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Well, here’s a blast from the past. Do you remember my favourite thin-skinned council spin doctor, the one who ordered security guards to frog march me out of a council meeting because I told him quietly he was acting like a prick by stopping me doing my job?

The one I believe tried to get me sacked from the Sunday Express because I had used one of its scanners to copy a leaked council document?

The one who wasted £123,000 of council cash hiring PR consultants Champollion to try and undermine John Ware’s BBC Panorama documentary on Lutfur Rahman?

The one who spun the true £1.6m cost of producing East End Life?

The one who before he took up his £100k a year job at Tower Hamlets council was a Labour councillor in Haringey where when in charge of social services he complained about regulators giving his department a zero star rating in the wake of the Victoria Climbie scandal?

There are many other fond memories of dear Takki Sulaiman, I’m sure.

When it became clear that the writing was on the wall for Lutfur, Takki quickly deserted the sinking ship and in January 2015 headed for the head of communications job at Aberdeen council. Not surprisingly, his £80k appointment immediately caused a political row.

A little over two years later and after what appears to be a mixed record with the council, his post was made redundant. He now runs some sort of holiday home on the shores of Loch Awe, according to the Press and Journal. Good luck to him; I’m sure the Trip Advisor ratings will be fabulous.

And the newspaper has this gem: that his golden goodbye settlement was £63,000. That’s £63k of public money – £30k tax free.

I don’t think any more comment is needed.

Here’s the full piece from the Press and Journal’s John Hebditch.

A former city council spin doctor was given a £63,000 golden goodbye when he left the authority last year.

Former head of communication and promotion Takki Sulaiman, who was known as the authority’s “happiness tsar”, departed last May.

New figures from the Taxpayers’ Alliance have shown he was paid a salary of £80,697 – and received a pay-off of £63,000 when leaving.

Mr Sulaiman was formerly a Labour councillor in the scandal-hit London borough of Tower Hamlets.

The opposition SNP and Liberal Democrat groups criticised his appointment in November 2014, but the Labour-led administration at the time insisted that the HR team had not been told of his political background.

SNP group leader Stephen Flynn said: “The administration was told that the council did not need a spin doctor but they pushed ahead and the cost borne by the people of Aberdeen is eye-watering.”

But Aberdeen Labour council co-leader Jenny Laing hit back: “Although Mr Sulaiman’s stay with the council was short he did help create the successful 365 project which has brought forward the Great Aberdeen Run, tour cycle race and Nuart which have all contributed to the cultural offering of Aberdeen.”

The spin doctor position has since been abolished.

It is understood that Mr Sulaiman how runs a self-catering property on the shores of Loch Awe on the west coast.

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Of all the many redacted documents released last week by Tower Hamlets council was a fascinating letter from the town hall’s “interim monitoring officer”, the Great Meic Sullivan-Gould (for he is indeed very great).

This dragon-slayer arrived at the council with, according to him, a stellar reputation in local government having served with a long list of the country’s finest councils.

The people of Cheshire West and Chelmsford are no doubt grateful for his Travelling Salesman services but for Meic, such praise wasn’t enough. He wanted a crack at the biggest crackpot of them all: Tower Hamlets.

So when the post became vacant in the New Year, having been vacated by Isabella Freeman and her interim successor Mark Norman, Meic offered to help.

He did his research, of course; he read The Telegraph, this blog and Private Eye’s Rotten Boroughs.

But why don’t we let him tell the story. Here’s his coquettish email to BBC Panorama reporter John Ware, which was released under FoI:

Interviews Interviews2

There are so many nuggets in here, it’s difficult to know where to start. For someone apparently so well regarded, he is a bit careless.

Forget for the moment his admonishment of Mayor Lutfur Rahman for his a “coup de theatre” (that’s a reference to the little game Takki Sulaiman and Lufur played at the outset of the mayor’s interview with John Ware when they handed the BBC thousands of documents requested two months earlier).

And forget his patronising dismissal of the journalism surrounding Tower Hamlets as “politically motivated” pursued by people “anxious to keep an easy but unfounded ‘Byword for sleaze’ story running”.

But do consider his dismissal of opposition councillors who he describes as “bitterly disenfranchised and largely impotent”. How neutral. You’ll remember he went further on the night of the Panorama programme by taking to Facebook to lavish praise on his boss, Lutfur. That little slip saw him banned from any involvement in the Election count, an astonishing state of affairs for the Monitoring Officer.

And another paragraph in that email might have similar consequences for an Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting on July 22.

At that meeting councillors will be discussing a report by forensic internal auditors on the sale of old Poplar Town Hall.

Andrew Gilligan wrote about it on January 18 here. The building was sold in 2011 for £875,000 to a shell company called Dreamstar, which was established Mujibul Islam, who was a key ally of Lutfur in the 2010 mayoral election. Within months of that sale, the new owners secured under delegated powers a change of use for the building to a hotel.

Peter Golds and many others believed there was a whiff about it and demanded an emergency investigation by internal audit specialists at the accountancy firm, Mazars.

I don’t know why they bothered. Because on their books they already had the world’s best fraud hound.

You see, Andrew’s article a couple of days before Meic started work so he set about investigating it himself. This is what he told John Ware: “I have over the last few weeks reviewed the council’s files on specific property disposals and planning approvals and I have discussed the published concerns…As I told the people who have commissioned your work, I have found nothing to substantiate the concerns.”

Mazars’ final report has just been published here. It’s fascinating and I understand that Team Lutfur, while still of course maintaining clean hands, are furious at the council’s slipshod record keeping on something that was so obviously a hot potato from the outset. Ever so carelessly (ever so), the council has lost key documents and both Lutfur and Aman Dalvi, the council’s director of development, have “no recollection” of allegedly key conversations they are said to have had about the disposal.

The Mazars report should be read in full but as a flavour here’s a summary of their findings.

In March 2008, the council’s then cabinet (led at that time by Labour’s Denise Jones) declares the listed building surplus to requirements and orders officers to examine a possible sale.

In January 2011, three months after he was elected, Lutfur and his cabinet order an “accelerated sale” (between 2008 and 2011, the building had been used by Ian Mikardo school). Bankers from BNP Paribas then estimate it could fetch in those circumstances between £750-£950k. The cabinet decided against waiting for the property market to recover.

In May 2011, the property is marketed by BNP Paribas for six weeks.

In June 2011, 10 sealed bids are received, ranging from £876k in net present value terms to £350k. The Limehouse Project charity had offered £1.2m over 20 years, but that was worth £526k in real terms. All the other bidders were commercial enterprises and one individual. Among them was a £850k bid from Dreamstar.

On July 1 2011, Paribas write to bidders asking for ‘best and final offers’ by close of play on July 8 2011.

On July 11 2011, these best and final offers were opened in the presence of three council officers and two Paribas staff. Mazars find that neither the council nor Paribas have kept the official documents relating to the opening of the bids.

On July 11 2011, the best and final offer from Dreamstar arrives. It is three days late. And it has increased from £850k to £875k.  Mazars state: “The offer from Dreamstar was received late and therefore does not comply with the council’s procedures.” Mazars asked why the bid was accepted for consideration and the council said it would have been ‘remiss’ not to have done so. The council claimed Dreamstar had told them they would be submitting a new bid and that they’d posted it on July 8… . Mazars add: “In addition to accepting the late bid from Dreamstar, we would note that the offer from Dreamstar was not the highest received and therefore the council, by not noting the reason for its decision not to accept the highest offer, has not followed its own policy in regard to accepting the highest offer either.”

On July 12, BNP Paribas advise the council to tell Mr X he is the highest bidder with £876,000 (subject to survey). They suggest telling him to prove he has the finance. They also recommend telling Dreamstar “they have been unsuccessful [and] to focus their attention on Limehouse Library”. They advise naming three other parties they are the “underbidders” in case Mr X fails to come up with the goods.

Throughout August a number of emails bounce back and forth within Aman Dalvi’s team. They are concerned that council delays might cause some bidders to withdraw interest.

On August 24, the council’s “head of valuation and estates” emails Aman to say “the range of returns [ie bids] is very narrow, which looks a bit odd to be honest”.

On August 25, the council’s Capital and Asset Management Board meets (although Aman is not present). The minutes state: “..there will be progress on this [Poplar Town Hall] after [Aman] has met with the Mayor today.” Mazars state: “We spoke to [Aman] who said he was not sure what this reference was made to, and reiterated that he was not present at the meeting when this point was minuted and that he had no recollection of speaking to the mayor in regard to this matter.”

On September 8, the council’s head of corporate property emails Aman Dalvi to say because the bids from Mr X and Dreamstar are so close (£876k vs £875k), they should be invited to a “contracts race” to see who can get to exchange of contracts first.

On September 14, Dreamstar is registered and incorporated at Companies House.

On September 15, Aman emails back to agree the approach.

On September 15, a note is placed on the legal file regarding the contracts race. The note is written by the “Council Solicitor”. It is not known whether this is Isabella Freeman, although the word ‘he’ in the following statement suggests not. The note states: “I said ‘My heart sinks’. How can we possibly have a race for property of this type which we are selling off on a long lease? It’s bound to end in dispute and litigation, all that needs to happen is for one of the buyers to say that that [Council Solicitor] in your legal department sent something out to the other side 24 hours before he sent it to us. However, [Asset Manager] is only doing what he is told, this has come from the Mayor. [Head of Asset Management and Valuation] was listening in and obviously volunteered to take over, so I spoke to him and expressed my doubts, which he didn’t really share, saying he had done contract races before when he was at Lewisham. He said he had made it clear in his report that £876 beats £875, and Aman agrees, but it has come from the very top…”.

