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Archive for April, 2014

Where to start with updates on the events of last week?

Yesterday, Mayor Lutfur Rahman staged a mini-rally/call for canvassers outside Sir John Cass School in Stepney. I’d been helping out with some spring cleaning at St Dunstan’s Church across the road so I thought I’d pop by to see what was going on.

Here’s the male heavy crowd.

lutfur crowd

Thanks to Cllr Gulam Robbani‘s Facebook page we can see the moment I arrived.

This is a photo he took of me offering a handshake as he walked towards me.

Handshake

 

He wasn’t interested in the handshake; he just continued walking towards me, pointing his camera in my face. It was weird.

So I took a couple of him instead.

But he just carried on snapping. I’m not sure what he thought he was doing (and if you look carefully in the background, you can see Lutfur looking a little concerned about his friend’s erratic behaviour as well) so I gave him the thumb’s up.

thumb up

Someone suggested later I sign an autograph book for him.

Like little sheep following one of their more misguided leaders, a few more brave Lutfurites rushed forward to copy him. Cllr Alibor Choudhury also joined in and asked people to take pictures of us together.

Here are a couple more of my secret fan club.

Don’t you think they do look sheepish?

Standing in the background of the ‘thumbs up’ photo is Sebastian Payne, the online editor of the Spectator magazine. He thought it one of the strangest scenes he’d scene at a political rally. I mean, what kind of politician would try and intimidate a journalist? Bit sinister.

Seb, in a piece he wrote last night, also said there were a number of other more professional photographers taking photos with long lenses from the park across the way and from the end of the street.

Whether these photographers were paid by Lutfur I don’t know, but one or two were jumping to his orders.

For example, a couple of minutes after the Great Man himself arrived, one of his men (for they were pretty much all men), spotted a couple of white girls walking past. They pointed this out to Lutfur, so the mayor pounced. Smiling, he rushed over to them. They looked a bit bemused.

Lutfur and the girls

But he stood there chatting to them for a couple of minutes, just long enough for his cameraman to take enough shots to tick his “diversity” box.

lutfur girls and cameras

And then he walked back to the embraces of his 75 or so committed fans.

For the next half hour I was there, he never once more ventured beyond that crowd.

While I was watching all this, I did have a pleasant chat with his main man, Cllr Alibor Choudhury. We discussed all manner of things and I repeated an offer for Lutfur to write for this blog. He thought it a lovely idea. He also repeated a statement put out on the council’s website disputing the calculations made by BBC Panorama about the awarding of grants.

The BBC said Lutfur had diverted more than £2million of grants towards Bangladeshi or Somali groups to shore up his vote.

In contrast, the council had stated: 

In fact, in the latest grants round, £1.6million of a £9.7million programme was awarded to organisations with a Bengali or Somali chair, CEO or applicant – or 16.5 per cent to a community that makes up just under 36 per cent of the population.

I told Alibor surely the way to settle this is for the council to provide a breakdown of its figures by group. No problem, he said. So I said that’s odd because when I’d asked Takki Sulaiman, the council’s head of communications, for that spreadsheet on Thursday, he’d refused to send it. Takki said if I wanted that breakdown, I’d have to submit a FoI request. How transparent.

Alibor said Takki was “wrong”, that I should have been given it. So would Alibor send me it instead? Oh no, said the cabinet member for finance, we’ll have to let Eric Pickles’s inspectors now do their job.

He then asked me for my opinion on how last week’s events will affect the May election. I told him I didn’t really know. I said Labour seem buoyed by it and that many Bengalis had expressed deep embarrassment about the antics of Lutfur bhai and co.

Alibor said he was surprised at that and pointed to the favourable coverage the Mayor had received in the hard-hitting, ever-so-scrutinising Bengali media.

Here’s a selection of front pages from Thursday’s editions.

Bengali papers

Some of the headlines read ‘Brave Lutfur’, ‘BBC apologises over Panorama’, etc etc. It’s a free press, I suppose, but they do let themselves and their readers down sometimes with their gullibility.

A number of the papers, including the once prestigious Surma, also ran headlines declaring that Jack Straw was now backing Lutfur. “Lutfur is rolling out the sort of progressive programme that I’m in favour of Labour councils initiating,” the former Foreign Secretary was quoted as saying.

Really?

In fact, these quotes were taken from a rather feeble April Fool gag on Michael Meacher’s blog, Left Futures, published here the morning after Panorama on April 1. There were so many clues this was fake, I won’t bother going into them, but the biggest one of all was the line inserted at the top of the article on Tuesday evening.

Left futures

If I were Labour, I’d be getting Jack Straw to demand an apology and the right of reply in all those papers for the next edition. Labour needs to do better getting its message out to the media.

The Bengali community deserves better journalism than this.

But Lutfur, partly due to the council cash that’s been lobbed their way, has the Bengali press sewn up.

Late on Friday afternoon, his two council-paid media advisers, Numan Hussain and Mohammed Jubair (the £50k a year adviser who also works for Channel S) sent out invites for an “emergency press conference” in the town hall. These two, remember, have been behind allegations the BBC was racist.

I wasn’t invited, and nor was the East London Advertiser. I’m not aware of any other non-Bengali hacks who were asked to come. In fact, the ELA’s Adam Barnett received a tip-off from another source and made his way to Mulberry Place. Only after he was in the building did the Mayor’s Office ring him and ask if he’d like to come!

