As Mark Baynes of Love Wapping wrote in sadly his final article a few weeks ago, it takes a fair bit of time and energy to maintain a constant flow of blog posts.
The past five years of writing them have been fun and rewarding, and certainly worth the effort.
But taking a break after my last post in August was the natural and right thing to do. After all, it was summer and the new regime of Mayor John Biggs was still settling in. There wasn’t an awful lot going on and the feedback I was receiving from the town hall was that by and large it was becoming a bit normal.
I kept on watching, albeit from a little more afar than previously, but still the most interesting bits were being provided by Lutfur Rahman and his Tower Hamlets First brigade, now known as the Tower Hamlets Independent Group (abbreviated here on in as THING).
In the past few weeks, Lutfur has of course – and I’m going to assume most people know this (otherwise I really would have a lot of writing to do) – declared himself bankrupt. This development came about during his attempt to avoid paying £500,000 of legal costs arising from the Election Court hearing.
The drama of that case (and I’m yet to hear whether anyone has investigated messages apparently sent by at least one supporter on social media earlier this asking people whether they would be prepared to bank transfer money to a legal fighting fund in return for the same amount given in cash…) took another twist last week when Lutfur’s wife appeared in court.
Ayesha Farid claims she, and not her husband, is the major owner of a buy-to-let property the petitioners are trying to force a sale on. And during her evidence in court, she insisted she was an independent woman who paid her own bills and had her own income. In fact, she let it be known she was so distancing herself from Lutfur that she said he had brought “shame” on her family. He quotes were so dramatic that they provided The Wharf with this current front page:
The full story is here. The court is yet to make a decision on the matter.
In the meantime, Lutfur continues to work on the judicial review of the Election Court petition, case that could to trundle on for months and possibly years if appeals on human rights grounds reach Europe. (His team, by the way, are confident of overturning the spiritual influence verdict.)
So in reality, Lutfur is now pretty much a ghost of a politician and Ken Livingstone’s Project Lutfur has now shifted lock, stock and barrel to Project Corbyn.
And without discipline of the Kennite brigade at Mulberry Place, that crazy little thing called THING is starting to fall apart at the seams.
During the time away from this blog, I was understandably criticised for not paying the same attention to the Biggs administration as I had done with Lutfur’s. I get that, but as I’ve said this is a voluntary exercise and we all have to prioritise our time.
One who implored me most to start writing again was Cllr Shahed Ali. In particular, he was exercised by the issue of Rich Mix whose future had been under threat by court case over a £850k council loan under Lutfur, but then saved when John Biggs, via a mayoral edict, dropped the proceedings. The story was covered by the Standard here. Had this been a decision by Lutfur on something else, he argued, I and others would have been all over it.
In October, Shahed also sent me an article he’d written on social housing ratios. He asked me to publish and I agreed but in all honesty I never got round to it: I wasn’t quite sure how I wanted the blog to move forward.
The article was actually pretty good. It was on a subject that had always interested him; in fact, he was the only Tower Hamlets councillor to attend an event my current employers had arranged on that particular issue in the Palace of Westminster in July.
Throughout the decade I’ve known him social housing/planning and Palestine had been the causes he’d been most passionate about.
So it was with a certain sadness to learn of the latest episode in his career.
Last Wednesday, he attended Thames Magistrates’ Court charged by Tower Hamlets Council with two counts housing fraud under Section 3 of the Fraud Act 2006 (failure to disclose he had a portfolio of properties whilst maintaining a council tenancy in his name).
A council spokeswoman told me he pleaded not guilty to the charges and the case has been sent to Crown Court for a further preliminary hearing later this month.
Let me stress again: he has pleaded not guilty and the case is live and likely to go before a jury. I’m going to allow comments on this thread (because it’s been a long time ‘n all, but there can be nothing written about this case).
It’s also a bit ironic that it’s Shahed’s predicament that has partly prompted me to blog again: I think I’m right in saying that no other mainstream outlet has covered it yet.
On the politics of the Shahed case (and careful comments are allowed on this), I asked THING leader Oli Rahman for a statement. Was he suspended, for example. This is what Oli sent me:
I was recently made aware of allegations involving Cllr Shahed Ali. He has pleaded not guilty and has agreed to step down while the case is ongoing. The Independent Group takes all allegations of impropriety extremely seriously and will cooperate fully with any enquiries from Council or elsewhere if necessary.
Independent Group expects all members of the council to hold the highest standard and regard for their office, their constituents and particularly we expect that from our own group.