On September 20, BNP Paribas invite Dreamstar and Mr X to a contracts race.

On September 29, Dreamstar win the race and contracts are exchanged.

On November 11, sale completes.

On December 6 2011, Dreamstar formally asks the council’s planning department for a change of use and listed building consent on the property to make it into a “boutique hotel”.

On July 3 2013, change of use is granted. Mazars are told the decision was made under delegated powers (rather than go through a publicly held committee) because the application didn’t  trigger 20 or more objections and it didn’t meet various other criteria for that to happen.

Mazars in their final report are at pains to stress that the “sole purpose of this report is to assist the council in deciding what further action it may wish to take in this matter”.

In the event they make six recommendations:

1. “The council should locate the original bid opening sheet to examine what comments were made by officers at the time of the opening and identify what consideration was given to the bid from Dreamstar.”

2. The council should examine what legal advice it sought about accepting Dreamstar’s late bid.

3. The council should consider further interviews with staff and/or members to investigate the matter.

4. Council should consider whether another internal audit of its fixed asset sale processes is needed.

5. The council should consider whether potential buyers of council assets should be provided to make a declaration about any relationships with council members or staff.

6. Council should review the processes for deciding whether such change of use matters should be carried out under delegated powers.

All in all a murky mess.

Dreamstar’s original bid was below the highest bid of £876k. A council officer says the “narrow range” of bids looks “odd”. Dreamstar’s revised bid (after the original bids are opened) increases from £850k to £875k, but it is received late…against the council’s strict rules. Yet it was accepted. The council says it had a duty to secure value for taxpayers.

Crucial paperwork is missing. A council lawyer reports being told that a decision to trigger a contracts race between Dreamstar and Mr X came from Lutfur. Neither Lutfur nor Aman “recall” having any such discussion.

There may well be a series of cock-ups in here that give the perception of conspiracy. But it certainly doesn’t look good and it seems a council lawyer was so concerned they left a potential bombshell of a note on the legal file. That lawyer no longer works for the council but they might be called back to explain themselves.

But then again, we all know that would be a waste of time because Meic has already determined there’s nothing to worry about.

 

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For a council perpetually under the cosh, Tower Hamlets doesn’t exactly help itself in the matter of public perception.

While I and many other journalists are used to being delayed by the Communications and Freedom of Information departments (actually, it sometimes seems they are one and the same), it’s probably not a good idea to deploy similar tactics with Government appointed inspectors.

Last week, I revealed that PwC had asked Eric Pickles’ Department for Communities and Local Government for another month to file their emergency report on transparency and governance.

Some on this blog speculated it was because the auditors had pre-booked holidays to honour. But it doesn’t work like that.

Today, Mr Pickles explained the delay to the House of Commons:

The investigators PwC have informed me the council has considerably delayed the investigation by delaying the provision of key information or simply not providing it at all. This is simply not acceptable and I am consequently extending the period for PwC to report. The cost will be met by the council. Whether the council likes it or not, this investigation will be thorough and comprehensive and I will update the House in due course.

Yes, there’s an element of politics in the language, but given it is PwC itself telling the Secretary of State the delays have been caused by the council, it’s serious stuff.

I have no idea what information the council is failing to provide. It could be a deliberate delaying tactic by the town hall’s lawyers (loose-tongued interim monitoring officer Meic Sullivan-Gould is in charge, so fear not taxpayers!); there’s some speculation they are considering an expensive Judicial Review on the audit.

That could also be the reason why the council is also refusing to supply me and other journalists a key spreadsheet. The day after the Panorama programme, Takki Sulaiman, the Head of Timely Communications, issued a statement to say the BBC had got its sums wrong. He said only £1.6m of the latest grants round had been awarded to organisations which had a Somali or Bengali CEO, chair or applicant. Panorama had accused Mayor Lutfur Rahman of increasing funding to Bengali and Somali groups by £2.1million to £3.6million.

We asked the council for a detailed breakdown of its numbers.

Last week, they refused the FoI request by relying on a Section 22 exemption, namely that the “information is being re-evealuated and it is intended to publish the information through the appropriate channels”. When I called for an explanation, an officer told me they were waiting for the PwC audit to finish because this information was being examined by them.

So I asked Will Kenyon, the PwC partner in charge of the audit, whether he had been consulted about the FoI request/refusal and whether he had asked for the answer to be delayed.

He replied:

As far as I am aware, your FOI request to the council has not been raised with us at any stage, nor has there been any discussion concerning the publication of the information you refer to.

So while the council was exceptionally quick to fire off its “rebuttal” statement in the wake of Panorama, it has been characteristically slow in providing the proof.

And still they complain when people ask “What have they got to hide?”

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This is a guest post by John Ware, the BBC Panorama reporter who fronted the Mayor and Our Money programme on March 31. This is the first proper response by the Panorama team to some of the accusations and smears directed towards them from senior officers and politicians in the town hall, both before the programme and since.

 

Lutfur-Rahman-and-John-WareThe former leader of Tower Hamlets Professor Michael Keith observes that the Mayor’s “popularity…speaks more to the strengths of community networks, Sylheti ties and the mobilising forces of his political machine.”

It is striking just how much The Facts have become flattened in this process – and how tenuous has been the relationship to truth in some notable cases.

Having now observed the sectarian politics of Tower Hamlets at close quarters, it seems to me that some of the poison might be drawn if those in positions of responsibility had a more scrupulous regard for facts and truth.

Yesterday, Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s adviser, Kazim Zaidi wrote on this blog:

“And then there was Panorama, aired just two weeks before the purdah period. Panorama claimed dodgy dealings with grants; it cited the Mayor’s car as an example of his profligacy.”

We made no mention of the Mayor’s car.

And:

“.. and highlighted his apparent reluctance to attend scrutiny meetings..”

What we actually highlighted was the Mayor’s failure to answer questions in the council’s key scrutiny forum: Overview and Scrutiny. O&S minutes show this to be a fact.

The Mayor also seems to have been reluctant to attend O&S. Since the Mayor took office, we could find records of only four attendances: two as a non-speaking attendee, and two when he gave a verbal presentation on his work.

And:

“…and answering questions in council, failing to point out that Rahman has attended more scrutiny sessions and answered more questions in council than his Labour counterparts in Newham and Lewisham.”

Mr Zaidi cites only “attendance” in respect of Overview & Scrutiny – presumably because he knows that the pertinent issue here is not attendance but willingness to answer questions.

And, as my commentary said:

“…In the last year Mayor Rahman is the only one out of all England’s 15 directly elected Mayors not to have answered questions at O & S.”

According to Newham Council, its Mayor “attended two overview and scrutiny meetings in the last 12 months and has answered questions at both meetings”; and according to Lewisham Council, its Mayor attended “on 20 June 2013” where there were “informal questions”.

The marked reluctance of the Mayor to answer questions at Overview and Scrutiny was especially relevant to our examination of his record on governance. After all, in firing the opening shots of the election campaign, the Mayor claimed to uphold the “highest standards of probity and transparency”.

And:

“As for the rest, police found ‘no new credible evidence’ of fraud……”

As for the “rest”? Once again, as Mr Zaidi knows, we made no allegation against the Mayor of criminality or fraud in the programme. Like the Mayor and the Council, Mr Zaidi has conflated the Metropolitan Police statement of 16 April that there was “no credible evidence” of fraud or criminality in Panorama files (which the DCLG sent to the Met Police) with the quite separate contents of the broadcast Panorama programme.

The Police statement was not, as the Council’s misleading statement said, “in relation to recent allegations made in the BBC Panorama programme”, thereby quite wrongly implying that the Police had cleared the Mayor of fraud allegations “in the Panorama programme”.

The Mayor, the Council and Mr Zaidi know perfectly well that no allegations of fraud or of criminality were made against the Mayor personally by the BBC, nor in our files.

However, as the council also very well knew, Panorama’s files DID contain evidence that raised allegations of fraud in respect of a youth organisation that had been grant funded. The reason the Police did not attribute this to Panorama was because the council – not Panorama – had referred the case to the CID at Tower Hamlets.

What the council did not say, however, was that they only referred the case to the Police just days after we had submitted 25 very detailed questions to them about the alleged fraud, thus alerting them to the possibility the programme might disclose the fact that the council had known about the case for months – but not referred it to the police.

Our attempts to persuade the Council to correct the misleading impression from their partial statement at the height of the election campaign were ignored by the Council – the same Council which spent tens of thousands of taxpayers’ money trying to stop the BBC from broadcasting the programme in the first place by claiming it would “reduce the chances of a free fair and credible election.”

The BBC’s duty was not only to be fair, factual and impartial to the politicians contesting the election – but also to inform the electorate. Judging by the record turnout – which pushed up both the Mayor’s vote and Labour’s – the evidence suggests that far from undermining democracy the BBC might actually have helped reinvigorate it.

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Dan_photo_mediumThis is a cross-post of an article by Dr Daniel Nilsson DeHanas on the Public Spirit website, which describes itself as:

Public Spirit is a forum for researchers, policymakers, politicians and practitioners from the voluntary and community sectors to debate recent developments in faith and public policy that crosses political affiliations and religious traditions. We feature articles and reports from a wide variety of contributors from academia, politics, policymaking and faith-based and community organisations, with the aim of making accessible recent research findings, sharing a range of expertise reflections and analysis and stimulating conversation about religion and public policy.

Dr DeHanas is:

A Research Fellow at the University of Kent. Until 2012 he was Research Associate on the Muslim Participation in Contemporary Governance project. His sociology research has focused on post-migration religion and politics.

