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John Biggs

John Biggs

In less than a week our borough has a chance to draw a line under the controversy and division of recent years by electing a mayor whose sole focus will be on the things that matter most to local people.

For too long our borough has been dragged through the headlines for all the wrong reasons. A farcical election count, a damning auditor report, a Government intervention, a mayor removed for election offences.

The former Mayor Lutfur Rahman not only divided the community with his patronage based politics but his mismanagement of the Council led to Government interventions of the kind we rarely see in this day and age. In both respects it is the people of the borough who suffer.

None of this was about one community or another. Everybody in our borough lost out as their council and leadership was focused on itself and not delivering the things people expect of their council. But make no mistake that the consequences of his actions have been very divisive, creating mistrust that politicians are not there for the public good, but for some dodgier purpose. I get fed up with the public cynicism that says all politicians are ‘corrupt’. Thankfully it is only a very select few who are. But when we find them we must comprehensively work out how to stop it happening again.

And so this election is a chance to put the council back on residents’ side. It requires us to move forwards but to do this we must also admit that things were wrong. It therefore boggles my mind that the Lutfur Rahman candidate, Rabina Khan, is in almost complete denial that anything was wrong, or that she had anything to do with it. Her constant refrain is ‘we must look forwards’. We must, of course, but we cannot ignore recent events. To do so is a bit like a burglar selling you back your tv and accusing you of being backward looking in asking where it came from.

My manifesto, my contract with residents, focuses on policies which will benefit every corner of the Tower Hamlets. Building the first new social housing in years, cracking down on anti-social behaviour, creating new jobs and restoring the reputation of our borough. But to move forwards we must comprehensively deal with the last of these. The Mayor model can work – just because someone crashes a car it doesn’t mean nobody else can drive again – but we must introduce a culture of transparency, of bridge building and of checks and balances if we are to move forwards credibly.

On day one I will scrap the mayoral car and the army of advisors. I’ll end the biased coverage in East End Life and review how the council should best communicate with residents, and how the Mayor should be accountable to the Council as a whole. Maximum transparency, and a willingness to explain all decisions, will be the foundations. In the first months we’ll implement the recommendations in the PWC report to make the council more open and accountable, we’ll appoint a new Chief Executive and get cracking on making good on my manifesto commitments. I will redesign a Mayor’s office that is lean and I will develop a proposal for transparency, and regular meetings with the wider public. We want no more headlines about scandal and corruption, just ones about knuckling down to make things better, and then positive ones about the great things that local people achieve.

Whilst there are many candidates standing in this election last year showed us that the choice is between Labour or more of the same under Lutfur Rahman’s candidate. There will be many people reading this who are not natural Labour voters and who may not agree with everything I say or propose to do. Whether those people use their second preference or not may decide the result. To those voters I pledge a culture of openness and a good administration that listens, and explains, and does ot neglect the voices of any part of our community.

I am happy to write more at a later date about the challenges on housing, skills, employment, development, education, budgeting and so on. However, the simple fact is that this is an election like no other. It’s about getting our borough back on track and moving on from the divisive past we’ve seen under Lutfur Rahman. If elected, that is exactly what I intend to do.

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This is a guest post, by Cllr Rabina Khan, formerly of Tower Hamlets First and now an independent candidate for Tower Hamlets Mayor.

Rabina kahn, tower hamletsThe first thing I will do if elected as Mayor of Tower Hamlets is sit down with the Department for Communities and Local Government’s Commissioners. While this council continues to be recognised nationally as a high performing authority leading in many key policy areas, last year’s report by PriceWaterhouse Coopers identified governance failures in certain areas and addressing these must be our first priority – along with restoring confidence in our institutions and processes – so that we can move beyond recent challenges to best protect local people facing a wide range of adversities in difficult times.

I want to be a mayor for women, a mayor for housing and a mayor who stands up against austerity. Women need more role models in public life. Of the seventeen directly elected mayors in Britain, only four are women. I hope that I can be part of breaking that evident glass ceiling, following the recent influx of record numbers of women to Parliament and an election which for the first time saw female party leaders – Nicola Sturgeon, Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood – take the stage and arguably totally transform the debate.

Every study has shown that austerity, and before it the recession, have hit women harder than men. Women’s unemployment, and particularly BME women’s unemployment, is a serious concern. That’s why I’m pledging to establish a brand new Women’s Employment Hub to ensure local women are presented with job opportunities and are equipped with the skills needed for the workplace.

Under my leadership as cabinet member for housing for the last five years, Tower Hamlets has seen more than 4000 social and affordable homes built – more than any other council in Britain as recognised by central government repeatedly awarding us the highest ‘New Homes Bonus’. We’ve established the landmark Preventing Homelessness Fund, refused to pass on cuts in council tax benefit and said no to Bedroom Tax evictions. But the housing waiting list continues to grow, so I’ve drawn up detailed plans to build 5,500 affordable homes by 2018.

Tenants know I’m someone who has always been on their side – and I’ll hold social landlords to account to make sure they promote real tenant leadership and decision-making. I’m also promising a better deal for Leaseholders – capping punitive charges and making our system fairer.

Over the last four years Tower Hamlets has blazed a trail on behalf of local people, fighting austerity and latent child poverty that continues to blight the East End. We’ve restored education maintenance allowances scrapped by central government, introduced universal free school meals in primary schools and introduced university grants to ensure that poverty cannot be a barrier to achievement.

We were the first council to pay workers the London Living Wage. Now I’m campaigning for a Living Rent. My brand new Mayor’s Employment Board and enterprise strategy will deliver 20,000 sustainable jobs and training opportunities, along with 8,000 new apprenticeships. As a working mum I understand what a juggling exercise life can be, so we’ll provide more nursery places to help parents into work. I’ll also abolish charges for bulk-waste collection.

Some have tried to make this election about the recent court judgment. Former mayor, Lutfur Rahman has made clear his intention to appeal. But that is his battle and this is mine. This election cannot be about the past, when the future presents such stark challenges to the poor and the vulnerable. We need to start a fresh chapter in our politics, opening up local democracy and leaving no-one outside. My People’s Question Time events across the borough will enable local people directly to hold me to account, along with key officials from the council and – I hope – partner organisations such as the police and the health service.

I’ll extend filming to all council committees, answer questions in full council, cabinet and the scrutiny committee. I’ll hold a regular press briefings. There will be no mayoral car. Grants will be determined in an open and transparent manner. I’ll review the council’s relationship with Rich Mix, and launch a brand new culture strategy to engage with all the rich spectrum of culture and talent throughout the East End. And anyone who knows me will tell you I’m my own woman.

The general election has returned a reactionary Conservative government hellbent on rolling back the state no matter the human consequences. At the same time we have a Labour Party bashing immigrants and backing the lowering of the benefit cap as its leadership candidates compete to see who can lurch most to the right. Even locally John Biggs has refused to guarantee lifeline policies such as the EMA. This area needs a mayor who can be relied upon to be on local people’s side. I hope you will put your trust in me to be that mayor.

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This, by Lib Dem Elaine Bagshaw, is the next in the series of guest posts by candidates for the Tower Hamlets mayoral elections on June 11. John Biggs and Rabina Khan have also promised articles although they have yet to materialise.

elaine bagshaw

I’m running for Mayor because we need to build a better Tower Hamlets that works for everyone.

Forty-nine per cent of our children live in poverty. We live in the shadows of the City yet have second highest unemployment rate in London.

Why is it that if you are born in Tower Hamlets you are expected to live five fewer years than someone born in the City of London?

I’ve been proud to call this borough my home five years now, and I want to deliver for people in this borough so that everyone gets the same opportunities I had. I was the first person in my family to go to University, and through a shared ownership scheme in the borough I’ve had the chance to own my own home. I currently live in Poplar, near Westferry station. I ran for the Parliamentary seat of Poplar & Limehouse in the General Election, and the Blackwall & Cubitt Town by-election in 2014.

The last five years have been difficult for the borough. Yes, there have been some improvements such as the results at our local schools, the introduction of the London Living Wage payment for staff, and the cleanness of certain areas, but they don’t go far enough, and they’ve divided our community. We’ve collectively lost faith in the office of the Mayor, the Council and its arms-length organisations such as Tower Hamlets Homes at exactly the time when they are needed most.

The previous administrations of both Labour and Tower Hamlets First have left us this legacy, and it is simply unacceptable. This can’t be allowed to continue. It is time for a change with local people leading the way. The borough needs new leadership and new ideas so that we can move on from the feuds of the past and together build a united community that delivers local solutions.

If elected mayor I will:

  • Make sure that there are affordable homes for working families
  • Ensure that a minimum of 50 per cent of a social housing development has to remain as social housing once it has been redeveloped
  • Protect our social housing provision by making sure that like-for-like replacements of the lost social housing are built in the borough
  • Housing developments are built alongside infrastructure such as schools; doctors surgeries and transport links so that they are additions to our community
  • Identify all empty homes in the borough and make them fit for use as social housing
  • Ensure no social housing tenant in the borough is living in a home that is unsuitable for human habitation
  • Investigate the treatment of leaseholders, putting an end to charging for unnecessary work and systemic overcharging of residents
  • Deliver new local facilities such as more GPs and better local transportation needed to support our community.
  • Save £1.5m by scrapping the council newspaper and use this money to create apprenticeships for young people in Tower Hamlets that pay the London Living Wage
  • Have zero tolerance on corruption

I’ve spent just over six years working as a regulator in the borough on Canary Wharf. As a regulator I have held banks to account, and supported those who fell victim to the scandals of payday lenders. I’ve also worked as a youth worker helping get young people back into education and into work.

I know what needs to be done and how hard it can be. But I also know that I can deliver for our community.

A vote for Elaine Bagshaw is a vote for a better Tower Hamlets.

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This extraordinary ‘interview’ with Rabina Khan has been published on YouTube and is being actively promoted on social media by her supporters.

The interviewer, Aaron Bastani, is not a journalist but some kind of political activist who runs a media company called Novara Media.

The video is six minutes long and worth watching if only for the fun factor. When I watched it I got the impression that even Rabina was a little embarrassed by the softball questioning. “What does it say about Labour that the ‘fightback’ begins against a Left-wing anti-austerity woman?” is Aaron’s penetrating opening gambit.

I’ll let you count how many times he asks about the Election Court trial and corruption. Toe-curling. In fact, it took Rabina herself to raise the issue of Lutfur Rahman. “He has his issues, I have my own way of going forward,” she tells Aaron.

Aaron, possibly unaware of the careers of Pola Uddin or Rushanara Ali, for example, or that Rabina was the only female councillor in Lutfur’s team, also suggests that Labour has a problem with “Muslim women” who want to progress from being mere “footsoldiers” for the party to becoming leaders in positions of power. Does he have a point? From my many years of following Tower Hamlets politics, I think it’s more to do with a lack of talent to be honest. Male and female. Of all faiths and none. And on that point, I think Rabina would have been cleverer to decline such a fawning interview. Her supporters in the Bengali media are promoting it but I think it just insults the intelligence of the viewer.

A second video of Rabina was also published today on eastlondonlines.co.uk, the site run by student journalists at Goldsmiths College. I’m going to be nice to them because they do much good work. And in any case, they don’t pretend it’s an interview. Here it is.

In other developments, as predicted, John Biggs has announced he would appoint three deputy mayors: Rachael Saunders, Sirajul Islam and Shiria Khatun.

