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Posts Tagged ‘oli rahman’

cropped-lutfur-and-ohid.jpgI’ve written before about the strange parallels between the 2010-15 Clown Period of Tower Hamlets politics and the current circus of Corbyn’s Labour party (threats of legal actions, Respect and Momentum, infiltration, intimidation, Ken Livingstone, Jon Lansman etc etc…

So it wasn’t particularly surprising that last night, as Labour’s NEC squabbled over their party’s rule book and who could stand for leader, a similar meeting was being held at the Teviot Centre in Poplar by the collection of councillors currently calling themselves Tower Hamlets Independent Group, or THING.

This meeting, held to discuss among other things who would be THING’s mayoral candidate for 2018, was not only attended by Lutfur Rahman, but he presided over it as well.

And, quelle surprise, it ended in bitterness – and allegations of physical intimidation.

By way of background, Lutfur has apparently for the past couple of months been anointing that seesaw of a councillor, Ohid Ahmed (one day’s he’s a defecting independent, the next he’s back with THING), as his chosen candidate for 2018.

rabina khanQuite why he’s chosen Ohid is anyone’s guess. It’s mysterious. Why not stick with Rabina Khan, who polled 27,000 votes in last year’s mayoral election and who could quite easily broaden her support base? Perhaps he’s worried if Rabina won in 2018, he’d never get back in after his ban expires in time for 2022. Rabina was not of course Lutfur’s first choice for mayoral candidate after he was kicked out of office last year. He had to be persuaded to back her. He originally wanted a man.

So at the meeting last night, there was a disagreement about the process to choose the official candidate.

The disagreement, according to those there, turned into a full blown shouting match with what some felt was an air of physical intimidation.

So much so that group leader Oli Rahman, Aminur Khan, his wife Rabina and Shah Alam have filed an official complaint to their own party about Mr Selfie himself, the not-always-so-mild mannered Mahbub Alam.

The complaint was sent to THING’s chair, Abdul Asad, who has apparently since resigned for personal reasons.

Here it is:

Cllr Abdul Asad

Chair of TH IG

Date: 13 July 2016

We are writing to you as the Chair of the THI group to make an official complaint regarding the verbal, physical behaviour and conduct of Cllr Mahbub Alam at the group meeting took place on 12 July 2016.

We are shocked and saddened how Cllr Alam behaved, getting up from his chair threatening leader of the group Cllr Oliur Rahman, Cllr Shah Alam and Cllr Aminur Khan. We believe, his behaviour was a breach of council’s code of conduct and our group Constitution. We expected him to be reprimanded, however to our disappointment that did not take place.

His behaviour was unacceptable and we seek for you to take appropriate action. Cllr Mahbub Alam stood up from his chair and threatened firstly Cllr Rahman, then Cllr Shah Alam and Cllr Aminur Khan, then Cllr Mahbub Alom tried to attack Cllr Khan physically, which was totally unacceptable.

We are now asking you as group chair to take appropriate action and if no action is taken  then we will have no alternative but to complaint to councils monitoring officer.

We, look forward to your reply.

Kind Regards

Cllr Aminur Khan

Cllr Oliur Rahman

Cllr Rabina Khan

Cllr Shah Alam

Throughout much of this, sources tell me, Lutfur sat there allowing the fighting to continue before finally intervening.

I suspect the upshot of it all will be another split in THING, with the group of four forming their own group.

If you thought Lutfur was gone for good, think again. It’s amazing how bankruptcy can focus the mind.

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Although Tower Hamlets voted Remain by 68 per cent to 32, the numbers should have been far higher, argues Cat Overton. While campaigning, she detected fears about immigration among ‘white working classes’ and beliefs among British Bengalis that Brexit could deliver more non-EU migrants for local businesses. She says Labour needs to do far more to reconnect with its grass roots.

Cat Overton is a lawyer and Labour party campaigner. She is also chair of Wapping Labour and Treasurer of the Tower Hamlets Labour party.

This is her guest post:

Cat OvertonIt is, admittedly, not something you hear uttered very often, but the EU is close to my heart.

I attended the European School of Brussels from primary school through to sitting the European Baccalaureat leaving exam. My identity is European as well as British, this dual identity I had always felt to be compatible and complimentary.