The article was originally published here on May 6 and forms the introduction to a series of interesting pieces focusing on faith and politics in Tower Hamlets, including one from the Rt Rev Adrian Newman, Bishop of Stepney.

Daniel Nilsson DeHanas

Tower Hamlets is seldom far from the public eye. The upcoming election for Mayor of Tower Hamlets and John Ware’s recent BBC Panorama programme on current Mayor Lutfur Rahman have returned the spotlight to this diverse area of East London. In this article, Daniel Nilsson DeHanas provides a brief guide to immigration history in Tower Hamlets, places current issues in context, and looks ahead to new concerns that may shape the East End for years to come.

This article is one of a series on faith and politics in Tower Hamlets.

Get a pdf of this article here

The East End of London has long captured public imaginations. While the neatly trimmed parks and avenues of London’s West End are renowned for luxury and for proximity to political power, the East End conjures images of crowded alleys and docks, a mongrel conurbation of hard toil, poverty, and criminality.

The contemporary London Borough of Tower Hamlets roughly corresponds with the historic East End[1] and has been shaped by a long history of immigration. Historical accounts of East End immigration conventionally begin with Huguenots fleeing French persecution after the Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1685, many of them entering the silk trade. Following the Huguenots, there was an influx of Irish who escaped the potato famine of the mid 1800s. It was next that Jews, fleeing Russian pogroms, arrived in the late Nineteenth Century. In this same period Jack the Ripper murdered hapless female victims in the overcrowded slums, Charles Booth pioneered detailed mapping of the area’s poverty, and William Booth, touched by the poverty, founded the Salvation Army. The Jewish population of the East End swelled to over 100,000 by the turn of the Twentieth Century and the area took on the informal designation of ‘Little Jerusalem’.[2]

Tower Hamlets’ immigration history is distinctive because it has taken the form of relatively discrete waves. This pattern sets it apart from other diverse places in Britain, such as the neighbouring borough of Newham or the city of Leicester, where immigration flows have been more variegated. Immigrants to the areas now in Tower Hamlets have tended to settle in enclaves, for example giving Wapping a ‘Catholic’ character while Stepney took on a ‘Jewish’ one.[3] Anne Kershen notes that for successive waves in the East End it was religion (though not necessarily religiosity) that provided cultural stability and the institutions of community life.[4] A classic illustration of this phenomenon is the religious building on the corner of Fournier Street and Brick Lane, originally built as a Huguenot church in the 18th century. The building would become a Methodist chapel and then a Jewish synagogue before its current incarnation as the Brick Lane Great Mosque.

Bengalis and East End regeneration

Bengalis have in recent years become the single largest ethnic group in the East End. They have a long history of association with the locality. When the East India Company Dock was built in Blackwall in 1614, it became a focal point of contact between London and the rich Mughal province of Bengal.[5] The first substantial population of South Asians in Britain were the lascars, sailors and ship engine room crews, many of whom came from the province of Sylhet at the Northeast of modern day Bangladesh. This was, and is, a rural and relatively poor region. Sylheti chain migration from family reunification and marriage fuelled much of Tower Hamlets’ population growth over the second half of the 20th century.[6]

The Bengalis had arrived for economic opportunities, and many began by working in textiles. Others started restaurants or small shops. Bengalis would over time come to account for the vast majority of ‘Indian’ Restaurant owners in Britain. Brick Lane in the East End became the heartland of settlement, with many businesses and community organisations originating there. As the Bengali presence around Brick Lane grew in the 1970s they were targeted by regular attacks from the National Front. Bengali men formed youth organisations to defend the community against this racist violence. 1978 became a watershed year when the murder of textile worker Altab Ali inspired thousands of Bengalis and other anti-racists onto the streets in solidarity. In the years following the Altab Ali murder, Bengalis took on a more public role. Young men who had defended the community from racist violence, such as Helal Abbas (Labour) and Sajjad Miah (Liberal Democrat), stood for election and became local councillors.

The 1990s and early 2000s proved a significant period because Bengali campaigning aligned with strategic borough-level priorities. Brick Lane was redeveloped, partly driven forward by Bengali local councillors and cultural activists who desired to leave a lasting physical legacy in a historically transient area.[7] Labour councillor Michael Keith provided continuity of vision during this time, alternating between leading the council and serving as lead member for regeneration from 1994 to 2006. The Council adopted a strategy of investment in three ‘cultural anchors’: the Whitechapel Gallery, the Rich Mix Centre, and Brick Lane, with the latter gaining a distinctive arch, streetlamps, and street signs in Bengali language and being rebranded as ‘Banglatown’.[8] At the same time the nearby Truman Brewery and Spitalfields Market received extensive private investment to become de facto cultural anchors for commercial and artistic talent, and a major philanthropic campaign enabled the restoration of the iconic baroque Christ Church Spitalfields. The areas at the borough’s Western edge, bordering the City of London, were establishing themselves as attractive places to live, work, or visit.[9]

Muslim institutions have, over the past decade, taken on an increasing role in East London politics. In 2004, the large Bengali-led East London Mosque (ELM) on Whitechapel Road completed a major extension called the London Muslim Centre. The ELM has since that time become a core participant in local governance, building an impressive portfolio that includes youth work, a drug rehabilitation centre, a school attendance initiative, and partnerships with the Council, police, third sector organisations, and faith leaders.[10] Other local mosques, including Darul Ummah in nearby Shadwell, have been following this example.[11]

The expanding public role of East End Islamic organisations has been controversial. In his 2007 book The Islamist, Ed Husain drew attention to the East London Mosque as, in his words, ‘Europe’s largest Islamist hub’.[12] In 2010, a Dispatches documentary by journalist Andrew Gilligan focused the spotlight on a single Bengali politician, Lutfur Rahman. Gilligan alleged that Rahman was improperly linked with the Islamic Forum Europe (an organisation headquartered in the ELM) and facilitating the rise of ‘Britain’s Islamic Republic’. Ironically, Gilligan’s sensationalist reporting seems to have built support for Rahman who, following the Dispatches furore, went on to decisively win the first election for executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets in October 2010.[13] With the next mayoral election now looming, a recent BBC Panorama documentary by John Ware questions if Mayor Rahman has been using a faith buildings scheme to buy influence from Bengali and Somali constituents.[14] In response to these allegations, the Department of Communities and Local Government has commissioned a full audit of the Council. The initial associated Metropolitan Police inquiry failed to find ‘credible evidence of criminality,’ although other legal investigations may be pending.[15] [NOTE FROM TED JEORY: Do please read Footnote 15 below because this last sentence is incomplete.]

Perhaps the most striking aspect of these recent Tower Hamlets controversies is that they have been aimed for national media, rather than simply playing out as local debates. Similarly, the national prominence of Tower Hamlets is evident in how it has been targeted by extremist groups including the English Defence League, the ‘Muslim patrols’, and Britain First’s ‘Christian patrols’, each of which has staged activities in the borough and raised their media profiles, even though they lack local followings. It seems that the East End remains as fascinating to outsiders today as it was in Victorian times. Tower Hamlets is now seen as emblematic of British multiculturalism, and as such has become a symbolic territory worth decrying or defending.

A changing borough

The 2011 Census results revealed Tower Hamlets to be the fastest growing local authority in the country. In ten years the population increased a remarkable 24.6 per cent, from 196,100 to 254,100.[16] The Census figures also demonstrated important changes in population composition. In 2001, white British residents were the largest ethnic group by a wide margin, at 43 per cent. That figure has fallen to 31 per cent as older residents have died and others have moved out of the borough. Bangladeshis in Tower Hamlets, who are predominantly Muslim, have narrowly overtaken white British residents as the largest group. However the proportion of Bangladeshis in the borough has actually slightly decreased, from 33 per cent in 2001 to 32 per cent today. In other words, the Bangladeshi growth rate has remained just below the overall growth rate. It is not exactly a ‘Muslim boom’.

The underlying story from 2001 to 2011 has been the growth of other population categories. A total of 48,000 people were added to Tower Hamlets in the ten-year period, with the largest part of this increase in the ‘other white’ category, including continental Europeans, North Americans, South Africans, Australians, and New Zealanders. This relatively affluent set grew in size from 12,800 (7 per cent) to 31,600 (12 per cent), or an increase of nearly nineteen thousand people. Other growth in the borough has included Indians (up by 3,800), Chinese (up by 2,200), and the black categories that are likely include the borough’s growing number of Somalis (black Africans up by 2,900, and ‘other blacks’ also up by 2,900).

Though based in the same borough, Canary Wharf is a long distance, economically, from much of Tower Hamlets

The Census indicates that Tower Hamlets has been diversifying ethnically while remaining divided socio-economically. The East End today is a place of contrasts. Tower Hamlets has the highest rate of children living under the poverty line[17] and, after Newham, the second highest rate of overcrowding.[18] According to the recent report of the Tower Hamlets Fairness Commission, one in five households living in Tower Hamlets earns less than £15,000. Yet, largely because it contains Canary Wharf and areas that border the City, the average income of those who work in the borough is an astounding £78,000.[19]

Young professionals have been attracted to gentrified and redeveloped areas such as St Katharine Docks, the Isle of Dogs, Victoria Park, and parts of Spitalfields. The Northern half of Brick Lane includes art galleries and clubs associated with the Truman Brewery and has become a magnet for creative professionals.[20] These fashionable areas seem a world away from densely packed council housing blocks such as the behemoth Ocean Estate.

