Archive for November, 2010

In August, a planning blog here highlighted a new two minute animated film that had just been produced by Tower Hamlets council. It was commissioned in December 2009. In it, a cartoon man and dog experience what it’s like going through the council’s planning process.

It starts with East End Life being delivered through the man’s door (that’s a rarity in itself, by the way) and then him turning to the front page. “New Plans For Your Area” is the freesheet’s splash. (That never happens either: to find out about a planning application in your area you have to scour the public notices in the back pages).

However, continuing in this sunny vein, the narrator says: “In the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, there are plenty of opportunities to have your say.” Suitably inspired, the man and dog stroll through the spotless, empty streets into an Idea Store to check out council information and then head for the various public consultations.

The message is laudable: get involved. Because if you don’t, the council planning officers will have their way.

Until I was notified of this film by a councillor today, I’d never heard of it. And neither have I been told by the council that tomorrow night there is one of its “highly publicised” consultation meetings about the desperately-needed regeneration of the Poundland and Perfect Fried Chicken boulevard that is the Roman Road (anyone unfamiliar with the Roman should know that it is about 500 metres or so from the Olympic Stadium: the stadium dominates the view looking east now).

This is one of those events at which we are told we can shape our future here. But if it hadn’t been for some active neighbours of mine, no one would have known. In fact, so secretive are the plans the council has for our area that it has declined a series of Freedom of Information requests for the minutes of a secret town hall group called the Roman Road Implementation Group. See the rejection letter from the council’s legal chief Isabella Freeman here. Yes, the council wants to hear YOUR views, according to its cartoon, but it certainly doesn’t want you to hear THEIRS. Apparently, revealing what planning officers are planning would be very, very bad. Here’s what Ms Freeman said:

…the disclosure of these minutes would reveal the Council’sinternal thinking processes. This would be detrimental to the ultimate quality of decision making as it will make officers reluctant to explore possible solutions which may, after discussion, be disregarded but which could have the potential to deliver valuable results for the community. This would have an adverse effect on the work of the Council.

The council’s cartoon has been watched by fewer than 1,000 people and most of them are probably puzzled American teenagers trying to “get” British humour.

Tory group leader didn’t find it amusing, though. He asked officers how much it cost to make. Answer: £16,440. “Words fail me,” he said. “Tower Hamlets is supposed to be the most deprived authority in the country, they complain constantly about cuts and yet spend public money on this nonsense. What an absolute farce.”

Here’s the council’s response to Peter:

25 November 2010

Dear Councillor Golds

Re: Members Enquiry – Tower Hamlets Gets Animated About Planning

Thank you for your Members Enquiry dated 23 November 2010, regarding the cost and commissioning of our Planning Consultation Animated Film.

The film was commissioned in December 2009 by officers in Planning and Building Control and, after a selection process, it was produced in partnership with the experienced film and media company ThirtyThree, who have produced this kind of film before.

The full cost for the film totalled £16,440, including subtitles and Bengali translation. It has been well received in the community and nationally and we have had a lot of positive feedback. We will be further monitoring the success of the film at upcoming planning engagement events, where this film will play a consistent role. Its objective is to encourage more local people to get involved in planning, which is even more important now given the emerging Localism Bill. We anticipate there will be a real focus on Local Authorities to better engage and involve local people in the planning process.

I hope my comments are of assistance to you. Should you require any additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely,

Owen Whalley

Head of Planning and Building Control

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Another dodgy dossier

I’ve a busy few days coming up this week, so I won’t be able to write as much as I’d like to at the moment on a new report funded by the Cordoba Foundation. I haven’t read all of it yet, but I have looked at those parts which relate to Tower Hamlets.

The report is the work of Dr Robert Lambert and Dr Jonathan Githens-Mazer. The former was head of the Met Police’s oft-criticised Muslim Contact Unit, while the other is a North American academic. Both now run the European Muslim Research Centre at Exeter University, which is funded by Islam Expo and the Cordoba Foundation.

