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Archive for April, 2015

As a result of my post yesterday about Ahad Miah, the Tower Hamlets First candidate who published a salute to Hitler on his Facebook page during last summer’s Gaza crisis (and who was later chosen to go on a DCLG-funded outing to Suffolk to “promote integration”), Mayor Lutfur Rahman has been in touch.

Lutfur has asked me to publish the following statement and letter he sent to Miah today:

STATEMENT

We were utterly unaware of Mr Miah’s alleged Facebook posting and deplore such postings. The Mayor has written to Mr Miah to ascertain what happened and to demand that this offensive posting is removed.

Tower Hamlets First is proud of its record on standing up to racism and fascism and operates a zero-tolerance policy on any form of bigotry from its councillors and supporters.

LETTER

Dear Mr Miah,

I’m writing in regard to an alleged posting on your Facebook page that came to our attention through the Trial by Jeory blog.

I was shocked to see this as we at Tower Hamlets First have always assumed you supported Tower Hamlets First due to sharing our values – values to which strident opposition to racism is central.

You will be fully aware that Tower Hamlets First has always worked to facilitate understanding among faiths and cultures whilst standing up to fascism, and that we have the deepest respect for our borough’s Jewish community. In a year when anti-Semitic attacks in Britain have doubled it is essential that we show our solidarity with and support for the Jewish community.

With this in mind I would ask that you immediately delete the post and provide us with an explanation for the post.

Racism of any form will not be tolerated in Tower Hamlets First.

Yours,

Lutfur

I’ve just had a look at Ahad Miah’s Facebook page and he’s written this statement:

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 21.48.26

To everyone,

I would like to emphasis the recent image which has been shared amongst many people and pointing finger at me has nothing to do with me.

My Facebook account access was close for several weeks until recently when I finally got access.

I am not a highly computer literate person but I do NOT agree anything in that message that was circulated..

I do sincerely apologise to all who have been offended by this but I can assure restrictions to my account will be very restricted from now on..

I had to read it twice to make sure I wasn’t mistaken. But he really does seem to be saying it wasn’t him, doesn’t he? He’s implying someone else posted it and that he had no control over his account.

So I had a look at last summer’s postings. Here’s a reminder of the Hitler one I found yesterday:

IMG_0408

As you can see that was posted on July 15.

Indeed, he has now deleted it, but curiously others posted on or around that day, which all deal with the same topic, still remain there. For example:

Clearly he didn’t disapprove of everything posted by this mystery hacker. I wonder who it could have been.

Whether it’s enough to satisfy Lutfur, only the Mayor can say. Let’s put it this way: is it beyond reasonable doubt that what Miah is telling him is true?

Which brings us on to this coming Thursday when Election Court Commissioner Richard Mawrey QC will finally deliver his own ruling on the reasonableness of Camp Lutfur’s belief last year that John Biggs was a racist.

I think Lutfur would have jumped on Miah at any time he became aware of Hitler postings on his Facebook page, but coming just days before a decision that could ruin him politically and financially the timing is particularly sensitive.

But whatever happens on Thursday, he must know that this Hitler posting is not an isolated incident in Tower Hamlets. There have been several examples of antisemitism over very many years, including among political activists e.g. here.)

I was also verbally abused with antisemitic remarks last summer.

Whoever did post that image of Hitler on Miah’s Facebook page, I wonder how many others shared that view. Far more than people would admit methinks.

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kentwell hall

Kentwell Hall is a beautiful historic Tudor home in Long Melford, near Sudbury, Suffolk. It’s about 90 minutes away from Stepney and has a moat, wonderful gardens and a rare breed farm.

It also has accommodation for honeymooners and for anyone simply wanting a break from the Big Smoke. Its Hall Barn Lodge and Annexe can sleep up to 14 and a weekend break with a group that size in early May costs £1,150, according to a quote I was given.HB O whole back

The accommodation looks lovely. Here’s the master bedroom, another guest room and the lounge area.

And, thanks to photos posted on Twitter by the Stepney branch of the Salvation Army, these were the guests there this weekend:

Salvation Army

That’s the group having dinner on Friday night. On Saturday, they went horse-riding:

stepney fathers, near neighbours

They’d also wanted to go quad biking but I’m not sure they did in the end.

Regular readers will have spotted the grinning king of selfies, Tower Hamlets First Cllr Mahbub Alam, in the foreground of the group photo above.