Like so many Londoners, my cultural identity is multi-layered. So for me the Brexit vote feels like a personal tragedy as well as a tragedy for our country and our local community.

Londoners are in shock and are angry. People living here from other EU countries are variously wondering what their future holds and whether they are still welcome here. A (albeit somewhat far-fetched) petition is circulating calling for the Mayor of London to declare London independent from the rest of the UK.

City workers are fearing for their jobs, following announcements by JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley and HSBC that they may be relocating thousands of jobs to the continent. If realised, this will of course have a knock-on effect on our local economy in Tower Hamlets, in addition to the more obvious impact on Canary Wharf.

[The sheer scale of the Brexit challenge is mind-boggling. We will have to see whether Boris has the guts to pull the pin from the grenade that Cameron has dutifully handed to him by triggering Article 50, or whether he will somehow find a way of wriggling out of it. There could even be a second referendum. Remember we have not yet “left” Europe, despite the loose words of pundits and politicians alike. The referendum may have been an exercise in democracy but it is not binding on Parliament.]

But turning the focus more sharply on Tower Hamlets.

In the build-up to the Brexit vote, Tower Hamlets was listed as the tenth most pro-European local authority in the country. Sociologically, this was presumably because Tower Hamlets has a very young demographic, with many young professionals, a high graduate population and many liberal-minded residents working in the creative industries. Much of the local population could be described in ‘journo-speak’ as “cosmopolitan”.

It is a place where people from all over the world and from all over Europe live and work side by side and it feels to me like a culturally open place. It is forgotten that there are also massive levels of poverty, social deprivation and overcrowding. Nevertheless, there are opportunities here that are not necessarily enjoyed by the northern Labour heartlands.

In the event, Tower Hamlets did vote to Remain. However, London lost the tug-of-war with the rest of England, partly because of unexpectedly high turnouts in Labour northern and midlands heartlands that voted heavily for Leave, but also because the Remain vote in London was not large enough to counterbalance the haul of Leave votes in those areas.

Tower Hamlets voted 67.5% (73,011) for Remain, 32.5% for Leave (35,224). By contrast, the high watermark was Lambeth where 79% voted to Remain. Turnout in Tower Hamlets was 64.5%. So turnout in Tower Hamlets was high compared to other elections, but Remain needed it to be significantly higher.

In the tenth most pro-European local authority, Leave still managed to secure a third of the votes. One in 3 people who voted in Tower Hamlets voted for Leave. Of course, many of those 35,224 Leave voters will have been Conservative or Ukip voters who could finally express their euroscepticism explicitly at the ballot box. But many of the Leave voters will also have been Labour voters.

Our two local Labour MPs firmly backed Remain, as did the Labour Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs and the newly elected GLA member Unmesh Desai. And yet thousands upon thousands of Labour voters in Tower Hamlets voted for Leave.

The following observations are unscientific and based solely on my anecdotal experience as a campaigner who went out on the doorstep many many times during the referendum campaign:

1. Some of the white working class residents who we spoke to, typically over the age of 50, were very clear they would be voting Leave in order to lower immigration, whether immigration from outside the EEA or internal EU immigration. Time and time again I heard that their children and grandchildren had been forced to move out of Tower Hamlets due to pressures on housing caused by migrants. Others spoke of their wages being under-cut by EU migrants.

2. Again, anecdotally, there were apparently several splits in the British Bengali community. During the course of the campaign some activists spoke by way of hearsay of Priti Patel meeting the owners of catering companies telling them that if we left the EU it would be easier to secure UK visas for chefs from Bangladesh. We later heard on the doorstep that if internal EU immigration were to fall, it would perhaps be easier to bring others in from Commonwealth countries. We Labour activists campaigning for Remain (many of them themselves British Bengali) tried to persuade voters on these issues. It was unclear how successful we were being with that endeavour. [Note from Ted: Cllr Oli Rahman, leader of the Lutfurite Tower Hamlets Independent Group also voted Leave, according to his Facebook page.]