I’ll be blunt: I don’t trust the Cordoba Foundation. I first came across them in February 2008 when I broke the story (subsequently raised in the Commons here that Tower Hamlets Council had allocated the organisation, which is headed by Anas Al-Tikriti, £38,000 of Government Preventing Violent Extremism money to fund a debate including Hizb ut-Tahrir. The debate at the London Muslim Centre was legitimate enough – whether Muslims should participate in democracy (the audience overwhelming said no) – but council leaders agreed that using money to pay HT speakers was not exactly appropriate. After I told the council about the guest list, they said they would withhold some of the £38k. After several weeks of deliberation and obvious collusion with the Foundation, the grand sum of £4,000 was kept back. I wrote about it in the East London Advertiser here:

A SURE way to gauge how sensitive, panicked and confused the Town Hall is over a story is to see how long the council’s press office takes to answer our questions.

Take the controversy surrounding the council’s £38,000 grant to the Cordoba Foundation. You’ll recall that Tower Hamlets had agreed to subsidise a series of debates and media training courses by the foundation in the name of “tackling extremism”.

When we revealed in February that this meant they’d be subsidising the appearance of Dr Abdul Wahid, the UK leader of Hizb ut- Tahrir at a debate, council leader Denise Jones promised to pull the plug.

Every week since then I’ve asked whether a final decision had been made. The council finally gave its answer on April 7. Not a very detailed response, mind you, just that it had “terminated” relations and agreed to pay some costs. I asked how much it was paying out. Answer the next day: £34,000 of the £38,000.

The remaining £4,000, the council insisted, represented the cost of the February 26 debate. So on April 8, I asked for a breakdown of the £34,000. Now, given that the council had been in negotiations with Cordoba for the best part of six weeks before settling on the figure, you’d have thought that breakdown would be ready to hand.

But no. It took Tower Hamlets two weeks to produce it. Why? My bet is that no one at the council had examined the detail and that the figure of £34,000 was little more than a back-of-the-envelope compromise calculation, rather than based on actual costs and invoices.

For example, the foundation says that a debate almost exactly identical in length and content held last October (that also included Hizb ut-Tahrir it turns out) cost £8,000; the broadcast on its partner Muslim Community Radio alone cost £3,000.

Other entries show speakers at the debate being paid £600 and a peculiar “management fee” (the foundation is run by Anas Altikriti, the boss of the Muslim Association of Britain) of £4,500.

Some £19,000 was also spent on a series of media training course aimed exclusively at helping “young Muslims” deal with the press. Experts in microeconomics always look for the incentives behind people’s actions: what motivates them.

Whereas you and I will always check our own bills and bank statements for mistakes because it’s our money, there’s no such similar pressure on council officers with other people’s cash (they would have been more interested in damage limitation).

Similarly, the Cordoba Foundation would be bound to do everything possible to secure as much of the £38,000 grant it was originally promised. It’s up to the council to ensure Cordoba has not frontloaded its costs on projects already completed.

As such, I asked the council’s press office a bunch of follow-up questions. This was their (immediate) answer: “We won’t be providing any more information or breakdowns about work with the Cordoba Foundation.”

I also asked the council’s Freedom of Information Act manager for all documents on the affair, but he’s delayed his response beyond the statutory 20 day limit too “to take advice”. I wonder why that is.

The Foundation seems to be going strong still and Dr Lambert and Dr Githens-Mazer give it high praise in their report here. It’s called, “An introduction to a ten year Europe-wide research project: Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crime – UK Case Studies 2010”.

One of those case studies is Tower Hamlets and in particular the “establishment” victimisation of Mayor Lutfur Rahman. The relevant section starts on p179 of the document under the heading, “Barbarians at the gates of the City” and the sub-heading, “A case study in the subversion of liberal democracy in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets”. A footnote says that section has been written anonymously by someone who has “worked extensively in Tower Hamlets politics”.

Now, in the all the time I’ve covered Tower Hamlets politics I’ve never seen either of the good doctors at the Town Hall. And neither did they or anyone else call me or try to contact me about this report, which, given that they have cited my name and quote extensively much of my work from this blog and from my time at the East London Advertiser, is a bit lazy to say the least.

If they had have done, they might have avoided the simplified and inaccurate rewriting of history – designed, no doubt, to meet their pre-determined conclusions – that this section of their report actually is. I read it agog.

On p180:

In May 2008, Labour became aware that a new direction was needed, and a broad coalition of councillors….elected Lutfur Rahman….However, Rahman’s brand of left-wing populism represented a direct threat to the established hierarchy within the Tower Hamlets Labour party.