Various people who have been out campaigning tell me that they detect less of a buzz on the doorstep about Rabina compared with Lutfur, but that John will still find it difficult to attract Lutfur voters anyway. I’m also told that many in the Bengali media believe that had Labour selected a Bangladeshi candidate this time, they’d far surer of a win. Tower Hamlets, eh.

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Three issues.

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.”

2. Leafletgate

Mark Baynes, who runs the Love Wapping blog, has done some excellent, good old-fashioned on-the-ground reporting.

This account of his here is a must read.

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.

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 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.

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Firstly, thank you to the new wind blowing through East End Life (and to the reader who spotted it) for providing me with a new banner photo for this blog. Historic.

Secondly, good luck to all the candidates for the bust-up on June 11. Peter Golds was selected as the Tory candidate on Monday after a hustings at the Bow Belles pub in Bow Road. He secured 33 votes against seven for the only other candidate Ahmed Hussain. Ahmed’s pitch was that the Tory party needed to show more that it can and does reach out to the Bengali community. It’s worth noting that he’s taken much flak from people he had considered friends for siding with the Conservatives and he has played an important role in recent events over at the Royal Courts of Justice. Fortune favours the brave.

This is the full list of candidates as per the close of nominations on Thursday afternoon:

Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 10.59.20

The candidates in the post-Alibor Choudhury Stepney Green by-election are:

Stepney Green

[Abu Chowdhury is the neo-Tower Hamlets First candidate. His LinkedIn profile is here. He used to be a caseworker in Lutfur’s office, his dad is a boss at the notorious London Bangla ‘newspaper’  , and worst of all he appears to be a Chelsea supporter. Anyway, good luck to him.]

Thirdly, over the coming days, Andy Erlam, John Biggs and Rabina Khan will be writing articles here explaining why they’re standing and what improvements they’d like to make to the way the council is run in the wake of the Lutfur Rahman eviction. Rabina’s article will hopefully explain why she’s insisting she’s not a “puppet” of Lutfur Rahman and very much her own woman, yet at the same time plastering his face all over her election leaflets (and engaging the dodgy invoice writer Cllr Ghulam Rabbani as her election agent, and appearing to fail to disclose who is promoting her leaflets and her campaign website):

rabina khan

 

Fourthly, there seems to be something of an edit war going on over Rabina Khan’s Wikipedia page. It’s had an awful lot of attention this month and as a result, it has this warning at the top:

Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 11.06.39

 

There is a discussion about this among the Wikipedia editors here. One editor has questioned whether she, as a mere councillor, is actually “notable” enough to have a Wiki page.

The neutrality warning works both ways of course: it can apply as a warning to her or her supporters, for example, or to her enemies. Either way, over the past two weeks entries that have been critical of her have been added and removed several times.

The edit warring has been taking place, not surprisingly, over the section ‘Political career’. As of Saturday morning (today), this is how it stood:

Rabina 1 Wiki

 

ie

Electoral corruption

In April 2015 following the discharging of office of the former Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman, Khan along with the remaining 17 Tower Hamlets First councillors were all named by Commissioner Richard Mawrey QC as being elected to Tower Hamlets Council as a result of corrupt and illegal practices.

At various other times references to her husband Cllr Aminur Khan’s association with the IFE have been added and deleted.

The same also applies to the taxi bills that Rabina racked up and which were later reported here on this blog. The following sentence has made its way on to the Wiki page, only to be deleted repeatedly within hours:

taxis

ie

In February 2013 Khan was widely critized for her use of taxi’s at taxpayer’s expense whilst apparently undertaking duties as a councilor. On one occasion Khan billed the taxpayer for £120 for a journey of just 1.5 miles.[20]

The reference number 20 at the end of that sentence is to the piece I wrote on this blog in 2013. Despite those figures coming directly from council papers, a Wikipedia editor stated that wasn’t a strong enough source and deleted the entry.

All this can be seen in the Revision History of Rabina’s wiki page here. In total, there have been 65 edits since April 25 when it was clear that Rabina would become Lutfur’s nomination.

So who’s been behind all these edits?

The revision history gives us a few IP addresses. One, which has been adding in some of the critical stuff, ie 91.213.110.4, is Tower Hamlets council IP address. So this is someone who works there. This IP address also matches an account called A Wikia Contributor at the London Birders Club. And on Wikipedia, this IP address has also been responsible for deleting information from the Wikipedia page of Labour councillor Shiria Khatun. I don’t know who this is and the IP address has never left a comment on this blog.

A couple of the other IP addresses listed on the revision history as having added in critical sections about Rabina also match IP addresses that have left comments on this blog before. Again, I don’t know the real names behind these people.

One of the most active critics has been a Wiki user called OneTowerHamlets, whose IP address details do not appear. Perhaps someone can help me with that.

Those who have been deleting the critical comments on Wikipedia fall into two categories: responsible Wiki editors who are trying to determine what’s accurate or not, e.g. PatGallacher; and those who have only a very recent Wikipedia editing account. One of those falling into the latter category complained that the taxi fares were being cited from a blog. They suggested this was against Wikipedia rules. Seems a silly rule to me. This same user was warned by another Wikipedia regular that their IP address appeared to be “very close to the individual in question”, ie Rabina.

The mystery of it all, eh? Politicos seem obsessed with editing Wikipedia. Such strange people.

Interestingly, of the challengers from the two other main parties in Tower Hamlets, only John Biggs has a Wikipedia entry. It’s small and straightforward (could make a Biggs campaign logo that possibly…).

John Biggs wikipedia

Peter Golds, meanwhile, appears in another person’s Wiki entry – that of Norma Major. Here:

Norma Major

I wonder if Peter could persuade Sir John Major to bring his soap box for a bit of campaigning.

Meanwhile, tomorrow it’s the Boishakhi Mela in Victoria Park. Le merde could be about to hit the fan on the running of that event…again. The Commissioners at a public meeting at the town hall this week decided to reject a £75,000 request for a council grant/subsidy because they were unhappy that fully audited accounts had not yet been provided for previous years and because of concerns the Mela was becoming too much of a commercial venture.

The man behind the Mela of course is our old friend, Shiraj Haque…Lutfur Rahman’s backer. He lost control of it in 2007 following a damning audit report commissioned by then council chief executive Martin Smith (would he ever return??) and then leader Denise Jones. After Lutfur became Mayor, Shiraj was able to take charge again (with the blessing of Stephen Halsey).

In the past couple of years, the trust/charity that runs the Mela (let’s see if the Charity Commission have a closer look at that arrangement) had more luck with its grant applications. In 2012, Lutfur gave it £180,000, in 2013 £170,000 and last year £100,000. The latter two amounts came from the infamous £954k slush fund identified by the PwC auditors last year.

The Commissioners will no doubt be blamed by some if as a result the Mela trust falls into the red, but good for them for being tough. Senior officers should have had more balls in the past.

The Mela is a great event and it’s right that it’s given the use of Victoria Park for free (a cost worth £25,000). The problem is with the people running it. I’m sure it’s not just me who’d like to see a full forensic audit carried out. Perhaps the council should just run it entirely again. After all, Sir Robin Wales runs a successful Mayor’s Day in Newham every year.

Meanwhile, the council continues to deflect any questions over scrutiny.

Here’s a Freedom of Information request that I asked on this earlier this year.

FOI 11843 Boishakhi Mela 

Please supply all documentation, but primarily third party invoices, provided by the trust responsible for the Boishakhi Mela to support /justify its receipt of council money. I’d also like to see the trust’s detailed accounts. This request relates to four years: 2011-14. For example, in the case of the security company used for Mela, I’d like to see all invoices submitted by the hired contractor. I’d like to see the results of any council post-audit of its grants to the mela for each of those years. 

Response 

In 2011 the Mela was run by the council and there is therefore no trust involved or information falling under the scope of this request. 

For 2012 and 2013, invoices are held by externally commissioned auditors and we have asked for these to be provided to us. I will contact you once they are received. The invoices for 2014 are not yet collected. 

The audit report for 2012 has been completed and is held by the Council However the Council is of the view that this is exempt from disclosure under section 41 of the FOI Act 2000, as information provided in confidence. The audit report disclosure would constitute a breach of confidence actionable by the author of that information. The Terms of Business under which the report was commissioned stipulate that that the report is confidential and for the exclusive use [of the Council] and must be used solely, for the purpose described in the Engagement Letter. Disclosure of the audit report would, therefore, constitute an actionable breach of confidence and the Council could be subject to claim for breach of contract as such. Section 41 is an absolute exemption. 

It is also considered that section 40(2) would also be applicable to parts of the audit report as it contains personal data. 

The requested information is (or contains) the personal data of other people. Section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act sets out an exemption for third party data if disclosure of the information to a member of the public otherwise than under FOIA would contravene any of the data protection principles. 

The first data protection principles states that we can only disclose the personal data if to do so would be fair, lawful and meet one of the conditions in Schedule 2 of the DPA. 

This means that, if the disclosure would not be fair, the information must not be disclosed. It is considered that the provision of this information would not be fair as the person it relates to would not expect the information to be released in this way. This is an absolute exemption and the information cannot be provided to you. 

Furthermore, the Council is of the view that it’s disclose is also exempt under Section 43 as its disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of the Trust, auditors and the Council. This is because the report contains detailed information relating to the governance structure and accounting/banking arrangements of the Trust. It could, in our opinion, be prejudicial to the Trust’s commercial interests if this information was disclosed to a third party. Appendix 2 to the Report contains the Auditors Engagement Letter and thus sets out the confidential terms on which they agreed to perform the services for the Council. It contains details of the fee, engagement team and other terms of engagement. Such information is commercially sensitive and in the hands of a competitor is likely to cause prejudice in terms of tendering for future work. 

This is a qualified exemption, and in considering the Public Interest the Council has weighed up the factor in favour of disclosure which are: 

• further the understanding of, and participation in the debate of issues of the day; 

• facilitate the accountability and transparency of public authorities for decisions taken by them; 

• allow individuals to understand decisions made by public authorities affecting their lives and, in some cases, assist individuals in challenging those decisions; 

On the other hand, the council has considered 

* the impact on the commercial interest of Trust, auditors and the Council 

* the need to obtain value for money which is likely to be compromised by disclosure 

* the audit offers scrutiny and accountability to the process in accordance with the contract 

I am sorry but based on these three exemptions we are unable to disclose the information requested 

The 2013 audit is yet to be completed and the 2014 audit has not yet commenced. 

The Trusts detailed accounts are not held by the Council and are the property of the Trust. You can access their published accounts at Companies House 

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It seems to be buried on the website for “Mayor Lutfur Rahman” (home page here) but it is there. This:

Lutfur appeal

Full text here:

Lutfur Rahman will be appealing the judgment made against him at last Thursday’s election court. He continues to reject all claims of wrongdoing and we hold that the integrity of the court system was marred by the bias, slurs and factual inaccuracies in the election judgment. There is a petition in his defence available here for those who wish to sign and a rally will be held on Thursday.

Tower Hamlets First councillors reject the election court’s claims that we are nothing more than a ‘one man band.’ We support Lutfur Rahman as a party because he has led in delivering record numbers of social and affordable homes, investing in our young people with maintenance allowances and university grants and standing up to Tory and Labour austerity. We support former Councillor Alibor Choudhury because of his record as Cabinet Member for Resources of doing the hard work needed to make these policies happen.

As such we will continue to serve residents. Whilst Lutfur Rahman appeals, Councillor Oli Rahman has stepped in as acting mayor and will be working to ensure that top quality Council services continue to be accessible to all residents. While other parties obsess over the politics of the past, securing decent jobs, fair housing and excellent support services for our borough will continue to remain our top priority.