Here is he is holding his stick at the front of this one, too:

I’m told there is one journalist in that group and some who are activists in the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE).

The chap to Mahbub’s right wearing the dark jacket is Ahad Miah. He stood and lost as a Tower Hamlets FIrst candidate for Wapping in last May’s council elections. He’s very close to Mahbub and this was their second trip away together in less than a month. They were also on deputy mayor Oli Rahman’s delegation to Athens three weeks ago.

Oli and Mahbub have strongly denied that that trip was publicly funded.

The weekend away in Suffolk, however, has been funded entirely by the taxpayer…through a fund set up by the man Mahbub and his Tower Hamlets First colleagues love to hate: Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

They were given a grant of £2,000 for their weekend break from the £5million Near Neighbours Fund which was set up by the Department for Communities and Local Government in 2011. The intention was to promote inter-faith dialogue in key areas throughout the UK. East London was of course one such area.

The Near Neighbours grants are administered by the Church Urban Fund, which is a charity arm of the Church of England. Community groups are requested to submit applications and explain the parameters of their proposed projects and explain what how the money will be well used.

There are many in Tower Hamlets who are well-practised of course in sniffing out grants and saying the right things to secure them. Unfortunately, there are also too many who fail to do their due diligence when checking these applications out.

For some time now, the Salvation Army in Stepney – run by Nick Coke – has been working with a group of Bengali Muslim men called Stepney Fathers, which is run by Ishaque Uddin, and the Stifford Centre, a Bengali dominated community centre in Stepney. Nick and Ishaque are both active members of Citizens UK, an umbrella group of community organisations including the IFE.

Stepney Fathers, the Stifford Centre bosses and the Sally Army guys have had lots of meetings together, they play badminton and they socialise generally. These meetings work for them and are no doubt useful to the narrow numbers involved.

So it was perhaps a natural step for a group of friends to suggest a weekend away together; even better if someone else could pay for it.

And so Nick Coke and Ishaque Uddin, supported by Cllr Mahbub Alam, submitted an application form for a grant to the Near Neighbours Fund in February.

They told the Church Urban Fund this would be for a range of activities at an outward bound centre in Devon, where the men (for they are all men) would eat together and take part in “team building” activities. They’d take some media guys along as well and film it so their fun and discussions about faith could be an inspiration to others.

They asked for £2,415, broken down as follows:

Self-catering cottage in Devon – £665

Minibus – £350

Diesel – £200

Food – £200

Activities (quad biking/horse riding) – £700

Media equipment (cameras and sound etc) – £300.

In assessing whether to give the grant, the Church Urban Fund’s local co-ordinator is meant to seek the views of the relevant parish priest – in this case, that was the Rev Trevor Critchlow, the rector of St Dunstan’s in Stepney.

He objected. He advised the Church Urban Fund that should these men want a weekend away, they should jolly well pay for it themselves. In his view it was a jolly. He said there were far better causes the money could be spent on.

But he heard nothing back, other than to learn that the grant had been awarded, albeit at a reduced rate of £2,000. It seems there was an objection to the £300 for buying camera equipment.

Well, Devon and quad bikes didn’t happen in the end. It seems (judging by the nice 4×4 in Mahbub’s picture) that they instead decided to spend their minibus and diesel cash on upgraded accommodation closer by.

There were no Jewish people invited on this weekend away together “promoting integration” and interfaith dialogue. Which is a shame because I wonder whether they’d have discussed this:

IMG_0408

This was posted by Ahad Miah on his Facebook page during the Gaza crisis last summer. You can see that a friend of his has written “miss him” underneath.

So a man who “salutes” Hitler for exterminating Jews has been the recipient of DCLG money that was earmarked for promoting interfaith dialogue and integration. I wonder how many others share his views. What checks did the Church Urban Fund carry out on the people going on this trip?

This, posted by Ishaque Uddin on his Facebook page, is not quite in the same league, but the imagery is similar.

Ishaque Uddin

I suspect that neither Pickles, nor the trustees of the Church Urban Fund will be very impressed.

The Rev Critchlow made his views clear in a Tweet last night:

Note his comments on the Facebook page where the weekenders have posted their pictures:

It’s an absolute disgrace that this is being paid for by the tax payer through Near Neighbours. If you want weekend away fine, but pay for it yourself.

And he said this to me when I asked him about it this evening:

We don’t need to throw money around to make connections with people. Just having a cup of tea with someone does that. That’s what decent human beings do naturally anyway.

Well said.