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 17.35.35

3. Closer to the day and on polling day itself, others splits appeared to be emerging. We noticed that previous Respect voters were telling us they were voting Leave. An articulate young man candidly told me that, whilst he believed that Remain was in the national interest, the economic meltdown that a Brexit vote would herald would prove to be his young family’s best chance of moving out of a council flat and buying their own home.

So unscientific as they may be, these anecdotal observations as a Labour campaigner in Tower Hamlets suggest a not dissimilar dynamic to what was happening in the working class communities in the northern and midlands Labour heartlands.

There can be no doubt now that Labour has a massive uphill battle to reconnect with its grassroots supporters. Labour is fighting for its very survival. Forces have been unleashed that appear to be out of control. But we have to carry on in the face of national despair and fight for the values we believe in and for the communities that we are in politics to serve.

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In 2007, a balding George Galloway and a few other bald men fought over the comb that was the imploding Respect/SWP “the Unity coalition” party. Due to a spat with the SWP about who owned the rights to the precious Respect name, Galloway’s main rump called themselves Respect Renewal. Separately, a gang of four councillors, largely cheesed off with the way their group leader Abjol Miah was running the show, split off to form a new group called Respect (Independent).

Eight years later and history is (kinda) repeating, albeit with some different faces and the musical chairs moving in different directions.

Back then the gang of four comprised Oli Rahman, Lutfa Begum, her daughter Rania Khan and Ahmed Hussain. Not long afterwards, Ahmed joined the Tories, where he is still well regarded, while the other three were bought off/recruited by Labour.

This morning the group that used to be called Tower Hamlets First and which is now known as Independents suffered its first split. Abjol Miah, upset at not retaining his paid position as a member of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee (instead, and incredibly, the job of scrutinising council business falls to grants king Maium Miah and the Prince of Narcissism Mahbub Alam), texted a couple of colleagues and then emailed John Williams, the council’s head of democratic services, to say he was quitting the group.

His move took some by surprise, not because he was defecting but because he was doing it alone. In the background there had been discussions about a few of them forming a new group. These talks had been taking place not just in the wake of Rabina Khan’s defeat, but also before it. What the disgruntled councillors had in common was a shared frustration at the way Lutfur Rahman (yes, him) was still effectively controlling things.

Last week, according to an insider, the Deposed Dear Leader met his former THF councillors to declare that Rabina would remain his candidate for mayor in 2018. Apparently his word was final, just as it had been when he selected her after his Election Court humiliation in April. No discussion, nada.

This, I’m told, was too much to stomach for some. To them, he was the cause of their current predicament – so how dare he not suggest an open and transparent selection process (ie a vote).

Lady Jane GreySo a number of them set about planning a split. I’m told that those planning to do so are the Independents’ group leader, Oli Rahman (the six day Acting Mayor and the Lady Jane Grey of Tower Hamlets politics); Shahed Ali; ex-deputy mayor Ohid Ahmed; Shafiqul Haque; and Mohammed Mufti Miah.

The first four were all Labour councillors. Whether Abjol would join them to make a group of six is not clear. bigpic

Were this to happen, their initial task would be to choose a name: Independents First? Independent (Independent)? Independent Renewal? Choices on the back of a postcard please.

More substantially (and I use that word advisedly), there would also be implications for the system of proportionality. The main Independents group would drop to 11 in number, while the new gang would have possibly six members. The former would lose entitlement to some committee positions, while the latter would gain some.

For the most part, and I think Abjol is the exception here, the possible defectors would like to return to Labour. Were that to happen, there would be so many dead bodies left in Labour the calls for a Tower Hamlets cemetery would become irresistible.

That said, it’s clear Lutfur is planning a long term comeback and that Rabina is working hard on strengthening her grassroots support. Labour is likely to have a fight on its hands in 2018, and by 2022 Lutfur will be eligible to stand as mayor again (in fact he could try for a vacated councillor position in 2019…if he’s not bankrupted by court costs, of course).

John Biggs at Labour iftarSo the aim of the game for John Biggs (and at an iftar for the Labour group on Tuesday night, pictured left, he made clear he’d want to stand again, although some tell me they’d like to see Sirajul Islam given a chance) must be to secure re-election, as well as running a decent council.