Michael Keith has noted, rightly, that the regeneration of Tower Hamlets has made it a ‘success story’ and ‘a very desirable and popular part of London in which to live’.[21] However there is a possibility that redevelopment is now moving at such a pace that it will endanger the unique character of the East End as a refuge for immigrants and new ideas. The area has for a long time faced encroachment from the City of London. New plans for the Goodsyard by Shoreditch High Street Station, an area shared with Hackney, include a row of skyscrapers in excess of 30-storeys, in what could initiate a ‘Canary Wharf-isation’ of the East End.[22] These disproportionate plans are being opposed by various campaign groups, most notably the East End Preservation Society.[23]

Today on Whitechapel Road the East London Mosque is a dominant architectural feature. According Council plans, in ten years it may lie in the shadow of the Crossrail station skyscraper.[24] If any cultural influx threatens the future vitality of Tower Hamlets, it is homogenisation from these businesses and the new ‘wave’ of chain restaurants and luxury flats they will bring with them.

Daniel Nilsson DeHanas is Research Fellow at the University of Kent. Until 2012 he was Research Associate on the Muslim Participation in Contemporary Governance project. His sociology research has focused on post-migration religion and politics.

[1] ‘East End’ conventionally refers to the area North of the Thames reaching from the Tower of London at its West side to the River Lea at its East, perhaps as far North as Hackney. See Alan W. Palmer (2000) The East End: Four Centuries of London Life. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

[2] Anne Kershen (2013) Strangers, Aliens and Asians: Huguenots, Jews and Bangladeshis in Spitalfields 1666-2000. London: Routledge.

[3] William J. Fishman (1975) East End Jewish Radicals, 1875-1914. London: Duckworth.

[4] Anne Kershen (2013) Strangers, Aliens and Asians: Huguenots, Jews and Bangladeshis in Spitalfields 1666-2000. London: Routledge.

[5] Ansar Ahmed Ullah and John Eversley (2010) Bengalis in London’s East End. London: Swadhinata Trust.

[6] Caroline Adams. (1987). Across seven seas and thirteen rivers: Life stories of pioneer Sylheti settlers in Britain. THAP books.

[7] Claire Alexander. (2011). Making Bengali Brick Lane: claiming and contesting space in east London. The British journal of sociology, 62(2), 201-220.

[8] The physical changes to Brick Lane including the arch were added in 1997 and the area gained the designation ‘Banglatown’ in 2002. On the cultural anchors strategy, see Kate Oakley and Andy C. Pratt. (2010). ‘Brick Lane: community-driven innovation. Local Knowledge: Case studies of four innovative places. London: NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts), p 28-39. http://www.nesta.org.uk/sites/default/files/local_knowledge.pdf‎

[9] John Eade (2000) Placing London: From imperial capital to global city. New York: Berghahn books.

[10] On the role of the East London Mosque in local governance, see Therese O’Toole, Daniel Nilsson DeHanas, Tariq Modood, Nasar Meer, and Stephen Jones. Taking Part: Muslim Participation in Contemporary Governance. Final Report. Bristol: University of Bristol. http://www.bristol.ac.uk/ethnicity/projects/muslimparticipation/documents/mpcgreport.pdf

[11] See Daniel Nilsson DeHanas (2013) ‘Elastic Orthodoxy: The Tactics of Young Muslim Identity in the East End of London.’ In Nathal Dessing, Nadia Jeldtoft, Jorgen Nielsen, and Linda Woodhead (eds.) Everyday Lived Islam in Europe. Farnham, UK: Ashgate.

[12] Ed Husain. (2007). The Islamist. London: Penguin. Page 280.

[13] On Lutfur Rahman’s apparent ability to gain strength from opponents (called by some ‘political jujutsu’) see Dave Hill (2011) ‘Tower Hamlets: Lutfur, Labour and Beyond’ Dave Hill’s London Blog, 11/2/2011: http://www.theguardian.com/society/davehillblog/2011/feb/11/lutfur-rahman-labour-tower-hamlets

[14] The BBC Panorama documentary can be viewed online (until April 2015) at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04044km

[15] Caroline Davies (2014) ‘Police Find No Evidence of Criminality by Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman.’ The Guardian, 16/04/2014. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/apr/16/police-no-evidence-criminality-tower-hamlet-mayor-lutfur-rahman. It is worth noting that the original Metropolitan Police statement said that an investigation arising from Panorama revealed ‘no credible evidence of criminality’, but the police statement has since been amended to say that there is ‘no new credible evidence of criminality’. This change in wording may or may not indicate that there was already a preexisting investigation.  See the Trial by Jeory blog: https://trialbyjeory.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/[NOTE FROM TED JEORY: The Met has confirmed there is an existing criminal investigation.]

[16] Office for National Statistics, 2011 Census. For simplicity and ease of reading, all Census population figures are rounded down to the nearest hundred.

[17] London Borough of Tower Hamlets (2013) ‘Tower Hamlets Fairness Commission Introductory Evidence Pack.’ Available online: http://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/idoc.ashx?docid=f8ae25ee-d394-429a-8a9d-afb8a66ca43f&version=-1

[18] London Borough of Tower Hamlets (2013) ‘Overcrowding and Under Occupation Statement: 2013-2015.’ Available online: http://moderngov.towerhamlets.gov.uk/documents/s45718/6.1b%20App2%20Overcrowding%20and%20Under%20Occupation%20statement.pdf

[19] These figures are reported in London Borough of Tower Hamlets (2013) Tower Hamlets: Time to Act. Report of the Tower Hamlets Fairness Commission. Available online: http://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/idoc.ashx?docid=60ace821-c9ef-4577-ae1f-be114fc02a42&version=-1

[20] George Mavrommatis (2006) ‘The New ‘Creative’ Brick Lane A Narrative Study of Local Multicultural Encounters.’ Ethnicities, 6(4), 498-517.

[21] Michael Keith (2012) ‘Tower Hamlets Population Boom: A Guest Post by Prof Michael Keith.’ Trial by Jeory blog. 12/08/2014. https://trialbyjeory.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/tower-hamlets-population-boom-a-guest-post-by-prof-michael-keith/

[22] Joon Ian Wong (2014) ‘The ‘Canary Wharf-isation’ of Shoreditch.’ Londonist. 4 Feb 2014. http://londonist.com/2014/02/the-canary-wharf-isation-of-shoreditch.php

[23] On the founding of the East End Preservation Society, see http://spitalfieldslife.com/2013/11/14/the-east-end-preservation-society/

[24] London Borough of Tower Hamlets (2013) Whitechapel Vision Masterplan 2013. http://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/lgsl/451-500/494_th_planning_guidance/consultation_and_engagement/draft_whitechapel_vision_spd.aspx

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This is probably a little bit cheeky of me but I’m sure The Guardian’s Dave Hill will understand that copy and paste is, digitally speaking, the sincerest form of flattery.

I’m going to reproduce here his two very interesting and lengthy interviews with John Biggs and Lutfur Rahman, whicht he published last week.

I’m told on pretty good authority that Lutfur wasn’t at all happy with the Biggs piece (which is good and measured) and that it was part of the reason he pulled out of yet another debate with the Labour man on a Bengali TV station on Friday night, this time ATN Bangla.

Dave’s interview with the Mayor is also good and Lutfur comes across well in his opening answers. He’s confident on his well practised turf, on issues such as housing. But when he’s put under questioning on the more controversial stuff, he flounders…just as he did with John Ware in the Panorama programme. It’s something that I’ve noticed time and again in the years I’ve known him: he’s just not quick on his feet. I think this is the real reason why he limits his risk for on the spot public scrutiny in debates and at council meetings. I think he lacks confidence in himself, weirdly. He’s not a great public speaker.

What’s missing from both interviews, frustratingly, is the issue of racist accusations. Dave doesn’t really probe either candidate on this, despite it being the main line of attack against Biggs from Lutfur’s camp on the doorstep. I understand from Dave he’ll be addressing this topic in a future piece.

As I warned these pieces are long, so I may be wrong to publish them together, but hey, it’s a Bank Holiday weekend and Liverpool don’t play until tomorrow night…

Here’s the Biggs interview:

The main challenger to the East End’s independent mayor makes a trenchant yet measured case against the way the Town Hall in distinctive part of London has been run

The first time Tower Hamlets voted for an executive mayor, in October 2010, the Labour candidate Helal Abbas was heavily defeated by his independent rival Lutfur Rahman. This time the contest could be much closer.

Four years ago, the mayoral ballot took place in isolation. This time, it will be held on the same day as the votes for borough councillors and members of the European parliament. This should produce a much higher turnout, which, according to orthodox opinion, would help Labour’s 2014 candidate John Biggs. Tower Hamlets politics, though, are nothing if not distinctive.

I spoke to Biggs for around 90 minutes last week, initially at a nice but rather noisy cafe near Bethnal Green’s Museum of Childhood and then at the Labour Party office on Cambridge Heath Road. Aged 56, he’s an experienced politician who became a Tower Hamlets councillor in 1988 and led Labour in opposition from 1991-94, a period when the council was run by a controversial Liberal Democrat administration, which Biggs wryly characterises as “a sort of bolt-hole for the League of Cockneys”.

It was during this period that a BNP candidate won a by-election in the borough. “It was quite a rough time,” says Biggs, who led Labour to a huge win in 1994 only to be deposed as leader by fellow Labour councillors the following year. But he plays down the borough’s enduring reputation for political viciousness. “It’s not that bad here, really,” he says, perhaps surprisingly.

Biggs grew up in Barnet, studied chemistry at Bristol University, and then moved to the East End which, he says, “politicised and energised” him. He went on to work as a financial analyst in the City of London. Since 1990 he has represented Tower Hamlets, along with Newham and Barking and Dagenham, on the London Assembly and he is deputy leader of the Labour Group at City Hall.