We will also be deciding this week on a candidate to endorse in the forthcoming mayoral election and election for Stepney Ward, and we will make that decision based on who we believe is best placed to deliver stronger communities and a fairer future in Tower Hamlets.

At least they describe Alibor as a “former councillor”.

The grounds for his judicial review are not yet known. I’m not a lawyer but those who are say Richard Mawrey’s judgment looks “appeal proof”. For example, here is the view of legal expert David Allen Green who tweets as Jack of Kent:

More of this to come. At some point we will also no doubt find out who has been paying Lutfur’s hefty bills.

In the meantime, a quick update on the politics of Tower Hamlets First. Acting mayor Oli Rahman and Rabina Khan appear to be the frontrunners.

And it is Lutfur himself who will decide. He is, according to sources, “taking soundings from leaders of community groups”. Which groups these are have not been specified, but one will certainly be the Islamic Forum Europe. Anyone who underestimates the influence the IFE has on these things is mistaken.

Oli is not IFE. And neither actually is Rabina. However, she is helped in this respect by the position of her husband, Cllr Aminur Khan, who is. She is known to disagree with the IFE on many things and I’d be surprised if this hasn’t created lively conversations around the Khans’ dining table.

Rabina is seen by a section of younger Bengalis as bright, articulate and refreshing. She apparently knows how to charm on the doorstep, how to enter people’s homes and “have a cup of tea in the kitchen”, as someone put it to me last night. I suspect that were she to be selected there would be many in Labour’s camp who would say they were supporting John Biggs but who would not cast their vote for him.

But would she be the puppet that Lutfur would want while he fights to clear his name, or even after he fails in that task? What real experience does she have in running a large organisation? I’ve always thought her quite good in the council chamber when reading a prepared script. However, I’ve not seen too much evidence that she’s good at thinking on her feet. But I may be wrong.

As for Oli, he’s apparently loving his new role. He’s been having regular meetings with the two Government Commissioners and promising to work closely with them. I’m told they’ve respected him for that. It’s not something that Lutfur did. In fact, he would be a change from Lutfur in other respects. He’d scrap the mayoral car and chauffeur for a start and take public transport (and not cabs as he used to do…). He would also only hire mayoral advisers where “absolutely necessary”.

But while he’s enjoying the role, it’s not clear for how much longer he can carry on doing it. The executive mayoral role is full time and I’m told that Whitehall rules forbid civil servants from carrying out that job. Oli, of course, is a civil servant with the DWP. And the DWP has apparently written to him to say that Eric Pickles’s DCLG has highlighted this little headache.

Oli is enlisting the help of Unison, so watch this space, but it is possible that Oli may have to vacate his acting mayor role before the mayoral by election in which case someone else may have to step up.

Dropping like flies.

Meanwhile, as you all know, Andy Erlam has decided to stand. If the Tories choose Peter Golds, among the main contenders it will be one British Bangladeshi versus three or four white men. The divisions will no doubt continue.

I wish they’d all just hammer out a rainbow coalition deal.

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A quick update on the election court hearing. After a break last week, the parties return to Court 38 on Tuesday when the barristers involved will make their closing submissions. Following those, the Commissioner (judge) Richard Mawrey QC will take a couple of weeks to come to his decision and his ruling will come shortly after Easter.

He has already indicated that Cllr Maium Miah will not be named (effectively barring him from office) in any judgement: not because he does not believe or does believe Maium’s evidence, but because he does not consider he was close enough to the action, as it were. That’s to say, he wasn’t a major player as far as these proceedings are concerned.

This leaves only Alibor Choudhury and Mayor Lutfur Rahman as vulnerable in this trial, although it could be the case that evidence heard about others could trigger proceedings elsewhere.

We’ll have to wait and see.

baroness uddin

In the meantime, as there’s been something of an information deficit from this quarter over the past couple of weeks, I thought I’d overload you. The transcript from the last day the court sat on good old Friday the thirteenth suggests that Baroness Pola Uddin didn’t have luck on her side.

She was called as a witness by Lutfur’s barrister, Duncan Penny QC, not so much to support the mayor (someone she says in evidence she doesn’t have an awful lot of time for), but to try and corroborate allegation against John Biggs. They were “colleagues” in the ever-so-rosy Labour administration of the Nineties (has Tower Hamlets ever been functional?) when John was briefly leader and she his deputy. At that time there were plots to unseat the former.

All history of course, but allegedly relevant to this case. However, I wonder whether Baroness Uddin was quite prepared for the cross-examination she received from the petitioners’ barrister Francis Hoar. I got the sense from reading the transcript that she wasn’t expecting to be asked about her dodgy recent record on House of Lords expenses, or about the BMW car she was given by the convicted insurance fraudster and Channel S founder Md Mahee Jalil Ferdhaus (or Ferdous). At times I think she was expecting the sort of sedate affair you get in the Lords, where tempers rarely fray and where the Speaker can be relied on to ensure the airs and graces of peers are maintained and respected.

Court 38, the House of Lords it was not.

But first, here’s a quick extract from John Biggs’ second appearance in the witness stand, where he is cross-examined again by Duncan Penny about that Sunday Politics show quote.

Q. Do you make provocative remarks?

A. I am described by some as a pugnacious politician. I was talking to a friend the other day who said he was horrified at the suggestion I am a racist and said that I could be described as an equal opportunities pugnacious politician in that I am equally forthright with people from all backgrounds. I think with time maybe I recognise that people have different sensitivities and I am a lot more sensitive now than I was when I was leader 20 years ago.

Q. You accepted last time that so far as the remarks you made in 13 September 2013 are concerned, you regret them inasmuch as you accept that you can see that they may have upset some people.

A. I think I regret them more in that they have been open to misinterpretation in this rather tenuous spinning by your client and indeed, in my view, by yourself.

Q. You said that last time. I am more interested in you. Let us stick with you for the time being. Do you regret the fact that you might have upset some people? What about your own view about that? Let us forget about what Lutfur Rahman’s team have done.

A. I do not believe, when I looked at the evidence — and I did sit in on Alibor Choudhury’s appearances in the court — and I was quite shocked at his assertions of being hurt given that there was such a great time elapse between his apparent hurt and his use of the information.

Q. Surely you are not trying not to answer my question, Mr. Biggs, are you?

A. I think —-

Q. I asked you about you.

A. I think in life there are many questions to which the answer is not yes or no. If you want to repeat your question, we have all afternoon, I believe.

Q. Is it “Je ne regrette rien” for you?

A. As I said previously, we all make our bed and we lie in it, do we not?

Q. That is not an answer, is it?

A. No, it is not the answer you want me to give, but it is an answer.

Q. I just want the truth.

A. Indeed, so do I.

I quite like that attitude.

The full transcript of the day’s hearings is here: Erlam & Others v Rahman & Williams – Proceedings 13.03.15 – Day 29.

But back to Baroness Uddin’s guest appearance. Background on her dubious expenses history can be read here. The Sunday Times article about how she exchanged a “battered” Honda reportedly worth £300 for a £20,000 BMW X5 (via Mahee Jalil Ferdhaus/Ferdous) is here.

And her denial that she’d ever driven a battered car in her life is in the transcript below.

The judge’s interventions when she asks whether she has really has to answer questions are particularly worth reading. As is the statement by her that she no longer must pay back many of the expenses she wrongly claimed.

Enjoy. (And thanks again to Mark Baynes of Love Wapping for doing a data clean up on the transcript text for me.)

BARONESS UDDIN CROSS-EXAMINED BY MR. HOAR

MR. HOAR:  Lady Uddin, I am going to take you, firstly, before I get to your witness statement, to a report.  I wonder if your Lordship has it.  It is a report by the House of Lords.

THE COMMISSIONER:  No.

MR. HOAR:  There are copies, actually.  My learned friend has a copy.  There is a copy for the witness there.  (Same handed)

THE COMMISSIONER:  It is from the Parliament website.  Yes.

MR. HOAR:  I do not know whether the witness has it.  I do not think she does.  (Same handed)

I am just going to take you, if I may, to relevant   passages.  The report was published as a result of and was the conclusion of an investigation into your claims for expenses; that is correct, is it not?

A.  My allowances, yes.  Yes, it was.

Q.  Can I take you, firstly — now, you will see that there are page references, which are the internet copy page references, at the top right-hand corner.  Do you see that?  So, page 1 of 14, 3 of 14, and so on.

A.  Okay.

Q.  Could I take you, first of all, to page 3 of 14, paragraph 23. This describes the resolutions of the House of Lords with regards to allowances, as you describe them, or expenses, as they describe them.  The resolution includes, “1(a) expenses incurred for the purpose of attendance at sittings of the House at committees; (b) expenses incurred” —-

A.  My Lord —-

Q.  No.

A.  Mr. Hoar, may I — I do not understand what reference you make to this and the statement that I have made, and you should

have made that quite clear.

Q.  Baroness Uddin, you will answer my questions unless there is an objection, and I have not asked one yet.  If you are not following the reference, then that is another matter.  But firstly, you will answer my questions, Lady Uddin.  All right?

A.  My Lord, then I am asking for clarification, my Lord.

Q.  Paragraph 23, 1(a) and (b).

THE COMMISSIONER:  I am afraid that Council for the petitioners is perfectly entitled to cross-examine you as to this report,

Lady Uddin.  He is not obliged to keep his cross-examination to within the four corners of your witness statement.  I am afraid, therefore, that at the moment his questions are  proper, and you will answer them.

MR. HOAR:  Thank you.  Does it say that “expenses can be claimed, if incurred, for the purposes of attendance at sittings of the House”; does it say that?

A.  I have not read at this moment.

Q.  I am asking you to read paragraph 23, 1(a), Lady Uddin; page 3 of 14.

A. 23(a), I am reading that, and I have read it.

Q. Indeed. Does it say “expenses incurred in staying overnight away from their only or main residence where it is necessary to do so for that purpose”?

A. It does say that.

Q. Is that your understanding of the House of Lords rules so far as expenses are concerned?

A. Is that your first question?

Q. No. It is about my fifth one. Is that the case, Lady Uddin?

A. What is the case, Mr. Hoar?

Q. Is it the case that those are the rules, and do you agree that those are the rules for expenses in the House of Lords?

A. My Lord, in response to Mr. Hoar’s question, I would suggest that the whole matter in relation to the —-

Q. Are you answering my question or not?

A. I am, Mr. Hoar.

Q. It does not sound like you are.

A. I am, Mr. Hoar.

THE COMMISSIONER: Let her answer first.

THE WITNESS: You should allow me to finish.

THE COMMISSIONER: Let me have her answer first. Do continue.

A. I would say, and clearly Mr. Hoar has found the details from public records, and the matter of this subcommittee is a matter of record, and I do say that it has been something that I have already answered in the House of Lords, and this is not a matter of contest.

MR. HOAR:  I think his Lordship has just told you that you will answer my questions.

A.  My Lord, I am —-

MR. PENNY:  Please, please.

THE WITNESS:  I am answering, my Lord.

MR. HOAR:  You are not answering my questions.

A.  My Lord, I am answering, and I am making the point that —-

Q. You are not —-

THE COMMISSIONER: Let her finish her answer.

THE WITNESS:  I am making the point, my Lord, that everything in these few pages, and many other pages, is there for public    record. It has been hashed and rehashed, and I have answered all the details; and I am not aware that any of these matters are of any relevance to either my statement or the matter before the court, my Lord.

