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During an interview with Sadiq Khan last Thursday, the day before he launched a booklet he edited for the Fabian Society on policy ideas for London, I asked him about the contrasting approaches to community cohesion followed in Newham and Tower Hamlets.

As well as being Shadow Justice Secretary, the Tooting MP is also Shadow Minister for London. He ran Ed Miliband’s leadership campaign and  during 2014 we may well get strong hints (and more) that he is Ed’s favourite for Labour’s next candidate for Mayor of London.

Officially, Sadiq hasn’t declared himself, but it’s all but certain he will. In the meantime, he’ll be in charge of co-ordinating Labour’s council campaign in London for May and Tower Hamlets is top of the party’s hit list.

He’s a big fan of Newham Mayor Sir Robin Wales, as are many in Labour’s top team judging from the amount of policy ideas they seem to be adopting from him.

As I disclosed here in April, Sir Robin has City Hall ambitions of his own….but but but… . Sadiq describes him as a “good friend” and he asked him to write a chapter for the booklet Our London. His piece was on the potential power of local councils to help create jobs: not in the way that Tower Hamlets has traditionally done by using public cash to create non-jobs, but by training up youngsters and encouraging businesses to hire them through a scheme called Workplace.

Since Sir Robin outlined his ambitions to me in April, he’s been fairly low key on the subject. I suspect that’s because he now sees himself as a future driving force deputy/chief of staff…to Sadiq Khan. A Labour version of Sir Edward Lister, as it were.

Sadiq is also more impressed with Sir Robin’s attitude towards community cohesion, particularly compared with the Lutfur Rahman model in Tower Hamlets. During our chat, I raised the issue of Tower Hamlets council funding free Bengali Mother Tongue classes for kids whose grasp of English isn’t often up to scratch. He was shocked. Such finite public money should be used for English lessons, he said.

He also said he was not particularly in favour of using grants for mono-ethnic projects and events: that if taxpayers’ money was to be offered, there should be some demonstration of inclusiveness to people of all backgrounds. Clearly, public money being used for things like Eid in the Square or London-wide Diwali celebrations would be exceptions.

These mirror Sir Robin’s thoughts, as he outlined on this blog here.

Anyway, all this is b way of background…and because it’s of relevance to Tower Hamlets, I thought people might be interested in reading the interview I did with Sadiq, which was published on Express Online yesterday.

I tried to explore his personal background, what shaped him…suffering racism as a kid in London in the late Seventies and early Eighties certainly had an effect, as it had on so many in Tower Hamlets.

FOR football mad youngsters growing up around Wandsworth, southwest London, the question of which team to support isn’t usually the hardest decision they’ll ever make.

But in the early Eighties, Chelsea weren’t much good. And neither were their fans the most welcoming group to teenagers of Pakistani heritage.

Which is why Tooting MP Sadiq Khan, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary and an aspiring Mayor of London, is a passionate and lifelong Liverpool fan.

One of his elder brothers did go to the Shed end at Stamford Bridge, but he and his friends were so appallingly attacked and abused, supporting Chelsea just “wasn’t an option”.

He says he feels uncomfortable talking about his experiences of racism–some of them violent–but they have clearly helped shaped him, first as a leading human rights lawyer, also as a Wandsworth councillor, then as an MP and minister, and now as a yet-to-be-confirmed challenger for London’s City Hall in 2016.

Today, he launches a fascinating pamphlet of essays that he’s edited and entitled ‘Our London – The Capital 2015’.

In some ways, the pamphlet is groundbreaking: it’s been sponsored by both the City of London and Unions Together, the political campaigning arm of 15 trade unions.

As one MP joked, “that’s harmony”, but the collection contains thoughts from a number of leading London lights, including from Baroness Doreen Lawrence, the recently ennobled mother of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

Khan’s own chapter is on housing (“housing, housing, housing” should be Labour’s solution to poverty, he argues) but almost all of them tap into the theme raised by Labour leader Ed Miliband in his own foreword: the cost of living crisis.

Arguably, that crisis is greater in high cost London than anywhere else.

