Archive for October 26th, 2010

Remember Shiraj Haque? You know, the millionaire Brick Lane “curry king” and Lutfur-backer who professes to be socially progressive, yet whose commitment to the welfare of Tower Hamlets’s neediest residents is limited to his own living arrangements: he rents a large family home from a housing association. Everyone said he was the power behind Lutfur’s throne; well, either he’s been believing his own propaganda a little too much, or he actually is.

For I understand that he’s been summoning some of Tower Hamlets’ most senior councillors for private audiences at his Clifton restaurant in Brick Lane. At those hearings, I’m told that he’s been trying to dish out cabinet jobs on behalf of Lutfur. Lib Dem councillor Stephanie Eaton has been offered one and her husband, Labour councillor David Edgar, has also been asked (via a third party) if he would be interested. He’s also planning to sound out Tory group leader Peter Golds.

The word “deluded” was used by one whose names he mentioned.

It could well be that he’s just playing games by seeing what words of his leak out to the likes of me, but here’s another taster of his apparent views….that Lutfur’s main ambition is to become an MP and that he will target Rushanara Ali either as an independent, or from within Labour if he’s allowed back into the fold, or even by standing for another party.

Lutfur as a Tory MP….?

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Amid the mess that is the current Tower Hamlets Labour party, it’s good to see that some members have retained (or should that be discovered?) a sense of humour, albeit unwittingly. During a brief survey of some of those who attended a group meeting of councillors in Westminster last night, more than one said to me today that they’re going to “find it difficult being in opposition; we’re not used to it”.

Are they kidding? Ever since I’ve covered Tower Hamlets politics, the faction-ridden Labour group has been constantly at war with itself. Arguably, last week’s mayoral election, aided and abetted by Respect, was merely an extension of that.

That said, the repercussions are a touch more serious this time round.

Last night, although the group of 31 remaining councillors voted overwhelmingly not to co-operate with their nemesis, Mayor-elect Lutfur Rahman, I also sense a certain softening and shifting game-plans.

For many in the Labour group, the £10,000 a year they receive as paid councillors is extremely important and, for some, the loss of earnings from no longer sitting in cabinet or from chairing various committees will be a big hit financially. As the next round of elections approach in 2014, many of them will be desperate for survival. For them, the talk of “new beginnings” and principled purges of rotten influences will be irrelevant.

So, while last night’s motion calling on the NEC to investigate those who campaigned against Labour these past few weeks was undoubtedly based on genuine rage, it does also appear to have been a decent sliced return back into the party’s ruling court.

In the short term, the NEC must now decide how to deal with, fairly, a number of issues, the main ones being the futures of Ken Livingstone, Lord Nazir Ahmed and the group of eight pro-Lutfur councillors.

As I type, I’m being told that the group of eight Labour councillors who campaigned for Lutfur have been formally expelled by the Labour party. If so, in order to avoid accusations of double standards, the NEC will have to expel Lord Ahmed as well. The case against the more slippery, newt-loving Livingstone is trickier. He chose his words carefully – and he’s too big a fish to mess with.

Which way new party leader Ed Miliband nods his brainy head will be crucial. The feeling among senior Labour figures is that he will lay off Ken, but I suspect he will also order an investigation into the so-called “Abbas dossier”, which in fact was authored not only by Helal Abbas, but also a number of others involved in the shambolic Labour selection campaign.

If that investigation finds the dossier was as weak as some suspect and, depending on how Lutfur acts and performs as an independent Mayor, it is not inconceivable that he and others two years or so down the line could be readmitted into the fold.

Meanwhile, what of Marc Francis?

I understand that it is highly likely (actually, I mean it is 99.999999 per cent certain) that he will NOT serve under his friend Lutfur. He is a Labour councillor and he will remain one. He will abide by last night’s democratic motion at Labour group and stay with his colleagues.

However, he will continue to fight his corner from the wings.

I’m also certain of that.

UPDATE  – 9pm, October 26

There is some confusion over the Group of Eight. A London Labour spokesman told me this evening the party’s constitutional unit wrote to them a couple of weeks ago to say their actions appeared to be a breach of party rules and that there seemed to be grounds for automatic expulsion. They were given 14 days in which to appeal and I understand that all eight have done so. He said an appeal process will now be set up and that will take its course….However, I’m also being told by another Labour insider that a disciplinary sub-committee of Labour’s NEC met today to “confirm” their expulsion. One day, Labour will get their act together….

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