Left-wing populism?? Labour becoming aware that a new direction was needed?? Dear doctors, his coup against the then group leader Denise Jones was all about factionalism. In the two years before he took over – both as a member of Denise’s cabinet and also as a backbencher – Lutfur was one of Labour’s main ringleaders against Respect’s populist Left-wing policies and motions in the council chamber. In one of my columns I described him as the leader of Labour’s “giggling squad”, so vocal was his mockery.

On p183:

Britain’s Islamic Republic [the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary] played into existing narratives in the local and national media that accused the council of imposing ‘Islamic values’ on the borough. The most bizarre example concerned the proposed replacement of the dilapidated arches at either end of Brick Lane with two new structures that were described by several media sources as “hijab-shaped”. Quite apart from the fact that comparing a 10-foot steel arch to a piece of cloth requires a certain leap of imagination, the arches…were not designed by the council but by an external contractor.

I’m not sure if the anonymous author of the doctors’ report talked to the architect of the proposed arches: I did. In our background conversation before going on the record, he was extremely uncomfortable. When I pressed him, he said:

“We were briefed to design something that celebrates the demographic changes of the area. The arches were not designed to look like hijabs. Huguenot and Jewish women wore headscarves. The arches are just modern curves and they will have symbols on them reflecting the different immigrant communities. Having the Star of David on them is one option we have considered, but no decision has been made yet.”

Sometimes, it pays to read between the lines.

Pages 185-186 devote a special section to the “removal of Lutfur supporters” in the selection process for the 2010 council elections. The author says this move was designed to undermine the future mayor, thus:

In August 2009, Mohammed Shahid Ali, Salim Ullah, Shafiqul Haque and Fazlul Haque were the only sitting councillors to be de-selected at the first stage of the process to choose candidates for the 2010 local elections. The reasons given for their removal were spurious, and do not appear to correspond either to their performance as councillors or to the Labour party’s previous support for them. The only factor that they all had in common – other than being Bangladeshi Muslims – was their support for Rahman.

Unlike the men of Exeter, I witnessed these four characters at work first hand. Salim Ullah, I had a lot of respect for and I was surprised at his de-selection, but during his time as Labour chief whip he was not the most calming of influences. He was said to be a poor performer in group.

Shafiqul Haque was a die-hard supporter of Michael Keith and Denise Jones, so much so that when he was appointed to Denise’s cabinet in 2007 (to replace Rupert Bawden), one gobsmacked Lutfur supporter said of him: “You’d have to go a long way to find someone less able to lead the council on strategic development than Rupert Bawden, but true to form the leadership has managed it. What next: Mohammed Shahid Ali for mayor?”

Which brings me to Mohammed Shahid Ali. In November 2007, I reported at that month’s planning committee meeting that his eyes closed for long periods, his body jerked about and his vocal chords emitted grunting sounds that were extremely similar to snores. He had a “headache”, he said later. And like Shafiqul Haque and Salim Ullah, his English was poor.

And then there is Mr Fazlul Haque. Soon after he won a by-elction in the Weavers ward in 2008, I received a tip-off that the Tower Hamlets address he had declared on his nomination papers was not actually his home. The rumour around the council was that he lived with his wife and kids in Ilford. So one night, I parked outside his Ilford home and watched his Mercedes pull up late into the evening. He didn’t leave in the further hour I waited there. I returned the next morning and spoke to his wife. She said they were “separated”  and that he had just been “visiting” her and their children.

I then drove over to his small flat in Tower Hamlets. The estate caretaker told me Haque used to live there, but he had left with his family several months ago. A startled Chinese student answered the door. She said she lived there with another student and “Fazlul – yes, Fazlul lives here as well. I sleep in the living room and Fazlul is in the bedroom.” When we returned there not long afterwards and as Haque deployed Labour’s lawyers on us, his tenant students had disappeared leaving Haque to “live” there alone. When senior Labour councillors were told about this, they were horrified.

So in each case, these four “Lutfur supporters”/”Bangladeshi Muslims” were removed because they were either just poor councillors, or just rotten, or both. UPDATE: Of course, Shafiqul Haque appealed against his removal and won to retain his council seat.

