1. Undue spiritual influence, mosques and John Biggs
Tower Hamlets First (I’ll use this name for ease of reference for the time being although they’re banned from using it and in any case it may well be more appropriate to call them the party named in point 3 below) are trying to whip up a frenzy over a visit by John Biggs to a mosque in Roman Road, Bow, on Friday.
It was caught on video here:
In it you can see Shibbir Choudhury, the mosque’s secretary, welcoming John and informing people that he had committed to make Sirajul Islam his deputy mayor if he wins on June 11. Choudhury appears pleased about this and remarks that John was also responsible way back when for helping the East London Mosque get planning permission. This, he says, was a good thing. For that reason he says “we need to support him”.
John says immediately that he doesn’t think “it’s right for anybody to be invited to support a particular candidate in a mosque”. He says, “I’m a Labour candidate and I want you to look into your hearts and vote for whoever you think is the right candidate”.
THF have leapt on this to yell “double standards”, a cry that is fast becoming the new “racist/Islamophobia” tag of this particular campaign. In this they have perhaps been egged on by Giles Fraser, a former official of St Paul’s Cathedral who a few years ago wrote a nice piece about the borough while sipping a glass of red wine in a pub across the way from the East London Mosque, and then landed a job from Lutfur as the chair of the Tower Hamlets Fairness Commission.
Since then he has been one of Lutfur’s most high profile supporters. In the few weeks since the Election Court judgment he has uttered not a word about six of the guilty verdicts but written hundreds about the other one: undue spiritual influence. I suppose as a priest that’s his area of specialism, although it’s perhaps sadly doubtful in this day and age that he would ever experience that himself.
His arguments on this subject have included it’s his human right to express political views. I’m not a lawyer, but I think Richard Mawrey QC’s judgment was more subtle and more complex than that. Bluntly, Mawrey concluded Lutfur had enlisted the chair of the Tower Hamlets Council of Mosques, Shamsul Haque (an unreliable witness, according to the judge) to secure a letter of support from 101 imams. This letter, Mawrey said, came amid a “substantial body of credible evidence that the Imams’ message that it was the duty of faithful Muslims to vote for Mr Rahman”.
Mawrey conceded that his judgment would be controversial, and it is. And I’m sure it’s also confusing to those who can’t be bothered or who are unable to comprehend it in full and understand the context.
In short, Biggs’s visit and the words of the mosque secretary do not in any way compare with the Election Court example. That said, the THF people will be free to challenge it in an election petition should Biggs win on June 11.
However, the episode was enlightening. It shows how politicians do feel the need to visit the mosques to secure votes. I wonder if any ever visit churches on Sundays for their campaigning?
As a result of Friday’s incident, Biggs has decided to cancel all further visits to mosques at times of worship. Here’s a statement he sent me yesterday:
“Tower Hamlets First are a party devoid of principles and morals – this was well established in the court case. Although they now have to describe themselves as ‘independents’ it looks like nothing has changed. Once again they [have] tried to smear me after I visited a mosque before Friday prayers. It adds to the importance, if any more reason were needed, for the borough to move on from this sort of abuse and I hope we will on June 11.
“After yesterday’s attempted smear by THF I have also decided that I will not accept invitations to speak in any of the borough’s mosques or other places of worship at times of worship between now and June 11. This is both to avoid any misrepresentation of me and also to avoid any of our places of worship being dragged into the election campaign. They should always have an independence and dignity separate from daily politics. I have always respected this but clearly my opponents do not.
“I would of course be happy to meet with representatives from places of worship who, quite rightly, may want to hear from me as the election approaches on issues of interest to them and their members.”
Mark Baynes, who runs the Love Wapping blog, has done some excellent, good old-fashioned on-the-ground reporting.
Mark lives on the Green Bank estate in Wapping and noticed yesterday that a man was distributing Tower Hamlets Homes leaflets. It’s assumed this man was acting for Tower Hamlets Homes, which is the council’s arms-length housing body on which Rabina Khan’s election agent Ghulam Robbani sits as a board director.
But it wasn’t just THH leaflets he was delivering to people’s homes: he was giving lucky residents a Brucie Bonus in the form of Rabina4Mayor leaflets as well. Clearly, this has the potential to be a serious issue and a possible breach of election law.
Mark quickly got out his iPhone and recorded the guy at work. Here’s his video:
And here are Mark’s stills of the leafleter.
Mark quite rightly reported it to the police immediately and they told him they are looking into it. The man has not yet been identified, but Mark has preserved many of the leaflets for forensics.
Both Rabina Khan and Oliur Rahman took to Twitter to say they’ve been “framed”, that it is all a stitch-up and the result of dirty tricks. They also have informed the police. They have not yet said who they think is responsible but one can only assume they think it’s their political opponents.
— Rabina Khan (@RabinaKhan) May 17, 2015
— Oliur Rahman (@CllrOliurRahman) May 16, 2015
— Oliur Rahman (@CllrOliurRahman) May 16, 2015
The police are sure to get to the bottom of it, but I must say, even by Tower Hamlets’ standards it really would be a very thick dirty tricks campaign: Mark Baynes has been known to photograph questionable Tower Hamlets Homes leafleters there before.
Richard Mawrey in his judgment made some important points about who were Lutfur’s agents in the wider legal sense in the 2014 campaign. If this leafleter is a Rabina supporter, her team would have to show he was rogue and acting alone. Both he and they would have to explain how he got hold of hundreds of her leaflets.
This could be a significant issue. If anyone recognises the leafleter, please email me (please do not name him in any comments on this blog).
3. The return of Rob Hoveman
Rob, the man in the middle (a rare place for him), has been George Galloway’s very left leaning right hand man for a decade. Between 2005 and 2010, he ran Galloway’s constituency office in Club Row and then moved up to Bradford, where he had a holiday home, when George found another seat for a while.
He’s a phenomonally good operator and loathes Labour with the same passion that he has for classical music and Hornby trains.
Following the collapse of the Bradford Spring last month, Rob, who lives in Bethnal Green, might well be in search of a new job. He knows his way around the town hall, having once been Respect’s part-time political adviser at Mulberry Place. I wonder whether he could be the next Murziline Parchment as a possible head of Mayor Rabina’s office.
If so, watch this space for Abjol Miah, the only Respect councillor he had any real time for.