Archive for November, 2010

Andrew Gilligan had the first report (the detail of which is unconfirmed). One of Lutfur Rahman’s councillors is in a spot of bother.

Here’s some confirmed detail. A statement from Tower Hamlets council names the councillor as Shelina Akhtar. She was elected as a member of the Labour party in May and represents Spitalfields and Banglatown.

The council says:

We can confirm that Councillor Shelina Akhtar is still a councillor for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. The matter over which she has been arrested is being investigated by the police.

There is an ongoing police investigation and at this stage we have nothing further to add.

After she was elected, she wrote the following about herself on the Labour party website:

I have lived in Tower Hamlets for over 17 years, and as such have experienced the many diverse cultures it has to offer. I have attended and participated in festivals and events at the centre of the local community, and as a resident feel I can represent your concerns and views effectively at council. Also, by volunteering as a youth worker, supporting young people aged between 8-19 years from different cultures, backgrounds and ethnicities and working as an Enrichment and Youth Worker at Tower Hamlets College, I care deeply about the opportunities available to young people in our area. I believe that by supporting them and teaching them valuable skills, we can empower and educate them for the future. I have also worked for our community as Vice Chair of Spitalfields and BanglaTown, and have been involved in many local campaigns to improve parking in the ward, set up youth centres and create new playgrounds for the future.

More to follow…

UPDATE – 5.45pm

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police has just told me: “An allegation of fraud has been made and Tower Hamlets CID are currently investigating. Two people have been arrested. They have been bailed to return to an east London police station on December 7.”

He was unable to provide any more details until the officer dealing with the case is back in tomorrow.

For legal reasons, I’m going to pre-approve all comments on this post, so please be patient as I’m going to be at a function for the first part of this evening and will unable to press the right button.

(Photo courtesy of Dan McCurry.)

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Every Friday, after lunchtime prayers at the East London Mosque, an odd-ball collection of angry looking men from Hizb ut-Tahrir and the banned Al Muhajiroun group try to hand out leaflets to departing worshippers. They rarely persuade anyone to read them and most of those who do simply roll their eyes.

For several years now, Tower Hamlets has been a magnet for nutters. Some of them even tried taking George Galloway “hostage” during his 2005 general election campaign.

Last week, another leaflet was dished out. This was one was for an event/group called IslamicRevival 2010 which was planning a day of speeches on November 27. Among those who were due to talk were: Omar Bakri Muhammad, who has just been captured in Lebanon after a conviction there for inciting murder and possessing explosives; Anjem Choudary, the motormouth hate-preacher formerly known as “Andy”; and Jamaican-born ex-con convert Trevor Brooks, aka Abu Izzadeen.

Here‘s the poster:

Spot the venue? Collingwood Hall in Bethnal Green. The hall is owned and managed by the council and I understand the booking was accepted by a town hall based official last month.

When council chief executive Kevan Collins found out on Friday, he ordered an investigation.

The booking has since been cancelled.

When then council leader Helal Abbas forced the cancellation of another extremist Islamic conference that had been due to take place last June, he was attacked by many for supposedly suppressing freedom of speech. In fact, according to the blogger TowerHamletsWatch, he was even booed off stage at a subsequent rally against fascism in Altab Ali Park. TowerHamlets Watch also reported at the time that Lutfur Rahman was also a critic:

At the park I watched everyone gather into a peaceful group , packing the park, and all united against the EDL. Then I heard ‘Lutfur Rahman’ speak, he went into a long diatribe about the Troxy, and what was going to be a peaceful islamic conference, informing us that this was cancelled by our Council. That the council had no right to do this, and we must boot out these people and vote for strong leadership for our borough. Thats when it finally hit me, thats when I finally realised two things.

One that ‘Lutfur Rahman’ supported the Islamic Conference and apparently by castagating the council in this way, that this was an admission that he could see no harm in allowing this type of ‘hate speech’ (if the allegations are true) into the borough, and Two, that what I was witnessing was not solely about the EDL, it was about voting for our new soon to be elected Mayor.

Will Mayor Rahman now be booing the decision to cancel the Collingwood Hall event? Did he even know it had been cancelled?

