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Archive for April, 2012

Congratulations to the new councillor for Spitalfields and Banglatown, G(h)ulam Robbani (if you’re new to this blog and wondering about the spelling, see here). Here he is looking all happy-clappy next to the Mayor earlier this year:

Yes, it was a close-run thing by 43 votes, but at the end of the day this was a by-election in what should be Labour’s heartland and the loss is another blow. That they failed to muster a higher turnout for what was a crucial test for them speaks volumes. Lutfur will be smiling, I’m sure. But will his friend be, Ken Livingstone? (By the way, there at least two journalists also smiling: Robbani has an interesting past… .)

Here are the details of the results from the Tower Hamlets council website

Kirsty BLAKE  (Green Party) –  99 votes

Richard Alan MACMILLAN  (Liberal Democrats) – 39 votes   

Gulam ROBBANI (Independent) – 1030 votes

Matthew James SMITH (Conservative Party) – 140 votes

Ala UDDIN (The Labour Party) –  987 votes

Turnout 31.43 per cent.

So, 2295 votes cast: I need to find to find out how much this cost, so we can quote a figure of £ per vote. It will be the final legacy of Shelina Ak(h)tar’s benefit fraud.

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The commenter Wise owl of Wiltshire made the following very interesting remarks on my last post about Ohid and Lutfur falling out:

I understand from a good source our humble Mayor is discussing a reshuffle. Apparently Ohid is going to be booted out of cabinet. Four main reasons: 1) sheer incompetence and inability to manage his brief, 2) constant moaning about NOT getting enough media attention and interference in EEL, 3) irritating Lutfur about being treated as the mayor’s equal.

He or she included a fourth reason which I’ve deleted for legal reasons but the suggestion that Lutfur is planning a reshuffle must have some merit, not just because of G(h)ulam Robbani’s likely victory in Spitalfields tomorrow (by the way, there is a very interesting leaflet circulating about him in Spitalfields at the moment, and if there is any element of truth to its details, his victory will backfire massively not only on him but also on Lutfur in a very serious way).

Robbani, who styles himself as a social care expert and previously worked for the council in that area, will probably want a cabinet position. To sack Ohid from the deputy mayor position might well be a step too far, not least because he is close to Lutfur’s moneybag, Shiraj Haque.

But where to put Robbani? Oli Rahman currently looks after Children’s Services (and has the poisoned chalice task of bringing youth services back in-house, a very odd decision by Lutfur for which he has yet to give any financial justification…), while Labour rebel Abdul Asad looks after Adult Healthcare.

It will be a conundrum for Lutfur and I don’t know what the answer is. However, there is a wider point.

I’m told by someone in the town hall who observes these things closely that there is growing disillusionment within the ranks of Lutfur’s independents. Oli Rahman, Rania Khan and Lutfa Begum have always acted together, both within Respect and then as SWP-backed Respect rebels, then as Labour members and now as independents.

I imagine they were less than impressed by Lutfur’s decision to endorse former Respect leader Abjol Miah in Weavers: Abjol once infamously yelled in apparently rather nasty way at Lutfa Begum during a Respect meeting. It’s interesting how few independents have copied Lutfur’s endorsement. Did Lutfur consult Oli, Lutfa and Rania about backing Abjol? I very much doubt it and that would be in keeping with the autocratic way he runs his mayoralty. My hunch is that this group of three are beginning to feel used; they could even be regretting their expulsion from Labour. Labour rebel Shahed Ali is also bright enough to realise what’s going on.

In fact, if I were Labour, I’d be dangling some carrots their way.

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Trouble at the top

Lutfur and Ohid, the Laurel and Hardy of Tower Hamlets politics, have fallen out.

In happier times, they were in separable: you couldn’t turn a page of a local paper without the pair standing arm in arm, smiling lovingly at each other and their ever-ready cameras.

