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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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Oliur Rahman

Cllr Oli Rahman manning a PCS picket line in Stratford today

The below piece is on the Express website here.

THE Deputy Mayor of the controversial east London borough of Tower Hamlets was yesterday marched from his civil service workplace after concerns about his political activities.

A security guard was ordered to ban Councillor Oliur Rahman from entering the Job Centre Plus office in Stratford, east London, where he works as a benefits adviser.

His bosses at the Department for Work and Pensions said he could no longer perform the role, one he has had for 14 years, due to hypothetical concerns about political neutrality.

They claimed his high profile role in Tower Hamlets politics meant he was more likely to be recognised by people he dealt with in the job centre, even though he works in the neighbouring borough of Newham.

The DWP argued Mr Rahman was at risk of being accused of political bias in his day job.

It said this risk had increased following his appointment as deputy to Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman, who is currently the subject of Government and national media attention.

Mr Rahman’s bosses said they were acting on the direct advice of the Cabinet Office, which yesterday confirmed it supported their decision.

They said he was being transferred to a non-frontline role away from jobseekers at another office in Stratford.

Their stance and the decision to call in a security guard triggered a blazing row at the Job Centre yesterday.

It caused Mr Rahman, who is also an official at the PCS union, so much stress that he vomited and hyperventilated.

His bosses were so concerned they called an ambulance.

Paramedics treated the councillor but he declined to go to hospital.

PCS officials believe the DWP is “politically targeting” Mr Rahman.

He was today manning a picket line at the Job Centre Plus in a campaign against Government cuts.

Yesterday’s events were the culmination of a long-running dispute.

He has worked for the DWP for 14 years and has been a councillor since 2004.

Until 2010, he worked at the Poplar Job Centre in Tower Hamlets but he was then moved to Stratford after a complaint from an opposition party which claimed he could be trying to exploit his job for political purposes.

He has served in Lutfur Rahman’s cabinet since October 2010.

It is understood no complaints have been received about his dual role in that time.

However, DWP became increasingly worried.

According to Mr Rahman’s supporters, his bosses tried to transfer him out of London altogether.

Mr Rahman opposed the proposal and wrote to the Civil Service Appeal Board.

On October 28 last year, the board ruled in Mr Rahman’s favour.

It told the DWP that were he to be re-elected as a councillor in May 2014, he should be allowed to stay in his frontline role in Stratford.

After his re-election as a Tower Hamlets First party in May, his boss Lutfur Rahman made him his deputy.

The DWP believes his “elevated role” as deputy mayor of a borough receiving so much attention nationally has created a tipping point.

His bosses sought renewed guidance from the Cabinet Office, which has now told the DWP it can overrule the Civil Service Appeal Board decision.

When Mr Rahman objected to the proposed back office transfer earlier this month, the DWP suspended him–a decision it rescinded just days later following advice from HR professionals.

However, the department’s bosses continued to insist he move to the new role.

Mr Rahman is now understood to be consulting lawyers.

His friends also point out that the national attention on Tower Hamlets Council is not of his making.

They say it is largely due to a decision by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, who ordered Government inspectors to examine the borough’s finances last April.

In a statement, Marjorie Browne of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: “For the best part of four years Mr Rahman feels he has been subjected a series of targeted behaviour from the senior management of the Job Centre Plus (JCP) without any foundation or complaint from any clients.

“He feels politically targeted for simply being a councillor and politically active within Tower Hamlets.

“The fact that senior management from the JCP are going against their own Civil Service Appeal Board’s decision says everything one needs to know about this case.”

A DWP spokesman said: “Every day our Job Centre Plus staff are successfully helping people into work.

“It’s important that they remain politically neutral, which is why we can’t have elected politicians in frontline roles.”

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said it “supported” the DWP decision and added: “The Civil Service Code requires all civil servants to act with political impartiality, and to comply with any restrictions laid down on their political activities in line with the Political Activity Rules.”

Mr Rahman said he was unable to comment.