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Andrew Gilligan highlights an appearance by Ken Livingston on Andrew Neil’s Daily Politics show last week. I found the last sentence of the following part of their exchange particularly interesting:

Neil: You did, really, campaign and wanted to see this Lutfur Rahman winning, and he wasn’t the Labour candidate, didn’t you?

Ken: He’d been selected by local people, I think the NEC was wrong to remove him. It’s had real shades of me ten years ago.

Neil: But he loved it. He said, I’m grateful to him for coming here to support justice, I’m very happy to have his support.

Ken: I know.

Neil: Against the Labour candidate!

Ken: I would have been quite happy to go down with the local Labour candidate, but he didn’t want me around, because he’s been one of my opponents for a long time.

Helal Abbas, one of Ken’s opponents for a long time? Really?

When Ken was fighting for re-election as London mayor in 2008, they didn’t look like enemies. In fact, in the last week of his campaign when Ken begged for votes at the Brick Lane mosque, where Abbas was an influential figure, I watched him warmly wrap his arms around his “enemy”.

They even marched down Brick Lane together, smiles aplenty. Ken seems to make a habit of doing that doesn’t he?

Here’s the East London Advertiser report we produced at the time:

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I wasn’t there, but Lutfur’s first cabinet did in the end manage to go ahead. He did finally persuade enough people to join him to make the meeting quorate.

Unfortunately for him, the four who have taken up posts are all from his ‘group of eight’ ex-Labour councillors.

So Alibor Choudhary takes the finance portfolio, new councillor Rabina Khan is in charge of housing, Oli Rahman is responsible for children and education, and his fellow Respect defector, Rania Khan, will run regeneration.

Tory Opposition leader Peter Golds, who was there, said: “His cabinet is beyond parody. You couldn’t find a more ineffectual bunch of four if you tried. Who’s going to have any respect for people who have belonged to four political groupings in the past four years?”

He refers, of course, to Oli Rahman and Rania Khan: they left Respect for SWP/Left List/Independent, then Labour, then Independent.

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Co-operators, not defectors

At about 8pm tonight, I was sent a text from one of Lutfur Rahman’s aides exclaiming that two Labour councillors had “pledged their support for working with” the new mayor. A short while later “dominic1485” in a comment on this blog translated that as “TWO LABOUR DEFECTIONS”.

Dave Hill then correctly reported the situation here.

It’s all based on a press release issued by Labour’s Shahed Ali (ex-Respect) and new boy Kabir Ahmed. They were among five Labour councillors who voted against a group motion last week which demanded non-co-operation with Lutfur.

I’ve pasted the full text of that press release here, but allow me to make a couple of comments. This is all about saving their electoral skins. Which is, I guess, what democracy is all about. I’ve spoken at length to Shahed about this. He will refuse any cabinet position offered to him. He says he is loyal to Labour, but he says he also has a duty to his constituents in Whitechapel, which is a strong Lutfur area. What if they demand a zebra crossing, say, in Bigland Street? Shahed says he’d need to have some kind of relationship to Lutfur to deliver that – otherwise in four years time, it will be Shahed who pays the price at the ballot box.

The pair of them are worried that Labour could be outflanked by Lutfur’s crew if the party is not careful. They worry that a media-fuelled community backlash could even wipe Labour out.

My other reading of the political tea leaves (from speaking to several councillors over the last week or so) is that there is a growing move to oust group leader Helal Abbas. He is seen by these plotters as the face of Labour failure and they want a fresh start. (Following the selection of Abdul Alim in Spitalfields, the party’s election agent Graham Taylor is also a target for a coup.) The problem these wannabe rebels have is the successor. Sirajul Islam? Good, but too staid,not enough charisma, they say. Abdal Ullah? Too brash, not enough “substance”, one said to me. Josh Peck? Maybe, but he’s too tainted by the Abbas affair, another said.

There are 32 councillors in the Labour group, but there’s not an awful lot to choose from.