Our conversation covered housing, employment, schools policy, how politics and religion should co-exist, fostering harmony in a diverse and largely poor part of the capital, building an ‘outward-looking’ attitude among the borough’s people, and the repeated allegations made against Rahman that he fosters a culture of favouritism towards his fellow Muslims with the help of questionable friends. Some of Biggs’s views may surprise. Now read on…

Dave Hill: Is Tower Hamlets a badly-run council?

John Biggs: By and large, no. In its day-to-day services it’s not catastrophically bad. It’s quite good in a number of areas – education’s improved massively over the years, though that’s been a 20-year journey. No individual mayor or leader can take credit for it. There are a number of areas where there is anxiety. One is that this area is going through massive change. A lot of that is about property development and demographic change. The price of land is going up and people are being squeezed out.

The other thing that sits alongside that, and has done for over a century in East London, is the way in which different communities work together, which can sometimes be a cause of tension. Quite often external people will stir things up, whether it’s Oswald Mosley or the BNP or George Galloway. But people come to East London because they’ve got a hunger to get things done and they feel quite often that they are competing for opportunities with other people. So what is needed is a leadership here that understands that and is seen as fair. And the big problem we have here at the minute is that the council leadership is not seen as being above the sometimes divisive inter-community competitiveness.

Has the running of the council deteriorated under the current mayor?

My fundamental critique of the current mayor is that he’s so preoccupied with little things and with his own insecurities that he’s not offering the leadership the council needs. We have a number of problems, which need to be sorted. One is that the senior management team is very unstable here. Because of the stand-off between the [independent] mayor and [majority Labour] councillors there’s been a failure to appoint permanent staff. Another is that the signals coming out from the politics discourage good people from applying for jobs here.

We’re at risk of playing a kind of lowest common denominator politics, with the mayor, because of his insecurities, playing to his core vote. His people are interpreting that point as me in some way trying to divide people, but I think it’s them doing the dividing. And if you knock on doors around here I think you’ll find people feel that the council isn’t standing up for everyone. I’m part of a party that is deeply rooted in all the communities in East London, in terms of socio-economic groups and ethnic groups. I think it’s very important that we reach across and provide some kind of united leadership. I’m aware that that can sound like a nicey-nicey soundbite, but it is actually crucial to getting the area to prosper.

Your manifesto implies that Lutfur Rahman hasn’t done enough to help young Tower Hamlets people secure Olympic-related jobs. What should he have done and what could you do better?

There’s a whole lot of things that sort of hang off that, but one is that the borough left to its own devices can be a very inward-looking place and the politics can become very E1-focussed – the City fringe area, Spitalfields, Brick Lane, Whitechapel, the big mosques and so on. But the borough consists of E1, E2, E3 and E14, basically. So the east of the borough can become quite neglected and that’s where the Olympics were. The community politics can become so inward-looking too that people can forget they are sitting on the doorstep of the biggest city in Europe and so many opportunities. So it’s about the inward versus the outward-looking perspective.

Tower Hamlets was the only borough where unemployment rose during the Olympic games. You could blame everyone but the mayor for that, but it was on his watch so you’ve got to ask what he could have done that might have made a difference. There was an initiative to promote Brick Lane as the Curry Capital, but the amount of business in Brick Lane went down during the Olympics. Now, there was a pattern across London where people were busy watching sport instead of stuffing themselves in eateries but even so everything sort of happened in spite of Tower Hamlets rather than alongside Tower Hamlets.

We have an enormous advantage here compared with other parts of the country where there is high unemployment, in that there are so many jobs around. There’s a whole lot of good reasons why people might not be working – lack of skills, lack of language skills, childcare difficulties, health issues and so on – but brokering the sorts of skills that will improve people’s employability is one of the key things we haven’t done enough of.

We have an organisation called Skillsmatch but Robin Wales in Newham has Workplace, which is bigger and better. If you talk to the corporates – who are all very polite people and who want to get on with the mayor whoever he is – Lutfur seems to want to do things that involve having his photograph on them but aren’t really partnerships. Many people seem angry that the mayor wants to have his picture everywhere – they’d like fewer images and more action. And that’s what I would provide. I have the intrinsic advantage of being ugly, of course. But the point is it doesn’t bloody matter what your mayor looks like. What you want is to have your bins emptied and your kids in jobs.

You talk in your manifesto about the need for more school places in the borough. Free schools are about the only game in town just now. Are you going to encourage them?

I don’t like the free schools programme as a principle because it enables opting out of the co-ordination and planning that’s required to make a complicated area work. You can end up with free schools that have two percent free school meals in an area where 20% of kids qualify for them. But with the school leaving age rising to 19 there may be real opportunities to have free schools which provide specialist niches for kids who maybe aren’t going to follow an academic course but could do well at other things. There’s lots of young people who are really switched on by music, for example, which can help them acquire skills in other areas too. So as mayor I’d want to hold useful free schools close, if they want to be held close, and create a situation from which both sides benefit. As with academies we shouldn’t get too transfixed with the structures and we should think more about the partnerships we can build.

You say you want to build 1,000 new council homes. How would you achieve that and over what time period?

There’s a limited amount of available publicly owned land in the East End, but there’s still quite a lot of it. We think that without creating problems on existing housing estates and by using other land we could build about 1,000 homes over the next decade. Within the first four years we’ll identify where they are going to be and should have built several hundred of them and know where the rest are going to go. We think providing council housing should be part of the offer and the current mayor has failed to do this.

He’ll boast about the Poplar Baths deal and one or two others, but they are very clumsy deals. We think he could have put more effort into it. He boasts about 4,000 affordable homes being built, but they’ve been built by private developers and are the skim off, if you like, as part of the planning consent. Not only were they happening in spite of the mayor, but a lot of them are affordable only according to the Mayor of London’s definition, which is actually unaffordable even for teacher couples, for example.

It needs the mayor to do some thoroughly boring stuff, which is to sit in the Town Hall, not having his photograph taken, roll his sleeves up and actually think about the bloody policy in order to broker the best possible deal for local people. We need to look at all these other ways of making our housing more accessible including to some people on middle incomes. To an old child of the sixties like me, that sounds outrageously pragmatic but that’s also the world we’re living in.

Do you mean assisting the middle-classes with subsidy? How scandalous!

I think helping aspiring people on to the housing ladder, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you look at travel patterns in London you’ll find that the long distance bus routes like the 25 or the 149 are packed with cleaners in the early mornings because they can’t afford the train fares and they can’t afford the housing in central London like they used to be able to.

Your manifesto talks about stopping the over-commercialisation of the borough’s public spaces. Can you elaborate on that?

One of the bugbears is Victoria Park, with people who live up there feeling they are overburdened with late-night, under-regulated events. Clearly, you’ve got to raise revenue from your open spaces if it helps to cushion your budgets. But you’ve got to get the balance right, and there’s a perception up there that money is raised in the park yet not spent in the park.

And I read that you intend to stop the council charging people for pest control services.

One of the problems if you start charging people for dealing with their mouse infestation is that poor people will stop getting it done. Again, how do you get the balance right on that? These are the sorts of things we need to think hard about.

Is the Mayor’s educational allowance – his version of the educational maintenance allowance – a bad policy?

EMA was a good policy of the Labour government and if we can find ways of replicating it, then we should support those. Lutfur Rahman has done that, though with the help of Labour councillors. I would like us to do it and more effectively, but over the next few years we have some pretty horrendous cuts coming, regardless of who the mayor is – about £80m. So I don’t think you can guarantee anything. But one of the fundamental principles of a Biggs administration should be a series of policies challenging some of the problems of inequality and lack of income. They could include helping people in their relationships with private landlords, skills advice, and providing free school meals for primary school kids. It’s about the mix and you can’t do everything. You can’t have the penny and the bun, as someone once said.

The mayor has been criticised for promoting himself through the council’s free newspaper East End Life, but he’s not the only mayor to do that. A recent Newham Mag is packed with pictures of Newham’s Labour mayor, Sir Robin Wales.

Robin’s a mate of mine but I’m not his cheerleader. He can look after himself. I’m very clear that the role of a council newspaper is not to promote the mayor or the leader of the council but to inform people about the services they can access through the council. I find offensive the idea that you should use council money to provide propaganda on the rates.

The recent Panorama programme about Mayor Rahman focused on his allocation of grants to local organisations, alleging that he’s favoured Bengali and other Muslim groups in order to benefit politically. He’s countered that he’s spent the money where the need is greatest. What principles would inform how you allocated that part of the mayor’s budget?

What we’re talking about is grants for adding value in the community, doing things the council can’t do itself. Those should all be about improving the capacity of people to get on with their lives. It’s about doing the things that help to support a strong civic society in the borough. In a multi-faith, multi-ethnic community everyone who gets a grant must buy into the principle of community cohesion, which doesn’t mean they have to be totally secular – I don’t agree with Robin’s approach on this – but people do need to understand the importance of being outward-looking in a borough like Tower Hamlets and not creating inward-looking bunkers, whether they are ninth generation cockneys or fourth generation Bengalis.

I think Lutfur has taken too much of a micro-managerial interest in the grant-making decisions. When you look at the amendments he made [to the advice of his officers] I don’t think he has ever properly justified them. It is the right of a mayor to make such changes, but when a mayor has that power there is a potential to abuse it and I don’t think he has answered his critics.

Certainly I have come across organisations who have been reluctant to talk to me because they think they might not get a grant as a result of being seen to be too close to someone who disagrees with the mayor. Certainly there have been luncheon clubs across the borough, which have been presided over by the mayor’s councillors and seem to be working on a sort of reward-and-punishment basis in the way in which they hand out their meals to elders. There seems to be an unhealthy focus in some of those decisions.