On p190 of the report:

The next major blow came in May 2009 when Rahman moved to appoint a new chief executive to the council. Given that the council had seen four chief executives in six years, this was by no means extraordinary in the context of the borough

Inaccurate and disingenuous in the extreme. Here’s the list of chief executives from 2000-2009: Christine Gilbert, 2000-2006; Martin Smith, 2007-2009. In between Christine’s departure in September 2006 and Martin’s formal appointment in April 2007, there were two “acting” chief executives. One was the social services director, Ian Wilson, who led the town hall until his retirement at the end of 2006; the other was, er, Martin Smith, who stepped up to the position from finance director after Ian left.

It is simply rubbish, therefore, to say that Martin’s forced departure by Lutfur Rahman was “by no means extraordinary”. Extraordinary is exactly what it was because it ended up costing council taxpayers like me something like £400,000 in silence money. What is also extraordinary is that the report fails utterly to mention the name of Lutfur Ali, the moonlighting assistant chief executive appointed so eagerly hired by Mr Rahman despite the mistakes on his CV and despite the doubts about his ability among professional headhunters.

In all the analyses of Labour’s treatment of Lutfur Rahman, there’s one aspect that many overlook: his ability to do the job. One senior London Assembly member (not John Biggs) told me during September’s saga: “The problem that Lutfur has is that he’s just rubbish. That’s why the party doesn’t want him as Mayor.” A bit harsh perhaps, but that’s probably nearer the truth than any mocked-up Islamophobia. I don’t believe for one second that he’s an Islamic fundamentalist, but neither am I sure he has what it takes to avoid being used by the likes of them and whoever authored the garbage in the Exeter report.

I’ve not yet read the rest of the report, but if it’s of same quality as the Tower Hamlets section, should I bother?

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Sometimes life as a journalist can be a bit surreal. As I was having lunch in a restaurant near Spitalfields Market last Sunday, a handwritten note on a paper napkin furtively winged its way to me.

“Rahman not at Tower Hill Remembrance Service, despite being expected by Kevan Collins!!” it said. I know who sent it; I won’t name them but it was a couple of well-known political activists.

That day’s edition of East End Life seemed to back up the note. While there was plenty of coverage of the various Remembrance services in the borough, there were no pictures of our new executive mayor.

The Tower Hill service is particularly special because it commemorates those who died in the Blitz of the East End.

I asked Tower Hamlets council’s press office for an explanation on Monday morning. Five full working days and several chasing emails and phone calls later, I still have had no reply. One council press officer told me my question was not “a priority”.

That press officer was, I’m told, acting on the orders of Takki Suliaman, the £100,000 a year head of communications who was apparently a bit of a figure of fun when he was a Labour councillor in Haringey a few years ago. He was appointed the town hall’s chief spin doctor in March after being recruited under Lutfur Rahman’s leadership by that notorious moonlighter, Lutfur Ali.

Since Lutfur Rahman became mayor, the council’s controversial press office has become a bit of a miserable place. Staff are going through a redundancy process and, quite frankly, some are dying to leave. However, two things are certain: Mr Sulaiman is certain to dump others to protect his six-figure job and East End Life will continue to be published.

In the meantime, Mr Sulaiman would do well to let the people who pay his exorbitant wages why the Mayor he serves was unable to attend one of the most important and symbolic events of the year.

Lutfur, who also did not wear a poppy at last month’s cabinet on November 11, came to office promising to unite communities and to respect the borough’s history. He may well have had a valid reason for his absence at Tower Hill, but silence doesn’t get him anywhere. Without Labour’s advisers there to help him, he’s making some silly mistakes.

I’ve written a bit about this in tomorrow’s Sunday Express.


UPDATE: Tuesday, November 30

The following was sent to me by a serving councillor who attended the Tower Hill event:

Lutfur Rahman had notified the organisers that he would be attending the main borough ceremony at Tower Hill, the memorial to the 42,000 merchant seamen who lost their lives in wars.

He was allocated seat B12, which is on the right hand side, front row. When he did not appear the seat was discreetly occupied.

There are a number of ceremonies in different parts of the borough including Bethnal Green Library, Poplar War Memorial, Tower Hamlets Cemetery and many more. According to lists from the Town Hall councillors attended all of these. Cllr Abbas was at Poplar War Memorial.

East End Life did not refer to the elected representatives because of “purdah” relating to the Spitalfields by election. It would be interesting to see who issues that particular decree.

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Eleven days ago, I wrote here that Tower Hamlets council had accepted a booking for an “Islamic Revival” conference that was being organised by Al Muhajiroun’s Anjem Choudary and which was to feature a live video-linked speech by Omar Bakri Muhammad. It was due to take place tomorrow.