His hand is strengthened by weakening those of his opponents. Oli et al, believe it or not, do carry some votes. Deals that fall short of re-admittance to Labour can always be made.

Murky, but that’s politics I suppose.

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In his victory speech on June 12, John Biggs said he’d been elected as a Labour mayor, that he’d run the council as a Labour mayor, but he hinted strongly he’d also acknowledge the multicoloured coalition of voters who put him there. Very senior allies of his said that night that some kind of role would have to be found, for example, for Peter Golds. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the role of Speaker seemed to be the perfect fit but in the ensuing days the offer did not come about. Instead, the councillor who did more than any other elected member to bring down Lutfur Rahman has been made a senior member of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee with a special responsibility for probity and governance. I’m sure he’ll relish it and perhaps end up as Speaker next year… As it happens tonight’s full council meeting – the first with Biggs as mayor – was chaired by Cllr Moahmmed Adbul Mukit, or ‘MBE’ as he’s known among his colleagues – on account of his MBE of course. It’s his second successive term, as it is for his deputy Rajib Ahmed. I wasn’t there for the meeting but by all accounts it was a most sensible affair. Biggs was apparently cheered by Tory and Labour supporters alike in the public gallery when he announced he would be the ‘speaking variety of mayor’.

Missing from the proceedings was Rabina Khan. I don’t know why and I’m sure she has a good reason so please don’t judge. Ohid Ahmed was also missing (for the start), as was Mahbub Alam, who was posing by the Eiffel Tower earlier today according to his narcissistic Twitter feed. Tonight’s full council was to ratify the various appointments to cabinet and other committees. A Labour press release today said this:

Mayor John Biggs has announced his Cabinet. This leadership team draws on the knowledge, experience and dedication of Labour councillors in Tower Hamlets.

One of the key objectives of this Cabinet is to do away with the secrecy and opaque nature of decision making that plagued the previous administration.

Decisions will be taken transparently and openly, with cabinet meetings held around the borough; council meetings will no longer see the mayor sitting in silence; and councillors will be fully involved in the decision making process, ensuring that local ward knowledge is always fed into the process.

Mayor: John Biggs

Cllr Rachael Saunders: Deputy Mayor for Education & Children’s Services & the Third Sector

Cllr Shiria Khatun: Deputy Mayor for Community Affairs

Cllr Sirajul Islam: Statutory Deputy Mayor

Cllr Rachel Blake: Cabinet Member for Strategic Development

Cllr Joshua Peck: Cabinet Member for Work & Economic Growth

Cllr Amy Whitelock Gibbs: Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Services

Cllr Asma Begum: Cabinet Member for Culture

Cllr Ayas Miah: Cabinet Member for Environment

Cllr David Edgar: Cabinet Member for Resources

With forthcoming decisions such as the South Quay Masterplan, Rich Mix litigation and the upcoming report on the Medium Term Financial Plan, the Mayor and Cabinet will be diving straight in to the new culture of transparent and fair decision making.

And in early changes, the Mayor has got rid of the leased car used by his predecessor, agreed that the long-delayed report into the sale of poplar Town Hall be released to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, as required by a Council resolution over a year ago, and instructed that there be a long-delayed settlement with the Rich Mix Centre in Bethnal Green and that legal action pursued under the previous Mayor whose effect would have threatened the existence of the centre be ended.

Mayor John Biggs commented: “I’m very pleased to announce the Cabinet and I know we will all do our utmost to serve the residents of Tower Hamlets. I am incredibly proud to serve all people of this borough, but this is no time for complacency: whilst I have already made some changes such as scrapping the mayoral car, we are  fully focussed on the big challenges ahead. As there was a period of time with no mayor, there was a pause in decision making.

“We must act now in an efficient and fair manner to sort out these decisions for the benefit of residents. I am beginning to clear the backlog of decisions, and to reverse some actions of my predecessor which were in my view unhelpful for the Borough. I have already held one mayor’s surgery to listen to residents’ issues and there will be many more of these meetings. And I have pledged a regimen of greater transparency and openness.

“It is vitally important that we now press on: serving the residents of Tower Hamlets fairly, transparently and efficiently.”