The council should be about providing services to people without favour. I think he’s got a case to answer. I don’t want it to become personal and I don’t want it to become racially polarised either. But there are quite a lot of poor white people in the borough. There are certainly a lot of poor Somali people and a great number of poor African people. There’s quite a lot of poor older people on limited pensions and with a very limited support network.

You could bring all this down to an absurd level and say, well, we’ve got ten lumps of money and 30% of the people here are Bengali so they must have three of the ten lumps and so on. That would be wrong too wouldn’t it?

You raise an important point and, yes, that would be wrong but not necessarily completely wrong because not only do you need to have an approach which is transparent and justified, it also needs to be seen to be fair. I spoke to a pensioners’ group in Bow, which is predominantly white, and they do get a grant, but they look covetously down the road at what they perceive to be the grants received by other people. Now, I think there’s a certain amount of disinformation there. But the perception of unfairness is very real.

Is it possible to define principles and clear criteria for grant-giving and, if so, what should they be?

The principles need to be about what the basic purpose of the services is, and it’s about helping to provide the glue that helps make strong communities. All communities should recognise that they need to be outward-looking as well as supporting themselves. I’m very clear that Bengali elders will tend to stick together – they have kinship, memories, language and so on, and that’s perfectly reasonable. We shouldn’t force people to have a multi-racial luncheon club, though it would be great if there were more than we have at present. But that doesn’t mean we should be facilitating ghettoisation.

I think we have a duty in London, in the UK, in a multi-faith, multicultural community to try to tie people together, recognise common interests, provide coherent leadership and create a very strong sense of fairness and that we’re looking after everyone. Lutfur shows a misunderstanding of his role. He’s created a culture in which people are looking over their shoulder, wondering what they need to do to please the emperor.

You have some thoughts in your manifesto about the management of Brick Lane. There’s been plenty of rubbish written and broadcast in recent years describing Tower Hamlets as an Islamic Republic or claiming that no white person dares to walk down Whitechapel Road in case some mad mullah attacks him, yet Brick Lane on a Friday night is full of people boozed up to the eyeballs.

Well, Tower Hamlets is not full of mad mullahs and all people, I think, can feel safe walking down the streets apart from those who represent a threat to the rest of us. The Brick Lane area up into Shoreditch has become one of the three night time hotspots in London, alongside the West End and the Brixton area. There’s a lot of trade there, a lot of potential, a lot of money’s being made. A lot of it is very pleasant and enjoyable. But there are problems with uncontrolled street drinking and people pissing in doorways, which causes massive offence. It needs proper Town Hall management and better partnership with the police.

The other thing about Brick Lane is that it’s still seen as the heart of the Bengali community. You’ve got the Brick Lane mosque, you’ve got the curry trade, you’ve got some lovely cafes down there. It’s being squeezed by the rising rent levels. Also, if we’re going to have a thriving curry business there, some of it needs to be better than it is at the moment.

If we’re going to retain Brick Lane as the heart of the Bengali community, in the way that, say, Chinatown has maintained some character, then it needs a lot of long, hard talking about how we sustain that in the context of ever-rising property prices. We need to give the curry business some support, and the current council has done very little about that. The mayor talks about it, but it needs some disciplined leadership because the traders themselves often have difficulty reaching agreement. It’s a big piece of work, but the community feels strongly about this and we need to see what we can do.

Why do you think Lutfur Rahman has been a successful politician? Why do people vote for him?

He very successfully managed to position himself in 2010 as a victim in a contest with a low turnout that looked like a contest between two Bangladeshi factions in which the rest of the community didn’t have much interest. Plus a lot of people, I think, didn’t realise how powerful a mayor could be.

You’ve said to me before that you recognise that plenty of voters here in Tower Hamlets see him as their champion, a success story they can call their own. And doesn’t he seem to be sticking up for them in a wider context where the media is full of stories about sinister Islamist plotters and when certain politicians are busily assertingfor electoral gain that this is a Christian country? Isn’t that part of why people voted for him in 2010?

We need to have a values-based political system. I don’t think that religious affiliation should form an important part of that in what is, essentially, a secular community. The story of Bangladesh is a story of secular struggle against the oppressive Pakistani government in support of peoples’ right to develop their language and so on. So the religious argument, in my view, is a red herring other than in terms of the values of mutuality and respect. I live by very strong Christian values, even though I’m not an active Christian. And I think those values are pretty universal, actually.

But his success is symbolic of something, isn’t it? And he has some good principles, doesn’t he?

Yes, I’m sure he has. And it’s very lazy politics to say, you know, Margaret Thatcher will steal your children and sell them into slavery, or that Lutfur Rahman will convert the borough into an Islamic Republic. All that sort of rubbish. And it is rubbish. From what I know of Rahman, he’s a pretty secular guy. He has formed affiliations with people who are not very secular, and I think that’s a little bit suspect because I think that, while respecting peoples’ faith and their particular values, he needs to say it shouldn’t be part of the deal here, you’ve got to subscribe to something bigger. Everyone goes through the motions of that, but some organisations don’t really follow it to the letter.

Our community in Tower Hamlets is a pretty secular community, in which people knock around together pretty well. I think within the Muslim community there is anxiety about Islamisation and the risk of it. I think we should be alive to that, but I wouldn’t want to overstate it. I will hopefully win the election and reassert strong secular values in an administration which nurtures and supports and encourages our strong faith communities but also creates greater cohesion. We won’t be tolerant of groups who seek to divide. Rather than any Islamisation of the council, I think there has been political opportunism in which people have turned a blind eye to some of the more questionable practices of some people affiliated with some religious groups. And I think a lot of people in mosques would agree with me on that.

One influential organisation based in Tower Hamlets, the Islamic Forum Europe, is frequently described by some people extremist. Is it?

I remember a meeting on one of Ken Livingstone’s campaigns with a bunch of people from IFE and one guy opened a briefcase and took out a list and said these are our members and each of them will be expected to bring out 20 voters in support of you, Ken. Now, if I was a conspiracy theorist who thought the country was being Islamised I would see that as evidence of people wanting to build an Islamic Republic. But I don’t think it was anything of the sort. I really don’t.

Imagine you’re a young Muslim person growing up in a predominantly Christian country. Your parents came here with all sorts of expectations, some were fulfilled, some weren’t. There’s a struggle for identity in a complicated world. I see the IFE at its core as being a forum where people can share ideas and understand the relationship between their faith and their role in society.

Just as monks did years ago some people may conclude that they should withdraw from society and become exclusively devoted to their faith but most will find a pragmatic accommodation between their faith and their values and the way in which they get on in society, bring up their kids and so on. A forum is not a re-education camp. There are doubtless people affiliated to the IFE who’ve got other agendas. But I think predominantly it’s not an organisation that’s trying to take over the world. 

Why should Bengali voters here, many of them very politically engaged, vote for you rather than for Lutfur Rahman?

Because I’m a Labour politician committed to respecting communities, faiths, and diversity, but also part of the mainstream, which is what people came here to be part of. I’m a respectful, decent bloke who’s got a track record for delivering and I will roll my sleeves up and get on with the nitty gritty of providing opportunities and school places and trying to challenge the rough edges of the housing market, rather than getting preoccupied with some of the niche issues that have preoccupied so much of Lutfur Rahman’s administration.

And here’s the piece with Lutfur:

The East End’s independent mayor seems permanently embattled yet has a history of thriving on it and he defends both his policies and his administration’s culture vigorously

London’s East End has a turbulent political history and Lutfur Rahman’s mayoralty forms the latest chapter of it. Born in Bangladesh but raised from an early age in the borough he has led since 2010 as its executive mayor, he is the most probed and denigrated local authority leader in the land.

The decision last month by communities secretary Eric Pickles to send inspectors in to the Town Hall to look at the council’s books, following a BBC Panorama programme about Rahman, is but the latest example. These auditor deliberations form the more forensic part of the backdrop to an election campaign which also features a venomous array of claims and counter claims about corruption, cronyism and covert “Islamisation” with, it often appears, everyone accusing everyone else of racial bias. It’s not a pretty sight.

Ladbrokes make Labour’s candidate John Biggs the slight favourite, but the local party has bitter experience of Rahman taking on and beating it. A former Labour leader of the council, he forced his way on to their mayoral candidate shortlist for 2010 after taking legal action and won the selection vote with ease, only to be dumped by Labour’s national executive committee. He fought the inaugural, stand-alone mayoral contest as an independent and romped to victory.

I met Rahman in his plush office at Tower Hamlets Town Hall, which is located in the wealthy Docklands part of this borough of economic extremes. We spoke for 50 minutes about housing and regeneration, education, and claims that he’s constructed a culture of self-serving patronage. As ever, he was gleamingly turned out. As usual, he was strident in his dismissal of his critics. Now read on…

Dave Hill: At the top of your manifesto list is housing and regeneration. You say you’re hoping to build 5,500 new affordable homes over four years. How much of it will be social rented of one kind or another and how much will be the intermediate kind of affordable?

Lutfur Rahman: First of all, can I say we need to deliver affordable houses because of the overcrowding in the borough and the number of people who are on the waiting list. Before my last term my commitment was for 4,000 and we have met that commitment. Ken Livingstone set out in his London Plan, and which to some extent I think Mr [Boris] Johnson has continued this, there was a 70/30 divide, so 70% will be to rent and 30% will be intermediate, shared ownership.

What about council housing specifically?