When senior council figures were made aware of the booking, they cancelled it.

This morning, Anjem Choudary announced that he has a new venue. This is from his website


New Venue: International Islamic Revival Conference 2010, Water Lily Business Center, 10 Cleveland Way, London, E1 4UF.

Due to the oppressive British regime, its local authorities and police, The Islamic Revival Conference 2010 has been relocated to the above address.

There will be a LIVE address by Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad AND from Sheikh Faisel to be broadcast at the new venue insha’allah.

We apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Islamic Revival Team

The Water Lily is in Mile End Road and is based in what was the famous Wickhams department store. I have just spoken to the owner. He said he had had “loads” of phone calls from worried friends and neighbours. He said he had this morning been in touch with the police. Why? Because no such booking has ever been made. It is a complete fabrication, he said.

He told me: “In the past, we’ve cancelled some bookings from some of his other groups, so maybe he’s deliberately trying to annoy us.”

Looks like you’re just not wanted in Tower Hamlets, Anjem…

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Pork barrel politics

It’s good to know that in these times of austerity that Tower Hamlets council still feels able to create new well paid, political-orietented jobs.

It is currently advertising internally for a new “Head of Mayor’s Office” to help Lutfur Rahman analyse policy decisions and spread his message to his taxpayers. The salary is about £60,000, which is, I have to say, relatively low compared with some of the semi-sinecures funded by Tower Hamlets council. For example, the new person will have to deal with Takki Sulaiman, the £100,000 a year “head of communications”. [Note to watching lawyers: Takki’s job isn’t really a sinecure; he puts in a lot of hours blocking queries from members of the press.]

Here’s the job description for the new job:

Head of Mayor’s Office

£57,111 – £59,982


Accountable to: Mayor

Responsible to: Service Head, Democratic Services (with an additional, non-managerial reporting line to the Service Head, Strategy and Performance.)

Position interacts with: Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Members, Mayoral Advisors, Chief Executive, Strategy and Performance Service Head and team, Corporate Directors and senior officers, all Elected Members, Members of Parliament and Central Government, Greater London Authority, Tower Hamlets Partnership, PCT and Partner Organisations, local residents and community groups.


Responsible for: Executive Assistant to the Mayor; Mayor’s Personal Assistant; Executive Support Officer (Deputy Mayor); Mayor’s Political Adviser; Senior Administrative Officer.


Purpose of the job:

To support and develop the priorities of the Elected Mayor in all areas, and work in conjunction with the Chief Executive, Council Directorates and the Strategy and Performance Team to achieve the Mayor’s programme. In particular:

To advise and support the Mayor in the review and development of his priorities and initiatives so that these contribute to achieving the vision of the Mayor resulting in improved quality of life outcomes for local people.

To provide senior executive support to the Mayor and to work with CMT and the Strategy and Performance Service to ensure the integration of the Mayor’s priorities into policy, strategic planning and service delivery at all levels across the Council and the Tower Hamlets Partnership.

To liaise with the Head of Communications to promote the Mayor’s public agenda locally, regionally and nationally to stakeholders including the public, Members, Council officers, Partner organisations, Central and Regional Government.


To represent the Mayor’s Office with internal and external stakeholders.


To manage the staff and resources allocated to the Mayor’s Office



Main duties and responsibilities:

To ensure that the Mayor’s priorities are clearly articulated and in liaison with the Service Head, Strategy and Performance to be responsible for the integration of those priorities within the community planning process.

To contribute to the work of the Mayor’s Advisory Board to enable it to lead and shape Council policy direction and to ensure the effective incorporation of the Mayor’s policy and emerging initiatives into strategic planning and delivery of Council services

To work with the Strategy and Performance Service as necessary to provide advice, as requested, to the Mayor on the implications of new government policy and strategy and emerging best practice of relevance to the Mayor’s priorities.

In conjunction with the Service Head, Strategy and Performance, to commission research and information activities to support the Mayor’s priorities.

To facilitate effective communications with key stakeholders, in Central and Local Government, the community and the voluntary and business sectors, as required to deliver the main job purpose.

To manage the Mayor’s Office staff and resources within the post’s remit, ensuring that the Mayor and Deputy Mayor receive appropriate support and that staff have clear objectives and development plans linked to strategic and corporate priorities.