The other major appointment is Marc Francis as chair of the development and strategic development committee. With his wife Rachel Blake as cabinet member for housing, they’re going to have some pretty solid Chinese Walls at home. In other developments, two senior council officers have also been recruited. Zena Cooke, formerly of Maidstone Borough Council, will become corporate director for resources on August 1. And Melanie Clay, from Central Bedfordshire Council, will become the new corporate director for law, probity and governance on September 17. Meic Sullivan Gould will have to find another way of financing a new car. An advert for a new chief executive is also due to be published this week. Slowly but surely, the directions laid out by the Government to the Commissioners and council are being ticked off. They could well be unemployed by the end of the year.. And speaking of the unemployed, there are now a few redundant ex-Tower Hamlets First councillors in need of work. Actually, we really shouldn’t call them THF councillors because that party has been dissolved and they’ve officially formed an Independent group on the council. But what’s this email which dropped at into my Inbox at 9.35pm tonight? IMG_0819   Spot the subconscious mistake…? Anyway, here’s the substance:

#Part-time Labour Mayor for Tower Hamlets during second wave of Tory cuts

John Biggs, the newly elected Labour mayor of Tower Hamlets, will be continuing his position as London Assembly Member, whilst the Conservative government threatens more cuts to social security.

Despite gimmickry of pay cut and spin, the fact is that John Biggs will still be taking home nearly £85,000 from combined salary despite being a part time Mayor for the people of Tower Hamlets.

Tower Hamlets, one of the poorest areas in London, is at high risk of being hit the hardest with extended cuts to public services, of which the survival of many rely upon.

The Independent Group, formerly Tower Hamlets First, revived services such as; Education Maintenance Allowance, which gives expenses to school leavers to support them through college; introduced the London Living Wage, which sees that employees in Tower Hamlets are given fair wages; and reduced child poverty by more than 15% since 2010.

Concerned for the future of Tower Hamlets under a Labour mayor, the Independent Group has made a pledge to hold John Biggs to account, on any decisions that may threaten the current services that protect the vulnerable and support the prosperity of the public.

Tower Hamlets was ranked first last year by Grant Thornton on its high growth index, and is also one of the top performing London authorities for the delivery of affordable homes, with 3980 affordable homes delivered and 1262 affordable/social rented homes for families delivered.

Cllr Oli Rahman, Leader of Independent Group, said:  “If John Biggs is committed to keeping the borough united, as he has said before, he needs to acknowledge the devastating effects that the Tory cuts can and will make to the poorest and most vulnerable members of our community, and make it his priority to ensure that our residents can live, learn and work with dignity.”

Cllr Rabina Khan, Independent runner up in the Mayoral election, said: “We will continue to fight for the people of Tower Hamlets, and we will do that by holding John Biggs and his Labour cabinet to account. We are a local grassroots political movement and our focus is very much on the welfare of the community, not on building our careers in Westminster politics.” “Despite operating under the full brunt of Tory cuts, we will be leaving behind a legacy of services, the fate of which, lies in the hands of John Biggs and his Labour cabinet.”

Notes to Editor:

1. Cllr Rabina Khan, Independent candidate in June 2015 against Labour’s John Biggs secured 26,384 votes, against the backdrop of a most vicious and negative right wing campaignhttps://www.facebook.com/pages/Rabina-KHAN-for-MAYOR/792583084189426

2.Cllr Oli Rahman, preformed Acting Mayoral duties before election, is one of the youngest political Group Leaders in the United Kingdom – https://twitter.com/cllroliurrahman

When I used the word ‘substance’ above, I was being generous.

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

Lutfur appeal

Full text here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dropping like flies.

