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Archive for February 24th, 2014

One of the features of Lutfur Rahman’s divisive administration has been the readiness of his low-grade lieutenants to chuck around the word ‘racist’. I’ve documented this far too many times on this blog to list them again now.

It’s also been clear the past few months that this would be their strategy in the lead up to May’s mayoral election. And having grown up in the swamp, they know that mud can stick.

They’ll probably find some way to label me racist for even saying that, but I’m not.

You see, my wife and her family sometimes call themselves Bangladeshis; more frequently it’ll be Bengalis. All the time, of course, they also say they’re British. And at other times, when they’re describing someone who’s white, they’ll say they’re ‘English’.

All terms of common parlance. And they’re the most lovely, open-minded family I know (and yes, I would say that, but it’s true.)

Unlike the dimwitted muck-rakers who pretend they’re campaigning for a One Tower Hamlets, ie Lutfur’s Tower Hamlets First crew.

Lutfur was always described to me by those who knew him better as an empty vessel. It seems that vessel now poureth over with poison.

How so?

See this press release from Lutfur’s campaign manager Cllr Alibor Choudhury.

John Biggs: Dividing the East End

Labour Mayoral hopeful reported to Equalities and Human Rights Commission over inflammatory and divisive comments

Pressure was today mounting on Tower Hamlets Labour Mayoral hopeful John Biggs after he was referred to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission for remarks made on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme

The complaint, by Cllr. Alibor Choudhury of Tower Hamlets First, refers to a statement made by Biggs on 22 September 2013.

Attempting to refute claims of institutional racism in the Labour Party, Mr Biggs said: “All of the Mayor’s Cabinet are Bangladeshi and his primary policy focus has been the concerns of one community, the Bangladeshi community.”

Cllr. Choudhury said: “First off, the makeup of the Mayor’s cabinet is a result of Labour’s policy of non-cooperation. Secondly, John might want to think of me as a foreigner, but I was born here and am as British as he is. Thirdly, policies like free homecare, bringing back EMA and building the most affordable homes in the UK benefit everyone. John’s remarks are untrue and inflammatory and are doing lasting damage to community cohesion in the East End.”

The comments reported to the Commission are the latest in a long line of racially charged comments by the Labour Mayoral hopeful. In 1998, he campaigned against the creation of Banglatown and in 2013 his dog-whistle claims on housing were picked up and gleefully used as propaganda by the EDL who marched on the borough just a couple of months later. More recently, one of his Labour colleagues accused him of having a problem with outspoken Bangladeshis.

Cllr. Choudhury added: “Biggs’ slogan is ‘Uniting the East End’ but with far-right ‘patrols’ on our streets and bomb threats to the Town Hall and East London Mosque, his remarks are doing the opposite. Residents have tried to get him to explain his comments and have been ignored, so there’s no other option but to report him to the EHRC.”

Very kindly, Alibor also sent us the letter he’s written to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

Dear Commissioners,

I have been an elected councillor in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets since 2006, and currently serve as the council’s Cabinet Member for Resources, serving alongside the directly-elected mayor, Lutfur Rahman.

I’m proud that in Lutfur, Tower Hamlets has elected Britain’s, and Europe’s, first BAME directly-elected mayor. He is standing for re-election this coming May. Sadly, however, the local Labour Party, who are currently in opposition on the council, appear to be centring their campaign to unseat Lutfur on racial grounds.

Appearing on the BBC’s Sunday Politics show on 22 September 2013, the Labour mayoral candidate said, “all of the mayor’s cabinet are Bangladeshi and primary policy focus has been the concerns of one community, the Bangladeshi community.”

This is worrying on a number of levels. First, I am one of those cabinet members. I may be ethnic-Bangladeshi but I was born and brought up in Britain, I have always lived here, and I am as British as Mr Biggs is.

Second, there is a clear appeal to racial prejudice, which is deeply irresponsible, particularly given the backdrop of tensions around the EDL march that had taken place weeks before the programme, and constant negative press coverage around the local Bangladeshi community and Muslims.