In liaison with the Democratic Services team, to co-ordinate responses to all Council questions submitted to the Mayor and where necessary allocate questions/responses to the relevant Cabinet Members.


To work actively with all Cabinet Members, Corporate Directors and the Chief Executive to ensure services are integrated at the point of delivery.

To ensure the establishment of a culture of quality and equality across the Council.

To participate in the development of the Community and Strategic Plans ensuring they reflect the Mayor’s priorities and are embedded both in the operational and strategic framework of the Council.

To support organisational change ensuring appropriate systems of performance and development, communications, quality measures, monitoring and review are in place.

To work as part of multi-disciplinary teams to enable the breaking down of directorate barriers and encourage the concept of both internal and external partnership working.

To work with key stakeholders, local residents and the third sector in improving service delivery and promoting creative and innovative ways of tackling local problems, ensuring services are user focused and developed to meet the needs of our ethnically diverse community.

To promote a positive image of Tower Hamlets and represent the Council at local and national level, attending and presenting at such conferences, seminars and working parties as may be required.

To provide professional advice to councillors and other officers on areas of service delivery within the service’s span of control.

To take active steps to achieve the Council’s objective of a ‘Workforce to Reflect the Community’.

To comply with legal requirements, the Council’s Standing Orders and Financial Regulations and to advise the Chief Executive, elected Members and Committees as appropriate.

To comply with and support the delivery of the Council’s Equal Opportunities Policy and lead its development and promotion across the Council, including opposing, and where possible eradicating, all forms of discrimination as an employer and service provider.

To lead on the development of both borough and Council-wide projects and initiatives, as and when required.

As directed, to undertake such additional duties and responsibilities that may arise from time to time.

You will be required to undertake such reasonable hours of work as are necessary to fully perform the duties of the post.  You can expect to work out of hours according to the business need.





Person Specification for the Post of Head of Mayor’s Office





Good understanding of the functions of local government.

Good understanding of the new governance  arrangements and the respect roles of executive and non-executive members and of officers.

Knowledge of the key issues facing local government including understanding of local government and national  policies.

Knowledge and awareness of the issues involved when working within a multi-racial community.

Knowledge of a local authority’s internal management arrangements including budgetary processes.

Good knowledge of the Mayoral system of governance and the issues facing an elected Mayor in Tower Hamlets.


Qualifications & Experience

A degree or professional qualification or equivalent experience.

Experience of working in a party-political/local government environment.

Experience of working at a high level within an organisation.

Managerial experience in a fast paced pressurised office environment.

Experience of working with the media.

Experience of local government.


I wonder who’ll get it.

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Anyone who followed this blog in the weeks leading up to last month’s mayoral election would have come across Bodrul Islam. He was the groom at the wedding Jim Fitzpatrick waked out of.

After that incident, he then joined Respect and dabbled his interesting and rather loud debating style in the choppy waters of Tower Hamlets politics. He tried to become a councillor last May, but failed. He then became one of Lutfur Rahman’s most active cheerleaders.

Facebook was his preferred medium and in September, you’ll recall this post here, when I revealed his announcement to the world that:

Part of me wants to laugh at the dismantling of the labour party but the serious part of me sees the grotesque injustice against lutfur. I personally think he should do what ken livingstone did, stand as an independent. With his popularity he will win, as the block bengali vote will be activated like never before.

Well, only a month after Lutfur was elected, Bodrul is still enlightening us through his Facebook rants. It seems that he is upset that Lutfur’s camp have been offering positions to the Tories and Lib Dems, and at the same time denying they received any help from the IFE in his election win.

On Saturday, he posted the following comments on his Facebook site.

Bodrul Islam It’s about time I revealed some honest truth about the mayor’s camp. As someone who was heavily involved with the campaign and who is now being shunned by those who use to call me everyday, I intend to show how self-interested these politicians are. No one, not even lutfur’s camp in innocent in tower hamlets politics.