The pamphlet is something of a Labour vision for London: more housing, a London minimum wage, new tunnel and bridge crossings for the east of the capital, more grassroots access to the booming arts scene, greater representation of ethnic minorities in the Metropolitan

Police, and more harmonious community cohesion are just some of the ideas explored.

But who would deliver them for Labour?

MPs David Lammy and Diane Abbott are known contenders, as is Newham Mayor Sir Robin Wales, but when Sadiq Khan was made Shadow Minister for London 11 months ago, it was a strong hint he was the leadership’s favoured candidate.

In fact, Sir Robin, who has written an essay for the pamphlet and whose policies have been admired by Labour HQ, might well end up as Khan’s deputy.

Does he want the job, though? Of course he does, but he won’t confirm it.

“I’m happy in the Shadow Cabinet, but if the ball comes my way, I’ll certainly play it,” he says.

But what would he be like as the capital’s most powerful man and London’s first Muslim mayor.

Unlike current incumbent Tory Boris Johnson, or his Labour predecessor Ken Livingstone, he doesn’t seem to have an ego that mirrors London’s massive scale.

Yet a more thoughtful, subtle and softer approach is perhaps just what is needed after years of division and bombast.

Now 43, he grew up the son of a bus driver in Earlsfield and has lived in the Tooting area all his life.

He is married to a fellow solicitor and has two daughters, both of whom went to the same state schools as their parents.
And the fact that they haven’t had to endure some of the racism he suffered when their age is to him a mark of how much London has changed.

“Things have definitely moved on in the sense that the sort of name calling [I experienced] would not be tolerated and schools are now far, far better at stamping it out,” he says.

“There’s much more a zero tolerance now. My big brother used to go to Stamford Bridge a few times and was given a hard time. They used to have this this thing called The Shed. And if you were a person who looked like my big brother–Asian–you weren’t welcome there.

“People we know suffered really bad racial abuse. They were beaten up and all the rest of it, so because of their experience of Chelsea, at that stage, I wanted nothing to do with Chelsea.

“Supporting them really wasn’t an option for me.”

Asked about his own experiences, he says: “I feel uncomfortable talking about these sorts of things because I don’t want younger people of ethnic origin to feel discouraged, but when I was growing up you’d often suffer racial abuse, verbal abuse name-calling, people driving past and spitting on your car.

“It didn’t happen all the time but it wasn’t unusual, so you’d be playing football in the park, and somebody would call you the P word. You’d be walking down the road or on the estate, you’d see a group coming along; the sensible thing to do would be to cross the road and just to avoid it, so you became street wise and you’d learn ways of avoiding trouble if you could.

“That said, I can look after myself. We knew how to look after ourselves if we got into a fight. I’ve got six brothers. It wasn’t an issue about being a coward and running away but it was about being sensible. Life’s hard enough as it is without looking for trouble.”

“It was part and parcel of life in those days, hearing about someone being attacked or beaten up. That’s why the murder of Stephen Lawrence had such an impact on people like us because we feel the ripples.

“There but for the grace of God that could’ve been me, it could have been my brother.”

Does he suffer racial abuse now?

“In recent times, not to my face. One of things that happens when you become middle aged and you wear nice clothes and you drive a nice car is it doesn’t happen so much, but I still know which estates to avoid and how to be streetwise.”

As mayor, he would be responsible for overseeing the Metropolitan Police Service whose struggle to recruit and retain ethnic minority officers is known to be a concern for Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe.

Khan has similar concerns. “Do we really want a London where people feel like second class citizens because of the colour of their skin?” he says generally.

While he believes abundant and genuinely affordable housing, including private rented accommodation (which he wants regulated) is the key to social mobility and poverty, community cohesion is also a key theme.

“Community cohesion is not gobbledegook,” he says. It’s vital.

He argues for more “community hubs”, places such as playgrounds, local football clubs and schools where people of all backgrounds and faiths actually mix and learn about each other.

The earlier the mingling starts in life, the better.

What he would not want is public money directed to projects that encourage a mono-ethnic identity and introspection.

In Tower Hamlets, where many young Bangladeshi children struggle with English when they first attend primary school, grant money is used to subsidise free Mother Tongue classes to teach them Bengali.

