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Archive for May, 2012

I filed this for the Sunday Express at the weekend:

SECURITY chiefs have asked a London council for permission to place snipers on the roof of a school during the 2012 Olympic Games.

Isobel Cattermole, the director of schools at Tower Hamlets Council in east London, was approached amid concerns about the security of the star-studded US Athletics team which will have its training base the inner-city borough.

The Sunday Express understands that although the Army and Scotland Yard will mount a huge security operation to guard “Fortress Olympic Park” in Stratford, including deploying surface-to-air missiles, the bigger headache is what might happen less than two miles away.

Tower Hamlets has agreed to let the Olympics’ largest team, the Americans, use Mile End Leisure Centre as a training base from 11 days before the Games start on July 27 to August 15.

Although the centre will remain open to the public during that time, security will be handed over to the Americans who are thought to be bringing 500 FBI officers with them, many armed.

The centre, which has a small stadium and a 400-metre running track, stands next to the gang-ridden Ocean estate in Stepney.

It is surrounded by high-rise tower blocks that will have perfect views of athletes such as star sprinters Tyson Gay and Jeremy Wariner, and by several schools which will be closed for holidays.

It is also a mile from the headquarters of Anjem Choudary’s banned Islamic extremist groups, and close to the scenes of several counter-terrorism raids.

High profile dignitaries are likely to visit the training base.

The park near stadium was also the scene of a mass fight between members of the English Defence League and local Muslim youths last summer.

Noisy protests about US foreign policy in Afghanistan and Iraq are expected around the stadium’s fences.

US intelligence officials are understood to have made several visits to the area, while council officers will share images from its main CCTV control room.

In documents seen by the Sunday Express, Tower Hamlets council states: “Hosting the American team at Mile End Stadium presents a number of security related challenges, for which the US Olympic Committee has assumed responsibility.

“Initial assessments have highlighted security improvements which could be made to the site.”

It is not known which of the security services—the police, the Ministry of Defence, or even the FBI—approached Tower Hamlets Council, but Ms Cattermole declined the request.

However, one security source said: “What the Americans want, the Americans will get. Everyone is concentrating on the Olympic Park but the real problem is Mile End.

“The Americans are the obvious targets and they’re going to be training in what is a relatively exposed place.”

The MoD is currently staging a large security rehearsal, including the deployment of missiles above a residential block in Bow, east London.

It declined to comment on any US plans but it has ruled out placing British Army snipers on top of schools.

A spokesman for Scotland Yard said: “For obvious reasons we are not prepared to discuss the potential deployment or locations of officers at rifle observation points, just as we do not discuss the detail of protective security measures.

“The planning assumption is that the only police officers carrying or deployed with firearms will be members of the British Police Service.”

A council spokeswoman said: “”The USA track and field team have funded extensive improvements to the stadium, and will be providing a variety of community benefits including free coaching sessions and opportunities to watch the team training.

“We are working with the United States Olympic Committee on security issues.

“Understandably these issues are sensitive and therefore we are not able to comment in detail, but we do not anticipate that these will impact on the local community.”

After the subs cut 200 words to squeeze the article into a smaller-than-expected space, it ran as this in print:

SECURITY chiefs worried about the safety of US athletes during the Olympics have asked for permission to place snipers on the roof of a school.

Isobel Cattermole, the director of schools at Tower Hamlets Council in east London, says she was approached but refused to say whether it was by British or US intelligence services, or even the FBI.

The Sunday Express understands that although a huge security operation is being mounted to guard Fortress Olympic Park in Stratford, the real headache could be how to prevent an attack on US team members who will be training two miles away in Mile End.

Tower Hamlets has agreed to let them use Mile End Leisure Centre as a training base from July 27 to August 15.

In documents seen by the Sunday Express, the council says: “Hosting the American team at Mile End Stadium presents a number of security challenges, for which the US Olympic Committee has assumed responsibility.”

American security teams are thought to be bringing 500 FBI officers to cover the Games, many of them armed.

The centre, which will remain open to the public, has a small stadium and a 400-metre running track where star sprinters Tyson Gay and Jeremy Wariner will train, right next to the gang-blighted Ocean Estate in Stepney.

It is also a mile from the headquarters of hate preacher Anjem Choudary’s banned Islamic group and close to the scenes of several counter-terrorism raids. The US stay coincides with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

American athletes and citizens are obvious targets because of predominantly Muslim local anger over US foreign policy in Afghanistan and Iraq.

One security source said: “What the Americans want, the Americans will get. Everyone is concentrating on the Olympic Park but the real problem is Mile End.”

The Ministry of Defence is staging a security rehearsal, including deploying missiles above a block of flats in Bow, east London. It has ruled out placing British Army snipers on top of schools.