On Monday, he posted the following:
Bodrul Islam I don’t understand why the mayor’s team deny they have a strong relationship with the ife. Ife are a moderate organisation, so why this lie? I mean the mayor’s main advisor was an ife activist and his campaign headquarters were staffed by ife members/ activists.
An hour later, he wrote:
Bodrul Islam They really need a proper PR person. I hope they don’t try and recruit alistair campbell, then again you never know whth these guys, they wanted to co-opt cllr gould who was a participant in the infamous dispatches programme. I mean if they are that desperate to get into the labour’s camp they may as well offer the amoral abbas a cabinet position. Or even jeory and gilligan.
And then a few hours later he had an angry exchange with Sultana Begum, who remains pro-Lutfur. Here’s what he warned her:
Bodrul Islam Oh readers sultana still pretending that she doesn’t know about this ife/mayor’s camp connection. People I will send you an inbox message sultana sent me during the election warning us that it would be politically damaging for the mayor if he admits he collaborates with respect and ife. I will upload it tomorrow. Hopefully her deceptive ploy will be discovered by all.
My old mate, Carole Swords, Respect’s chair and a past master at winding people up (she once chucked glass of water over Marc Francis in the council chamber and then, perfectly within her rights, refused a police request to leave the premises), has been trying to calm him down.
But I do hope Bodrul continues: we’d love to see this email….
UPDATE – 5.30pm
Andrew Gilligan has just posted similar observations on his blog at The Telegraph. He has extracted further comments from Bodrul’s Facebook page:

“Let’s not beat around the bush there has always been a strategic relationship between Respect, the IFE and the mayor’s camp. That presents to me no problems as all three groups are moderate organisations [sic] who have similar policy considerations. The mayor’s campaign co-ordination was heavily influenced by Respect and IFE activists. It was collectively and cohesively planned by the groups…

“We got activated and campaigned day and night for the mayor. It is no exaggeration that most of the campaigners during the election were either Respect or IFE activists. I was a polling agent for lutfur rahman in bromley by bow and chief co-ordinator. I was involved in a lot of the collaborative high-level meetings where I also met IFE activists…

“OK then Sultana [another poster on Facebook], do you not remember a strategic house meeting where you and I were present, along with Lutfur and [now deputy mayor] Ohid [Ahmed], [Lutfur-supporting councillor] Rania [Khan], Rania’s mum and a senior IFE member. Or was this a figment of my imagination? I will also give even greater details of other more strategic meetings of the way the mayor’s camp was desperate for Respect’s and IFE’s support.”

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A commenter called Coco Whip posted the following for approval on this blog last night. I think it’s worthy of a post in its own right. It is a letter sent by the Tower Hamlets Labour group to Cllr Kabir Ahmed following a press release he and Cllr Shahed Ali issued on November 10 and detailed here. Here’s the letter:

Strictly Private and Confidential

12 November 2010

Re: Press Release 10.11.2010

Dear Cllr Ahmed,

On Wednesday 10th November 2010, you issued a press statement, co-signed by Councillor Shahed Ali, in which you both questioned the Labour Group’s intention to cooperate with Mayor Rahman. This was also reported on Channel S, the same evening. I have attached a copy of your statement for reference.

I would like to ask for clarity on some of the points you have made. So that you have an opportunity to respond, I would ask that you reply in writing to me, by 12 noon on Wednesday 17th November.

Firstly, your statement indicates your reasons for ‘breaking the Labour Group Whip. I would like to ask how you will do this and in what context?

Secondly, your statement offers your ‘support for working with independent Mayor Rahman’ and you refer to an ‘emergency motion of non-cooperation’ that was passed at the Group meeting. I would like some further information on how you intend to support the Mayor and how your position differs from the motion passed at the Labour Group meeting of October 25th, a section of which I have copied below.

• To continue to work to further Labour values for the benefit of residents of Tower Hamlets

• To work constructively with the Mayor and other parties, where to do so would be for the benefit of local residents, and to oppose him where we think his decisions and actions are not in the best interests of the Borough and its residents.

Finally, I would like to offer you the opportunity to withdraw the comments you made in your statement.

I trust that you will respond to this request in a comradely fashion and I look forward to hearing from you by Wednesday 17th November.

Yours Sincerely,

Cllr. Anwar Khan
Chief Whip

Cc. TH Labour Group Executive

I’ll look into what their response was.

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Terry Fitzpatrick to stand trial

In August, I reported that Terry Fitzpatrick had been committed to Snaresbrook Crown Crown Court for a plea and case management hearing at the end of September.

His last appearance there was on October 28 when he was committed to trial at the same court on March 21 next year.

A number of points on the original indictment (detailed in the link above) have been dropped and only one is now left – that of racially aggravated harassment. Snaresbrook Crown Court will not give me any more details. Terry, 63, pleaded not guilty.