Here’s Lutfur’s photo of the meeting.

press conference

That’s Stuart Madewell to Lutfur’s left. Many of the others in camera shot are councillors or Tower Hamlets First activists. I’m told the “press conference” wasn’t the most biting of affairs, that it was more like a campaign strategy meeting.

I’m told the first question was something like: “We’ve heard there were SAS here and you’ve been arrested. Is this all propaganda?”

Who dares wins, eh.

There have been a couple of other developments, which I’ll report on later, but in the meantime, here are a couple more photos (courtesy of Labour’s @dave___smith):

Today’s edition of East End Life:

East End Life

 

Can anyone spot what’s missing??

And a someone removing Lutfur’s name from Poplar Baths.

Screen shot 2014-04-06 at 16.33.11

Not quite the Baghdad Saddam statue, but…

 

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8.15am…This has just come to me. At 8am this morning a number of specially appointed auditors from PriceWaterhouseCooopers arrived at Tower Hamlets town hall in Mulberry Place on the express orders of the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Eric Pickles has heard enough and he has now put his words into action.

Officials at DCLG have been watching Tower Hamlets extremely carefully for many months, amassing their own evidence.

The BBC Panorama documentary on Monday was the final straw. Evidence amassed from that programme, and not just that relating to the broadcast itself, is also being examined.

I understand PwC’s people are taking away boxes of files relating to the grants process and the disposal of assets, probably including the sale of Poplar Town Hall.

Mayor Lutfur Rahman is due to hold an anti-Panorama rally in Stepney on Saturday. I suspect the tension will be ratcheted up.

More on all this later, but spare a thought for interim officer Meic Sullivan-Gould, who’s missing all this fun having flown to Japan…where they know what to do in these sorts of circumstances…

I’ve written a more detailed account for Express.co.uk here.

And here are the letters sent from DCLG to the council and PwC.

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Jan0700146_biggerMeic Sullivan-Gould, a Past President of the Association of Council Secretaries & Solicitors, has ruffled a few feathers since becoming interim monitoring officer at Tower Hamlets council in January.

I’m told he’s a great fan of Private Eye and that he believes he’s a real bloodhound when it comes to sniffing out town hall wrongdoing.

He’s something of a travelling wilbury in local government circles. Councils queue up for his consultancy services, it seems. He must be the best thing since sliced bread. He’s an expert. In everything.

Except keeping counsel as a good lawyer perhaps should.

Within a few short weeks of of working in Tower Hamlets the white knight of local government was letting it be known there was nothing to investigate. He, Meic, had given the council and Mayor Lutfur Rahman a clean bill of health.

Nothing to be seen here, you pesky journalists and opposition councillors; run along now.

How he had managed to go through the books and processes of the council is such a short space of time, I have no idea. He must be superhuman.

And so confident was he of his thorough investigation, he took to Facebook as the Panorama programme was airing on Monday night.

Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 13.07.15

The man he is chatting to is Mark Hynes, the director of law at Lambeth Council, who, significantly, is the President of the Lawyers in Local Government. So a heavy hitter. I’m not sure he’ll be most impressed about Meic’s privacy settings.

So what we learn is that Mark Hynes is shocked by Panorama’s findings. “Where were all the officers?” he asks. “..it would seem that the Bengalis through the mayor and cabinet are doing what they want.”

I’m not sure “the Bengalis” is a term he’d like to use again. And I think the headhunters will knock no more about him moving to LBTH.

But Meic doesn’t pick him up on his use of language. Instead he berates Mark for taking a view. In fact, Meic goes further: He offers his expert political analysis. “The mayor’s support will be galvanised by their unfair coverage….chances of a free fair and credible election diminished by an unnecessarily contentious rehash of longstanding unproven allegations!”

Remember, Meic had just watched a programme proving a dubious relationship between the Mayor and Channel S. Meic thought there were Chinese walls in place surrounding Mohammed Jubair’s work for the broadcaster and as a mayoral media adviser.

So in Meic’s view, Lutfur is not the Bad Mayor, but a good guy. Clean bill of health.

Part of his job, of course, is to be impartial on many matters, and to retain the trust of members and officers. He may just have lost that. They almost yearn for the return of his predecessor Isabella Freeman. I’m not sure he can hang around too much longer.

That’ll give him time to scour the pages of Private Eye (for articles about himself.)

Or return to his thoughtful musings on Twitter..

Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 16.30.43

 

 

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This is a reblog of a piece on Tendence Coatsey

Tendance Coatesy

Directly Funds Religious Groups. 

This is not the place to discuss the full picture  of the Panorama report into Tower Hamlets Council and Lufter Rahman.

Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for local government, is not the best person to criticise anybody, even the person who ties his shoelaces.

Counterfirehas however  muddied the waters by repeating Rahman’s charges that the programme is ‘racist’ and ‘Islamophobic’.

Since they claim to speak for the left, they need a reply.

They claim,

Take away the constant reminders that Lutfur and many of supporters are Bengali(!!), and what were we left with? Firstly, the fact that he didn’t follow the advice of council bureaucrats as to who should get funding, and secondly that he didn’t submit himself to sufficient questioning by Tower Hamlets’ Labour-dominated council. As for the former, it is a hardly a political scandal that funding decisions should, ultimately, be taken by…

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