Back in the day, Ohid Ahmed, a regeneration “expert” who knows how to make a good cut from a deal, was Lutfur’s campaign manager, a man whose lap-dog loyalty and ugly and unintelligible heckling, was then rewarded with the post of Deputy Mayor.

For a year, the partnership worked: Lutfur got his Mercedes, Ohid was given a bigger office and kidded himself he had executive powers.

However, reality always bites back.

I’ve heard rumours that they’d fallen out for a few weeks but I’ve now heard it from a broad enough range of sources to believe it is true. It is the talk of the town hall and everyone has their theory. Some think Ohid has not been given enough money (Labour used their majority to cut his special responsibility allowance salary to a mere £15,500) and is desperate for funds to renew the lease on his chunky watch; while others are convinced they’ve had some kind of Brown/Blair falling out over who does what next.

Some think Ohid is desperate to become an MP. As a Labour candidate, he was laughed out of West Suffolk in 2010 but his ambition still outweighs his talent and he could be looking for a way back into Labour to find a seat elsewhere. So the theory goes.

Another theory, which I think is far more interesting, is that Ohid is ambitious for the Mayoralty and that he’s been trying to push Lutfur to stand as an MP for Bethnal Green and Bow.  Now, we know for sure, that Lutfur did fancy himself as an MP once upon a time. He could stand in Bethnal Green and Bow as an independent and stand a chance, a la Galloway. Alternatively, if Labour let him back in, he could win their selection process.

But the problem is that the General Election will be in May 2015, a full year after the next Mayoral elections. I think that now he has a taste for how much power he actually has as Mayor, Lutfur would be very reluctant to give the job up in 2014. However, what if Lutfur were to stand for the Mayor again in 2014 and then decide he has enough support to run as an MP a year later? If Lutfur were elected to Parliament, he would have to give up his town hall post. Who would be Mayor then?

Well, his deputy would hold the fort and although I haven’t yet checked this, I’m fairly sure the law would require a new Mayoral election. And if that is the case, such an election would be held on a day when no other votes were taking place….and we all know what happened last time that happened: a low turnout and Lutfur crowned.

In fact, that is probably Ohid’s only chance of creeping in. But the problem is that Ohid would have to be Lutfur’s candidate. And as we know, Lutfur has found a New Best Friend in postal vote king G(h)ulam Robbani…

Thieves always fall out…

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One of the curious aspects of life in Lutfur’s Democratic Republic of Tower Hamlets is the growing cult of personality and how history is being rewritten. The late Kim il Sung was adept at this as well.

Lutfur’s smiling face seems to be appearing everywhere, from multiple pages in East End Life to the sides of dustbin lorries and lampposts.

He’s now even personalised our council tax bills, sending us all a letter saying that “my budget” included a decision to give 0ver-60s a rebate of £50. Funny that, because I could have sworn that his budget as presented at the council meeting on February 22 contained no such proposal. I must have imagined it. Yes, that’s right, that Labour amendment (which I thought Lutfur later accepted) demanding a £50 rebate for pensioners was just a dream. Silly me. And when we see Lutfur touring the borough in his chauffeur-driven Mercedes handing out £50 notes to cheering older folk, won’t that make us feel all warm and good.

I suppose this is one of the things we must get used to in our shiny new postal-vote heavy Republic.

I mention this because, Labour’s Abdal Ullah has asked me to promote a football tournament taking place later this month. It’s called the SNT Cup, that’s the Safer Neighbourhood Tournament. He founded it 10 years ago and it grew to be quite an event, based on the Met Police’s safer neighbourhood areas in east London.

Of course, because it was so successful the cuckoos in Lutfur’s camp tried to steal it. And so it came to pass that last year, (in addition to the aborted Mayor’s Cricket Cup), we had the inaugural Mayor’s Cup which forced Abdal to move from Victoria Park and find a new home in Hackney Marshes. (Lutfur insisted he wanted a tournament for Tower Hamlets teams only, but laughably the inaugural winners were E7 FC, named after the, er, Forest Gate postcode.)

