Archive for May, 2011

Admittedly, this post is entering dangerous territory, but as many commenters on this blog have noted before, the politics of Bangladesh have an important influence on various institutions in Tower Hamlets. Any visit by that country’s leading politicians is a great event and also a chance to gauge which way our own elected politicians lean.

When the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, visited in January, I’m told that Lutfur Rahman did not meet her: whether this was because he was snubbed or he declined, I’m not sure. Hasina leads the left-leaning Awami League, a party that is currently aiming to try those accused of war crimes (including allegedly one very senior former member of the East London Mosque) 1971 War of Independence. As a guide, former Labour group leader, Helal Abbas, is a supporter of the Awami League, which also has links to the respected Brick Lane Mosque.

The main opposition party in Bangladesh is the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). It is described as a centre-right party and according to its Wikipedia entry:

Ideologically, the party has professed Bangladeshi nationalism, described as the Islamic consciousness of the people of Muslim majority Bangladesh, in order to counter the secular Awami League.

There is more:

Hundreds of its leaders, including Khaleda Zia, her sons as well as dozens of its former ministers and lawmakers were arrested on corruption charges by the military-backed Caretaker government of Bangladesh during the 2006–2008 Bangladeshi political crisis. The party has also been accused of turning a blind eye to the growth of militant Islamic extremism in the country and for allying itself with Islamic fundamentalist parties, such as the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, which had also opposed the independence of Bangladesh.

Jamaat e Islami wants an Islamic Republic of Bangladesh and it is associated with the spread of Deobandi Islam, a fundamentalist form of Islam followed by the Taliban and linked to Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia.

When I asked Lutfur about his views on Bangladesh politics in 2008, published on this blog last year here, he said:

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.

So interesting then that is he today hosting a lunch at Mulberry Place at 2.30pm today for BNP Opposition leader Khaleda Zia, then later a formal reception for councillors at 4pm. I’d imagine there might be a protest.

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The Wharf newspaper reports:

By Simon Hayes 

Tower Hamlets could be in line to become Britain’s newest city.

The borough has launched a bid to be granted city status as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations next year, when one local authority area will be granted the honour.

Tower Hamlets faces competition from the likes of Blackpool, Middlesbrough and Reading but Mayor Lutfur Rahman is convinced a successful bid would benefit one of the most deprived areas in the country.

He said: “I feel being a city would be a fantastic boost to the borough and really show what we have to offer.

“We are unique in that we have a thriving business and shopping district in Canary Wharf, an innovative arts scene, a first-rate university on our doorstep in Queen Mary, and a vibrant community spirit, which has embraced different groups of people throughout our history.

“The royal wedding celebrations which I attended were testament to the genuine community spirit that exists in the borough and there is a real appetite to build on this pride and let everyone know what an amazing place Tower Hamlets is. I hope residents will support our bid to become a city.”

The bid is supported by Canary Wharf Group, and has the backing of many other businesses in the borough.

Any local authority in any part of the United Kingdom which considers that its area deserves to be granted the rare honour of city status is eligible to apply.

The council will submit a bid document to the Government on May 27, with a decision expected early next year.

What the practical implications of such a status in terms of funding and governance would be, I don’t know. I think we should also be told how much preparing this application will cost and whether there will be penalties for vexatious bids.

Questions, questions…

UPDATE – 1.50pm

Of course, we should really note that Canary Wharf Group is backing this: it sees itself as a rival to the City of London and it would love City of Canary Wharf status. I’m sure they don’t mind making Lutfur look like a fool for that purpose.

By the way, I’ve just been told that Lutfur has a meeting at 1pm in the Town Hall to discuss the progress of his mayoralty….with one Baroness Uddin. As one councillor remarked, “It’s still not April 1″…

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Here’s some more from last night’s meeting of the Tower Hamlets Labour group. As well as picking Josh Peck as leader (extra £12,658 allowance a year on top of his basic £10,065), former council chair Motin uz-Zaman has become his deputy and Anwar Khan remains as chief whip.

David Edgar’s defeat is, I said, a short term blow for Mayor Lutfur Rahman. I’m told that there was a Plan A in place in the event of an Edgar win, which would have seen Lutfur readmitted into the Labour fold by the time of Ken Livingstone’s final campaigning for next year’s London mayor elections. That would have allowed Ken and Lutfur to share the same platform without too much embarrassment, according to the plan (which was not known about, concocted or endorsed by David himself, it has to be said).

I’m also told that there was and is a Plan B, which could also lead to the same outcome, but with rather more collateral damage. It is now expected that such is the rancour within the Labour group that there could well be now regular wrecking tactics and rebellions against the party whip, for example voting against some of last night’s appointments at the full council meeting next Wednesday. The idea would be to bully Josh and the anti-Lutfur brigade into accepting an outcome the new leader would probably rather resign over.

The other interesting development from last night’s meeting is the group’s choice of chair and deputy chair of the council. Mizan Chaudhury beat Anna Lynch to become the nomination for chair (picking up an extra £7,557) and Rajib Ahmed is the proposed deputy (plus a bonus of £3,777).

Now, both these chaps have history. A similar history to Lutfur, in fact.

At a press conference in late 2005 to unveil Labour’s candidates for the following May’s council elections, Mizan had to be man-handled out of the room by party officials after he had a stand-up row with Jim Fitzpatrick. Mizan was (probably rightly) cheesed off that less talented people had been selected over him. So, after his eviction from the press conference, he promptly stood against Labour and evicted himself from the party. Remind you of anyone?