Here’s the unedited Shahed/Kabir memo:

Two more Labour Councillors to support Independent Mayor

Two Labour Councillors today pledged their support for working with Independent Mayor Rahman.  Kabir Ahmed and Shahed Ali cited Labour’s refusal to work with the Mayor as primary reasons for breaking the Labour Group Whip. “Rahman was elected with a clear mandate, therefore, we need to respect that and work together for the good of the community.  Instead of bringing Tower Hamlets together, the current leadership is exercising personal rivalries because there is no difference in the manifesto.”

Cllr. Kabir Ahmed said that since Abbas was defeated by Rahman, the atmosphere among Tower Hamlets Councillors had become “poisonous’: The leadership are trying to run a party within a party.  Legitimate debate is being stifled and anyone who doesn’t do exactly what they’re told is branded as a ‘Luthfurite’.  Even Phil Woolas seems to have got a fair hearing before being suspended and Labour MP’s can support him without being threatened with expulsion or notions of self-expulsion.”

Cllr. Shahed Ali cited the Labour group decision not to work with the Mayor as a turning point: “We had our group meeting immediately after the election at Westminster.  Many felt that an emergency motion seeking non-cooperation with the Mayor was premature.  Pressure was put on us to vote against working with Mayor Rahman.  However, I firmly believe residents elected us as councillors to run their council, not just merely to oppose any opportunity to deliver its needs.”

Cllr. Kabir Ahmed added: “Six months ago, Labour was riding high in Tower Hamlets, we returned two MPs and forty one Councillors, but the current leadership threw that away.  They are blinded by ego politics and personal ambitions within the Labour party.  I’ve been a Labour member for many years and I am loyal to the party’s ideals, but if it’s a choice between the egos of Labour group leadership and the people who elected me, the voters win every time.”

“The two Independent Mayors of Hartlepool and Middlesboro work hand in hand with a huge majority of Labour councillors in their respective cabinets.  Equally, the pool of experience and talent within Labour group should not be wasted.  Tower Hamlets Labour party has to admit to the mistakes and ill-judgements it has made throughout this mayoral selection process and must re-double its efforts if it is to regain the trust and support it requires to avoid further electoral casualties.” said Cllr. Shahed Ali.

Lutfur Rahman, newly elected Independent Mayor of Tower Hamlets welcomed the support, but also appealed for unity: “I’m proud to welcome the support of councillors to my administration and look forward to working with them for the good of the whole community.  But I also reiterate my call to the Labour Party and other opposition Groups to end this madness and work with me.  The coalition has imposed cuts that threaten to tear the heart out of our community; I’ll be working to make sure that doesn’t happen.  I want all parties to join with me to help one of the most deprived communities in the UK prosper”.

Cllr. Kabir Ahmed                           Cllr. Shahed Ali                                10/11/2010


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This piece from Labour Uncut has been reported widely elsewhere, but I thought my dear and knowledgeable readers would like the chance to air their views here.

My only observation is that if Ed Miliband is indeed inclined to readmit Lutfur Rahman, then I’m sure he’d expect to see him out campaigning for Labour’s candidate in Spitalfields over the next month…

Here’s the piece:

Livingstone to push for Lutfur Rahman’s readmission to Labour

Labour disciplinary problems come not in single spies, but in battalions. As Woolasgate rages, Uncut understands that the NEC meeting on 30 November will see Ken Livingstone stage an audacious bid to get Lutfur Rahman reinstated to the party.

According to Labour officials, Ken has already discussed the issue directly with Ed Miliband, talks which a Livingstone insider described as “positive”.

Rahman, who defeated official Labour candidate Helal Abbas in last month’s election to become directly elected mayor of Tower Hamlets, has asked Livingstone to broker his return to the Labour fold.

Sources close to Tower Hamlets Labour party confirmed that discussions have taken place between Rahman and Livingstone about his bid for re-inclusion, and that Rahman had decided to delay appointing a full cabinet in the borough until his status in the party had been confirmed. In contrast to the Livingstone camp, they believe that Ed Miliband will not endorse a return for Rahman, and that Livingstone does not enjoy sufficient NEC support to secure his readmission otherwise.