However, as you’d expect, Abdal was undeterred and trumped Kim il Lutfur by making his SNT Cup bigger and better than ever, even managing to get the Premier League and FA Cup trophies on display. This year, he’s persuaded Olympic sponsors Coca Cola to bring the Olympic Torch.

You really couldn’t make it up, could you.

Anyway, here’s Abdal’s press release, which has a lovely line about West Ham fanatic (and Parliament’s most talented footballer) Jim Fitzpatrick…

Safer Neighbourhood Tournament to take London by storm

The Safer Neighbourhood Tournament (SNT), an exciting community grassroots football tournament has returned for 2012. Now in its tenth year, the celebrated tournament is the brainchild of Stepney & St Dunstan’s member, Councillor Abdal Ullah. As a contributory member of the London Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA), Abdal Ullah was of the opinion that football was a medium that could be used to effectively unite masses, whilst improving relationships between young people and the police.

What started off as a small community event consisting of half a dozen teams has now grown to become one of London’s biggest weekend one day knockout tournaments. This year 72 teams and thousands of spectators will be attending the April footballing bonanza.

The tournament is East London based but has traditionally attracted teams from all over London. This year, Hackney Marshes, the starting point for many of football’s icons will once again be the venue for the knock-out stage of the tournament.

Commenting on the upcoming football festival Abdal Ullah said: “We are very proud of the success of our tournament. This is our 10th year and we have now officially become one of the biggest grassroots football events in London. We gained support from FA and it was an honour to be one of the projects that were highlighted during England’s FIFA World Cup
2018 bid.

“The SNT Cup has support from the Met Police, NHS, TATA, McDonalds, Coco Cola, The Sun newspaper, Kick it Out, and many other local and national organisations, including London 2012. In previous years we have secured the FA Cup and Premier League trophy for display at our tournament. As a special surprise, on Sunday 29th April we will have the Olympic torch on display!”
He added: “This being our 10th year and the year of the London Olympics, we are very keen to make the tournament even more special, we are keen to attract teams from all over the country.”
 
The date for the knock out section is Sunday 29th April at Hackney Marshes, and the final will be played at a Prestigious London Football ground.
 
Abdal Ullah has also exclusively confirmed that on the day (April 29th) Coca Cola will bring along the Olympic torch for 4 Hours, whilst McDonalds will provide support to the event. And FA Community Shield will be on display from 10 AM till 3 Pm on the day, and there will be a message of support and health tips from Dr Zaf Iqbal, Liverpool FC’s first team doctor.

There will be health promotion events from the East London NHS health team and Safer London Foundation will also be present addressing issues of Community Safety.
Abdal Ullah also confirmed that the “Man of the match” award will be named after 27 year Kelvin Brown, who recently died after collapsing playing football on Hackney Marshes. A veteran’s cup will be named after local MP Jim Fitzpatrick.

The tournament is divided into several age categories – under  16s, over 16s, veterans (over 35) and for the very first time a women’s tournament has also been scheduled with the only Muslim women’s football team taking part. The winning purse is £1000+. Prior to the start of the tournament a live TV show on Channel 9 17th April (SKY 834) 7.15 PM will feature special guests announcing the tournament draw with the NPower Championship trophy in the studio.

Anyone interested should log on to www.sntcup.com or www.stepneyfc.com for further details, and highlights from previous tournaments.

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I’ve written the below for today’s Sunday Express. Bengalis I’ve spoken to about this think it’s a disgrace that council money is being used to pay for private tutors to teach kids what their families call their “mother tongue”. There is nothing wrong with children learning Bengali–indeed it’s positive because multilingualism is a real asset–but should extracurricular lessons be given on the rates? I don’t know when this policy started: my partner learnt Bengali when she was a child but it was her parents who paid for it – and “quite rightly so”, she says.