MR. HOAR:  Have you finished?

A. I have.

Q.  Can I now ask a question, because I am going to rehash it for you, unfortunately, and his Lordship has just indicated thatI may do that.  So, Lady Uddin, can you please answer the question that I asked, which was simply this: does the passage that I just read out accurately explain the rules for expenses in the House of Lords — yes or no?

A.  My Lord, I would say that I would simply refer to my answers as stated in the report, as is available.

Q. Does the —-

A.  And Mr. —-

Q.  — passage I read out accurately explain the rules for expenses in the House of Lords, Lady Uddin — yes or no?

A.  Mr. Hoar, Mr. Hoar, you shouting at me will make no difference to what I have to say, which is —-

Q.  I will ask it a fourth time, a fourth time then.

THE COMMISSIONER: No. Wait a minute. Lady Uddin.

A. Yes, my Lord.

Q.  I appreciate you resent this line of questioning.

A.  I do not, my Lord.

Q.  Well, you have made it very clear that you do.  You are asked a very simple question.  The report that we have from the House of Lords quotes verbatim the resolution of the House in relation to day and night subsistence.  They have been read to you by Mr. Hoar, and he has asked you the very simple question: do you accept that they are, or were at the

relevant time, the rules relating to day and night subsistence?

A.  My Lord, may I please again restate what I have said.  Given that Mr. Hoar and the court itself has access to these  details, he will know that I answered these questions in detail, my Lord, in the reports, and I merely make reference to whatever I had said.  Given that I had no knowledge that Mr. Hoar would be, or the court would be, asking these

irrelevant matters here, then I would have been more prepared with all the things that I may have said in relation to these details, my Lord.

Q.  The only question you have been asked to date on this matter, Lady Uddin, is whether you accept that the rule as read out by Mr. Hoar is, in fact, the rule of the House of Lords.  That is  the only question you have been asked so far, and it is a question which we have not yet had an answer to.

A.  My Lord, you will know from the report that is here before you, and the court will know and Mr. Hoar will know, the whole report details what I had said or not at the time.  If this is presented to me in the way of simply asking me to clarify whether this was the rule —-

MR. HOAR:  Are you refusing to answer his Lordship’s question — because it sounds to me like you are —-

A.  Absolutely not, my Lord.

Q.  —- to answer his Lordship’s question.  So, perhaps I will give you another opportunity — number 7, I think.

Lady Uddin, did the passage that I read out at page 3 of 14 of this report, paragraph 23 of the report, accurately, accurately represent the rules for expenses in the House of Lords — yes or no?

A.  It is, as stated by the rule —-

Q.  Thank you.  So, yes. I am going to turn to paragraph 4.4, night subsistence; and you can answer my questions or not, as you wish, but you may want to answer them.  Night subsistence, 4.4.1:  “Members whose main residence is outside Greater London may claim for expenses of overnight accommodation in London”.  Do you agree that that is the rule?

A.  Yes, my Lord.

Q.  “While away from their own main residence”; do you agree that that is the rule?

A.  My Lord, yes, I agree that that was the rule.

Q.  Thank you.  “4.4.3.  Claims for night subsistence are only permissible in respect of nights actually spent in London either immediately preceding or following attendance at a sitting or meeting described”; do you agree that that is the rule?

A.  Yes, my Lord.

Q.  Thank you.

A.  It was as stated in the Committee.

Q.  “Lady Uddin’s designated main residence”, page 5 of 14, paragraph 34.  You designated three main residences, did you not, between 3rd May 2005 and 12th April 2010, did you not?

A.  Yes, my Lord.  It is a matter for record, my Lord.

Q.  Yes.  Up until 1st August, it was a property in Frinton-on-Sea in Essex, was it not?

A.  My Lord, it is as on record.

Q.  And in the record to which you refer, the House of Lords finding was this.  Paragraph 36, third line down:  “From the data held, it appears that Lady Uddin claimed night subsistence, day subsistence, office costs and the mileage allowance for weekly journeys by car and to Frinton almost

every weekend when the House was sitting for the period May to July 2005″.  Do you agree that that is true?

A.  That is as stated in public record, my Lord.

Q.  Thank you.  Paragraph 39:  “In relation to the Frinton property, the police did not investigate this period”, but the Sunday Times interviewed your sister-in-law, who had lived at the property since 1999.  She could not recall you ever having lived at the property.  Is that true, that you never lived at

that property?

A.  My Lord, both myself and my sister-in-law subsequently contested and challenged this statement.

Q.  Yes.  You said she had been terrified by the journalist, and so lied; that is what you said about that, is it not?

A.  No, I did not say that, my Lord.  We both said that that was not as was presented to us, and we have challenged that in —-

Q. It says —-

A.  —- in the Privilege and Conduct Committee, my Lord, and that is also on public record.

Q.  What have they ruled about that?

A.  Pardon?

Q. What has the Privilege and Conduct Committee ruled about that challenge, Lady Uddin?

A.  And we disagree, my Lord.

Q.  You disagree with their decision, do you not?  Very well.

A.  Mr. Hoar — my Lord, Mr. Hoar is well aware that we challenged that decision.

Q.  And they did not agree with your challenge?

A.  That is the right of the Conduct Committee.

Q.  You challenged it, and they did not agree with your challenge?

A.  My Lord, that is the right of the Conduct Committee.

Q.  So, you had claimed, for a period of six years, mileage expenses that you did not use and costs for living away from your main home, when you never lived in the property in Frinton-on-Sea, in Essex, did you not?

A.  Mr. Hoar, my Lord, that is not, as my statement had said —-

Q. No, it is not, is it?

A.  I have contested this proposition consistently, my Lord, all the way to the appeals.

Q. And you have lost every time, have you not, Lady Uddin, because you had to repay the expenses; and this report is the result of the investigation, is it not?

A. My Lord, you will be aware that the police did not pursue this case. The Crown Prosecution Service did not feel able to substantiate their cases, and the Conduct and Privilege Committee did, however, find —-

Q. Against you?

A. Yes.

Q. Facts relating to your Maidstone property to which you claimed to move in 2005 —-

THE COMMISSIONER: Well, we have the —-

MR. HOAR: You do have the report. I will go through it very briefly then.

THE COMMISSIONER: We have the report. I do not think you need to go through it, because we have the conclusions that the

Committee came to on all these matters.

MR. HOAR: I just want to ask you about one particular thing. Between 23rd August 2007 and 9th June —-

A. 2000 and —-

Q. Sorry. I am going to get that more accurately.

A. Please.

Q. Between 23rd August 2007 —-

A.  Hang on.  23rd August?

Q.  Yes, 2007, and 9th June 2005, in your flat in Maidstone —-

A.  9th June 2005? Q.  2008.

A.  You said 2005.

Q.  I did.  My apologies.  I meant 2008.  One year.  Did you ever cook in your flat?

A.  My Lord, any questions related to this matter and of my occupation in 2005 onwards, in the Cheynes in Maidstone, was replied to and is for matters of public record in detail,

my Lord.

Q.  Did you cook —-

A.  And I hope that you will accept, my Lord, that this is not the place for me to repeat my statements, details of which I do not have access right now.

Q.  Did you cook —-

A.  And I hope, my Lord, that you will —-

Q.  Did you cook —-

A.  —- intervene in this matter, to —-

THE COMMISSIONER:  Lady Uddin, we have the report in front of us, and I have indicated to Mr. Hoar that he is not going to go into it in great detail.  But harsh though it may seem, is it not right to say that in a number of specific instances, the Committee (rightly or wrongly) decided that you had not acted in good faith?

A. My Lord, that is absolutely correct that the Committee made that decision, and that is for public record, my Lord; and I am not able to contest that. I am not able to discuss any further details without looking at what was said during —-

MR. HOAR: Lady Uddin —-

A. —- a long and elaborate process, my Lord. Therefore, I am not able to assist, Mr. Hoar —-

Q. You are able to assist —-

A. —- in this way.

Q. —- because you remember, and I am asking you a very, very, very simple question, which is this. In that year-long period, practically a year, between 23rd August 2007 and 9th June 2008, did you ever cook in your property in Maidstone?

A. My Lord, Mr. Hoar, if he has looked at the details, he will know and realise that I answered those questions in detail that I had lived there during the weekend —-

Q. I am asking you if you cooked there in that period. Did you cook there?

A. If, my Lord, you live in a property, then of course you have to eat —-

Q. Right. So, that is a “yes”. Thank you. Does that mean that you washed —-

MR. PENNY: I mean, really. I am not for a moment seeking to prevent the cross-examination.  Do not get me wrong. But the behaviour is unacceptable.

MR. HOAR: No, it is not. The behaviour of the witness is unacceptable.

MR. PENNY: It is discourteous, it is unprofessional.

MR. HOAR: The witness is refusing to answer questions.

MR. PENNY: No, no.  It is not the way it should be done.

THE COMMISSIONER: It must have been obvious to anyone deciding to call Lady Uddin that she would be open to cross-examination —-

MR. PENNY: Of course.

THE COMMISSIONER: —- on the extremely damaging and adverse findings made by the House of Lords Committee.

MR. PENNY: Of course.

THE COMMISSIONER: Therefore, anybody tendering her as a witness must, I think, be taken to have undertaken that risk.

MR. PENNY: Of course.  I do not dispute that.

THE COMMISSIONER: I am not particularly interested in whether Lady Uddin did or did not cook in the Maidstone property, because I have the findings of the Committee as to whether or   not her claims in respect of the Maidstone property were made    in good faith; and the Committee, I am afraid, took an adverse view on that.

THE WITNESS: Yes, my Lord.

MR. PENNY: The point I am trying to make, my Lord — and I am sorry, I do want to repeat it, because, obviously, this is again taking place in public — is that this should not take place, or this should not be done in a discourteous, impolite and unprofessional manner.

MR. HOAR: I totally reject that allegation, which my learned friend is far too ready to make.

THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Hoar, Mr. Hoar —-

MR. HOAR: The questions I have asked have been entirely proper, and the witness has failed to answer them time and time again.

THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Hoar, given that this is cross-examination as to credit —-

MR. HOAR: There is a particular reason why I want to ask these particular questions. So, I really object to my learned friend standing up and stopping me asking them and the witness refusing to answer them. She said she cooked. (To the  witness) Does that mean that you washed your food? Did you wash your food when you were cooking?

A. My Lord —-

Q. There is a reason I ask this question, for what it is worth.

A. My Lord, I have made every effort to respond to Mr. Hoar in the most polite and in the most respectful manner to

your Lordship, and I have been quite clear that I have, as I have said to the Conduct Committee, that I had been there, I stayed there during the weekend, often on my own, when I did, of course, and sometimes —-

Q. Okay. Thank you.

A. —- sometimes I cook, sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes

I washed, sometimes I didn’t, my Lord. Actually, those who are not very familiar, my Lord, with Maidstone, it is a very wonderful place, where many people come, to stay out, live out, go out in the evening, enjoy, and it is access to good restaurants, good —-

Q. Lady Uddin, can you answer my question, please, rather than going on and digressing about Maidstone?

A. I am, my Lord. I hope you will appreciate the details —-

Q. So, you have agreed that you cooked, you washed your food, you washed on occasion —-

A. Sometimes I did, occasionally.

Q. —- in that annual period?

A. Yes.

Q. Why is it then, if you look at page 8 of 14, that in the period between 23rd August 2007 and 9th June 2008, you used no water at all in that property? Why is that?