The decision to push for Rahman’s inclusion will create serious tensions within the local party. Local MP Jim Fitzpatrick has made his own submission to the NEC calling for disciplinary action against Ken’s public show of support for Rahman during the campaign.

Sources close to Ed Miliband have indicated that such action is unlikely.


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Why can’t things ever be simple with the Tower Hamlets Labour party?

Abdul Alim’s selection as Labour’s candidate for Spitalfields and Banglatown on Saturday has caused chaos within the party’s ranks. As I reported here, Mosabbir Ali, the boss of the party’s ward branch, complained that there had been a stitch up. But even as he was drafting his letter, Labour’s selection panel was considering another slight hiccup.

For they had just been informed that the man they plucked out of thin air had, rather disturbingly, a criminal conviction. (Anyone who captured the moment on camera, do please send me the photo.) So they summoned him back for another interview and demanded the details.

It turns out that way back when – I’m told about 20 years or so ago – he was involved in a fight with some “BNP thugs” in Brick Lane. As a result of that incident, he was jailed and spent time inside a Youth Offenders Institute for violent disorder. I’m told that he was sentenced to six months and he served all of it.

Because the conviction is spent (he is now 38 and he says he was 18 at the time), he told the panel that he didn’t think he needed to disclose it. One Labour official told me that because the violence was “against BNP/National Front” thugs he shouldn’t have been ashamed of it. I would have thought that that – and any provocation at the time – would have been a matter for the judge.

Here’s the press statement Labour has just put out:

Tower Hamlets Labour Party today confirmed their candidate for the Spitalfields & Banglatown by-election as Abdul Alim. Abdul was selected from a panel of exemplary applicants – including a number of former Labour councillors – and will now go on to contest the by-election for Labour.

The selection was made following consultation with activists from the ward and a thorough application and interview process.

Abdul Alim has lived in Tower Hamlets since 1976 and grew up in Spitalfields, where his father was a local businessman for many years, during which time he attended Stepney Green School. Having previously worked as a Civil Servant, he is now runs a successful in business in Spitalfields.

Said Alim: “I am proud of the East End, and of the progress we have made here.  We have had to overcome many challenges.  In the past, people went about this neighborhood in fear.  In 1990, my friends and I were attacked by BNP racists.  We defended ourselves, and we were arrested and prosecuted.  But in the last 20 years our community has changed so much and grown stronger. Now, our families can walk in their community without fear. Labour is the party of unity in the East End, the party that brings people together to solve problems. I am delighted to have been selected as the Labour Party Candidate for the Spitalfields & Banglatown by-election. Local residents need a councillor to fight back against the unfair cuts of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Government and who will effectively hold the new ‘Independent’ Mayor to account. I promise I will do my best for the people of Spitalfields & Banglatown.”

He has a high profile in the local community through his past involvement in groups such as the Weavers Community Trust & the Progressive Youth Organisation.

Chair of Tower Hamlets Labour Party, Graham Taylor said: “Alim is a strong candidate and is absolutely committed to serving the whole of Spitalfields & Banglatown. He will be a valuable addition to our existing team of Labour councillors as we face the dual challenge of coping with the ConDem Government cuts and the heavy burden of scrutinising the ‘independent’ Mayor.”

After I spoke to Alim last night, he sent me the following text:

Twenty years ago I thought I had to fight physically to protect the people in the Eastend who were threatened by racisits. Since then I’ve got a family, run a business and lerned to love this community that I was brought up in. I still have to fight for it, but viloence is never the answer. Now we have a political battle to fight against Tory and Lib Dem cuts – to our schools, our hospitals and our housing. That’s why I’m a Labour candidate. That’s why I’ll be a Labour councillor. I’m going to fight these coalition cuts and I ask you to join me in this fight, so that together we can unite the Eastend.

No doubt, journalist in the area will be poring over the newspaper archives for more details of this incident and asking Alim more questions about it.

The local Labour party sure knows how to create its own fight, doesn’t it…

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Labour’s NEC must be close to the point of declaring UDI against the local party in Tower Hamlets. Within hours of Abdul Alim being picked to fight Spitalfields and Banglatown on Saturday, a letter of complaint was being drafted accusing senior local figures of a stitch-up.

