Archive for July 5th, 2012

I’ve been banging on about East End Life for as long as I’ve been covering Tower Hamlets council and, following a meeting with him at the Tory party conference last October, I predicted here that Communities Secretary Eric Pickles would try to limit its publication by putting it under some form of statutory footing. On Tuesday, he announced he would do exactly that.

There are several views on this subject and BBC London did a small item on its news bulletin two nights ago (failing by the way to broadcast the views of a single Bengali resident).

The following is a guest post by Robert Scott, a resident of Wapping, a postgraduate student at Leeds University and an activist in the Tower Hamlets Labour party:

BBC London News recently featured a short segment, which outlined Eric Pickles’ intention to limit councils to printing four free newssheets a year, which heavily featured Tower Hamlets. Eric Pickles and the residents featured in the piece raised important questions regarding motives costs and the effectiveness of council newspapers. Considering East End Life costs ratepayers £1.5million per year, I don’t think it can be accurately described as a freesheet and I have doubts  whether those costs are recuperated by advertising. [TJ: they are not and, as a senior accountant at the council has admitted to me, that £1.5million does not even include all the costs.]

Councils are required to place public notices in two local newspapers. I don’t know how much that would cost but I don’t believe we’d get  anywhere near to £1.5million a year. Anything above this basic requirement is optional and whilst it is valuable in certain instances, it ought to be reassessed in light of local budgetary constraints.  The council’s communication chief Takki Sulaiman made a really poor effort defending East End Life in the segment:

“It’s about services, it’s about community groups, and it’s about community cohesion. Local authorities have a duty to promote community cohesion, race equality, a reduced fear of crime and promote healthy lifestyles.”

Whilst local authorities ought to be doing all of those things, East End Life is not the principal way or even a particularly effective way of achieving any of them.

THEOs (Tower Hamlets Enforcement Officers), useless though they are in responding to crime, play an important role in reducing the fear of crime. If you want to promote healthy lifestyles, why not look into the possibility of introducing universal free school meals for primaries like they have in Newham and crack down on the number of chicken shops in the borough?

If you want to promote community cohesion and race quality then supporting and getting involved in more community events might be a good place to start. You don’t need a weekly newspaper to do any of those things.

We need more support for grassroots initiatives rather than set peace propaganda delivered on a weekly basis and that’s only if you’re one of the lucky few who actually receives the paper: many residents don’t.

Reforming East End Life has the potential to release a lot of money that can facilitate other initiatives. The value of East End Life in its current form is questionable in the best of times, which is reinforced by the comments made by residents in the video. I think we’ve reached a point where the council ought to get rid of it altogether and think of ways to replicate some of it’s more useful functions at a reduced cost or in the very least severely reduce its publication and distribution in order to plug gaps in funding elsewhere.

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Tower Hamlets Labour party yesterday expelled five councillors for “actively campaigning” for Gulam Robbani in his successful Spitalfields and Banglatown by-election in April. Robbani was the preferred “independent” selection of Mayor Lutfur Rahman.

The five expelled – Shahed Ali, Abdul Asad, Rofique Ahmed, Kabir Ahmed and Shafiqul Haque – were already in the party’s departure lounge after they had decided to break the Labour whip and serve in Lutfur’s cabinet.

Labour’s press release on the expulsion is copied below and the East London Advertiser reported the story here.

The “actively campaigning” line relies at least partly on the leaflet put out by Robbani, which contains the endorsement of the Infamous Five.

The leaflet is here:

Pretty clear.

Shahed Ali has now asked me to publish his defence. I’ve known Shahed for a fair few years and I have real regard for him, both as a person and as a councillor. But he has sadly cheapened his argument and his status by playing the race card.

He also argues that if he is to be kicked out for breaking party rules, why hasn’t Lord Sugar also been expelled for urging people not to vote for Ken Livingstone earlier this year? Ditto Telegraph journalist/Labour blogger Dan Hodges.

Shahed, who never came across to me as a religious type, also says he was kicked out for being a Muslim. When I questioned him about all this, he stuck to his line by saying Labour is “institutionally racist”.