A. My Lord, we challenged this, and we challenged it at the Committee, and we challenged Southern Water, and you will accept, my Lord, that there was a thorough investigation on this by the police and they found it wanting, my Lord. I can say no more. I cannot elucidate, Mr. Hoar, on this point any further, my Lord, or the court, except to say that I answered those questions and I challenged what was presented to me.

Q.  And you failed —-

A.  My Lord, if I may just finish?  Also, you will appreciate, my Lord, that in the Conduct Committee, I had no ability to challenge anything that was presented to me.  We were not allowed to cross-examine any so-called witnesses that were presented.  It was deeply difficult in that sense to actually call, as you have called me, Mr. Hoar, today —-

Q.  Do you challenge — I have not called you, Lady Uddin.  Do you challenge that meter reading?

A.  My Lord —-

Q.  Do you challenge the meter reading, Lady Uddin?

A.  My Lord, yes, we did indeed.

Q.  You did?

A.  We did indeed.

Q.  What happened when you challenged the meter reading?

A.  My Lord, they were not able to provide the record, as the water company, I believe, had gone through some transition and changed companies.  It was not for us not wanting to be able    to address these issues.  In fact, my Lord, we wanted to challenge the witnesses, and we were not able to do that, due to the Conduct Committee’s procedure and processes.

Q. Now, the Conduct Committee —-

THE COMMISSIONER: Do you accept, Lady Uddin, that the Committee came to the conclusion that you had not been using Maidstone as your principal residence and that the claims that you had made in respect of that property were, therefore, wrong and should be repaid?

A. Yes, my Lord.  You are absolutely correct in that suggestion, and public record stipulates that. My Lord, I only want to make this one point, that, repeatedly, I implored the Committee to accept what I had said, my Lord; and without going into great deal of details of my own personal circumstances — and I do not wish to repeat those here,   either — I want to say that it was a very extremely difficult situation and I dealt with it in the best way I could, making sure that I protected my family, and, also, in the absence of the fact, my Lord, that I was not able to challenge any witnesses or statements.

MR. HOAR: Lady Uddin, at pages 7 to 14 you see accounts, your neighbours’ accounts —-

A. Sorry?

THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Hoar, I have indicated that I have read this report. I do not think that you need take it any further on any questions of credit. It is there for good or ill.

MR. HOAR: I am just going to summarise the proposition, which is this, that for approximately 10 years, every week – or possibly month, if it is done monthly — you put in expenses claims for travel and for housing allowances that were false and fraudulent for 10 years, did you not?

A. My Lord, I have refuted that. I have challenged it. I have stood against the proposition that this was so. I have never, never, in my entire professional career, ever broken any stated rules. The rules under which the Conduct Committee subsequently pursued my conduct in the Subcommittee of Conduct and Privilege was specifically designed to deal with this. No    such rules had been applicable at the time, and I believe — and to this day, my Lord, I believe that I correctly followed the rules of the House, as stated at the time.

Q. In 2010, Baroness Uddin, you drove a Honda vehicle, a small Honda vehicle, into a garage, and you drove out with a BMW, two years old, worth £20,000; is that true?

A. My Lord, I traded my car, which I had purchased from new, which was valued around £8,000 to £9,000, and I then had bought from a friend a car —-

Q. Did you declare it as a gift on the register of Lords interests?

A. My Lord, I have never, ever in my entire driving period ever received a free car from anyone. That is also a matter of public record, my Lord.

Q.  Did you pay for this car then?  Did you pay for the part exchange?  Did you pay the difference between the value of your old Honda and the BMW?

A.  I believe I was asked to pay, I believe it was about £3,500—-

Q.  Did that represent the full commercial value of the difference between the £300 worth Honda and the £20,000 worth BMW?

A.  My Lord, I believed at the time and I had not checked the value of the cars, simply just as I bought my Honda before. I had went into a garage, I asked them what the value was. I did not look it up.  I said this is the value.  I paid for

it.  In a similar vein, I did the same thing to my BMW, which in fact one gone wrong very soon, two and half years only and I had to then exchange it again for a different car, which I am currently now driving.

Q.  Was the garage at which you did this part exchange owned by Mohammed Furdhouse?

A.  Yes, I think his partner.

Q.  Was he the owner of Channel S?

A.  Yes, I believe.

Q.  Did you therefore received a gift worth over £10,000, more like £15,000 from Mohammed Ferdous, owner of Channel S, which you did not declare to the House of Lords?

A. My Lord, I have just repeated what I have said before in the Conduct Committee, my Lord, I did not receive a gift from anyone in the way of a car ever.  Had I have done so, I would have indeed gone to the House of Lords to enquire whether   I needed to register.  You will note, I hope, my Lord, that

I regularly update my register and I have an extremely cordial relationship with the register all throughout the period and

I do not think there has been ever any questions raised about my conduct as far as registration is concerned.

Q.  You are aware, are you not, that actually that was raised in a Sunday Times article, whether you like it or not and whether you think it was justified or not, it was raised in the Sunday Times in 2010, was it not?

A.  My Lord, you will appreciate that newspapers will sensationalise things, they will connect things for their own purposes; and much of which, not just in my case, but others have been discredited since and I think we should all be cautious how much we pay attention to what newspapers say as the only truth, my Lord.

Q.  You have just accepted everything the Sunday Times alleged, have you not, that you drove into a garage with a battered old Honda, you drove out with a BMW, there was considerable value of the cars and you did not declare it to the House of Lords —-

A. My Lord, without discourteous to your Lordship or Mr. Hoar, I would request that maybe somebody who is taking notes may just repeat on my behalf what I have just said to Mr. Hoar, which was not and not, I repeat, my Lord, a tattered Honda.

I have never driven tattered cars, my Lord.  I have paid for them duly out of my earnings. And, my Lord, I exchange one car for another.  I paid what was asked of me, my Lord.

I subsequently re-traded that car from the same garage and bought another. And, indeed, I did not pay anything and

I thought that I was rather done by, in that sense because by that time I had become much more wiser about enquiring what the value of a car should be.

Q. Can I take you to paragraph 6 of your witness statement, please.

A. Mr. Hoar, my Lord, are we done with this?

THE COMMISSIONER: I would be happier if you allowed the questions to be asked to you, not by you.

MR. HOAR: You know perfectly well you are here to answer questions, not ask them, do you not?

THE WITNESS: Mr. Hoar, please refrain from shouting at me and I hope you will respect that I am being extremely cooperative

with you.

Q. Lady Uddin, I suggest you are doing everything in your power to obfuscate and not answer questions and that you have done that since the start of you going into the witness box. That is the truth, is it not?

A.  My Lord, I do not understand how powers are divided in this instance, my Lord, when I am in the witness box and you are standing there shouting at me, Mr. Hoar.

Q.  I have not shouted at you.  I have put propositions and questions which you have failed to answer because you are uncomfortable about the truth of your lies and fraud.  That is the truth, is it not?

A.  My Lord, I have always stated that I have never lied about my circumstances or in the way in which I claimed my allowances and I have never lied about my cars, and I am here to give answers to the best of my ability.  And, my Lord, I do hope  that you will accept that I am doing everything I can to   answer the questions, maybe not at this pace that you are asking, Mr. Hoar, but I am doing my best.

Q.  Paragraph 6.

A.  Yes, Mr. Hoar I am looking at it.

Q.  You said, second sentence:  “On a number of occasions I had also made it clear within the Labour Group that as a deputy leader I was not included or consulted about major policy issues and decisions.”  That is what you have said.  You have said that John Biggs was not a team player.  You have also said, in the next paragraph, that there were concerns expressed by other members that he had continued to work closely with senior officers in the council who had remained from the previous Liberal Democrat legacy.  None of those complaints are anything more than a complaint about the manner of John Biggs, his leadership; is that right?

A.  Sorry, you are asking me to confirm the statement that —-

Q.  I have just done that.  I have asked you to comment on my suggestion which is this: those two sentences do not nothing more than complain about the manner in which John Biggs discharged his leadership of the Labour Group?

A.  Okay.

Q.  Is that right or not?

A.  The reason I made this comment in particular was in the light of the fact that I was asked by the respondent lawyer what was my relationship with Mr. Biggs.  And in which I said that it had increasingly become fraught over the period —-

Q.  Fraught over the period, A-U-G-H-T; yes?

A.  Difficult, yes.

Q.  Just clarifying.

A.  Increasingly difficult and I had said that because of my own experience and, of course, it is not — I merely do not make that point about his manner.  I was speaking specially about

— maybe I could, Mr. Hoar, my Lord, maybe I could give a couple of examples —-

Q.  Lady Uddin, please try for a change to answer my question, which is simply this. You have heard the two sentences I have read.  The question I ask is this.  Are those two questions,   that John Biggs was not a team player, there were concerns expressed my members he had continued to work closely with senior officers in the council who had remained, are those two sentences no more than criticisms of his manner of leadership; yes or no?

A. My Lord, they are more than criticisms of his manner and leadership.  It was simply about the way in which he worked as a leader. And the example which I would, with your permission, like to give is, for instance, I mean, we had just won the office, having fought an extremely difficult period,  we had come on with an antiracist agenda trying to unit the community together. It seemed that the leadership would be collected, involving the wider parties and would reduce the kind of division that had been created over a long period of time —-

Q.  Lady Uddin, you have gone on for long enough now.  Can you please answer the question that I asked.  Those two sentences do not do more than criticise the manner of John Biggs’ leadership; is that true or not?

A.  My Lord, I was making some attempt to explain that it was more than a manner, that it was about the way in which he worked, whether it was about restructuring of the committees, whether it is about the allocations of restructuring of staffing,   whether it was about a simulation of staff, whether it was about funding of the organisation.  He did not involve the

wider councillors, numbers of councillors who were extremely talented and very often he worked on his own and particularly I was not often involved in some of his leading discussions.

Q.  Lady Uddin, does not that just prove what I have just asked, which is no more than this, that you were only concerned with the manner of John Biggs’ leadership and nothing more?  Can I ask about this.  You say that you criticised John Biggs for working closely with senior officers in the council who had remained; is that not the job of any leader of the group in    any borough council, to work closely with officers?

A.  My Lord, what I would say is of course I have great and high expectation of John Biggs.  That is the only reason I joined him as his deputy.  But I very soon came to realise – may I carry on.  So, therefore, of course, it would have been a    great surprise that he refused to then work in a collective manner, I came from a background, a profession where I had to work collectively although I led my team.  The idea when you are leading a team that you work collectively to achieve the objects, which collectively as a group of councillors we came to deliver.

Q. Can I ask you to turn back to paragraph 5, please, the fifth line down: “During this period” — that is 1994-5 — he was

known to make throwaway comments and provocative comments”, that is what John Biggs does, he makes throwaway comments and provocative comments, that is his character, is it not; that is who he is?

A. Indeed, you make a very important point. Throwaway comments, such as the Bengali mafia or throwaway comments such as the comments which had been attributed to him on numerous  occasions that he was frustrated, he was angry, he was agitated, he was not willing to reflect other people’s point

of view, are not just throwaway comments and you throw them away and people can languish with their pain. Throwaway comments should be about — yes, I am just saying, I am really unhappy about this, and that does not impact or linger on in people’s lives, Mr. Hoar.

Q. Notwithstanding that you came here to trash John Biggs’ reputation, which I suggest you did, you never mentioned the Bengali mafia comment, which you have just made up, have you not?