This letter from Mosabbir Ali, the chairman of Labour’s Spitalfields and Banglatown ward branch, was sent yesterday to the party’s regional boss, Ken Clark, with a copy to the NEC and Ed Miliband. A copy has also ended up in my inbox.

He complains that no one from his ward branch was consulted about the selection, yet then accuses one of his ward councillors, Labour’s group leader Helal Abbas, of orchestrating the “imposition” of Abdul Alim. Like many others, he says he knows very little about Alim, but supposes that he comes from the same village in Bangladesh as Abbas – and says that’s why he was chosen.

In places the letter is a piece of comedy. “There are electorally unhelpful rumours that the candidate is a waiter,” Ali warns. How egalitarian, comrade! (Maybe he should examine John Prescott’s CV). But in the main, the complaint either adds to the lingering impression of a long running farce in this borough, or it is part of a rather cunning plan to test Lutfur: pick a poor candidate and dare Lutfur to back him.

Here’s the letter in full:

URGENT 07/11/2010


Dear Mr Ken Clark,


As the chair of the Spitalfields and Banglatown branch of Tower Hamlets Labour Party, I am writing to make an official complaint on behalf of ALL LOCAL WARD PARTY MEMBERS to raise our objection to the selection process that was used to determine the candidate for the by-election scheduled for December 16, following the election of Lutfur Rahman as the executive mayor of Tower Hamlets.

Local party members are outraged and completely unfamiliar with this ‘imposed’ candidate, Abdul Alim, whom we have nothing against personally but who has very little connection or knowledge of local politics in this ward let alone the ability to win in this complex ward without their support.

Graham Taylor, the chair of the borough party and interview panel failed to consult local party members on who would make a good candidate amongst those on the approved panel who had nominated themselves. We believe that the candidate was chosen because he is from the same village as the Labour group Councillor Helal Abbas (who has led the party into Opposition after sixteen years in power).

We are aware that several candidates who had nominated their CVs were not even invited to the interview on Saturday. Neither were local members even aware of this so-called interview. This is a failure on the part of borough party officers responsible such as Chris Weavers and others sitting on the interview panel. Many of those ‘approved candidates’ that applied including the ones who were invited to the interview possess far better experience and skills than the current candidate, who has never been seen campaigning for the party in Spitalfields and Banglatown.

There are electorally unhelpful rumours that the candidate is a waiter and possibly a business partner of Mr Muquim Ahmed, Chair of the local Conservative Party in Bethnal Green and Bow. This news will most definitely reach the press and cause embarrassment to the Labour Party. Word was already out that he would be the candidate before even the so-called ‘selection’. Surely, there must be more qualified candidates on your approved panel suited to do the job of a councillor in our rather deprived but multi-ethnic ward?!

There is still a bit of time left before the submission deadline of candidate nomination to the council. We urge the London Regional Labour Party to cancel the current selection altogether and put forward to all the branch members the names of candidates who nominated themselves so that we can, as paid members, select the best candidate whom we believe will win this important council seat against any heavyweight Opposition candidate from George Galloway’s Respect Party.

Failure on your part to review the incumbent candidate’s suitability and replace him with one who is strong will reflect negatively on the party’s reputation locally and possibly regionally, ahead of important mayoral and general elections. We are extremely disappointed by the manner in which local ward party members have been ignored. That is why we believe that you should allow the selection of a candidate who has broad support from most ward party members.

For your information, this letter has been copied to the chair of the London Labour Party, all the members of the NEC and Ed Miliband.

We, the Spitalfields and Banglatown ward party members, would like to meet ALL the approved candidates and select the best one we believe can defeat the Opposition candidate. Please note seriously that we will take further action if we lose this election due to your negligence as Director of the London Labour Party.

I look forward to hearing from you immediately regarding this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Mosabbir Ali

Chair, Spitalfields and Banglatown Labour Party

Mobile: xxxxx


Mosabbir Ali

CC: Ed Miliband, Graham Taylor,  LEN DUVALL



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Some have wondered how long Labour would hold out in their determination to remain in Opposition in Tower Hamlets. The excellent commenter Judoker has more than once made the point on this blog that Labour sees last month’s Mayoral election as a watershed, that a line has been drawn in the sand allowing the party to be cleansed of malevolent forces.