A spokesman for Scotland Yard said: “For obvious reasons we are not prepared to discuss the potential deployment or locations of officers at rifle observation points. The planning assumption is that the only police officers deployed with firearms will be members of the British police service.”

And the East London Advertiser has just run the following (clearly unsubbed) report under the headline, “Tower Hamlets Council denies reports snippers (sic) could be put on school roofs during Olympic Games” (I think they meant snipers, not hairdressers):

Reports that snippers could be placed on school roofs in Tower Hamlets to protect the US team during the Olympic Games have been denied by the council.

It comes after the Sunday Express quoted head of schools at Tower Hamlets council, Isobel Cattemole, as saying she had been approached but that she refused to say whether it was by British or US intelligence services.

Team US’s track and field athletes training at Mile End stadium, during this summer’s Games, has lead to speculation that there presence is more of a headache than the Olympic Park for security chief trying to prevent a terrorist attack.

A council spokeswoman said: “The Ministry of Defence has confirmed there are no plans to use schools in Tower Hamlets for any purpose during Games time.

“We are working with the United States Olympic Committee on security issues relating to Mile End Stadium, understandably they are sensitive and therefore we are not able to comment in detail, but we do not anticipate these will impact on the local community.

“Where possible we will ensure that external agencies engage with residents, and we will represent any concerns of our communities where we can.”

It has not been possible to get a comment from Ms Cattemole.

A MoD spokesman said they had already announced plans for using helicopters to carry snippers during the Games. “Any decision to use snippers on land, if it is happening, would be coordinated by police and American security services,” he said.

A spokesman for Scotland Yard said: “For obvious reasons we are not prepared to discuss the potential deployment or locations of officers at rifle observation points.

“The planning assumption is that the only police officers carrying or deployed with firearms will be members of the British Police Service.”

Director of strategic of communication for the US team, Mark Jones, insisted: “We’re relying on local law enforcement agencies and the Olympic Committee for security.”

The US Embassy is London refused to comment.

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The following is cross-post from Harry’s Place, written by Dickie Perrett (I have verified who it is).

I’m sure, like myself, many HP readers will be celebrating both Ken’s defeat and Labour’s gains, but amongst the euphoria of the last couple of days you may have missed the fact that Labour won a by-election in Tower Hamlets against the former leader of the Respect group on the council – and Galloway’s annointed succesor as Parliamentary candidate in 2010 – Abjol Miah

The results were as follows

John Paul PIERCELabour Party1544

Abjol MIAH, Respect, 1260

Caroline June KERSWELL, Conservative Party, 415

Alan DUFFELL, Green Party, 373

Azizur RAHMAN, Liberal Democrat, 208

Oli ROTHSCHILD, Independent, 36

You may recall after Labour narrowly lost the Spitalfields and Banglatown by-election a fortnight ago I offered some advice; fortunately they seem to have largely heeded this advice and won!

Weavers ward is distinctive but pretty reflective of Tower Hamlets as a whole. It’s classic inner city stuff. It contains about 50% social houing, including the Boundary Estate (the first municpal social housing in Europe) and contains an example of social housing from every decade from the 1890s to the 2010s. It has a significant Bangladeshi and Somali population, but is not dominated by Bengali polictics like some wards. It includes Columbia Road flower market, and the surrounding Jesus Green estate (where small 2 bedroom cottages fetch £750k), but is also one the most deprived wards in England. There are four gay or gay friendly pubs, a Conran restaurant and hotel, and numerous coffee bars. It’s part of Bethnal Green, but estate agents now call it Shoreditch! It also contains Bethnal Green Academy (Formerly Bethnal Green Technology Colege)– one of the fastest improving schools in England, and second most improved in London – which became an academy in Janauary against the opposition of the Labour Group and Lutfur Rahman (in a rare show of unity). Only problem was, the chair of Governors was also Chair of Tower Hamlets Labour party, but chose to stand down from the latter role amongst much public criticism.

Throughout the 80s, 90s and 00s, Weavers ward had been a Liberal/Lib Dem stronghold albeit with a weird interlude where the Liberals stood candidates against each other – Tower Hamlets politics has always been a bit odd. In 2002 and 2006 the Lib Dems got their act together and won all three seats, but are now relegated to fifth place behind the Greens. The Tories didn’t even bother running a full slate until 2006. But there was a certain element of deja-vu to having a by-election on GLA election day, as this happened four years agao when one of the Lib Dems stood down. Labour ran and won with Fazlul Haque, unfortunately they never asked Fazlul to prove where he lived and it turned out not to be in Tower Hamlets. Fazlul was subsequently deselected and stood for Respect in the 2010 all-out election and lost.