His new deputy, Rajib, a part-time singer and magician, is also someone who has previously left Labour because he didn’t get what he wanted. He was a Labour councillor between 1998 and 2002, but was de-selected for the 2002 elections, then suddenly realised he was a big fan of the Lib Dem ideology. He was re-elected as a Lib Dem in 2006 and for the next two years, he became the Mystery Man of Tower Hamlets politics. Although he found time to bank his £9,500 a year allowance during that time, he was far too busy to actually either attend council meetings or even file his time sheets, something that led to a rebuke from the borough’s toothless Standards Committee. As he was about to be expelled from the Lib Dems in 2008 for being useless, he suddenly jumped ship back to Labour. Remind you of anyone?

Clearly, he’s a man whose political principles have not exactly been solid; let’s say that he can be “persuaded”. In the last few months, he’s been a Lutfur sympathiser and I wonder whether he voted for David or Josh last night? And in return for what? I wonder whether he will donate that extra £3,557 to a charity?

As deputy, he will have no major role, but he will represent the council at official functions and is in line to become its chair next year.

It is during the council meetings that chair has influence: he or she can dictate the tone of the occasion, particularly when it comes to Lutfur,

The problem with the Labour group is that it contains so many people with so much history of switching sides that no wonder Lutfur is convinced it’s just a matter of time before he gets back in.

As the council’s finance spokesman for four years, Josh won many admirers, but over the next year I suspect the numbers game within his own group is going to be a much harder job to master.

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Breaking news: Josh Peck has defeated David Edgar to become leader of the Labour group in Tower Hamlets.

He won by 19 votes to 12, I’m told. This is also a defeat for Ken Livingstone, who personally made calls to Labour councillors asking them to support Edgar, who some of whose supporters would have worked for Lutfur Rahman’s readmission into the party fold by next year.

More analysis later (I am enjoying a good dinner at the moment).

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Anjem Choudary has just sent this text to his supporters:

Urgent announcement: I’ll be leading the funeral prayer for Sheikh Usama outside the US embassy this Fri @ 3pm & will demand his body be returned to his family

A couple of weeks ago I ran this post about how Anjem has made as his new base the Centre for Islamic Studies at 32 New Road, Whitechapel. In this article for the Sunday Express on the same day, I wrote:

AN INVESTIGATION was launched last night into more than £1million of Government contracts awarded to the brother of Britain’s most notorious hate cleric who is plotting to ruin the Royal Wedding.

Vince Cable’s business department is examining whether funds given to Yazdani Choudary for IT training and apprenticeship projects over the past seven years were “allocated properly”.

Mr Choudary, 48, is the wealthy elder brother of Anjem Choudary, 44, whose fanatical groups such as Al-Muhajiroun and Islam4UK, are banned in Britain.

Anjem, who wants a worldwide Islamic state and threatened a rabble-rousing march through Wootton Bassett to disrupt coming home ceremonies for dead British soldiers, is UK spokesman for Al Qaeda sympathiser Omar Bakri Mohammed.

The latest group with which he is involved, Muslims Against Crusades, is planning to cause chaos at next week’s wedding with a “forceful demonstration”.

The group has warned Prince William “and his Nazi best man” Prince Harry that unless they immediately withdraw from the military, the “day which the nation has been dreaming of for so long will become a nightmare”.

Prince Harry, depicted on the fanatics’ website with a swastika on his Army beret, is expected to become a greater target after being promoted to Captain yesterday. He will get extra training on Apache helicopters and learn how to use them in Afghanistan.

Scotland Yard fears violent clashes in London on Royal Wedding day with the extremist English Defence League, which staged a stand-off with a large Muslim march outside the US Embassy in London on Friday.

The Government’s inquiry came after a Sunday Express investigation into Anjem Choudary’s new teaching and recruiting wing, the Centre for Islamic Services. It operates from the basement of a three-storey building in New Road, Whitechapel, east London, bought by brother Yazdani on a nine-year lease for £26,000. An application in Yazdani’s name to convert two floors for use as an “Islamic teaching centre” was refused last month by Tower Hamlets Council. We have also established that:

CIS placed 22 adverts for new pupils in Tower Hamlets Council’s weekly paper East End Life.

Yazdani lives with a GP in a £690,000 mansion in a rich suburb of Purley, Surrey.

He owns Best Training Solutions Ltd, which has been awarded seven years of Government funding to deliver Learn Direct IT training in London.

Yazdani hired Al Muhajiroun supporter Shah-Jalal Hussain, 28, who was jailed for two years in 2008 for trying to raise funds for overseas terrorists, to carry out work for Best Training.

Last year, Yazdani Choudary set up Master Printers Ltd on the ground floor above the CIS.

Over a period of weeks, the Sunday Express watched Anjem Choudary going in and out, as well as supporters including Muslims Against Crusades spokesman Asad Ullah and Shah Jalal Hussain.

Yazdani refused to answer our questions about graphic designer Hussain, or whether Master Printers produces leaflets or websites for groups involving Anjem.

Hussain rang us to complain we were “sabotaging” his business and warned: “Rot in hell or embrace Islam.”

Anjem Choudary said he was “too busy” to talk about the CIS.

We handed our findings to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

A spokesman said: “We take these accusations seriously. We will investigate.”

Last night, the Muslims Against Crusades website showed images of the Royal Crown burning, a smiling Prince William superimposed over a dead Afghan child, and captions of the Queen and other senior royals as “The Crusaders”.

What we established was a clear link between Dani and Anjem in relation to the CIS. It may well be that Dani Choudary is simply a businessman in partnership with his brother to try and make money. However, just a week after this article, East End Life continued to carry adverts for Dani’s Best Training Solutions company.

Our questions to Dani Choudary remain unanswered. Has the council been in touch with him? Will it continue to promote his business through East End Life? Has it asked him to sign its No Place for Hate pledge? What do Yazdani and his wife, a GP in Thornton Heath, think of Anjem’s latest antics in relation to Osama bin Laden?

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