I’ve not been so sure. The forthcoming by-election in Spitalfields and Banglatown on December 16 will be a good pointer. On Saturday, Labour selected a chap called Abdul Alim to be their candidate. No one knows too much about him, other than he’s apparently been a consistent campaigner for Labour over the years.

Labour’s selection panel compromised Chris Weavers, Clair Hawkins and Graham Taylor, all of whom are from the “this party needs cleaning up” faction. Bow West councillor, and Labour’s chief whip, Anwar Khan was also on the panel.

Respect, who will choose their candidate within the next 36 hours, believe Amin is a Lutfur Rahman man, but I’ve no idea. It will be interesting to see if Lutfur will publicly endorse him. If he does, that will be a clear signal of where he wants his future to lie.

It would also add to the arguments of those Labour councillors who are still trying to persuade their colleagues to work with Lutfur’s administration. I understand that those discussions are ongoing and that some in the party are now increasingly worried that Marc Francis may change his mind and help his old friend out.

Lutfur could also of course back an independent candidate, but I suspect he could just hedge his bets and keep his counsel private.

As an aside, among those who failed to make Labour’s shortlist in Spitalifields were two former councillors, Abdus Salique and Wais Islam, both of whom are known Lutfur Rahman fans. That Wais actually remains a party member is more than surprising and underlines Labour’s double-standards during this saga. You’ll remember that not only did he publicly back Lutfir for mayor, but also that he made anti-Semitic comments about my name here. Yes, he apologised to both me and some of his colleagues for his outburst, but compare Labour’s inaction with the commendable way in which Respect dealt with another foul-mouthed tirade by one of its senior members, Abul Hussain.

UPDATE – 3.15pm
As soon as I hit the ‘publish’ button, Respect sent me the following email:
Respect choose Fozol Miah to be their candidate in the Spitalfields and Banglatown by-election

The Tower Hamlets Respect Party today chose former councillor Fozol Miah to be their candidate in the Spitalfields and Banglatown by-election to be held on 16th December. Fozol Miah was councillor for this ward from 2006 to 2010.

In 2006 Fozol Miah received more votes than the newly elected Mayor of Tower Hamlets,  Lutfur Rahman, who represented the same ward and he increased his vote by a further 200 votes in the most recent local elections, despite losing the seat.

Fozol Miah said: “I am greatly honoured to have been selected again by the Respect Party to seek to represent this ward. And I am greatly honoured to be able to stand before the voters of Spitalfields and Banglatown again to ask them if they will vote for me to represent them in the council chamber.

“We are facing the most terrible assault from this Condem Coalition government on the services that so many people in Tower Hamlets depend on. I strongly supported the election of Mayor Lutfur Rahman. If elected, I pledge I will work with him to ensure that everything possible is done to protect the people of Tower Hamlets from this assault. But I will also ensure that wherever and whenever criticism and opposition to his policies are justified, I will provide that criticism and opposition.

“I am looking forward to this election in the ward I was proud to serve for four years and to seek again the opportunity to serve the residents of this most deprived of areas.”

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George Galloway has flown so many kites over the years that I’m sure he grew up not up in Dundee but in Afghanistan. In his column in today’s Daily Record, here, he hints that he will stand for the Scottish Parliament next May.

In the time I’ve known him, he’s “considered”: running for Tower Hamlets council, as a councillor and as mayor; standing against Jack Straw in Blackburn; running alongside his friend Tommy Sheridan in 2007; running for London Mayor in 2008; and just last week hinting that after the disgrace of his former researcher Phil Woolas he would stand in the forthcoming Oldham East and Saddleworth by election.

None of those materialised, of course, but as he’s fervently anti-nationalist, I can see him quite fancying taking on the SNP’s Alec Salmond. His aides reckon he’d need around 10,000 votes from Glasgow to make the Parliament’s top-up list.

At least it would give him a job and an excuse to avoid Iain Duncan Smith’s ‘work-shy detectors’.

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