In 2010 not only did Labour regain Bethnal Green and Bow from Respect (with Abjol Miah replacing George Galloway) and retaining Poplar and Limehouse – with an increased majority (against George Galloway), but, with a superb machine campaign operation, had its best result on the council for a generation increasing from a majority of one in 2006, to a majority of 31. Following the election of Lutfur Rahman as the independent Mayor (having been expelled from Labour) later that year, a number of councillors defected to form an independent group. All of these candidates were imposed by the London Regional office of the Labour Party, the same clowns that were responsible for the rushed selection of Ken Livingstone (not to be confused with the clowns that ran his campaign). But this included taking all seats in the Weavers ward for Labour for the first time in twelve years.

The three candidates, Anna – a nurse at the local hospital, Abdul – a veteran local community worker and Kabir – who worked in the local police station supporting drug users worked hard as a team to build up the Labour vote. Last year, Kabir took the decision to work in an unpaid role supporting Mayor Rahman and was suspended from the Labour group (as he was openly campaigning for the opposition in this campaign, his formal expulsion will be imminent.) There’s also a lot of doubt about how much time Kabir spends at his flat in Bethnal Green! Due to the cuts in the health service, Anna had to take a job outside of London and resigned her seat causing this by-election. No doubt the level of abuse she faced for raising the fact that people in the public gallery at council meetings were making homophobic remarks towards Tory leader Peter Golds will haved weighed on her mind as well.

John has never stood before, but does live locally and he’d recently led a local campaign to save a local one-stop shop / housing office from closure, and got Mayor Rahman to turn around his decision. Abjol doesn’t really have a local connection.

John was an excellent candidate and had an excellent campign team around him. He campaigned on local issues and spoke to hundreds of residents from al backgrounds. His campaign team came from every sector of the community. He didn’t waste time talking to village elders. It was basically a Labour machine campaign. And this is how all significant wins in Tower Hamlets have been achieved. As I’ve said before, leave the communalism to Respect.

But there were two weird aspects from this campaign:

The white left:

Spent there time whining about Tower Hamlets Labour Party doing nothing for Ken and focusing all of there effort on Weavers. Well, after the way Ken treated Tower Hamlets Labour Party, who could blame them?  Except it was nonsense, whatever officers of the party felt, they held their noses and campaigned for Ken. There had been regular campaigning for the last few months and there was door-knocking in every ward in Tower Hamlets on Thursday.

Lack of Respect

Although Abjol stood as the Respect candidate, none of his campaign literature mentioned this. I understand he asked the Returning Officer to change his nomination papers after they had been submitted. I spotted one very confused looking Trot on Thursday wearing a Respect rosette, looking fruitlessly for some comrades.

They also tried to ape Labour’s campaign techniques. Issuing dirtect mail on very local issues, but in one case, covered here by Ted Jeory’s excellent blog they seem to be breaking all manner of rules. Also the direct mail came from Mayor Rahman, not from the candidate – without giving away too many campiagn secrets – you’ve rather missed the point.

Here’s a picture of the rat run that is the Jesus Green estate. 20 mph zone and road humps in space. And not a single moving car.

They – and by they I mean the IFE backed supporters of Respect and Lutfur Rahman – simply have no idea how to campaign outside of the most deprived densely Bangladeshi parts of the borough like Spitalfields and Whitechapel. They tried to copy Labour, but simply don’t have a clue. Like the far left, it suits them to keep people in the ghetto. Labour politics from left to right share one thing – a belief in social justice and social mobility, that’s why we’ll always win. Eventually!

Labour will learn from this victory

  • Leadership – just run one campiagn
  • Opposition – expose them for what they are
  • Tories – keep an eye on them.
  • Message – keep it local
  • Camapign – knock one every door and knock on it again, and again
  • Communalism – leave it to the Lutfurites
  • Candidate – select a good ‘un

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My views on East End Life are well known to regular readers of this blog, although they’ve softened recently since sometimes it seems to be the only paper covering Tower Hamlets.

However, the splash in the latest edition, which has just dropped through my letter box, sums up everything that’s wrong with it.

It says:

THE London mayoral elections went right down to the wire on Friday with second preference results still being counted as East End Life went to press. 

The two front-runners–Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone–were neck and neck in a count beset by delays. [etc etc].

ie pointless bordering on the absurd. We all know the result (it came through on Friday night) and for those readers who were waiting on tenterhooks for the council paper to arrive today, they’re still none the wiser. I wonder if they’ll splash on Boris’s victory in next week’s edition.

The paper’s editor is Laraine Clay, an experienced journalist who surely would have known how ridiculous it was to have devoted page 1 to a non-story would have been out of date by today. In any case, the council paper is meant to be there to inform residents about events in our borough.