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The following is a guest post by Tower Hamlets deputy mayor Cllr Oliur Rahman about his trip to Greece last month. He went with fellow Tower Hamlets First councillors Shahed Ali, Mahbub Alam, Shafiqul Haque, and various trade union activists. I wrote about it at the time here. The verdict in the Lutfur Rahman trial is expected next week, according to my latest information. Should that judgment go against Lutfur, Oli could be acting mayor for a short period. Clearly there are discussions even among Lutfur’s Tower Hamlets First party about who might stand in any mayoral by election in the event of a ‘guilty’ verdict. They’re only human after all.

oli rahman, mahbub alam

Deputy mayor Oli Rahman is wearing the hat

 

As the General Election draws closer, this should be a time of excitement and interest in politics. But for many, the opposite is the case. Huge numbers of people feel alienated from the political process, cynical with politicians, and don’t see any real difference between mainstream parties united on wanting to slash public spending. As the rise of the SNP and decline in Labour in Scotland demonstrates, people want to shake up the political order. And not just in Britain.Nowhere is this more evident than in Greece which has recently seen the election of the left-wing Syriza party on a programme of tackling austerity. A few weeks ago I decided to lead the first ever British local authority delegation to Greece. I did so because I am committed to build European solidarity against the austerity that is destroying the lives of fellow EU citizens. But I went for another reason. I wanted to see up close what this new kind of politics that Syriza stand for actually meant in practice.

On arrival our delegation – comprising of councillors, trade unionists and community activists – was taken into the Greek Parliament to meet with representatives of the International Aid Department. This was timely. The government was in the news for sticking to their pre-election commitment that they would not slash their international aid budget and ignoring demands from EU finance bureaucrats. It was refreshing to come across politicians who don’t actually pay lip service to humanitarianism, but put their words into practice.

The message from the Syriza representatives was loud and clear: for the peoples of Europe to defeat austerity we need a strong European-wide anti-austerity movement. This message was repeated in our meetings with activists in our visits to two social centres – these are citizen-run health clinics, food centres and legal aid hubs which have emerged to fill the gaps left by austerity.

The activists in the centre were at pains to emphasise that the aims of the centres is not about charity and just about helping people in desperate need. They are also about empowering citizens so that they can exercise power to shape and influence the political decisions affecting their lives. I was really impressed by the social centres and the representative from the Unite community centre on Cable Street agreed to look into twinning their centre with one in Athens.

As we travelled around Athens it had the appearance that all is well. The cafes were full, there seemed to be a buzz in the shopping malls. You see people sleeping in the streets but you do so in London too. However underneath the surface the figures tell a level of crisis much more severe than here. It is estimated that half the population are below the poverty line. Household incomes have fallen by a third since austerity hit. Many of those queuing at food banks belonged to the upper middle classes not so long ago.

Politicians with reactionary politics and simplistic solutions have done well in response to the crisis, and none more so that Golden Dawn, an openly neo-Nazi party that has scored up to 15 per cent in the opinions polls and whose members have been complicit in racist assaults and murder. They have made their gains on the back of trying to scapegoating migrants.

The reality of the impact of racism was brought home to us in a meeting we had with the anti-racist and anti-fascist organisation KEERFA which gathered together African, Pakistani and Bangladeshi members of migrant rights organisations. Their plight had been highlighted recently over the case of 35 illegal strawberry pickers who were shot at by their farm guards for asking for pay that was five months overdue.

Shockingly, when the case went before a court the guards were responsible were acquitted. We were privileged to meet with one of the leaders of the fruit workers, Tipu Chowdhury, whose testimony about their plight was very moving. We agreed we would organise a fundraising dinner in support on our return.The issue of the lack of basic rights for migrants was one that came up a lot on our visit. The local Bangladeshi community organised a dinner in our honour with over 200 people crammed into a tiny restaurant and we met members of the Greek Bangladeshi community who have been living in Greece for decades but still had not citizenship rights. As with all the Greeks we meet on our visits, the warmth of their welcome was overwhelming.

Hearing that we were in town we received a call on the eve of our departure from Athens from Zoi Konstantopoulo, the most senior woman in Greek politics, a human rights lawyer who sued Britain over the Iraq War, and Syriza’s President of Parliament asking us to come see her. We were honoured to meet her and were all impressed by her easy, relaxed style – she insisted we address her by her first name – and her lack of the airs and graces.