A. My Lord, I have — not one word of what I say is made up. The term Bengali mafia was well-known and often repeated by John and others. I often used to respond in that saying that I found it really deeply offensive because they were our colleagues and, of course, political differences aside, we all have political differences with each other, but not to be offensive. I certainly did not come here to trash Mr. Biggs, because I chose to become his deputy. And the reason I came here, Mr. Hoar and my Lord, I was — my name I believed had been mentioned several times in the context of the fax. And  in the same article you will note, Mr. Hoar, my Lord, I said that I had been deeply concerned over a long period of time about the impact of racism within the Labour Party and the hierarchy should be examining that. I had been concerned about that, especially given that we had come in to a new office as Labour Party members trying to rid the fascism that we experienced and the people of the borough had experienced at the hand of, then the Liberal focused council.

THE COMMISSIONER: Where you aware, I will be corrected if I am wrong, the only mention of your name hitherto in this case has   been as the person in whose name a forged fax was sent? So, you were, as it were, the innocent victim of a forgery. That, as I understand it, is the only context in which your name has been hitherto raised in this case.

MR. PENNY: My Lord, I think it is right to say that I, so to speak, relied on this document on its face as well in cross-examining other witnesses.

THE COMMISSIONER: You did and you have accepted that was a mistake.

MR. PENNY: Because the Baroness, who is here to trash Mr. Biggs, reputation has told that I got it wrong.

THE COMMISSIONER: That is true. If the only need was to correct that, I just wondered what might be the purpose of this lady coming.

MR. PENNY: I do not know if you have seen Mr. Biggs’ witness statement. I was asked to make a concession, which I did not have any basis for. The witness was seen and the concession has been forthcoming.

THE COMMISSIONER: It does not necessarily follow from that you have to call evidence.

MR. PENNY: That is true. Evidence comes into the hands of parties in all sorts of ways, as your Lordship appreciates.

THE COMMISSIONER: I fully appreciate that, yes.

THE WITNESS: My Lord, may I respond to the point that you made. You are absolutely right, the respondent lawyers did ask me about that and I made it quite clear that to this day I do not know frankly who sent the fax, except of course there were a lot of allegations flying around. In addition to this, I was also asked a couple of other questions, including some comments that Mr. Biggs had subsequently made on the Politics Show, so I responded in that; so, of course, I did not deliberately come to this court or to the respondent or his lawyer, but they had asked me and I said yes, I am absolutely okay to do that. Absolutely knowing that I was taking a risk, that Mr. Hoar would indeed touch on the privilege and conduct report which I felt absolutely that I could answer, because it   is a matter of public record.

THE COMMISSIONER: Are you still a member of the Labour Party, Lady Uddin?

THE WITNESS: I am, my Lord. I pay monthly subscriptions to the Labour Party, I have been since my early teens.

Q. Do you hold the Party Whip in the Lords?

A. I have not gone and taken the Party Whip as yet, my Lord, because I have rather enjoyed the independence after a very long time in the House of Lords. I have not sought any application.

Q. Can I ask one thing I should have asked at the time. The end of the Privilege Committee report asked you to pay a sum of money back.

A. I did.

Q. Has that all now been repaid?

A. No, I have longer to repay that, my Lord.

Q. There is a mention of suspending you from service, has that been —-

A. No, I returned in 2012, my Lord, and I have been a member of the Lords since.

THE COMMISSIONER: Yes, I see.

MR. HOAR: After being suspended for three years and having to pay back £124,000 —-

THE WITNESS: My Lord, may I correct —-

Q. —- or is the Parliamentary report wrong on that?

A. My Lord, may I correct that. I was suspended between 2010 and March 2012 and I returned there in the end of April, my Lord, April 2012.

Q. Can I take you back to the statement, paragraph 6, because you make those two sentences about John Biggs not being a team player and complaining that he was working with senior officers in the council. Then you said this: “It was and is

my view that there was an underlying assumption that many Bengali councillors did not have the sufficient knowledge, competence or understanding”, this is just an assumption of yours, not about Mr. Biggs but more generally, is it not?

A. I think — I do not have the public records available here but both Mr. Biggs and others will have kept records of detailed conversations, very difficult, conversation meetings which ran into arguments, disarray about these matters, my Lord.   Because we came to office on the basis that the Labour Party will dismantle what was regarded and accepted publicly both by the Liberal National Party as well — that much of the   behaviour of the past Liberal regime was fermenting undertone of racism and racist practice.  It was operated by largely staff that had no connections or any compliance or understanding of the Labour values.  So, of course, all the councillors came in thinking we will now dismantle, not only dismantle any ideas of racism or any undertone of discrimination, whether it was in the housing policies or whether it was about staffing.  And in the context that the borough was highly diverse, the population of the staffing members did not reflect this, my Lord.  So, of course, we had ambition to change this and so the idea then that John Biggs and I or any of the senior managers would simply go in hand in hand working with the same officers was deeply controversial among the Labour group, not just me.

THE COMMISSIONER:  Was your suggestion this, that they should all be sacked.

A.  No, my Lord.  That they should be talked, they should find out

— just as any senior officer.

MR. HOAR:  Is that proper to talk to them in a political way from a member?

THE WITNESS:  My Lord, many political advisers often change with administration and they are either assimilated and the notion of assimilation of staffing was rampant amongst our .  How do we make sure that the staff who implemented the then policies of the Liberal focus regime, which we challenged and then how do we implement Labour Party policy. We had the assumption that it would be done extremely properly and extremely fairly with due regard to the process.

I had myself come from local government in the borough of Newham. Of course, I would have been extremely understanding and sensitive and aware of the process as councillors a staff member has to go through.

Q. You say in the last sentence, paragraph 6: “During John Biggs leadership factional politicians and division were heightened”, the reality is that the main reason they were heightened was because of the constant attempts to unseat John Biggs by Christine Shawcroft and others, is it not; that is the reality, that was the factional bitterness caused by them?

A. The Labour Group, my Lord, was extremely divided and I think I elude to that. Indeed, I cannot recall and there will be others who may have better recollection, but I cannot recall any attempt to unseat John Biggs as a leader during the time while he was the leader. It was only at the end of his term when —-

Q. He was only leader for one year —-

A. The regulation stipulated, my Lord, that every year the leader changes — sorry, has to stand for re-selection. So, only when — I think between March and April there were a lot of  then what the new panel could look like and that maybe John Biggs should be replaced because of his record of not working collectively with the team members, of creating division, of deep angst during all of the meetings, there were many meetings fraught with difficulties and anger. And, indeed, Mr. Hoar, the group was extremely divided, not just on lines of so-called left and right, but also there were large presence of the Bangladeshi councillors and there were issues —-

Q. (Unclear) for example?

A. —- there were several others, including —-

Q. —- is not Mr. Biggs’ biggest fan, is he?

A. As far as I am aware, Mr. Galal and Mr. Biggs had worked very closely together.

Q. Early in the 1980s?

A. I think they had; but I am not privy to their relationship.

THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Hoar, I think we do not get very much from this beyond what we have already.

MR. HOAR: There are two more things I ought to put.

THE COMMISSIONER: The Labour Party in Tower Hamlets in 1995 spent most of its time fighting like cats in a sack.

THE WITNESS: Yes, indeed, they did, my Lord.

MR. HOAR: Paragraph 8, last sentence, it is not true that

Mr. Biggs said that Tower Hamlets was not ready for an Asian lady; you have just made that up, have you not?

THE WITNESS: My Lord, I am deeply saddened to say this is something that John and I had often discussed. He had often said, I think that he was and he did used to then say “Pola,

I am just joking”, and I would always say to him, “John, I  find that deeply offensive, you have said that many times before and it is time you grew up”, I used to say that to him. But that did not take away the fact that there were assumptions about women’s leadership and especially one that was of Asian heritage. I would say that that was without any questions and John himself would argue that there was an enormous amount of prejudice against Bangladeshi community and Bangladeshi women in particular. In any case, Tower Hamlets always has had not sufficient number of women in its rank.

Q. That is the first time you have mentioned that in 20 years, is it not?

A. Mentioned what? I have to say that is absolutely —-

THE COMMISSIONER: Which comment, Mr. Hoar?

MR. HOAR: That Tower Hamlets was not ready for an Asian woman, which is the alleged comment by Mr. Biggs. I have no more questions.

THE COMMISSIONER: Mr. Penny?

BARONESS UDDIN RE-EXAMINED BY MR. PENNY

Q.  Have you come here to be exposed to what you have just gone through?

A.  I can only say I came here on your request specifically to answer the questions that no, I did not have anything to do with the fax.  I still do not know who sent that fax.  And  also arising out of the questions I was asked about my views on what John had said and my response to that on the Sunday Politics show.

Q.  Have you come here to lie for Lutfur Rahman?

A.  Absolutely not, my Lord.  Lutfur and I have never really worked together including — I think on maybe one, well, on several community occasions we have shared a platform.  And, in fact, when he was a councillor I had challenged him several times whilst I was in the Lords for his optimism about the borough’s education system.  I do not know whether he still   has the letter.  Indeed, my relationship with Lutfur is very limited and I have come only — and also not come here to discredit John Biggs, I think that I want to say that I   understand in the context within which John Biggs says what he says and that it was in his character to say that he said.

Q.  What do you mean by that?

A.  I think that when I have to say that on 22nd September 2013 when he appeared on television and he said what he said I just thought — that was just following the EDL coming to Tower Hamlets and causing huge angst and upset and disgust and most of the community work together to try and tackle the fact that the EDL must not enter the borough. I think collectively all of the communities have worked extremely well to ensure that we do not ever entertain fascists on our council and in   our institutions locally.  That work has been done together. Therefore, I was extremely sort of distressed really by   hearing that once again John would say something to the effect that once you are elected that you only work in the interests   of one group of people.

Q.  But it was suggested to you, on behalf of the petitioners in this election petitioner, that is what John Biggs does, he says provocative things, he speaks before he thinks effectively; is that okay?

A.  That is his character.  That is certainly something he has done. That is something that I am well experienced with.  That is something, not only me, you ask any of them (unclear), you ask Michael Keith, you ask any one of them on his team they would tell you the same thing.  So, it is not something I am saying, it is not the fabric of my imagination.  You will realise that prejudice and racism and sexism are subjective experiences. They are felt experiences, so that it is up to

the recipient, if you like, to define that. I think if somebody says that right now I am being sexist or racist, I am giving that impression to you and I have to respect your experience.

Q. When you were campaigning, did you talk about sections of the community?

A. I think —-

THE COMMISSIONER: Campaigning when?

MR. PENNY: At a time when this lady was working together with Mr. Biggs.

THE COMMISSIONER: 20 years ago?

THE WITNESS: I think at that time the Bangladeshi community was just emerging in terms of political participation. So, I

think we were always very cautious about how much we would irritate, if you like, the majority white voters, so that we

were often designing policies to ensure that — so, the core voters referred to were never Bangladeshi voters, it was always seen the core voters, i.e. the most important voters, would be the white voters. My experience professionally and has been someone who was elected in Shadwell, which was largely a very much more mixed constituents, that i always challenged this. If John said to me we have to be careful about which housing project we start first, it must not be   seen to be the Bangladeshi one because we would agitate the majority voters. I always used to say we have to trust the instinct of the voters, we would have to rely on working collectively and if we inform people that the majority needs for larger houses belong to a certain section of the community, that is not racist.  That is not giving extra emphasis to one particular committee or importance, it is simply meeting the obligation of an elected councillor.