There are a couple of other aspects to this: the money is being given through the grants system to small community groups–the full list is here and here on my FoI request–so there is little scrutiny about how it is actually spent (plus, the tutors aren’t necessarily qualified or inspected); and this is a clever way of inflating the borough’s GCSE figures.

Here’s the article:

TAXPAYERS are bankrolling private language lessons for children of migrant families to learn their parents’ native tongue, even though many can barely speak English.

Some of Britain’s poorest councils have spent millions of pounds providing after-school tuition in languages such as Bengali, Urdu and Arabic at mosques and community centres.

Despite problems with English literacy in their areas, they claim the policy “celebrates diversity”, promotes “community cohesion” and helps children prepare for early GCSEs in the language they speak at home.

In Tower Hamlets, east London, where the level of English is so poor among some pupils entering primary school that translators are needed, the council spends £185,000 a year providing free Bengali lessons after school hours.

It has distributed £1.3million to about 40 community groups since 2006.

Beneficiaries include several Islamic organisations, such as Dawatul Islam UK and the Madrasah-e-Darul Qirat Majidiah, which also runs a fee-paying Muslim school.

The council’s Community Language Service even runs British citizenship classes at mosques and Islamic madrasahs, but the town hall was unable to guarantee those lessons were given in English.

In most cases, councils are distributing the cash as grants to small community groups and “supplementary schools”, a system over which councillors exert special powers. The money is used to pay tutors’ salaries and to cover rents.

Ofsted admits it does not carry out specific inspections and that it has been trying to ensure that tutors are vetted and qualified.

A survey by the Sunday Express found that most councils which had been offering “mother tongue” classes had withdrawn their funding over the past couple of years so they could concentrate on teaching English.

These included Wolverhampton, Newham in east London, Rochdale, and Ealing in west London, which had been funding lessons in Armenian, Assyrian, Tamil and Somali.  An Ealing Council spokeswoman it stopped its service because “we decided it was more of a priority to support people to feel more confident in speaking and writing in English”.

However, a number of other councils have continued the policy. As well as Tower Hamlets, they include Islington in north London, which gives £160,000 a year to “supplementary schools”, its neighbours Camden and Haringey, and Manchester.

Bradford Metropolitan Council says on its website that “we promote the teaching and learning of the mother tongue mostly in places of worship or community centres” and that it has been helping supplementary schools since 1983. The Sunday Express gave the council 10 days to say how much it gave in grants last year, but it declined saying too many staff were off on half-term breaks. 

Councils and academics claim that the funding helps children become bilingual which boosts educational attainment later in life.

However, David Goodhart, the director of the think tank Demos and who is currently writing a book about post-war immigration in Britain, said the councils’ policies were “barmy”. He said that while it was quite legitimate for children of migrant families to learn their ancestral language for GCSEs and to retain a link with their heritage, it was wrong that taxpayers were being forced to fund private tuition for those purposes.

He said: “If parents want their children to retain those links, then it really should be done privately or through the voluntary sector. This seems to be a kind of multiculturalism that encourages separateness and not a kind that helps launch children into wider society where fluency in English is so vital for social mobility and integration.”

Peter Golds, the leading Tory councillor in Tower Hamlets, said: “Over past centuries this country has welcomed numerous immigrants which has affected our language, cooking and culture. 
“One thing they all had in common was whilst remaining true to their own heritage, they became part of the local community, by learning to speak English and making sure their children spoke English. Schools are where languages should be taught: a local authority should not be handing money to unqualified people to teach languages. 
“In a difficult economic climate, which is not going to change quickly, regardless of who forms the national government, young people need to be fluent in the language of their own country.”

A Tower Hamlets Council spokesman said: “We teach community languages for two reasons: proficiency in a mother tongue aids with proficiency in a second language.  And secondly, pride and knowledge in your own background aids in promoting community cohesion.”

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This is a guest post by Dan McCurry, a former chair of Bow Labour. It first appeared on the New Statesman blog here but Dan has localised it for this site. (My personal view, for what it’s worth, is that there is a snowball in hell’s chance of Galloway returning to Labour: a) because Labour would never readmit him; and b) he wouldn’t want to anyway: far better to be the martyred rebel outsider.)