On three of our sites we will deliver 100% council housing. So, on the Poplar Baths site we’re delivering some 60 council houses there, then 40 on the Dame Collet House site, and then on Watts Grove, another site – I’m sure [my Labour challenger] Mr Biggs has thrown that in somewhere[see footnote] – again, we will get 150 council homes.

The Whitechapel Vision is, of course, a big regeneration scheme in the borough. Projects like that always upset some people and the difficulty with them is that they can end up making life more difficult for the sorts of people who most need an improved neighbourhood. Everything becomes more expensive. As a politician of the left, how are you going to avoid those unwanted consequences?

Obviously we have Canary Wharf to learn from. Although I’m a firm supporter of that financial district I believe it could have been delivered in a way that worked in partnership with the indigenous community there, the white working class community, and not forced them out – a way where they could co-exist. There’s a lesson from that that we’re taking forward. So I’ve got officers on board and I’m glad that Ken Livingstone has agreed to come on board as an adviser, with all his experience with the Olympic site.

It’s about working with the existing shop owners and stallholders of the market in Whitechapel as part of what we do, then working with the big landowners: Transport for London has land behind the Crossrail station, we have some land and there are other stakeholders such as the Royal Mail site, the London Hospital site, and a site has already been bought by London and Quadrant Housing Association. So I’m very mindful of the existing community, very mindful of those who live and trade and have offices there. But with that in mind, life needs to go on.

When we did the masterplan I said all along that the existing communities must be protected, must be looked after and supported. We had a rigorous, three-month consultation process led by officers, and the cabinet member for regeneration Rubina Khan was part and parcel of that, and we met the stakeholders and people were quite excited, but of course there was some anxiety and opposition but we made sure we heeded those apprehensions and accommodated them.

I remember asking Newham’s mayor Sir Robin Wales about Queens Market on his patch, which he had plans to revamp, and complaints that it would become too posh and unaffordable to the local people who used it. Can you reassure people who use Whitechapel market, which offers very good value, that it will stay that way?

I believe the change will be a positive change. Of course, we want gentrification, but gentrification that supports and assists the existing local community. We want to bring in jobs, housing, office space and shopping, but local shops, not big chains. We’re not here to compete with Westfield [in Stratford]. We’re here to complement Westfield, and the shopping centre in Canary Wharf. We’re five minutes away from the City. We’re in the middle of the A11 corridor. We want to complement and add to what already exists.

And can I also say this? We are in the process of relocating the Town Hall to the middle of Whitechapel, the old Royal London Hospital site, as part of a new civic hub. That’s for two reasons: one, to keep that building in public ownership, so it doesn’t become a five-star hotel, and make our Town Hall more accessible; two, we want to save the £40m a year we spend on rent on this place [the current Town Hall] and take the workforce into the heart of Whitechapel so that their buying power is used for local products. We will be the catalyst. I support inward investment, I support mobility and capitalism. But it must be managed capitalism, a managed market economy that benefits the local people.

Brick Lane, with its extraordinary history, is also part of all this. When I interviewed your main opponent John Biggs he said Brick Lane’s night time economy needed to be managed more rigorously and that if the area’s distinctive character is to be maintained the curry trade there needs to be helped and improved. He says you haven’t made a good enough job of that. What’s your vision for Brick Lane’s future?

I don’t want to have a slanging match with John Biggs, but I’ve been here for three and a half years and in that time I’ve done twice as much for the markets, and the shopping districts and for Brick Lane as Labour did in the previous 15 years. I have not seen Mr Biggs show any interest in Brick Lane since he became a London Assembly member. So with great respect to him, I don’t think he’s in any position to lecture me or my administration.

Of course, Columbia Road market, Petticoat Lane market, Bethnal Green market, and Brick Lane/Banglatown, are the heart and soul of Tower Hamlets. Brick Lane and Banglatown are very precious to me. It was home to the Jewish community, home to the Huguenot community, and now it’s home to the Bangladeshi community. It’s our identity, our fathers came here. I live in that ward and I have represented that ward. When my father came to this country in the Fifties, have a guess where he stayed? On Old Montague Street, where I stay now. So it’s the heart and soul of the Bangladeshi community, but it’s also part and parcel of Tower Hamlets.

Can I just say that the money we’ve spent and in partnership with the police – and they’ll tell you this – a lot of the resources goes on the west of the borough [where Brick Lane and Whitechapel are] and with its name going up in the entertainment world, of course there will be some unwanted elements. So I will do whatever is necessary to protect and work with the traders there, and I have done.

You talk in your manifesto about a registration scheme for private sector landlords. Are you modelling that on schemes that already exist, such as in Newham and Lewisham?

As you know, because of government benefit caps many landlords are not willing to house tenants who are on benefits or are increasing the rent excessively and many of those properties are in a poor condition. A large number of our homeless households are in private dwellings, so we want to ensure that we know who the landlords are, the number of properties they have in the borough and the condition of them so that we can do a proper survey.

So will you be giving the equivalent of a kite mark to those properties reaching the standard you expect?

Absolutely. And there will be some sanction: some civil sanction, some penalties, if they don’t comply with a minimum standard or agree to come on board with us.

Such as?

That’s the model we’re working on, and it’s being refined as we go along. As you said, it’s working I think reasonably well in Newham and one or two other authorities and we will learn from them. We’ve got some fantastic landlords in the borough, and we’re going to work with them. The ones that aren’t so good, we’ll support them with bringing them up to a good standard.

There’s a need for more school places here and in many parts of London. You’re opposed to academies. What’s your attitude to free schools?

It’s the same view. I’m a product of state schools. My kids go to state schools. And for me the state schools have worked very well in Tower Hamlets.

Well, free schools are a type of state school. They are funded by the government.

I’ll come on to that, but for us it is about schools that are fit for their purpose, that have proper playgrounds where kids can feel free at that age to be innovative and creative. We have a £380m school refurbishment programme. Some of our schools are fantastic, in beautiful buildings and the Institute of Education said only a few months ago that some of our schools are among the best urban schools in the world.

But free schools are already on their way. There are different ways for local authorities to deal with them. What’s your approach?

Well, there are groups here and there who want to set up free schools. We will not support them, as such, in their endeavour. But once it has happened we will work with those institutions to make sure that our children get the best education.

There are people and politicians who dislike the free school policy as a whole, but can see ways in which it might provide schools that meet a particular need that other schools, even if they are good schools, cannot.

Maybe in other boroughs that need may be there, but I don’t believe that in Tower Hamlets there is that kind of need. And always in our policy process we are looking for opportunities to expand our schools and create new ones.

Let’s look at some of the criticisms made of you by opponents and in the media. There have been allegations and, let’s say, mutterings about the youth service. You’ve brought that under direct Town Hall control and invested a lot of money in it. It’s been said to me that some youth service staff find themselves put under pressure to deliver votes for you. Any truth in that?

Absolutely not. Absolutely not. I have the highest respect for our staff, whether it’s the most senior staff on the council or the most junior. There’s a dividing line between politics and governance and delivery and I respect that very much as mayor.

Let me tell you why I brought the youth service in house. We spend £10m a year on youth services, and that all started when I was leader of the council [under the previous local government arrangements in Tower Hamlets] and I have continued that as mayor. We’ve had to find some £125m of cuts. There were two or three areas where I said, “no cuts” and the youth service was one of them.

Now, what I saw – and I grew up in this borough – when I spoke to people, was that the youth service was being delivered in a disjointed way. A lot of money was going into middle management, sub-contracted and so on. So I said let’s bring it in house so that we can deliver the service directly with the various stakeholders in the community, and in that way we can know who’s accountable, say I know who is delivering what.

Under no circumstances do I have any unprofessional relationship with any youth workers in this borough. That’s a lie, it’s an untruth that was peddled against me when I was leader of the council and it is being peddled against me now that I’m the mayor.

But people aren’t saying, “Lutfur says to x go and say this or that to y”. They are saying that there is a kind of culture in which the sort of behaviour I’ve described can and does go on – which is a slightly different charge, isn’t it? Are you absolutely satisfied that nothing like that is going on?

Listen, I’ve always had allegations [like that] made against me since I was leader of the council in 2008. None of it has been substantiated, none of it will be substantiated. This is dog whistle politics at play in Tower Hamlets. In any event I have no dealings with junior officers on the ground. One, I’m not allowed to. And, two, I have no time for that. All I want to see is a top class youth service being delivered across the borough, and that’s why it was brought in house.

So my predictable final question on this is, if serious evidence of that sort of thing – people working in the youth service saying to those they work with, in effect, we expect you to help Lutfur – was brought to you, what would you do?

Residents of this borough have a right to choose who they vote for in any election. And unless they are politically restricted they have a right to go and campaign for whichever candidate or party they wish to. But if someone who’s not politically restricted is campaigning for x, y or z, how can I stop that?

But the nub of the allegations is that it’s within their work with young people – that they are allowing their political campaigning to influence the way they are delivering a council service.

Well, I believe that during their work time they should not indulge in political activity. That’s wrong, whoever it is.

And you would take steps against it?

Absolutely, whether it was someone supporting me or someone supporting someone else. But if someone does something on their own time, whether it’s supporting me or my opponent, I can’t stop that.

The allegation, though, is that the boundary is getting blurred.

I don’t think they are getting blurred. The lines and the boundaries are very clear. They have always been clear and we have a strong management in this council. I have confidence in senior officers to make sure that junior officers or any officer doesn’t indulge in partisan activity during work time.

Let’s deal with the other part of the youth service allegations, and this connects up with the claims of favouritism over grant allocation made in the Panorama programme. The claim is that too much youth service provision is directed at young Bengali men in particular and that too much of that provision is…well, the term “Islamisation” is used, and the complaint is that this goes against what should be a secular ethos in the service. How do you respond to that?