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SEE VARIOUS UPDATES AT BOTTOM OF THIS POST:

The Guardian’s Dave Hill joked yesterday that the poison of the Tower Hamlets elections had yet to include the ritual allegations of vote fraud.

 

I think Lutfur’s camp must have been glued to Dave’s Twitter timeline. For, on cue, less than 24 hours later this Tweet appeared this afternoon from the account of Lutfurite Cllr Oliur Rahman:

photo

There are two Labour councillors in the Lansbury ward: Shiria Khatun and Rajib Ahmed. Because he named neither, Oli, in one fell swoop, defamed both. In libel law, his only hope would be if one of them had actually been arrested. When this was explained to him, he deleted the tweet.

In fact, I can say with certainty that Oli was referring to Shiria Khatun. And when Oli said in his Tweet, “just been told”, I confidently understand the person he was referring to there was none other than the Deputy Mayor, Cllr Ohid Ahmed, who is also standing in Lansbury. (See update below.)

The problem for them is that Shiria has not been arrested. As this tweet came through, she was out campaigning.

She is incandescent that such the smear is being spread among the voters of the Lansbury ward. She believes Tower Hamlets First is so worried about the outcome on May 22, they’re resorting to lies that could well see one or two of them in hot water.

shiria khatunI’m told that in 2010, rumours were spread (by whom, I don’t know) that Shiria was not a Muslim because she does not wear a hijab. These are some of the depths Tower Hamlets politicians plumb, on almost all sides.

I understand today’s matter has been referred to the Returning Officer, who surely now must show he’s taking these things seriously.

Did Ohid tell Oli that Shiria had indeed been arrested? He declined to tell me.

However, this is what he did say: “I’m personally against all sorts of voting fraud. I have campaigned against it and requested no candidate should be handling/harvesting postal votes. However, very unfortunately this has happened in my ward, I was told. I understand this has been reported to the police. It is up to the victim and police to reveal the name of the culprits if they find anyone involved.”

Expect more of these sorts of allegations over the next 10 days.

Sorry, Dave, it’s started.
UPDATE 8am, May 12

I’ve been told that Ohid says he was called by Oli asking if he’d heard a rumour that Shiria had been arrested, and that Ohid told him he had.

UPDATE 11.30am, May 12

Lutfur’s supporters were busy yesterday on Facebook saying that Shiria had been interviewed by police. I called Shiria. This is her version of events.

“I was knocking on doors in the Lansbury ward yesterday. I saw police in the street and I thought they’d come to talk to people about drugs problems in the area so I went over to them to say I was happy they were there. Then I saw Louise Stamp with them [from the council’s electoral services department]. They said there had been an allegation against me about faking votes. I was completely taken aback and shocked.

“I asked what’s going on. Then I saw one of Lutfur Rahman’s Ohid Ahmed’s supporters. He said he had been interpreting for an elderly Bangladeshi couple who had made an allegation. I told the police that’s not on, that he’s one of the mayor’s right hand men. The police said he hadn’t interpreted, that he was a well-wisher. But he had been in the room of their flat and I told the police they wouldn’t have been able to understand what he might have said to the couple, that he might have been influencing them.

“This elderly couple have made a formal allegation. The allegation is that I’ve taken their vote. This is a complete lie. I have not touched a single ballot and the only ballot I will touch will be mine. I don’t know this couple beyond that they are my constituents. I had previously asked them if they were going to vote.

“The couple who made the allegation have now flown to Bangladesh. I find that a surprise and some coincidence.”

Separately, the police have confirmed they have received a complaint and that they are investigating. They are also aware of the special characteristics of Tower Hamlets election time.

 
UPDATE 9.15pm, May 12

I now understand only one of the elderly couple has gone to Bangladesh and the police seem satisfied the trip wasn’t last minute.

I also gather the allegation is that blank ballot papers were taken. Shiria denies this.

It’s probable Shiria will be interviewed by police, but not necessarily under arrest. That’s standard practice when such allegations are made.