We know that George Galloway wants to return to Labour. The question is: does Labour want him back?

The tears and anguish in Bethnal Green & Bow in the early hours of 7th May 2005, when Oona King lost to George Galloway by 800 votes, were very different to the pale expressions of shock in Bradford, as Imran Hussein walked out of the count to disappear back into obscurity.  In east London, Galloway won by exploiting divisions.

In Bradford he won by offering entertainment, and stimulating a constituency where voters felt taken for granted.

At the time of Oona’s loss, I was chair of Bow Labour. I saw the Respect Party born through a coalition of Godless communists and religious fundamentalists. It was always doomed to division and that came in the council elections the following year.

I created the campaign slogan which was to became our mantra in Bow: “Vote for us, or you get Galloway!” The white working class obliged and the Lib Dems were wiped out in Bow. Respect did gain 11 council seats, but they were all Bangladeshi candidates, none of the SWP people were elected.

This was when Galloway started to complain about the tiresome village politics of the Bangladeshis. This is when he began to miss being a member of the Labour Party. From then on, he started to look around for some way, anyway, to get back into Labour, but every effort eluded him, until Bradford.

We never ignored George Galloway. If anything, he became our secret weapon. I wrote some copy for the party website which Jim subsequently used on all his election material. It portrayed Jim as surrounded on both sides by extremists with “George Galloway on his left promising to defend Islam, while on his right, tax exile Lord Ashcroft attempts to buy democracy with his millions”. It was Jim as the underdog. If he has to lose, then he’d go down fighting.

This is in stark contrast to the strategy in Bradford West. While we used the presence of George Galloway to our advantage, to motivate our supporters and get out and vote, they chose to ignore him as a has-been. It was a critical and lazy mistake.

Today, George doesn’t speak of rejoining Labour, but his actions do. He used to call for the death penalty for Tony Blair. Today, if he disagrees with Labour policy, he doesn’t make personal attacks. This isn’t just since the election, but during the election also. He is actively behaving himself.

The £200k salary from a sports radio slot doesn’t compare to the buzz of parliament. George doesn’t want that buzz to come to an end in May 2015, nor does he want the uncertainty and the hard work of trying to win somewhere else.

So what role could George Galloway have back in the Labour Party? There can be no question of George occupying a position in the Foreign Office. The salute to Saddam Hussein will never be forgotten. It’s difficult to imagine him occupying any ministry. The use for him is that he entertains us. Politics is often a boring subject. We hear the politicians make the same old arguments time and again. George fires things up. He is a character.

But do we really want the media to invite George onto TV panels as “The Labour bloke” at the expense of a senior Labour politician, especially when we don’t know what he’s going to say? He might be behaving himself now, but once he’s been accepted back into the party, there’s no saying what he’ll decide to do.

A return for George is more likely through real-politick than rational consideration. It is likely that this coalition will end with the Rat-Run Scenario. Once we get close to the election the Lib Dems will split along Labour/Tory lines and the government will survive on a wafer majority. We’ll be back to the days of sick MPs being brought in to vote on stretchers. At that point George Galloway becomes powerful, because he has a vote.

The problem with that idea is that Labour won’t leave it till so late to decide what to do about this seat. By the time the coalition runs for the hills, Bradford West will have a Labour candidate. If it’s not George then whoever it is will not step aside for anyone. So it’s unlikely that the national party will have anything much to do with it. It will be for the 400 members of Bradford West to decide. How will that play out?
Imran Hussein is unlikely to remain as candidate.

He made a fundamental mistake by ignoring Galloway and it’s unlikely that his party believe he can win in two years. A fresh face will be needed. The question is whether there is anyone who can take on Galloway and win this seat back. If it is the case that Imran Hussein was the best candidate that this constituency could produce, then George Galloway will be laughing.