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

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

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The following is a guest post by Tower Hamlets deputy mayor Cllr Oliur Rahman about his trip to Greece last month. He went with fellow Tower Hamlets First councillors Shahed Ali, Mahbub Alam, Shafiqul Haque, and various trade union activists. I wrote about it at the time here. The verdict in the Lutfur Rahman trial is expected next week, according to my latest information. Should that judgment go against Lutfur, Oli could be acting mayor for a short period. Clearly there are discussions even among Lutfur’s Tower Hamlets First party about who might stand in any mayoral by election in the event of a ‘guilty’ verdict. They’re only human after all.

oli rahman, mahbub alam

Deputy mayor Oli Rahman is wearing the hat

 

As the General Election draws closer, this should be a time of excitement and interest in politics. But for many, the opposite is the case. Huge numbers of people feel alienated from the political process, cynical with politicians, and don’t see any real difference between mainstream parties united on wanting to slash public spending. As the rise of the SNP and decline in Labour in Scotland demonstrates, people want to shake up the political order. And not just in Britain.Nowhere is this more evident than in Greece which has recently seen the election of the left-wing Syriza party on a programme of tackling austerity. A few weeks ago I decided to lead the first ever British local authority delegation to Greece. I did so because I am committed to build European solidarity against the austerity that is destroying the lives of fellow EU citizens. But I went for another reason. I wanted to see up close what this new kind of politics that Syriza stand for actually meant in practice.

On arrival our delegation – comprising of councillors, trade unionists and community activists – was taken into the Greek Parliament to meet with representatives of the International Aid Department. This was timely. The government was in the news for sticking to their pre-election commitment that they would not slash their international aid budget and ignoring demands from EU finance bureaucrats. It was refreshing to come across politicians who don’t actually pay lip service to humanitarianism, but put their words into practice.

The message from the Syriza representatives was loud and clear: for the peoples of Europe to defeat austerity we need a strong European-wide anti-austerity movement. This message was repeated in our meetings with activists in our visits to two social centres – these are citizen-run health clinics, food centres and legal aid hubs which have emerged to fill the gaps left by austerity.

The activists in the centre were at pains to emphasise that the aims of the centres is not about charity and just about helping people in desperate need. They are also about empowering citizens so that they can exercise power to shape and influence the political decisions affecting their lives. I was really impressed by the social centres and the representative from the Unite community centre on Cable Street agreed to look into twinning their centre with one in Athens.

As we travelled around Athens it had the appearance that all is well. The cafes were full, there seemed to be a buzz in the shopping malls. You see people sleeping in the streets but you do so in London too. However underneath the surface the figures tell a level of crisis much more severe than here. It is estimated that half the population are below the poverty line. Household incomes have fallen by a third since austerity hit. Many of those queuing at food banks belonged to the upper middle classes not so long ago.

Politicians with reactionary politics and simplistic solutions have done well in response to the crisis, and none more so that Golden Dawn, an openly neo-Nazi party that has scored up to 15 per cent in the opinions polls and whose members have been complicit in racist assaults and murder. They have made their gains on the back of trying to scapegoating migrants.

The reality of the impact of racism was brought home to us in a meeting we had with the anti-racist and anti-fascist organisation KEERFA which gathered together African, Pakistani and Bangladeshi members of migrant rights organisations. Their plight had been highlighted recently over the case of 35 illegal strawberry pickers who were shot at by their farm guards for asking for pay that was five months overdue.

Shockingly, when the case went before a court the guards were responsible were acquitted. We were privileged to meet with one of the leaders of the fruit workers, Tipu Chowdhury, whose testimony about their plight was very moving. We agreed we would organise a fundraising dinner in support on our return.The issue of the lack of basic rights for migrants was one that came up a lot on our visit. The local Bangladeshi community organised a dinner in our honour with over 200 people crammed into a tiny restaurant and we met members of the Greek Bangladeshi community who have been living in Greece for decades but still had not citizenship rights. As with all the Greeks we meet on our visits, the warmth of their welcome was overwhelming.

Hearing that we were in town we received a call on the eve of our departure from Athens from Zoi Konstantopoulo, the most senior woman in Greek politics, a human rights lawyer who sued Britain over the Iraq War, and Syriza’s President of Parliament asking us to come see her. We were honoured to meet her and were all impressed by her easy, relaxed style – she insisted we address her by her first name – and her lack of the airs and graces.

Zoi talked about how five years of austerity had strangled the Greek economy, the importance of building an international solidarity movement and the new government’s commitment to tackling racism. The Greek parliament has already made commitments to improving rights and Zoi affirmed the government’s commitment to redress this issue.

I know I am speaking for everyone on our delegation in writing that our trip to Greece was a really positive experience. It demonstrated the determination of the new Greek government to challenge the austerity agenda wreaking havoc in the EU.