He himself is fluent in Urdu but is adamantly against such policies: “When you have finite resources, that money should be used to teach them English.”

Khan, regularly goes to Hyde Park Corner to watch the soapbox Sunday orators, is not shy of a debate.

But will he fulfil his dream for London? As one of his Labour colleague points, his 2010 election slogan in Tooting was “Yes we Khan.”

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This blog post has been updated at the end of the original article with an email/legal threat sent to me this morning (Monday, Nov 4) by Takki Sulaiman, the head of communications at Tower Hamlets council. 

Further update (Friday, November 8): A sentence has been deleted from the original article (see marks in red below). This  follows a letter sent to me yesterday from the council’s chief executive’s directorate in the name of Interim Monitoring Officer Mark Norman. The full letter can be seen at the end of the first update to this post.

biggs fundraiserI was going to attend John Biggs’s mayor campaign fundraiser at Canary Wharf last Tuesday, but I couldn’t afford the £100 a head ticket price.

Apparently hundreds of others could.

There seems to have been a pretty impressive turnout by the Labour party, including several leading MPs.

John Biggs tweet

Sadiq Khan, who wants to be London Mayor, was there, as was Margaret Hodge, Rushanara Ali, Jim Fitzpatrick, David Lammy, who also wants to be London Mayor, John Spellar and Stephen Timms.

I’d imagine he’s built up a good war-chest as a result; he does need it. [Following a letter from the council’s chief executive’s department, a sentence has been deleted here. Please see the second update to this post at the end of this article.]

John made reference to this issue in his speech at the dinner, a speech I’m told that went down well.

Lutfur is so full of crap when it comes to his One Tower Hamlets mantra that it’s easy to be cynical of other politicians when they talk about cross-community unity.

But having seen John at work fairly closely over the past few years, I’m fairly sure he’s sincere about it.

He sent me a copy of his speech, so here it is:

Thank you for coming this evening. It is humbling to see so many people here. I know you’ve mainly come to see me. But it’s also a sign of the drive our Party has to win back Tower Hamlets.

I’m proud to be leading that fight – not for me, but for the change we all know this community desperately needs.

We need to start a new chapter in the life of Tower Hamlets – one of the most vibrant and exciting places on the planet.

This is my home. I’ve seen it ebb and flow over the years, walking with giants in its proudest moments – falling well short of its potential at its lowest.

Today, Tower Hamlets is at a crossroads. Although there is great success and achievement, for too many this isn’t happening. The people are being neglected, divided and, unless they are favoured, left behind by the very Mayor who is meant to help them.

GAP

Tower Hamlets is a story of ambition and change going back to the roots of the East End. It’s a story of people travelling here, whether from half way round the world or, like parts of my family, the English countryside because they want to improve their lives and the lives of their families. 

It’s a story of traditional communities flying the flag for and constantly, subtly, redefining our heritage, culture and values. It’s a story of new professionals, entrepreneurs, even bankers. All want to call our borough home.

The story of Tower Hamlets is about seizing opportunity, working together and realising potential.

Look at what is on our doorstep – the City, Canary Wharf, Tech City, the media and legal centre of the world, world beating medicine, the list is endless – our community should be using those opportunities. Many are. But for many this is not happening. A vital job for a modern council is to make people more powerful. We can do that.

Whether it’s SMEs or global giants, I know how much good business can do for the borough. Take where we sit tonight, Canary Wharf. This isn’t an island shut off from the rest of the borough. It’s part of our borough, our community. When I win I want to work with business, not for token gestures or pet projects but developing proper partnerships that benefit everyone. The best way to get jobs for local people is to work with business but Lutfur Rahman refuses unless it involves a photo-opportunity, and he doesn’t care about the detail.

Instead of making the most of the opportunities in Tower Hamlets he fails at every chance he has.

Take the Olympics – the golden example. We were at the centre of the world’s biggest festival. Yet what did Tower Hamlets get? Not a single Olympic event. No marathon. No lasting jobs. No homes. No vision.

But maybe that’s not fair – let’s not forget one achievement – the current mayor did get a VIP pass and tickets to the best events.