Of course, this is a line we’ve heard time and time again in Tower Hamlets. Before the Great Split, Labour and Respect councillors regularly used to accuse the Tories of racism because they had no Bengali councillors.

Lately, it has been Lutfur and his crew who say they are martyrs of an anti-Muslim plot.

I suspect it’s a deliberate strategy. And a pretty dangerous one at that.

[You’ll also see that Shahed says he couldn’t have been “actively” campaigning for Robbani because he was in Bangladesh at the time (just as he was when he commented on this post during Lutfur’s election campaign here), but when I asked whether he had ever complained, he declined to say.]

Here is Shahed’s defence:

As far as I am aware, I have been written to by the compliance officer of the London Regional Labour party, advising me that my membership has been terminated for the following reason:

Clause 2.1.4.B of the Labour party rules states: “A member of the party who joins and/ or supports a political organisation other than an official Labour group or other unit of the party, or supports any candidate who stands against an official Labour candidate, or publicly declares their intent to stand against a Labour candidate, shall automatically be ineligible to be or remain a party member, subject to the provisions of part 6.1.2 of the disciplinary rules.”

The letter then continues to state:

“You are, therefore, no longer a member of the Labour Party and have been removed from the national membership system.”

This clearly clarifies to me that the above clause of the party rules have been applied in order to, therefore, terminate my membership. However, I am struggling to apply the same clause in two recent examples as follows. Labour peer Lord Alan Sugar, aka The Apprentice, appeared in the Guardian on 19 April, where it was reported:

Sugar tweeted: “I don’t care if Ed Miliband is backing Livingstone. I seriously suggest NO-ONE votes for Livingstone in the Mayoral elections.” He also wrote: “Livingstone must NOT get in on 3rd May.”

It is obvious that the race for the 2012 London Mayoralty was simply between Labour and the Tories. I therefore doubt Lord Sugar’s appeal to voters could have been anything other than instigating a vote for Boris?  This is the link to the entire article.

Furthermore, Labour party member and Telegraph journalist, Dan Hodges, pledged his vote and support for the Tories against the Labour candidate, Ken Livingstone in his article on 30 April.  This is the link to the entire article.

Tower Hamlets Labour group leader, Cllr. Joshua Peck, according to the article in the East London Advertiser stated as follows:

I am very pleased the party has now expelled the councillors, who have clearly broken the rules in campaigning for other candidates. This should be seen as a real signal that we are serious about applying the rules. The five expelled councillors have consistently voted and campaigned against the Labour Party. Whilst it is sad that it has had to come to this, these five councillors made their choice and now have to deal with the consequences”, councillor Peck added.”

My question to Cllr Peck is simple.  If he truly stands by his statement of this move being a “real signal about them seriously applying the rules”, does he believe that the same rules should also apply to the above two examples I have cited, or is there any reason why Clause 2.1.4.B of the Labour party rules should apply any different to them as opposed to myself?

I further note that according to the East London Advertiser, Jim Fitzpatrick MP said:

“The rules are the rules, and colleagues know that if they break those rules, there’s a possibility of sanctions, so the expulsion is fair and reasonable.” Mr Fitzpatrick also went on to reject the allegations of racism, describing them as “stupid nonsense.”

This is not the first time the Labour party has been accused of discrimination on the grounds of Race, and sadly the way things are going, it will not be the last.

It is depressingly becoming obvious to me that rules are not rules when one can either purchase them for 400K, or be excluded from the rulebook if one happens to be non-Black or non-Asian. I guess that if one also happens to be a Muslim, kicking them out of the party with no due process, unfairly, also works well with the right-wing media, hence far-right sentiment?

This is not ‘stupid nonsense’ Mr. Fitzpatrick, the rules have not been applied equally. I welcome you to educate me as to what makes my case punishable (based upon accusation) when clearly, others have not also been expelled for non-compliance of the same clause?  This is simply discrimination on the grounds of race and religion.

Finally, I would like to end by adding that I also challenge one single soul in Tower Hamlets Labour party, in particular, members of Spitalfields and Banglatown ward to produce a shred of evidence that I was campaigning for any person opposing the Labour Party candidate?  I was abroad in Bangladesh for five weeks during this period so unless I have an identical twin, unknown to me, it questions my interpretation of the words ‘actively campaigning.’