If I may go back to the question you raised about why I mentioned this.  The Sunday Politics show in particular I think was very unwise and unfitting of someone who is wanting to represent the whole borough, because it fed into the   narrative which was suggested by the EDL that the borough was largely paying lots of attention to the Bangladeshi community. That has never been true.  Because, first of all, it is completely illegal and immoral to just pay attention as elected councillors to one set of the communities because you are obligated by law, by procedures to ensure that all your policies impact the whole community.

THE COMMISSIONER:  Any further questions?

MR. PENNY:  Yes, there are.

THE COMMISSIONER:  Fire away.  I am keeping an eye on the clock, because you are going to recall Mr. Biggs, are you not?

MR. PENNY:  Mr. Hoar is, yes.

MR. HOAR:  And I would like enough time to do that.

MR. PENNY:  It sounds like I am being told to sit down?

MR. HOAR:  I am not.  I am just saying there are only so many hours in a day.

THE COMMISSIONER:  If you have further topics to cover, you cover them.

MR. PENNY:  Let us be honest about it, this lady has been put through the mill during the course of her cross-examination and she is entitled to her say and that is what re-examination is about.

THE WITNESS:  I have been through bigger mills.  I am perfectly able to look after myself.

THE COMMISSIONER:  Yes, cross-examination in its widest sense.

MR. HOAR:  If it arises from cross-examination is the correct test.

MR. PENNY:  Correct.  (To the witness) What about when Mr. Biggs said to you about Tower Hamlets not being ready for an Asian female, did you take him to be just to be joking?

THE WITNESS:  No, my Lord.  I reprimanded him almost immediately. I said to him that I do not take that.  I think I might have myself made a throwaway comment and said, “God, that is so racist”, and immediately he said he said it as a joke.  My Lord, we have had these banters with each other —-

Q.  Why do you say banter?  That is an interesting noun, I want you to explain why it was banter?

A.  Because it was so frequent and it was a normal language for him.  I think those kinds of comments — many who worked with him will tell you that they were offended by the way that he spoke to them very often.  If he got angry in a meeting, he  would almost like grind his teeth in anger.  On one incident I took my daughter, and my daughter was very, very young — and Mr. Biggs also has a daughter — and, in fact, he told me that this council was not a crèche.  I had only on one  occasion took my daughter to the council.  I never did subsequently because I was so absolutely enraged about that.

Q.  Why were you enraged about a comment being made about the council not being creche?

A.  Because it contradicted everything that the Labour values was about.

Q.  Why?

A.  That it was about facilitating women’s participation.  It was about valuing women’s engagement, we are supposed to have followed subsequently a good strategy for child care in the borough and it kind of smacked in the face of everything that we believed in, in the public arena.  So, I said that I was deeply offended by that and I said to him this is the only occasion that I have ever — I have been on the Labour Party campaign trail since my late teens — so my children were a known factor that they not present in the works and I spent as many as my other colleagues had spent over those years, 12 to 18, 20 hours on campaign trail sometimes and of course our children were not part of that.

THE COMMISSIONER: We have gone a long way from cross-examination, Mr. Penny.

MR. PENNY: I have not asked the question. I have asked a question and the witness is answering the question.

THE COMMISSIONER: I was not sure that creches and that sort of comment has arisen before.

MR. PENNY: That is because that arose from the issue that the witness was addressing, which was in relation to comments made by the witness about whether Mr. Biggs was ready for an Asian lady and your Lordship knows that is the question that I asked. That undoubtedly does arise on the issues in this case.

MR. HOAR: It is no comment on which I am able —-

MR. PENNY: No, no.

THE COMMISSIONER: We have yet to see what Mr. Biggs says when we get to him.

MR. PENNY: I do not know, maybe it is me again fantasising, I seem to have done quite a lot of it over the last six weeks,   but I think it was suggested to this lady on behalf of the petitioners that Mr. Biggs was the sort of man who made provocative rash comments, something along those lines.

THE COMMISSIONER: It was.

MR. PENNY:  There we are.  Thank you very much.

THE COMMISSIONER:  You are free to go.

Read Full Post »

I’ve not yet had the chance to be in court (although tomorrow might be a fun occasion as Mamun Rashid, the former Respect councillor who stood for Labour in Shadwell last May, takes the witness stand…but only after he asked for the services of an official interpreter. Yes, you read that right: an interpreter is needed for a former councillor who took home £40k from council resources between 2006-10.)

John Biggs was the star turn yesterday and he by all accounts spent five hours in the stand. The transcript of his appearance runs to 200 pages and contains 50,000 words, so that’s too long even for this blog.

I’m going to make it available as a document here (Erlam & Others v Rahman & Williams – Proceedings 03.02.15 – Day 2), and I will also post his official witness statements in due course.

They contain fascinating bits of evidence, much of it contested by Lutfur Rahman of course.

I’ll highlight below seven pages of exchanges between John Biggs and Lutfur’s QC David Penny. They are on pp320-330 of the transcript.

They give interesting insights into the way back room deals are alleged to have happened between the two politicians during the contested mayoral selection process of 2010, ie before Lutfur was expelled from Labour.

Lutfur denies this meeting took place. The petitioners are being represented by Francis Hoar. The Election Court commissioner is Richard Mawrey QC.

The trial continues.

Here’s the extract from the cross-examination of John Biggs by Mr Penny.

14      MR. PENNY:  There is one issue where there is a conflict that I

15          just want to explore with you for a little bit.  Would you be

16          kind enough to go to your witness statement at page 196,

17          paragraph 99.  You are talking about Mr. Rahman, your

18          relationship and your observations of him: “I was reminded

19          also of LR’s ability to mobilise support when at the time he

20          was off the shortlist of 2013 and hedging his bets on how he

21          could secure influence in the event that I became Mayor.  He

22          and a number of his colleagues, including Councillor

23          Choudhury, visited my home late at night twice to offer

24          conditional support and offer of their block of votes in this

25          election in return for guarantees of positions of influence in

                                          320

     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

    2          the event that I became Mayor.”  Is that accurate?

     3      A.  It is accurate, yes.  I know that from Lutfur Rahman’s

     4          statement no. 4 that he says that that meeting did not take

     5          place, but there were two such meetings.

     6      Q.  We will look at that in a second.  Just look at the first

     7          sentence of it: “I was reminded of LR’s ability to mobilise

     8          support at the time he was off the shortlist in 2013.”  That

     9          cannot be right, can it?  He was not off the shortlist in

    10          2013.  He was the Mayor in 2013.

    11      A.  No, you are quite right.  This would be in 2009 then.  Yes, I

    12          am four years out.

    13      Q.  When the squabble was going on about who was going to be

    14          elected.

    15      A.  I am four years out.  It was 2009, you are absolutely correct.

    16      Q.  It can make a wee bit of a difference, can it not, four years?

    17      A.  Well —-

    18      THE COMMISSIONER:  So can we change that to 2009?

    19      A.  Yes, I apologise.

    20      MR. PENNY:  That is all right, do not worry.

    21      A.  It was certainly a year before the Mayoral election.  I just

    22          got the wrong Mayoral election, you are quite right.

    23      Q.  Typographical errors can creep into the production of witness

    24          statements and so forth.  So far as this witness statement is

    25          concerned, did you draft it all yourself?

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     2      A.  Unfortunately, I did, yes.

     3      Q.  Each and every paragraph is yours, is it?

     4      A.  I do not know where this is leading to but, yes, I spent many

     5          a weekend at my desk in City Hall drafting and redrafting and

     6          paraphrasing and chopping it about, looking for evidence and

     7          putting together this gargantuan thing, yes.  Is that a

     8          problem?

     9      Q.  It is a question, Mr. Biggs, and you have given me an answer

    10          so I am bound by it.  As you will know, the rules of evidence

    11          establish, all right.  Can we move, please, to the statement

    12          of Mr. Rahman to which you have made reference.  That is in

    13          volume R.  It is his fourth witness statement at paragraph 85,

    14          which is at page 4319.  Let me understand this.  Are you

    15          suggesting that Lutfur Rahman came to your home twice in 2009?

    16      A.  Have I got the wrong year then?  Yes, you are quite right, it

    17          must have been 2010.  After the Mayoral referendum, there was

    18          a short period between the May election and the October

    19          election in which the Labour Party attempted to select a

    20          candidate.  There was one shortlisting meeting, which was then

    21          repeated with a second shortlisting meeting.  Between that and

    22          the point at which Mr. Rahman was placed back on the shortlist

    23          following the various legal interventions, he attended my

    24          house so it must have been in September or something,

    25          August/September 2010 then.  For the second time, I have got

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     2          the wrong year.  It was 2010.

     3      Q.  Let us get the chronology clear for his Lordship.  The

     4          position was that Mr. Rahman was unsuccessful in seeking to

     5          get on to the shortlist first time round.

     6      A.  Yes. S.

     7      Q.  The processes which the Labour Party had adopted were

     8          unlawful, there was a legal challenge and he was then put back

     9          on the shortlist.

    10      A.  I would not agree with that, but those are your words.

    11      Q.  I think the Labour Party settled the action and paid his

    12          costs; is that right?

    13      A.  They settled the?

    14      Q.  They settled the action against him and paid his costs.

    15      A.  I give an account of that in my second witness statement,

    16          which is my understanding of what happened.

    17      Q.  But one way or another, he ended up back on the shortlist.

    18      A.  Yes.

    19      Q.  He then won the election first time round.  In relation to

    20          that election, you were second and Mr. Abbas was third.

    21      A.  This selection, not the election, yes.

    22      Q.  There was a list and then there was the election proper for

    23          the nomination.  He was successful in votes.  Forgive me, I

    24          should make it clear.  He is not on the original selection

    25          list, he challenges that, he then is on the selection list.

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     2      A.  There is another iteration.

     3      Q.  Go ahead.

     4      A.  He was rejected, there was a completely fresh panel, he was

     5          interviewed again, he was rejected again, he then exercised

     6          his right of appeal to something called the Disputes Committee

     7          or something — this is all in the appendices to his second

     8          statement — and then following that, by whatever route, he

     9          received a letter saying that he was on it, then a second

    10          letter saying he was not, his lawyers then fired off missives

    11          and he was placed back on it.

    12      Q.  Then there was the election.

    13      A.  No, there was then the National Executive Committee meeting.

    14      Q.  I am talking about the votes for who was going to be the

    15          candidate.

    16      A.  The selection?

    17      Q.  Yes.

    18      A.  Yes.

    19      Q.  I am probably using the wrong terminology.  All I am trying to

    20          establish, as I asked you this morning, is that he was first,

    21          you were second and Helal Abbas was third.  Then there was

    22          intervention from the NEC and you were not made the candidate,

    23          but Helal Abbas was, which is what I was asking you about

    24          earlier on.

    25      A.  Yes.

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     2      Q.  So far as these meetings are concerned, you say that they took

     3          place at your address.  I do not want to expose that in court,

     4          but that was within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

     5      A.  It is my wife’s home, yes.  It is well-known that it is now

     6          her private address, or my ex-wife.

     7      Q.  Who else was there apart from Mr. Rahman?

     8      A.  I was thinking about this last night because I read Mr.

     9          Rahman’s statement.  He said the meeting did not take place.

    10          Mr. Rahman was there, Mr. Alibor Choudhury was there, Mr. Ohid

    11          Amed was there, Anwar Khan was there and I think there was a

    12          fifth person, but I am not too sure who it was.  I was there

    13          on my own.  He had asked that I not have anybody present with

    14          me, which I thought was a bit one-sided, but I am a reasonable

    15          guy and I accepted that.