So at the beginning of the week, THING had 15 councillors (remember Abjol Miah and Mufti Miah had quit the group earlier this year to sit as Independents). On Wednesday, after Shahed stepped down, they had 14 (although the council still lists Shahed as THING).
By Friday, they’d encountered more trouble. I’m told there have been some blazing rows in the Mulberry Place office of THING. I’m also told that Oli Rahman has been furious with his fellow former deputy mayor Ohid Ahmed.
After John Biggs was elected in June, Ohid apparently told colleagues he did not wish to sit on any committees. To his colleagues, that decision rendered him lazy, someone who did not wish to share the workload but still happy to accept his £10k a year count councillor allowance.
He was also, they tell me, viewed with some suspicion. Some thought him desperate to get back into the Labour party (they think he had a long meeting with Labour NEC exec member Christine Shawcroft who told him that was unlikely for the time being); others thought him desperate to run for mayor in 2018.
On December 9, the THING leadership (and that incredibly includes the twin Tweedle Dumbs of Tower Hamlets politics, Maium Miah and Mahbub Alam) sent the following email to all group members:
Independent Group Member
Tower Hamlets Town Hall
9 December 2015
Dear Independent Group Member
Following the Group meeting on 8 December 2016, We have been asked by the Group to formally write to every single Member of the Group to outline some of the serious issues that were discussed.
The Group agreed in principle that all Group members must adhere to the following:
•All Members must attend their Council meetings, including Group meetings. Failure to attend three meetings will result in a warning and written explanation sought.
•The Group has agreed to open a Group bank – every member to contribute £20 per month, Councillors with additional allowance such as the Leader and O&S Lead will make additional contribution. £40 for the Leader and the O&S lead.
•The Group agreed to have the Constitution/Memorandum of Understanding, if you have any suggestion, please let our Political Adviser brother Ali – know by close of play, 20 December and copy me.
•No one should give media comments or interview about Group matters, without prior approval, except the Leader to ensure smooth running.
•The Group reserves the right to disciple any Member whose conduct brings the Group into disrepute or create disunity – avoiding collective responsibility – including the Leader or officer bearer of the Group.
•Key events and group engagements that all must attend are: 14 December at 6.30 pm (Independent Group workshop), 16 December at 6.30 pm in Watrelily (Unite against Islamophobia and Racism) and 14 January 2016 at 7 pm (People’s Budget meeting in Canary Wharf).
I look forward to professional cooperation and unity in order to move forward together.
Cllr Oliur Rahman, Leader-independent Group
Cllr Mahbub Alam, Group Publicity Officer
Cllr Maium Miah, Group Secretary
I’m told this email was aimed at Ohid. He had, I understand, recoiled at the idea of attending the Unite against Islamophobia and Racism rally at the Waterlily this coming Wednesday.
Not, of course, because Ohid doesn’t agree with such things (you’ll all remember he’s fond of using the terms), but because of who’s speaking.
Here’s the poster for it:
Although these are exactly the same people Ohid has appeared with many times in the past five years, his colleagues say he’s worried about upsetting the new political hero in his life: London mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan.
So THING had a row and Ohid apparently left the group’s WhatsApp channel. This, I’m told, is a cardinal sin. They were then all under the impression he was going to quit the group proper.
But in the end, someone else did. On Friday, Shafiqul Haque, another defector from Labour in 2010, officially left THING to become an Independent. Ohid’s colleagues whisper that Ohid has bottled it.
I asked Ohid for a statement or comment, but he declined to answer. Shafiq, however, did reply. Here’s what he said:
It was good to work with independent group some time. I am always an independent minded individual. If anything I can’t agree I always raised it even when I was part of the labour group for number of years. At the current situation I believe it would be better for me to be completely independent to work for best interest of my constituents and the residents of this borough.
By being independent I can pick and endorse the policy better for our residents from either of the political parties or group.
I can support my chosen candidates in local and national elections.
I will have the independence to make own judgement in term of the policy.
My priority would be as always was to work for the best interest of our residents.
Hope I could explain my reason to be completely independent.
I asked Shafiq if he would be supporting Sadiq next May and he said “fighting the Tories is very important and I’ll support whoever fight austerity and tackles the housing crisis and cost of living crisis”.
So THING is down to 14.
But of course, they’d all love to rejoin Labour, particularly under Jeremy Corbyn.
Ever-smiling Oli Rahman even managed to grab a selfie with Corbyn at the Finsbury Park mosque protest nine days ago.
But say what you like about Corbyn, isn’t he brilliant at answering questions by use of road signs…
Happy Christmas, everyone.