I am came back from my trip more committed to the idea of a European Union, but one that is a Europe committed to the interests of all its citizens.

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Last week, the Guardian’s Dave Hill speculated that Tower Hamlets First might field candidates in the forthcoming general election.

 

The article said:

For some time it has been thought likely that candidates from the local party led by Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman might stand in the borough’s two parliamentary constituencies, challenging Labour incumbents Rushanara Ali and Jim Fitzpatrick. It’s been confirmed to me by a reliable source that this is indeed a definite possibility. There is no love lost between Rahman and Labour, on whom he and his allies have inflicted several defeats. Could Labour come unstuck in the East End?

Then this:

Names previously chattered about as THF runners are councillors Oliur Rahman (no relation), who is Rahman’s cabinet member for economic development, and Rabina Khan, who is his cabinet member for housing. They are generally regarded as two of the mayor’s most able lieutenants. They might not run at all and, if they do, it will be a big upset if they win. But Labour is well aware that they could not be easily dismissed.

The deadline for nominations for the general election is Thursday and it’s my understanding from sources within the Tower Hamlets First fraternity that Oli Rahman will definitely not stand against Jim Fitzpatrick in Poplar and Limehouse, not because he doesn’t want to fight Labour, but because he holds Jim himself in high regard. Those close to Oli may even help Jim with his campaign.

In Bethnal Green and Bow the story is slightly different, as I understand it. Rabina Khan is apparently chomping at the bit to stand against Rushanara, but it’s considered highly unlikely that Lutfur Rahman will let her go for it.

The verdict from Election Court Commissioner Richard Mawrey QC is unlikely to be delivered before Thursday and this is considered too complicating a factor. Another factor is that Tower Hamlets First, that shambolic mirage of a party, would only have 29 days to prepare an election campaign…and to establish something more than a “virtual bank” to fund it. The third factor is that they know Rushanara Ali is safe: she’s been working the doors hard for the past five years.

In any case, there could well be another general election campaign later this year if the mathematics of a hung parliament prove too difficult. THF might well feel that would be a better target, especially if Lutfur is cleared in his court case. They might have more of a story to tell then.

Cabinet reshuffles

Two other names who have apparently been jockeying for position in a potential THF raid on Bethnal Green and Bow are former Respect leader Abjol Miah and ex-deputy mayor Ohid Ahmed. Come next month, when Lutfur (if he’s still in office, of course) decides who’s in his next cabinet, the fortunes of these two men could change dramatically.

There is pressure on Lutfur to drop Ohid and bring in Abjol. Well, that’s the gossip anyway. Dear Cllr Selfie, Mahbub Alam, is also hoping for a position as cabinet member for social media, but I think he’s likely to be disappointed.

Not that cabinet positions matter of course, apart from the cash they earn for their incumbents. As I’ve written before, in Lutfur Land the power resides in the kitchen cabinet. This frustrates his colleagues and it has created divisions.

Throughout Lutfur’s first term from 2010-14, he did not once hold a group meeting of his then independent councillors. I’m told the same has been true since last May with the onset of Tower Hamlets First: there hasn’t been a single group meeting. He clearly doesn’t like being in environments where he can be questioned. It’s such an odd set up.

Commissioners

We still have only two commissioners, Max Caller and Sir Ken Knight. Eric Pickles’ department maintains its search for a third but this has so far been unsuccessful. – as have been the attempts so far by the other two to ensure the council appoints a permanent chief executive. In this, they have been frustrated by Lutfur’s efforts to make the current head of paid service, the charming Stephen Halsey, the permanent boss.

So much so that they wrote to Pickles last month to express their frustrations (in the most diplomatic language, of course). Eric has since replied to say he will give them extra powers to push this task along unless the council can supply reasons to him by next Monday saying why that won’t be necessary.

Meanwhile, the Commissioners say they have approved the approved the appointment of a new monitoring officer and a new chief financial officer. The swashbuckling motor-loving motor-mouth incumbent Meic Sullivan-Gould applied for the former.  But he didn’t get it. Drueni o’r fath, as they say in the valleys. Hwyl fawr!

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