That is quite new to me, but again it’s another accusation that I’m not surprised about. It just annoys me that it’s being thrown at the good staff of this council. Let me tell you something: our youth workers are some of the best in the country. Our rapid response team is fantastic.

Why didn’t we have a riot in Tower Hamlets [in 2011]? Why didn’t we have that mindless activity by the youths? It’s because of the partnership that we have with the various communities. And very importantly because of the relationship our youth service and youth workers have with the young people of this borough. During that day, our youth workers were out from three in the morning walking the streets, and so was I, making sure that the youths were not engaged in any such activities.

During the English Defence League marches our youth workers were on the front line, protecting and working with the police so there was a clear buffer between the EDL supporters and our residents so there weren’t any riots. So they should be praised.

I asked John Biggs about the grants allocation. I asked him what principles should guide this and I want to put his answer to you, because it was interesting and quite measured. He said: “In a multi-faith, multi-ethnic community everyone who gets a grant must buy into the principle of community cohesion, which doesn’t mean they have to be totally secular – I don’t agree with Robin [Wales’s] approach on this – but people do need to understand the importance of being outward-looking in a borough like Tower Hamlets and not creating inward-looking bunkers, whether they are ninth generation cockneys or fourth generation Bengalis.” He feels that you aren’t following such principles and are, in fact, favouring one community over another.

I agree with the principle of One Tower Hamlets and the principle of community cohesion. I agree with the principle that public money must be used based on need and based on a process, but I don’t accept his insinuation that I’m favouring the Bengali community. Let me say this to you: we deliver £300m of contracts and 99.9% are delivered to non-BME organisations. They are big organisations. No-one questions them. No one says, let’s look at those and how why serve the BME community.

What’s being talked about with the mainstream grants is 0.5% of the total budget of this council. That’s £8m. Mainstream grants were delivered under other leaders of the council, but no questions were raised then. Can I also say, 37% of population, including the Bengali and the Somali population, are non-white. Only 8% of our grant, as you’ve heard, goes to that community. And even then there is an officer process involving eight or nine meetings and at the end of it I said yes or I said no. The mayor has that power. In only a tiny minority of cases…I know the area, I grew up here, I understand the need, and I said, look, we need to have a look at this. It’s a tiny fraction of the overall grant process.

I think it is accepted that we’re discussing a very small part of the amount of money you have to spend. But because control of it is within your very particular power as mayor, and because a place like this has a lot of people competing for very limited resources, even the perception of unfairness or favouritism is something you really do need to avoid. That’s a point John Biggs is making.

I take offence to that remark from him that he made on the BBC that I’m favouring the Bengali community. I say to him, and to my other opponents who make those kinds of untrue and unfounded allegations, that there’s a list of some 350 organisations. Don’t be scared. Show me an example of one that shouldn’t have got public money. Come on, Mr Biggs!

He also said he thinks you’ve taken “too much of a micro-managerial interest in the grant-making decisions” and haven’t properly justified the amendments you made.

If he’s got a specific allegation, why doesn’t me put it in writing, why doesn’t he be specific? This is nothing but dog whistle politics. Listen, there are historical inequalities and they need to be balanced. For me, race is not an issue here. For me, the issue is 265,000 people live in this borough. Whatever background they come from is not important to me. What’s important to me is deprivation, is disadvantage, is equality of opportunity and community cohesion. I want my borough to go forward. And if we see disadvantage and if we see deprivation and if we see there is a need in this part of a corner of the borough then we need to address that and get people on board with us.

It’s like with education. The white working-class boys and the Somali boys are not doing so well. We have intensive interventions in the council’s education service to help them to bring their education standard up. So wherever there is need, we will work with people to support them. So, of course I want to see a fair distribution of public money, and it is fair.

John Biggs makes a more general criticism. He says you have “created a culture in which people are looking over their shoulder, wondering what they need to do to please the emperor.” The emperor being you.

Oh, my God!

He has a nice sense of humour, let’s be fair.

I see myself as a public servant. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity I’ve had to serve the people who gave me so much as a youngster, gave me a break in life and have given my children a break in life. This isn’t my job, this is my passion. As long as I have an opportunity to serve the people of this borough, I will serve them. I am part and parcel of this community, and I’m not going away anywhere. Look at what we have achieved over the past three and a half years.

For him [John Biggs] to say there’s a culture of fear here is, again, dog whistle politics. If that was the case, we wouldn’t have received some of the top accolades in the country, such as on education, or with the LGBT community.

Why did voters choose you over other candidates in 2010?

Because I am a product of the education system here. I grew up in this borough. I have a huge stake in this borough. I want to see a borough that is competing with the City of London and Westminster, you know the best in the country and in Europe. And I’m connected to the people of this borough, whether you are young, old, black or white.

Do you think some of your success might be to do with the wider political context? If I were a young Muslim man growing up here and I wasn’t too interested in the minutiae of policy, I might still look at you and think, ‘this guy is sticking up for me. He’s a bit like me’. He might see the big car you’ve been using as a sign of success, not ostentation. Are you seen by fellow Muslims in this borough and in this time as someone who sticks up for them?

Well, I’m glad if I’m a role model. But where this comes from, this idea that only Muslims voted for me, that’s a dangerous race card that some people are playing. Look, I grew up in a part of Bow in the 1970s that was full of skinheads. But you know who protected me? White kids and black kids. White kids gave me the shelter and gave me the protection.

They said to the skinheads, don’t pick on him because he’s a good lad. If it wasn’t for those white kids who gave me the support, I wouldn’t be the Lutfur Rahman I am now. And I say to my detractors, people are not voting for me because I’m a Muslim or because I might be a successful lawyer, it’s because I’m clear in my policies and I’m going to do my damned best to deliver those policies. That’s why people vote for me.

Lutfur Rahman’s manifesto can be read here. My interview with his chief rival John Biggs is here.

Footnote: The original Watts Grove Depot housing scheme, which is in Bromley-by-Bow, had to be shelved by the mayor on grounds of affordability, resulting in Labour and Conservative councillors voting for an investigation into the deal. Mayor Rahman’s administration said last November that it was looking at “alternative ways to deliver the outcome of the Watts Grove Depot scheme”.

 

 

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In the days before Panorama broadcast on March 31, Lutfur Rahman and his camp looked into their crystal ball and confidently warned the world the programme would be “racist” and “Islamophobic”.

The Mayor himself (a lawyer, remember) went further and took to Twitter to say this:

TwitterA few days later he repeated the charge on his blog:

Criminal investigation underway as BBC Panorama whistle-blower reveals racist and Islamophobic programme on Tower Hamlets

You may be aware that BBC Panorama is due to air a programme about Tower Hamlets next week.

I believe the programme is being used for political campaigning and electioneering purposes just weeks before local and Mayoral elections in May.

A dossier passed to us by a BBC whistle-blower has revealed it to be in total breach of the BBC’s editorial guidelines as a public broadcaster.

It has clear racist and Islamophobic overtones targeting the Bangladeshi Muslim community in Tower Hamlets.

The BBC and the undercover production company, Films of Record, have also been referred to the Information Commissioner and there is now a criminal investigation underway.

 He was referring, of course, to the so-called “whistleblower” who was hired by the Panorama team to work as a journalist/researcher.

I wrote about her here. She lasted four days before the team waved her goodbye. She took a very important dossier she’d “obtained” from the Panorama team and handed it to the Mayor’s office. She then claimed “whistleblower” status.

She claimed the programme was biased and that she’d witnessed racism among the producers and reporting team.

This was all gleefully exploited by Lutfur and his aides as yet more evidence of an Establishment stitch-up. He even wrote to the BBC’s Director General to demand the programme be pulled, he told us on his blog.

The so-called “whistleblower” herself started a blog and opened an anonymous Twitter account where she detailed her experiences.

Here’s some examples of her Tweets:

Twitter Voice of Bangla

(sic)

As some of you are aware there is a criminal investigation under way relating to this programme which limits me as to what I can disclose.
Well, allow me to disclose something.
Today, I asked the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) whether there was, as Lutfur said, a criminal investigation into the BBC.
No, they confirmed. And neither is there one into Films of Record, the production company.
I asked whether there was any criminal investigation, but all they would say is there is an “investigation into allegations of a breach of the Data Protection Act and enquiries are continuing”.
However, I can go further.
I gather that a member of the public, who has for many years been a close observer of Tower Hamlets politics, has made his own complaint to the ICO because data connected to him was in the dossier. I understand from him that the there IS a criminal investigation and that he’s a witness.
Not only that, I gather from him that the ICO also has an official “suspect” in the case.
Guess who?
Yes, the so-called “whistleblower” herself.
She’s the one being investigated, not the BBC.
Wonder if Lutfur will tweet that?
The Panorama programme “racist?”

Well, I don’t think any reasonable person thinks that. Even the Guardian’s Dave Hill, who takes a more measured tone than most on these issues (to the point of glossing over Lutfur’s character sometimes) said, “the Panorama show was pretty measured, sketched in relevant context and acknowledged some of the borough’s achievements. The questions it asked were reasonable. It didn’t recycle that pernicious glory-seeking back catalogue of Tower Hamlets’ Islamist conspiracy that so excites the far Right, and well done for that”.
However, stand by for more phoney allegations of “racism” and “Islamophobia” – those last refuges of a bankrupt politician with no credible answers to the “reasonable” questions Panorama raised about his high handed and unaccountable governance.
He’s been the victim himself of pretty nasty smears and innuendo. Quite rightly, he’s railed against the bigots who spread them. What a shame he’s resorting to similar tactics.

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