On 25 September, three days after the broadcast, the East London Mosque was the subject of a bomb threat and police were called. On 26 September, a suspicious package arrived at the Town Hall. It is very possible that these sinister incidents were the work of extremists whipped up by Mr Biggs’s outburst.

Even if there is no direct link, Mr Biggs should know that his position as a London Assembly member gives him a prominent and influential public platform and that as such, he should choose his words responsibly.

Third, that there are no white members of the mayor’s cabinet is not of his own choosing. When Lutfur stood as an independent candidate following the Labour Party’s suspension of his candidacy – on the basis of allegations that were never put to him and later proved to be false – a large number of Labour councillors supported him. Those who were ethnic-Bengali were expelled from the Labour Party, whereas those who were not were permitted to remain.

On winning the mayoral election, Lutfur wrote to all Labour councillors – white and non-white – inviting them to apply for cabinet positions. But Mr Biggs’s party colleagues ordered all Labour councillors to refuse the offer or be expelled from the Labour Party. This is the reason why there are no non BAME cabinet members.

Apart from anything else, I was hoping that Mr Biggs would have something more constructive to observe about me and my fellow cabinet members, rather than crass complaints about the colour of our skin.

I truly believe that the reason for such messaging is that the Labour Party feels it has lost the ethnic minority vote to Lutfur and therefore needs to appeal to a section of the electorate who resent Bangladeshis and Muslims’ involvement in local democracy and civil society, and who do not normally vote.

Such sentiments are fuelled by hysterical newspaper articles branding this multicultural borough ‘Taliban Tower Hamlets’ and ‘Sharia Zone’, and of course the false allegations famously made by Labour Party figures that Lutfur had been ‘brainwashed by Islamic fundamentalists’.

It would not be the first time such a strategy has been adopted: you will be all too familiar with Phil Woolas MP’s racial smears against the Liberal Democrats after he lost much of his ethnic-minority support base to that party following the Iraq war.

I trust that you will share my grave concern over these deeply unappetising and irresponsible election tactics. I write to you now because my analysis of the opposition’s approach has been reaffirmed by further developments in recent days, which have seen a Far-Right racist party, British First, mount intimidating vigilante patrols outside the East London Mosque, a serving opposition councillor accuse his party leaders and Mr Biggs of racial prejudice, and the party’s election organiser telling the public that the way to remove the mayor from office is to get more non-Bangladeshis to vote. I am happy to release the evidence of these incidents to you as you require.

My foremost concern is the community cohesion in this borough. Its sure destruction should not be a price any legitimate party is willing to pay in return for winning an election.

I very much hope that you will look into this situation carefully, and I look forward to a prompt and thorough response.

Yours sincerely,

Councillor Alibor Choudhury

Cabinet Member for Resources
Shadwell Ward

CC: The Labour Party National Executive Committee Chair Angela Eagle
The Labour Party BAME National Executive Committee Chair Kamaljeet Jandu
Greater London Authority Monitoring Officer

Well, this is a bit thick really. And remember, Alibor is the cabinet member for finance. And not only does he in private call himself Bengali/Bangladeshi (he has to me many times and never British Bangladeshi, because that goes without saying), but he also signs off grants galore for groups whose names suggest Bangladeshi-only.

Only last week, for example, he and the Mayor handed out a ‘Third Sector Award’ to the Bangladesh Football Association, which has also received tens of thousands of pounds in council funding under Lutfur and Alibor.

The Bangladeshi Youth Movement, seen in this document here, also received grants aplenty. There are many other examples.

Hey, and what’s this we see in the Tower Hamlets Strategic Plan for 2013/14, authored by the Mayor himself: an action point for the Deputy Mayor, Ohid Ahmed…”Implement action plan for improving drug and alcohol treatment recovery rates across the borough, including for younger adults, Bangladeshi women, people with disabilities and LGBT residents. (March 2014)

Well, perhaps Alibor has referred himself to the EHRC.