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This is a guest post by Laurence Dodds and Raziye Akkoc, of EastLondonLines, the excellent news website run by students at Goldsmiths College, University of London.

The London Assembly elections are sometimes overshadowed by the grime and glamour of the mayoral contest. That’s not surprising when last night’s Evening Standard debate gave us the remarkable spectacle of Ken Livingstone joking about having Brian Paddick’s “wheezing” when they make love, Paddick being jovially informed by host Clive Anderson, the comedian, that he’ll have “a job under Ken”, and Boris Johnson accused of “spraying sticky water” everywhere (we promise we’re only taking the last one out of context).

But at 6:30pm on Tuesday, April 17, EastLondonLines is organising a debate between four Assembly candidates in Tower Hamlets, so we have a vested interest in drawing attention to their elections. Our site, run by journalism students at Goldsmiths, University of London, has been following the GLA elections for some time.  Despite their relative obscurity, we think they are important – and we want to explain why you should come to our hustings in Bethnal Green next Tuesday.

Our People’s Question Time will see candidates from the four main parties, including current Labour member John Biggs, stand up for their policies and answer questions from the public. We wanted to give people the chance to quiz the hopefuls on whatever issues they please.

Residents in the boroughs covered by the City & East seat – Tower Hamlets, Newham, City, and Barking and Dagenham – will be able meet, hear, and scrutinise the candidates, one of which is likely to win and represent them. Joining Biggs, who has served at City Hall for 12 years, will be John Moss (Conservative), Chris Smith (Green) and Richard Macmillan (Lib Dem).

You can find out more here, see interviews with the candidates here, and find it on Facebook here.

Because its only formal power is to amend the Mayor’s annual budget if two thirds of its members vote that way, the Assembly can appear powerless, the mere nagging spouse of the Mayor.

No doubt this owes to the circumstances of its creation. When Tony Blair was elected in 1997 he had to balance Labour’s longstanding commitment to re-establish direct government in London against the lessons he’d learned from Margaret Thatcher, from whom the city had nearly seceded in the Eighties under Ken Livingstone. Nobody could accuse the former Labour PM of being an inattentive pupil, and it was clear from his frosty antipathy to Ken that he considered city rule a double-edged sword (warning in 2000 of a “disaster” should London re-elect the red renegade). It’s easy to see the Assembly a deliberately toothless animal – a sop to the faithful but spayed so as not to cause additional threat.

Nevertheless, these elections are important. Despite the Assembly’s limited formal powers, it makes a reasonably high rooftop from which to shout your message. Its members have influence, and a platform, and consistent opportunities to report, question, or be quoted. Using its members as opinionated go-to guys is the kind of journalistic shortcut we’re only now learning we should have learned earlier.

More than that, this is an opportunity to voice your opinion on the current government. It isn’t partisan to point out that neither of the parties now in government actually won the election and that both have broken pre-election promises. That makes it more crucial than ever that the public get the chance to update its verdict. In such desperate times, in the depths of a recession, and with a Tower Hamlets council ward by-election in Spitalfields and Banglatown only days away, the results could be interesting – and they will be heard.

For that reason you’re all enthusiastically invited to attend our Assembly election debate on Tuesday April 17, from 6:30 until 8pm at Oxford House in Bethnal Green. No sign-ups or bookings are required. It is our solemn duty to ensure that the four we’ve invited all receive a good grilling, and that is something we trust you can give them. We hope to see you there.

Ted Jeory adds:

Former Tower Hamlets council leader John Biggs would appear to be as safe as houses, but he’s had an interesting journey since moving to City Hall in 2000. When Ken was an independent mayor, John was his self-appointed attack dog; when Ken was back in the Labour fold in 2004, John was his loyal servant; when Boris won in 2008, John moved back to his bullish attack dog mode. And of course, in 2010, John was the big victim of the Labour chaos that eventually led to Lutfur becoming mayor…on the back of Ken’s support.

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