My own view, as outlined here, is that the EDL should be banned as an organisation. I’ve seen them for myself on marches and they’re little more than a bunch of football hooligans who give both football and free speech a bad name. They go out to provoke and they glory in trying to outwit the likes of Anjem Choudary and the police when it comes to the former’s demonstrations.
So the Met’s decision yesterday to ask Theresa May to ban the EDL marching through Tower Hamlets last week is a good thing. Well done to Mayor Lutfur Rahman and all the other politicians and grass roots activists who helped persuade Scotland Yard. It was an easy win-win for Lutfur, but he grabbed the opportunity.
Let’s hope he’s not thrown away his success by what I hear might be some grubby backroom dealing and political opportunism over a planned Eid in the Park prayer meeting that was due to be held in Stepney Green park next week.
I’m awaiting confirmation from the council (I placed the enquiry with Takki Sulaiman’s press team on Tuesday), but senior figures there tell me a gathering had been planned for next Wednesday. It had been organised with the help of Labour’s Abdal Ullah and with the backing of the Islamic Relief charity. In previous years, it had passed off without incident and had attracted some 3,000 people who stay in the park for an hour.
Last week, though, the organisers were told it had been cancelled. An email was sent by Heather Bonfield, the council’s head of culture, saying “we are a borough that is severely under-provided with open space”. Given her previous attitude to the exploitation of Victoria Park as reported in comment 22 of this post here, this a touch ironic.
However, she seems to have more underlying concerns. Reading between the lines of her email — she says the prayers would damage “community cohesion” — it’s clear the council is concerned about attracting the presence of the EDL. That seems a fairly preposterous position: I doubt even the EDL would disrupt a prayer meeting, particularly one of 3,000 people. There’s nothing wrong with having prayers in the park for an hour or so. If the Pope had come to Tower Hamlets last year, I’m sure no one would have objected to Victoria Park being used.
Here’s Bonfield’s email:
I am writing with regard to your application on behalf of Islamic Relief for
the use of Stepney Green Park for Eid Prayers. As you know, the Arts and
Events Team have processed your application, but there have been recent
developments which have an impact on your booking.
Whilst the Council acknowledges that the Park has been successfully used for
Eid Prayers for the past two years, this year it has received multiple
requests for Tower Hamlets parks to be used for Eid-related faith events,
including an additional application to use Stepney Green Park for a large
number of participants. This level of applications has not been received in
The Council’s policy with regard to the use of its premises (which includes
parks) is clear. The Borough is a multi-faith, multi-cultural community and
the use of a number of local parks for mass faith-based Eid Prayers would,
by their nature, prevent the use of parks at this time by local residents
who wish to use them as recreational spaces. As we are a borough that is
severely under-provided with open space this may undermine community
The Council’s application documentation advises that the Council reserves
the right to withdraw permission for an event at any time. As we cannot be
seen to be favouring one applicant above another, we have an unprecedented
number of requests to use the borough ‘s parks and open spaces for Eid
Prayers and we believe the risk to community cohesion is significant, we
will be adhering to our policy and no park will be used for this purpose
this year. I therefore regret to inform you that permission for the use of
Stepney Green Park has been withdrawn.
I appreciate that this will be disappointing news, but I am sure that in the
current urban climate, you will understand the reason for this decision.
Service Head (Culture, Learning & Leisure)
Deputy Mayor Ohid Ahmed was more explicit about this: I’m told he has been telling colleagues that the police wanted the prayers off, an explanation rigorously disputed by those who have reliable connections to the borough police.
I’m told that what happened next sums up how Lutfur and Ohid operate. They apparently decided the prayer in the park was a good thing after all and that they would help organise an alternative. I was told they had even chosen Stepney Green park as the venue, but instead of using Islamic Relief as the preferred charity for donations on the night, they want to bring in Muslim Aid, a charity based at the London Muslim Centre.
As I said, I put all this to Takki Sulaiman’s team at Tower Hamlets council on Tuesday. I’m yet to have a reply. That usually means there’s substance to it.
UPDATE – 5.10pm
Tower Hamlets Council’s press office has finally responded after four days. I suspect they’ve had a few queries about it because they answered me via a general press release. In it they do not state whether Muslim Aid or any public money is involved. Here’s the release.
To mark the end of Ramadan a community Eid Prayers event is planned to take place in Stepney Green Park.
This year Tower Hamlets Council received several applications from organisations requesting to use the borough’s parks for Eid Prayers.
As the events would have impacted on residents ‘ use of a number of local parks on the same day during the summer holidays the applications were refused. In addition there were also major concerns about the recent events that have swept the country and in particular the proposed march that was due to take place in the borough on 3 September.
However to ensure that an outdoor Eid Prayers event could take place in the borough, the council worked with all of the applicants to help to secure a single event. In partnership with the council, Islamic Relief is working with the other applicants to deliver this year’s Eid Prayers.
It is not possible to predict the date of Eid al-Fitr accurately because the month of Ramadan ends after a confirmed sighting of the new moon. The first day of Shawwal, the month of Ramadan, is marked with a feast and prayer.
Eid Prayers is likely to take place on Tuesday 30 or Wednesday 31 August.
The event in Stepney Green Park, Stepney Way, is open to all.