A look at the inside pages reveals plenty of contenders for the front: personally, I’d have gone for Lutfur Rahman’s excellent page 5 pledge to help fight the stigma of mental health in the borough (it’s a particular problem among many Bengali women). However, they could also have gone for residents’ objections to the MoD’s plan for missiles in Bow (p3), or if they were intent on a political story, why not Labour’s victory over Lutfur/Respect in Weavers?(!)

And therein lies the problem, I suspect. I’d be amazed if the hands of Lutfur, and/or Takki Sulaiman, and/or Murziline Parchment were not involved in the City Hall Goes To The Wire splash. Methinks they got just a little bit too over-excited as Ken’s team did better than expected on Friday.

The strap-line under the paper’s masthead says, “News from tower Hamlets Council and your community.” I think Ken’s groupies forgot to read it.

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I’m told these are the results for the Weavers by-election in Tower Hamlets:

John Pierce (Labour) 1544

Abjol MIah (Lutfur Respect) 1260

Caroline Kerswell (Conservative) 415

Alan Duffell (Green) 373

Azizur Rahman Khan (Lib Dem) 208

If so, big sigh of relief for Labour, a pretty good performance for the Greens, yet another disaster for the Lib Dems and a very strong showing by Lutfur’s Independents/Respect in what should have been a Labour walkover.

Labour will take heart from this and it maintains their strategic control over the full council. If they’d lost Josh Peck’s leadership of the group would have been questioned far more.

If Ken Livingstone loses tonight, expect to see the likes of Oli Rahman, Shahed Ali and Rania Khan being tempted to rejoin Labour. Labour will want to see this as the beginning of the end for Lutfur. Long, long way to go though…

UPDATE – 1pm

Labour group leader Josh Peck tells me via Twitter: “Oliur and Rania will never rejoin the Labour Group under my leadership – nor will any of the others. I never mourned their loss!” He added later that the sentiment also applies to Shahed Ali, Abdul Asad, Rofique Ahmed. This is where we might see the lines being drawn for a potential challenge to his leadership next week.

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Weavers count – over to you

As I’ve got to do my day job and write Sunday’s fish and chip paper today, I won’t be at the Weavers count. So I’ll leave it to any readers there to report from the scene, either by sending in comments directly or by email or text and I’ll update as we go along.

One thought: the BBC are reporting this morning that Respect winning five seats in Bradford was a “great night for Galloway”. Was it really? They fielded 11 targeted candidates and  won only five, just weeks after a thumping by-election victory there. And the council seats weren’t George’s priority anyway: he knows full well they were after a Yes vote in the mayoral referendum there. Only on Monday, Galloway boasted this in the Guardian:

“Put your house on it – we will win the mayoralty of Bradford in November.”

Bradford voted no by 55% to 45% last night.

Can Abjol Miah salvage a “great night” for LutfurRespect?

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The polls are open in Tower Hamlets and I’ll leave this thread open to you for your descriptions. Include details such as voter and police turnouts, which way you think it’s going (particularly in Weavers) voter intimidation, complaints about possible wrongdoing, comedy moments, whether Abjol MIah is wearing a Respect rosette, and of course sightings of the not-so-lesser spotted Lutfurmobile…

 

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Isabella Freeman

I have had to take this post down for the moment because Isabella Freeman has sent me a letter threatening to sue me for libel. Any lawyers out there who might want to help me, please get in touch.

UPDATE – Aug 15, 4pm

The Evening Standard has today published the following apology to Isabella Freeman in relation to the article it published on May 2 and which I copy and pasted on here that day. I made further remarks based on the Standard’s article which I removed following a threat of legal action from Ms Freeman. Given that the Standard has withdrawn its article, I am happy to repeat and agree its apology here and withdraw the comments I made which had been based on that article.

Here is the Standard’s apology:

On 2 May we reported allegations that Isabella Freeman, the Assistant Chief Executive (Legal Services) and Monitoring Officer of Tower Hamlets, had shown a lack of care about alleged voter fraud in Tower Hamlets and, on the contrary, was involved in a deliberate cover-up.

We accept that those allegations were untrue and any suggestion that Isabella Freeman had not overseen the correct procedures was wrong. She has, in fact, taken steps so that the council has the most robust systems and processes permitted within electoral law to ensure the integrity of the electoral register and identify any malpractice.  Tower Hamlets electronically scans 100 per cent of postal votes and rejects any that have non-matching signatures. The article also incorrectly stated that Ms Freeman had blamed Muslim voters for the claims by others of voter fraud in Tower Hamlets. We apologise to Ms Freeman.

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