event, as will a significant number of journalists from the UK’s media and travel trade media. This is undoubtedly a unique, high profile event which will almost certainly prove to be very beneficial for our islands’ tourism industry”.

Well, I suppose that after his high-octane stroll around Brick Lane yesterday, Ken needed a quick get-away break in the sun.

According to the itinerary, travel expert Ken is due to speak (for half an hour) tomorrow…on “Driving Change” – just before the session entitled “Loose Talk”. Haven’t they got that the wrong way around?

 

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With all that has been going on in the mayoral election, one of the most important issues that I was involved in while at the East London Advertiser, the successful campaign to save Bancroft History Library and Archives (we won a press award for it), has slipped under my radar.

When he was council leader, Lutfur Rahman changed his mind about the need to save the old Vestry Hall in Mile End despite a desire by a coterie of councillors led by Josh Peck and Denise Jones to sell it to Queen Mary University. Lutfur’s was a welcome decision.

Earlier this year, I understand that a senior council officer (I will name her once I get confirmation) promised that £350,000 of section 106 money from a Telford Homes development in Bethnal Green would be used to fund Bancroft’s leaking roof.

In August, the council’s strategic development committee decided to use that Telford Homes s106 cash to bail out the failing Rich Mix arts centre. Councillors on the committee agreed to transfer £500,000 as a first instalment, with the possibility of another £1.5m to come.

The Save Bancroft Library campaign tell me that this means the £350k promised to repair the history archives has been ditched, diverted to Rich Mix instead. If so, that is a disgrace.

Some 14 councillors had objected to the decision to help Rich Mix and they included Lutfur Rahman and many of those who now back him. It is to their credit.

I’ve just put the following question to Helal Abbas:

Under your mayoralty, would the local history library and archives remain at the Bancroft vestry hall?

His answer was this:

Yes, it will.

This suggests that Bancroft is safe whoever wins.

My next question to him is whether the building itself will remain under council ownership so that the downstairs section, which is currently empty, will be also be used for an expanded archive and history service – something that will protect the multicultural heritage of our borough.

I’ll update later.

UPDATE – 8.15pm, Tuesday October 19

Abbas has just called me to discuss Bancroft. Here’s what he said:

“I guarantee that Bancroft will remain in council ownership under my mayoralty. But I can’t make any commitment on funding at the moment because we don’t know yet what our finances will be. What I will commit to is trying to source funding for the building, either from the council budget, or section 106 money or through some kind of sponsorship. I want the library and archives to be a place of excellence and a resource for my children and for all other children in the borough. Our shared heritage is vitally important to our community.”

I then asked whether s106 money had been diverted from Bancroft to Rich Mix at cabinet meeting in July. Here’s his answer:

“The s106 money from the Telford Homes development was for Bethnal Green and that’s why it is going to Rich Mix under very strict criteria. When Lutfur was leader, he had the chance to put Bancroft into the s106 pool, but he didn’t.”

I have a problem with the first part of this. The details of the s106 agreement for that development can be seen on p47 of this document.

Point 4 of the document states:

“£2,093,098 for cultural, social and community products and for the provision of work space offsite.”

There is no restriction on where that money can be allocated, although, arguably, the phrase “work space off site” could be a valid interpretation.

As I mentioned above, I’m told that £350k of s106 was agreed by senior council officer Heather Bonfield earlier this year. If anyone has the minutes for the relevant minutes of the Bancroft Steering Group, please email me them.

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Now that the Islamic Forum of Europe has again gone on the record to deny accusations that it is linked to Jamaat e Islami in Bangladesh, I feel more comfortable legally in reporting part of a conversation I had with Lutfur Rahman last year.

You’ll remember that I posted a transcript of a conversation I had with former IFE president Habibur Rahman here. That took place in March 2009 at about the same time I talked to Lutfur and the transcript for part of that conversation was reported here.

Here’s more of it.

TJ:  People say that IFE supports Jamaat e Islami in Bangladesh. What are your views on that?

LR:  OK. That is something I don’t know. In terms of Bangladeshi politics, yeah, I don’t belong to a party and I don’t even support a party in Bangladesh, nor do I get involved in anything to do with Bangladeshi parties. I’m so happy that we’ve got a democratically elected government after two years of quasi-military rule. I’m grateful that people have seen sense and elected a democratically elected government, a socially progressive government in Bangladesh. I don’t get involved in Bangladeshi politics because I don’t even know anything about it. All I know that and I care about is that people are being fed and people have a chance to lead a decent life.

TJ:  Would you like to see, as [Jamaat e Islami want], Bangladesh become an Islamic Republic?

LR:  Ted, I want to see a democratically elected country in Bangladesh. That’s all I care about. What I care about, I come from the centre-Left of British politics and I struggled through my life, I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I believe in libertarian, liberal values, I believe in free speech, I believe in people having a chance in life and equality of opportunity and I believe in people expressing themselves. People have spoken and they have elected a government and I’m very happy with that. I do not indulge in Bangladeshi politics.

TJ:  But to the direct question, would you like to see an elected Islamic Republic of Bangladesh?

LR: To me, the faith politics is not important to me. What is important to me is I want to see a progressive government, whether that be an Islamic republic, or that be a socialist republic or whether it be a capitalist republic, I want to see a progressive government for the people. How do you define progressiveness? To have been fed twice a day, to have equality of opportunity, a hood health service, free education and that people can go about their normal life.

I have just posed the same question to Helal Abbas. Here’s what he said:

HA: I definitely would not want an Islamic republic of Bangladesh. I would not support it. I would not want any single-issue based party. I’d want a socialist-leaning government in Bangladesh which serves the needs of all communities regardless of faith.

An interesting comparison, in style and substance.

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