The case involves allegations made by Operation Black Vote.

For legal reasons, I am not allowing any comments on this thread.

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Today’s East London Advertiser hits the bull’s eye. It adds more detail to the story broken here yesterday that Cllr Shelina Akhtar is a benefit fraudster. So we learn from the ELA that:

  • the alleged fraud for which was arrested on November 9 was supposedly sub-letting her housing association property
  • she denies any wrongdoing, saying, “I’m clean. Let’s wait until the investigation.”
  • her conviction for benefit fraud in July included false claims for Jobseeker’s allowance, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit while she had in fact been working
  • Mayor Lutfur Rahman has said: “Everyone who seeks to represent the interests of this community must abide by the highest standards of personal conduct.”

As the ELA says, she can only be chucked off the council at this stage after an investigation by the council’s Standards Committee. I understand that another councillor has already made a formal complaint.

The local government code of conduct states that councillors must not behave “in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or the authority into disrepute”. I would have thought defrauding the very council taxpayers whom you are meant to be representing falls well within the “disrepute” category.

And here’s another interesting little thing. At the full meeting of Tower Hamlets council on July 14 – just 13 unlucky days before she was convicted for benefit fraud at Thames Magistrates’ Court – Cllr Akhtar tabled a question to then finance chief, Cllr David Edgar. The question was number 7.27 on page 40 of this pdf.

But as it’s so good, I’ll just copy it here as well:

7.27 Question from Councillor Shelina Akhtar to the Lead Member for Resources, Councillor David Edgar

“What are the likely effects of the coalition government’s plans to make £11bn in cuts to Welfare including cutting housing benefit, tax credits, Disability Living Allowance and freeze Child Benefit on residents in Tower Hamlets?”

Quite some front, don’t you think? I wonder what her Lutfurite colleague Cllr Oli Rahman makes of it all: his day job is in a Job Centre helping to detect benefits cheats.

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Further to my post about Cllr Shelina Akhtar yesterday, the Met Police now tell me that she was arrested on suspicion of fraud on November 9. Another person connected to the case was arrested the following day. As I wrote, they have both been bailed to return to an east London police station on December 7.

However, there are some other details. Thames Magistrates’ Court has just told me that on July 27 this year, a Shelina Akhtar (whose date of birth was given as September 1978, ie now aged 32) received a conviction for three counts of benefit fraud. She was given a 12 month community service order and ordered to do 100 hours of unpaid work. She was also fined £250.

The prosecutors in the case were the Department for Work and Pensions. Her conviction states that “she failed to notify of a change in circumstances, namely that she was working between July 22, 2008 and April 5, 2009”. That is, she was wrongly claiming benefits for a period of nine months. At the time of the conviction, she gave her address as a flat in Blackwall Way in E14.

Cllr Shelina Akhtar was registered on the electoral roll at Toynbee Street, Spitalfields, in December 2009. According to Met Police sources, her age is 32.

The Town Hall is investigating whether this is the same person.

If so, some questions:

– was the Labour party aware of this when she was nominated to stand for them in Spitalfields (Abbas’s and Lutfur’s stronghold) in April 2010?

– was anyone in Tower Hamlets council aware of this?

– why did she ask the council after she was elected in May to amend her surname to Aktar?


UPDATE – 5.15pm

Graham Taylor, the chair of the Tower Hamlets Labour party has issued the following statement:

“Tower Hamlets Labour Party confirms that it was unaware of any prosecution at any point.
“As part of the applcaiton form and during the interview stage of the selection process to be a candidate, all applicants are asked whether:
– there are any interests that they would need to declare if elected
– whether there is anything that has happned to them that could cause embarassment to the party, and
– whether there is anything that would bar them for being a candidate.

“Cllr Akhtar made no such declaration.”

Meanwhile, Labour group leader Helal Abbas has also issued a statement, saying he did not now about any allegations until told yesterday. He adds:

Cllr Aktar had not declared anything of this nature to me when being selected as a Labour Candidate or since being elected to serve on the Council.
“I believe that all allegations against Councillors of wrong-doing should be investigated thoroughly using the Council’s mechanisms and appropriate action taken.  I think it is important that all elected representatives act with integrity and set a good example to their constituents.”

I have tried calling Cllr Akhtar, but so far I’ve been unable to get through.


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