Archive for February 6th, 2012

As we all wait for Shelina Akhtar to decide whether she has the dignity to resign as a councillor before being automatically barred from office in 28 days’ time, let’s play that ever interesting Tower Hamlets game of Speculation Politics.

One prominent councillor tells me that the “likely runners” in the almost certain Spitalfields and Banglatown by-election are:

Gulam Robbani (Lutfur/Independent)

Tarik Ahmed Khan (Labour)

Abjol Miah (Respect)

Richard Macmillan (Lib Dems)

Matt Smith (Conservative)

If so–and I’d be surprised–it will be very interesting to see how Robbani and Abjol Miah, the former Respect group leader, play this one out.

Robbani and Abol are relative big guns and effectively Lutfur allies: they could end up splitting the anti-Labour vote and letting Labour in. In the last Spitalfields by-election in snowy December 2010, after Lutfur was required to give up his seat when he became Mayor, Respect’s Fozol Miah beat Labour on a 17 per cent turnout. In that contest, there was no Lutfur/Independent candidate.

Traditionally, the ward was controlled by Helal Abbas and Lutfur Rahman. The former still holds one of the three seats, along  with Fozol and Akhtar.

The timing of the election will also be interesting. The more Ahktar strings out her decision on whether to appeal, the closer we get to the London Mayor elections in May. Common sense and the desire to save taxpayers money (the two rarely go together in Tower Hamlets) should dictate that the two elections are held on the same day, which would mean a higher turnout that favours Labour.

In that case, how would Spitalfields voter Lutfur Rahman cast his votes that day? One for Labour’s Ken Livingstone, of course–the latter rules the former–and another for an anti-Labour candidate? As ever, the Mayor will be in two minds…

As for Tarik Ahmed Khan, he is the secretary of Labour’s branch in the ward and the elder brother of Cllr Anwar Khan, who represents Bow West for Labour. He is thought to be a Josh Peck loyalist.

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As the East London Advertiser reports, Shelina Akhtar, who was el;ected in May 2010 for Labour before being kicked out a few months later when she backed Independent Mayor Lutfur Rahman, has been jailed for 16 weeks for benefit fraud.

That’s more than the three month threshhold that in law now disqualifies her from holding elected office.

I don’t know what was her mitigation, who provided any character witnesses, or whether the judge decided to make an example of her because of her position. (I’m on holiday and I’ll have to rely on your reports!)

Here’s the initial ELA account.

Disgraced Tower Hamlets councillor Shelina Akhtar has been jailed after admitting three counts of benefit fraud.

The Spitalfields & Banglatown councillor, 33, of Blackwall way, Poplar was jailed for 16 weeks at Snaresbrook Crown Court this morning after admitting three counts of dishonestly claiming housing benefit and council tax at a hearing last month.

Now for the by-election, which will be a real test of whether Labour can mobilise and command support.


The East London Advertiser has more details of the court hearing here and copied below:

A Tower Hamlets councillor is still in her job after receiving a three and a half month jail sentence today for benefit fraud.

Shelina Akhtar, a councillor for Spitalfields and Banglatown ward, was given a 16 week custodial sentence, half of which she must serve in prison, at Snaresbrook Crown Court, this morning.

The sentence came after she had pleaded guilty to three counts of failing to notify a change in circumstances, when claiming housing and council tax benefits for a property in Blackwall Way, Poplar.

The court heard that Cllr Akhtar sub-letted her housing association flat for £1,000 a month without permission, while living with her parents and continuing to claim housing and council tax benefits. She also referred a tenant to another housing association flat registered to her sister, Hazera Akhtar, the court was told, and another £1,000 in monthly rent for that flat also went into to the councillor’s bank account. Court charges against her sister were dropped.

Cllr Akhtar falsely claimed a total of £1,085 in housing benefit and £29 in Council Tax during two periods between November 2009 and September 2010.

Prosecuting barrister Michelle Fawcett told the court: “Cllr Akhtar deliberately defrauded the council only months after being elected to the very same local authority despite having been convicted of a similar offence already. She sublet her flat for sheer profit.”

Defence barrister Edward McKiernan urged the judge not make an example of Cllr Akhtar because of her position.

“We have a lot of testimony to say she has been very active in the community and did a lot of hard work as a councillor,” he told the court. He also pointed out that Cllr Akhtar accepted what she did was “unacceptable” and that she had repaid all the money wrongly claimed in benefits to the council.

But sentencing her judge John Lafferty told Cllr Akhtar she had put the reputation of the benefit system in danger by making “hard working” people pay for her benefits.

“We have a benefit system for those who through no fault of their own fall on hard times.”

“You deliberately defrauded the system. As a prominent person you should have lived up to the highest standards.”

Cllr Aktar stood as a Labour councillor for Spitalfields and Banglatown ward but later defected to become an independent and is counted as belonging to Tower Hamlet’s Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s inner circle.

Under the Local Government Act a councillors is automatically disqualified from office if a custodial sentence of more than three months is received.

In a statement the council said: “But that disqualification does not take effect until the opportunity for appeal has expired, which is  28 days after sentence.”

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