The world on our doorstep just waiting to be invited in and Lutfur Rahman still fails. To tweak a phrase I heard at the Labour Party Conference, Tower Hamlets can do better than this!

The problem is he believes it’s not his fault. Always someone else’s problem, always someone else’s fault. It’s wicked business, the evil Government, the McCarthyite Labour Party.

The best excuse came recently when his Cabinet suggested that families shouldn’t complain about the late night raves he packs into Victoria Park because it was their fault for choosing to live there. He just doesn’t get it!

He says people in Tower Hamlets are victims. We’re not, we’re passionate fighters.   

GAP

I know we can win next year. But let’s not kid ourselves – the challenge facing us is significant.

I and my great team of councillors and soon to be announced candidates will be working every second we have to win back control in 2014 but we do need your help. Running elections on this scale is not cheap. And our opposition is mysteriously well financed.

We on the other hand rely on you, our friends and members. Tonight’s proceeds will go towards vital materials and another new organiser to help us get our message out there, to show people they have a chance to get the borough moving forward again, not missing every chance we get for another 4 years.

Tonight I have a new pledge – I’m told you need one. It’s about stopping that cult of personality that’s more at home in North Korea than East London.

There will be some urgent cuts:

No Mayoral mug shots plastered across the borough.

No more abuse of East End Life.

No more luxury mayoral Mercedes.

No more wasting hundreds of thousands of pounds on mayoral ‘advisors’.

And sadly no more driver to do the all important mayoral laundry.

Joking aside, this is an important point and an important election.  It’s about the future of our borough and our people.

Whether kids go to good schools.

Whether there are jobs for them when they leave

Whether homes are affordable and the streets safe.

A community with confidence and a sense of its place.

As Mayor I’ll work to make smart choices informed by the Labour values of fairness, equality and social justice. That’s why it’s so important to elect a Labour Mayor here in Tower Hamlets. 

This is no time to waste money – it’s a time to take important decisions that will help hard working people.  That’s why I’ve already pledged to scrap zero hour contracts in the borough and why Tower Hamlets Labour campaigning has forced the Council to blacklist the blacklisters, not working with companies who blacklist workers.

Tower Hamlets is the home of Cable Street and not one but two labour party leaders. It’s a melting pot and an economic powerhouse. The richest and poorest of places. It deserves better.

The future story of Tower Hamlets is about seizing opportunity, working together and realising potential.

The Future story of Tower Hamlets is about One East End – working together to build a better future.

Thank you

A bit different in tone to Lutfur, wouldn’t you agree?

UPDATE, Monday November 4

Takki Sulaiman, the council’s head of communications, sent me this email this morning:

I am writing to express concern about a line in the blog post dated Sunday 3rd November entitled: John Biggs’s speech at Labour gala dinner fundraiser.

“I’d imagine he’s built up a good war-chest as a result; he does need it given the way Lutfur Rahman has been raiding the grants budgets to fund his campaign.”

On reading the second phrase of the above a reader of your blog could easily conclude that funds from the Council’s Voluntary Sector Grants programme were being used to directly fund a campaign.  

This would of course be illegal and is not possible as council spending is subject to numerous statutory rules and processes plus the check and balance of audit and inspection.  

Given this, could I ask that you remove this phrase so as to avoid any potential damage to Mayor Rahman’s reputation.  

It is quite possible that this phrase is libellous.
 


Please let me know your intended course of action.

I’ve let him know that it’s pretty clear I don’t mean there’s been a direct bank transfer from the council’s budget to his campaign account (if I had evidence of that, I think I’d have headlined this post slightly differently…). I’m also fairly sure that this blog has made clear over the years that I think Lutfur is exploiting the grants system to buy votes for his political ends.

It’s lucky that most of my readers have the ability to understand the figurative meaning of words and phrases; most readers are intelligent to spot the subtle differences.

The last person to threaten to sue me in similar circumstances was deputy mayor Ohid Ahmed.

I did think Takki understood the use of language better than Ohid…

SECOND UPDATE – November 8, 2013.

Please see the following links containing a letter from Mark Norman, the interim monitoring officer for Tower Hamlets council’s chief executive’s department.

Mark Norman Mark Norman 2

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