    16      Q.  Did you make a telephone call in 2010 just prior to his court

    17          challenge?

    18      A.  I have no idea.  We did attempt to communicate by telephone

    19          once or twice in this matter.  I think following his election

    20          as Mayor, I attended one or two meetings with him at the Town

    21          Hall where we talked about the possibilities of

    22          reconciliation.  In advance of this election, I was quite keen

    23          at finding ways of healing things over so we did have

    24          conversations.

    25      Q.  This is before the challenge to his exclusion from the Party

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    2          shortlist.  You telephoned him, did you not?

     3      A.  I have no idea.  We were in the business of speaking to each

     4          other to maintain —-

     5      Q.  Look at paragraph 85 of his statement rather than —-

     6      A.  I have no recollection.  We have spoken on the phone in the

     7          past, but not for a long, long time.  We must have spoken at

     8          about this time, but the contents of the conversation which he

     9          relays in this statement are not true.

    10      Q.  So there is no possibility of you having said to him that if

    11          he withdrew from the proceedings against the Labour Party, he

    12          may have a future in Parliament or the House of Lords?

    13      A.  I certainly could not have offered him such a future.

    14      Q.  You see what is in the witness statement, Mr. Biggs.  I am

    15          just asking you whether such a conversation may or may not

    16          have taken place.

    17      A.  I took this paragraph to mean that, in some way, I had

    18          threatened, offered or attempted to cajole him into not

    19          challenging something in order to please myself and offered

    20          him the inducement that he might get confirmed as a result of

    21          that and no such conversation took place.

    22      Q.  Did you say that senior figures within the Party would come

    23          down on him like a ton of bricks?

    24      A.  I have no recollection of saying that.

    25      Q.  Is it a possibility?

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     2      A.  Okay, I have no recollection of saying that in the context in

     3          which it is placed here and I have no recollection of a

     4          detailed conversation with him in which we covered these

     5          matters.  I do not recall that, no.

     6      Q.  Are you ruling it out?

     7      A.  I am ruling out that I did not have a conversation with him in

     8          which my tone could be construed as threatening.  I did not

     9          have a conversation with him at which I offered him a seat in

    10          Parliament or the House of Lords because they are not within

    11          my gift.  Even if I wanted to make such an offer, I could not

    12          have done so.  We did talk during this because it was a

    13          stressful time for both of us.  We were both mighty pee’d off,

    14          I was going to say, that the whole thing had been deferred

    15          again and again.  It was stressful for every candidate and we

    16          did try to maintain civil conversations during it.  That was

    17          my interpretation of what happened.

    18      Q.  Was there a telephone conversation in which you invited him to

    19          desist from the legal action that he was taking?

    20      A.  I do not recall such a conversation.  I think he may have told

    21          me that he was considering legal action, I have no idea.  What

    22          would I have said in response to that?  I do not know.

    23      Q.  You heard my question.  Did you invite him to desist in the

    24          legal action that he was taking against the Labour Party?

    25      A.  You keep asking this question and I am just trying to be

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     2          helpful by trying to remember something that I do not

     3          remember.  I do not remember having any conversation with him

     4          which could be phrased in the fashion in paragraph 85.

     5      Q.  You keep saying that you cannot remember.  I am asking you

     6          whether it could have happened or not.  In other words, are

     7          you ruling this out?

     8      A.  I am ruling out a conversation in which I threatened him or

     9          offered him inducements or tried to encourage him to get out

    10          of the way to give me a free field or whatever is insinuated

    11          in this paragraph.

    12      Q.  Are you ruling out a conversation in which you invited him to

    13          desist in his legal action against the Labour Party?

    14      A.  Yes, I am ruling that out.  I mean, we may have had a

    15          conversation in which he said that he was minded to do that.

    16          We might have talked about what that might mean in various

    17          guises, but I have no recollection of such a conversation.

    18      Q.  What would the conversation have been about then?  “Oh, John,

    19          they have deselected me.”  How does it go after that?

    20      A.  I have no recollection of such a conversation.  I am just

    21          trying to imagine what would happen if I had a conversation

    22          with someone in that position who was a mate of mine.  I would

    23          say, “Life is not at an end.  You could consider a legal

    24          challenge.  The Party may not support you.”  I have no idea

    25          what I would have said.

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     2      Q.  You were rivals, were you not?

     3      A.  It is interesting you say that.  We are not rivals to the

     4          death in my opinion.  I have always taken the view that the

     5          Labour Party is a fraternal organisation and that we work

     6          together and we try to secure candidates and victories.  I

     7          think my record shows that on occasions when I have lost in

     8          the past, I have valiantly endorsed and supported the

     9          candidates who have won.  At the moment, Lutfur was successful

    10          before the NEC suspended him.  I held his hand aloft outside

    11          the Labour Party office and spoke to the TV cameras with him

    12          and put an arm around him and said, “Good on you, mate. I am

    13          behind you.”  I was very sincere in saying that.  It is not

    14          quite like a war where one of you has to die at the end of it.

    15          It is an adversarial process in which only one of you can win,

    16          but hopefully at the end of it, you put away your swords and

    17          you work together towards the common good.  That is the point

    18          of having a political party.

    19      Q.  In 2010, were you or were you not rivals for the nomination to

    20          be the Labour Party candidate in the Tower Hamlets Mayoral

    21          election?

    22      A.  Obviously we were.

    23      Q.  There was no chance of the words “coming down on you like a

    24          ton of bricks” being mentioned in this conversation?

    25      A.  Shall I read the paragraph again?

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     2      Q.  Of course.

     3      A.  The meetings at my home did not take place.  They did take

     4          place.  All I can say about this is at that the meeting that

     5          took place in my home, Mr. Rahman told me that he had a block

     6          of votes which he said was of the order of 200 votes — I

     7          thought that was rather less than the number of votes at his

     8          command — and that he would deploy those in my favour.  He

     9          wanted me to offer him in return for this an assurance that I

    10          would make his nominated candidate the Deputy Mayor if I

    11          became Mayor and that I would offer half the places in the

    12          cabinet to people from his faction or grouping.  I said in

    13          response to that in those conversations, misguidedly or

    14          otherwise, that what I wanted to do was to try to represent

    15          the different factions and interests in the party in the

    16          administration of Tower Hamlets in the event that I became the

    17          Mayor and that I would certainly consider his nominations, but

    18          that was not a reasonable request for him to make.

    19      Q.  I hope I made it clear that I was asking you about the

    20          telephone conversation.

    21      A.  There was no telephone conversation of the type intimated in

    22          this paragraph that I am aware of.

    23      Q.  None whatsoever?

    24      A.  We had a telephone conversations.  I cannot remember what

    25          their content was, but there was certainly no conversation the

 

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     1                                  BIGGS – PENNY

     2          purpose of which was to threaten and to harry him or to

     3          discourage him from standing or making his legal challenge.

     4      Q.  At this stage, you still wanted to be the candidate, did you

     5          not?

     6      A.  Yes, of course I did.

     7      Q.  You were none too happy when Mr. Abbas was installed as the

     8          candidate.

     9      A.  By that stage, as I said earlier today, I thought it was a bit

    10          of a train wreck, I was weary and battered by the whole

    11          process and I thought, “Stuff it” momentarily to myself.  Yes,

    12          it was my ambition to be the Mayoral candidate and I then went

    13          away and here we are today.

    14      MR. PENNY:  Indeed.  Thank you very much, Mr. Biggs.

 

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Below is a letter that Labour’s John Biggs has sent to a few local papers in which he criticises Ken Livingstone’s support for Lutfur Rahman.

John lost of course by some 3,000 second round votes in May to Lutfur. He remains a London Assembly member for the City & East constituency.

He is also likely to be called and cross-examined as a witness for the Tower Hamlets election petitioners in the forthcoming court hearing.

That hearing, by the way, is likely to start at the end of January. It could well last between two and three months, which would mean any mayoral election re-run taking place after May’s general election.

It’s not at all certain, of course, who would contest such a re-run. Were Lutfur to lose the hearing he might be barred from office. It could be, however, that the judge rules the actual count unlawful, but that it was not Lutfur’s fault. In that case, Lutfur might be free to stand again.

Would John Biggs want to contest a re-run anyway? Would the party locally or regionally want him to?

Would Lutfur want to stand again?

He seems to be trying to raise/improve his national profile at the moment as a darling of the Left. He’s changed his Twitter photograph to show a more workmanlike down-to-earth image: tie loosened, shirt sleeves rolled up.

lutfur rahman, twitter

And the people who write his Tweets for him are concentrating far more on national, as opposed to local, political and social issues.

I’ve written on here a few times about the internal battle within his Tower Hamlets First party over who might stand against Rushanara Ali in Bethnal Green and Bow next May.

Speculation has previously centred on Abjol Miah (who still encourages people to “vote Respect” on Twitter), Rabina Khan and possibly Ohid Ahmed.

But I wonder whether Lutfur himself might be interested?

[He has wanted to become an MP for many years. It was during his campaign to become Labour’s PPC for the seat in 2007, when Rushanara eventually triumphed, that he fell out with his “friend” Helal Abbas. Here’s a letter he wrote to my former paper, the East London Advertiser in March 2007.]

Lutfur Letter March 2007

Were Lutfur to stand next May, it would mean campaigning during the period of the Election Court…when his expensively assembled legal team could be making headlines for him.

Curious and curioser…

Anyway, here’s Jogn Biggs’s letter:

I have great respect for the achievements of Ken Livingstone, and was proud to have worked alongside him for eight years at City Hall. His vision for London is, in my view, unmatched.

The Olympics, massive transport investment, and a focus on policing which helped to restore public confidence, would not have happened without him.

His focus on the plight of those on low incomes, and on helping people to get the skills they need for employment and to help themselves, was a vital part of his work too.

While not everything he did was right, a lot was and his successor, Boris Johnson, has coasted on his achievements, unwisely reversing some while, as with the Olympics, Crossrail and police numbers, brazenly trying to claim credit for others (even while, in some cases, undermining them).

Ken’s genuine passion for our City made him, in my view, a great and visionary London Mayor.

And I pay great respect also to his work while at the GLC. In particular he will be remembered for his work on equalities, challenging discrimination and disadvantage faced by many simply because of their race, gender, sexuality, physical ability or the disadvantage or poverty of their background.

At the time he was attacked as dangerously left wing and ‘politically correct’. Nowadays those views are generally seen as part of proper mainstream thinking – not about a free lunch, but about a greater fairness.

Again, not everything he did was right but his legacy is solid.  

However, he is absolutely wrong in his recent comments about Tower Hamlets politics.

Politics is about passions, strong opinions and different priorities. However, his representation of Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman as a victim of a stitch up is just plain wrong.

I and others am proud to have played a part in helping East Enders from different backgrounds and cultures to have access to power.

But we are in a different age now – people who are in power have a duty to act properly, and high standards apply to everyone.

The local Mayor, who has, I am sure, many positive qualities, has seriously failed the East End and Ken does nobody a service, in any community, by pretending it is someone else’s fault.

While Ken Livingstone and a small minority of those who claim to be on the Left, believe Lutfur Rahman is a victim, in my view, and that of many, many others, it is the people of Tower Hamlets, including in the Bengali community, who are the victims of his misuse of power in the Town Hall.  

I am proud to have worked with Ken but disappointed that he is unwilling to see this. He is at risk of the classic error of the Left, of fighting internal battles and living in the past.

We need to move on from this.

John Biggs AM (and 2014 Tower Hamlets Labour Mayor Candidate)

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