Zoi talked about how five years of austerity had strangled the Greek economy, the importance of building an international solidarity movement and the new government’s commitment to tackling racism. The Greek parliament has already made commitments to improving rights and Zoi affirmed the government’s commitment to redress this issue.

I know I am speaking for everyone on our delegation in writing that our trip to Greece was a really positive experience. It demonstrated the determination of the new Greek government to challenge the austerity agenda wreaking havoc in the EU.

I am came back from my trip more committed to the idea of a European Union, but one that is a Europe committed to the interests of all its citizens.

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Last week, the Guardian’s Dave Hill speculated that Tower Hamlets First might field candidates in the forthcoming general election.

 

The article said:

For some time it has been thought likely that candidates from the local party led by Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman might stand in the borough’s two parliamentary constituencies, challenging Labour incumbents Rushanara Ali and Jim Fitzpatrick. It’s been confirmed to me by a reliable source that this is indeed a definite possibility. There is no love lost between Rahman and Labour, on whom he and his allies have inflicted several defeats. Could Labour come unstuck in the East End?

Then this:

Names previously chattered about as THF runners are councillors Oliur Rahman (no relation), who is Rahman’s cabinet member for economic development, and Rabina Khan, who is his cabinet member for housing. They are generally regarded as two of the mayor’s most able lieutenants. They might not run at all and, if they do, it will be a big upset if they win. But Labour is well aware that they could not be easily dismissed.

The deadline for nominations for the general election is Thursday and it’s my understanding from sources within the Tower Hamlets First fraternity that Oli Rahman will definitely not stand against Jim Fitzpatrick in Poplar and Limehouse, not because he doesn’t want to fight Labour, but because he holds Jim himself in high regard. Those close to Oli may even help Jim with his campaign.

In Bethnal Green and Bow the story is slightly different, as I understand it. Rabina Khan is apparently chomping at the bit to stand against Rushanara, but it’s considered highly unlikely that Lutfur Rahman will let her go for it.

The verdict from Election Court Commissioner Richard Mawrey QC is unlikely to be delivered before Thursday and this is considered too complicating a factor. Another factor is that Tower Hamlets First, that shambolic mirage of a party, would only have 29 days to prepare an election campaign…and to establish something more than a “virtual bank” to fund it. The third factor is that they know Rushanara Ali is safe: she’s been working the doors hard for the past five years.

In any case, there could well be another general election campaign later this year if the mathematics of a hung parliament prove too difficult. THF might well feel that would be a better target, especially if Lutfur is cleared in his court case. They might have more of a story to tell then.

Cabinet reshuffles

Two other names who have apparently been jockeying for position in a potential THF raid on Bethnal Green and Bow are former Respect leader Abjol Miah and ex-deputy mayor Ohid Ahmed. Come next month, when Lutfur (if he’s still in office, of course) decides who’s in his next cabinet, the fortunes of these two men could change dramatically.

There is pressure on Lutfur to drop Ohid and bring in Abjol. Well, that’s the gossip anyway. Dear Cllr Selfie, Mahbub Alam, is also hoping for a position as cabinet member for social media, but I think he’s likely to be disappointed.

Not that cabinet positions matter of course, apart from the cash they earn for their incumbents. As I’ve written before, in Lutfur Land the power resides in the kitchen cabinet. This frustrates his colleagues and it has created divisions.

Throughout Lutfur’s first term from 2010-14, he did not once hold a group meeting of his then independent councillors. I’m told the same has been true since last May with the onset of Tower Hamlets First: there hasn’t been a single group meeting. He clearly doesn’t like being in environments where he can be questioned. It’s such an odd set up.

Commissioners

We still have only two commissioners, Max Caller and Sir Ken Knight. Eric Pickles’ department maintains its search for a third but this has so far been unsuccessful. – as have been the attempts so far by the other two to ensure the council appoints a permanent chief executive. In this, they have been frustrated by Lutfur’s efforts to make the current head of paid service, the charming Stephen Halsey, the permanent boss.

So much so that they wrote to Pickles last month to express their frustrations (in the most diplomatic language, of course). Eric has since replied to say he will give them extra powers to push this task along unless the council can supply reasons to him by next Monday saying why that won’t be necessary.

Meanwhile, the Commissioners say they have approved the approved the appointment of a new monitoring officer and a new chief financial officer. The swashbuckling motor-loving motor-mouth incumbent Meic Sullivan-Gould applied for the former.  But he didn’t get it. Drueni o’r fath, as they say in the valleys. Hwyl fawr!

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