Councillor Shahed Ali

Here is Shahed’s response to my questions about his statement (I had asked him whether he was glad Robabni had beaten Labour’s Ala Uddin in Spitalfields, whether he had complained about the leaflet and whether he really wished to play the race card):

I have known both Robbani and Ala for decades. This has been mainly through the Labour party and through my time as a council employee. My relationship with Ala was also a very social one and we have shared intense hours together campaigning and supporting various party candidates for various selection battles. Those were the days when it all came down to the membership of party members making decisions.

Therefore I would have equally been glad for, and dissapointed at both outcomes because I know they would both make brilliant councillors with Labour values. However upon this occassion, Robbani will be part of Mayor Rahman’s administration therefore, in a position to deliver for his constituents and ultimately, that is what his electorate in S&BT will want more than simply a councillor not being able to deliver for his ward due to the restraints that would have been imposed upon him by a fraction of Labour group councillors who are simply opposing Labour manufesto policies for the sake of opposition rather than merit.

I have not seen this leaflet which also had my name on it. I was actually out of the country from 22 March to 29 April.  However, I have seen Labour councillors being far more sly in the role they (didn’t) play during the Lutfur VS Abbas saga which in my opinion is a far more stronger indicator of moral values.  As you know yourself Ted, I was probably the most publicly vocal face in opposition to Lutfur at the time both through live TV debates, my own written contributions in various blogs and local newspapers. This upset many people which is the reason why many current Labour councillors choose instead to stay ‘hush’ throughout.

I am not playing the race card Ted. I strongly can find no other reason why the rulebook is applied inconsistently other than the unfortunate world of institutional rascism. Let me ask you: if rules are rules, then the clause given to me for my expulsion should also apply to the likes of Lord Sugar and Dan Hodges.

Lord Sugar as you say may have had other reason not to vote for Ken but that should not exclude him or anyone from the rulebook if it is to be used as a tool to take such decisions. If individuals get to pick and choose whom to apply the rulebook upon instead of allowing it to dictate decisions, then I am afraid we live in a world where those individuals taking such decisions will at times discriminate on grounds of both race and religion. That is why in order to avoid such, the rulebook should be applied equally and consistently  to all regardless.

I have never been the type to simply obey what others instruct upon me simply to be in their goodbooks. Sadly this position does not escalate one up upon the political career ladder.  But that is me, and I would not change that nor envy many of my Labour councillor colleagues who do just that, choose to not challenge in group for sake of being punished by being given no positions in group and its wider circles, also known as a caucus.  

I hope that the Labour party seriously works towards eliminating reason for people to feel discriminated against on the grounds of race and religion. I will continue working hard to deliver whats best for my community, rather than to pander to whats best for furthering my political career at the expense of my constituents.

And for the record, here is the Labour press release:

Press release – For immediate release

Labour expel five Tower Hamlets councillors

The Labour Party has written to five Tower Hamlets councillors informing them of their immediate expulsion from the party. The councillors, Kabir Ahmed, Rofique Ahmed, Councillor Shahed Ali, Councillor Abdul Asad and Shafiqul Haque were all found to have violated numerous Labour Party rules by actively campaigning against the Labour Party candidate during the recent Spitalfields by-election. The five councillors were also reprimanded for their continued membership in the independent Mayor’s cabinet.

Responding to the expulsions Labour Group Leader Cllr Joshua Peck said:

“The five expelled councillors have consistently voted and campaigned against the Labour Party. Whilst it is sad that it has had to come to this, these five councillors made their choice and now have to deal with the consequences.

I hope that this decision will draw a line under the problems of the past and allow us to focus on the important job of holding the independent Mayor to account and battling the Coalition’s cuts regime.”


Notes to editors

  • The five councillors were found to have actively  campaigned for independent candidate Gulam Robbani who stood in opposition to  the Labour Party candidate.
  • Labour Party rules state that “A member of the party who joins and/or supports a political  organisation other than an official Labour group or other unit of the party, or supports any candidate who stands against an official Labour candidate, or publicly declares their intent to stand against a labour candidate, shall automatically be ineligible.

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