As for suggesting John Biggs has somehow sinisterly prompted bombs to arrive in Tower Hamlets…well, Alibor is no stranger to violence. Perhaps it’s time he can explain how he got that six inch scar on his neck.

Every time I’ve asked John Biggs about Alibor’s past experiences with the gang-ridden Ocean estate, John has always declined to say anything. You see, Alibor was once John’s protege: John mentored him onto a straighter path and helped him see the potential power of politics as a force for good.

Perhaps he’s forgotten those lessons.

Actually, I think he needs a bit of love, a nice big cuddle. When you see him knocking on your door next, give him a squeeze.

Alibor

In the meantime, here’s John Biggs’s response:

Lutfur Rahman’s smears are an insult to true victims of racism

Labour have today responded to a disgraceful press release which was issued by Lutfur Rahman supporter Cllr Alibor Choudhury unfoundedly accusing Labour’s candidate for Mayor of Tower Hamlets of racism. The press release made sweeping and baseless accusations and stoking racial fear amongst voters.

At the same time another Rahman supporting councillor took to twitter falsely claiming that if elected John Biggs planned to use his powers to scrap the “Banglatown” ward name which is a point of significant pride in the Bangladeshi community. Cllr Choudhury was also promoting his statement on Facebook openly referring to John Biggs as John Bigot.

The attack was described by Labour as a “desperate tactic” and said that “baseless cries of racism for political gain are an insult to anyone who has actually suffered true racial abuse.”

Labour drew attention to positive nature of Biggs’ campaign including the cross community support it enjoys. They highlighted that whilst Rahman’s supporters were intent on spreading baseless smears and character attacks Biggs was focused on speaking with local people and announcing policies which will help all residents such as free school meals for all primary school pupils. Over the last two weeks Labour councillors and John Biggs have announced a multitude of policies including:

– Free school meals for all primary school children
– A 24h out of hours noise service at weekends
– Working towards building 1,000 new council homes after the current administration built only 15.
– New measures to tackle drug dealing on estates
– Creating a new private lettings agency to cut out rip off charges for private renters
– Bringing the popular borough fireworks display back to Victoria Park

Leader of the Labour Group, Cllr Sirajul Islam, said: “Let’s be clear about this, John Biggs is no racist. John Biggs has devoted his life to serving all the people of East London. This vicious character attack is nothing more than a desperate tactic from a party who know they are losing the battle of ideas.

“Whilst John Biggs is pledging to provide free school meals for all the borough’s primary school children, all Lutfur Rahman and his supporters can do is cry wolf. Their shameful and baseless cries of racism for political gain are an insult to anyone who has actually suffered true racial abuse.”

John Biggs, Labour candidate for Mayor of Tower Hamlets said: “I am extremely disappointed by this misleading, divisive, and inflammatory outburst from supporters of the current Mayor. I’m going to run the type of campaign Tower Hamlets deserves – one about ideas for how to make life in our borough better.”

In a joint statement MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, Rushanara Ali, MP and MP for Poplar and Limehouse Jim Fitzpatrick MP said: “We are utterly appalled by this behaviour. Tower Hamlets is, and deserves, better than these bullyboy politicians who resort to lies and character attacks. Labour have been clear from day one that we want this election to be about uniting Tower Hamlets, the policies that will improve peoples lives and the best person to serve all communities. Instead with over two months to go Lutfur Rahman is resorting to baseless, divisive smears and attacks.

“If Lutfur Rahman thinks Labour is standing against him because of his race then he needs to get real. The reason John Biggs is standing is because he passionately believes in uniting all communities in Tower Hamlets and with a strong unified Labour team he can bring the change the borough needs. The current Mayor just isn’t up to the job and is clearly more interested in his own self-promotion and wasting public money than helping the people of Tower Hamlets who will see through these inflammatory accusations for what they are: a desperate attempt to divide based on the politics of fear.”

“For over 30 John Biggs has worked tirelessly, fighting the fascist BNP and EDL and uniting communities across the borough. The diversity that runs through our party is represented by the fantastic slate of council candidates that will be standing side by side with John, as we will be, throughout the campaign and onward.”

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