The elderly couple have also been warned that any false allegation could result in a perverting the course of justice investigation.

The police have a detective based at Limehouse examining all manner of electoral issues at the moment. That’s a good move by the police. I get the impression this more than a PR box-ticking exercise.

Tweets and Facebook postings are being particularly monitored for offences under election law.

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This is a guest post by Anonymous

We know there will be 204 candidates standing in Tower Hamlets for the 45 seats on the council.

Of these 90 will be from the Labour and Conservatives parties who are contesting every seat in every ward and 44 for Tower Hamlets First, which is, to all intents, the Lutfur Rahman Party. The 45th pro-Rahman candidate will be Anwar Ahmed Khan, who is contesting Bow West as an Independent. There is, in Bow West just one Tower Hamlets First candidate, Jainal Chowdhury.

Anwar Ahmed Khan was elected in Bow West in 2010 as just Anwar Khan. However his expanded name will ensure that he is first on the ballot, two places above his sister in law who was chosen by the Labour party as his successor.

One record that will enter the record books even in the ever changing world of Tower Hamlets will be Cllrs Shahid Ali and Oliur Rahman: they’re standing in their third successive borough election, but for a different party each time; Respect in 2006, Labour in 2010 and Tower Hamlets First in 2014.

Will it be four for the party-hopping duo in 2018? In Tower Hamlets any political label is possible, so watch this space.

The major story of the nominations is the collapse of the Liberal Democrats in a borough they controlled as recently as 1994. In 2002, 2006 and 2010 they contested every seat. This year they are fielding just a single candidate in each of the 20 wards in the borough. In the 28-year period between 1978 and 2006 the Liberals/Liberal Democrats won every local election in Bow. They are now fielding just two candidates for five seats, despite several former Liberal Democrat councillors being resident in the area.

The Greens are fielding 19 candidates in 14 wards, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition 14 candidates in 13 wards, and Ukip 13 candidates in 13 wards.

Apart from Anwar Ahmed Khan there is a single Independent standing in Mile End, a representative of the Red-Flag Anti corruption group in Bow East and the Peace Party in St Dunstan’s.

In previous years there have often been a range of Independents, there noticeably few this time.

Labour, as the majority party, have had tried their hardest at diversity. However, Tower Hamlets being Tower Hamlets, there are just 15 women as against 30 male nominees. There are 24 Bangladeshi candidates, one Somali (woman), 18 white British and two black British nominees.

Expected to make their marks will be housing expert Rachel Blake and ultra loyalist, who is also known as Mrs Marc Francis.

Mamun Rashid from Shadwell could be interesting. He served as a Respect councillor for a period and was one of their more impressive performers.

Labour have also put up a strong team in St Peter’s against the expected Rahman onslaught, to be led by former Respect leader Abjol Miah who is fighting under his second label in his third different ward.

As expected, the Rahman team is overwhelmingly Bangladeshi. Micky Ambrose, Stephen Beckett, John Cray, Kathy McTasney and Stuart Madewell, along with one or two Somali nominees, are his attempts at diversity. The rest of the ticket is, as said, overwhelmingly Bangladeshi and male. Cllr Rania Khan is standing down, for reasons as yet unknown.

It will be interesting to see the Tower Hamlets First nomination papers. Apart from George P Wood in Bow East, Lillian Collins in Lansbury, Brenda Daley signing for Rofique Ahmed in St Dunstan’s and a friend of Kathy McTasney in Island Gardens all the other proposers have Bangladeshi names.

Micky Ambrose in Bow East is a former footballer, and he also worked in Lutfur’s office earning £25 an hour as “advisor on youth engagement”. He did, however, earn far less than Stephen Beckett, who was collecting in excess of £30,000 in Lutfur’s office.

Micky Ambrose lives in Newham, as does his fellow Bow West Tower Hamlets First candidate, Sabia Kamali. This is an interesting point as Yousuf Khan, Tower Hamlets First in Weavers ward, gives an address in Barking as his home.

There are four other Tower Hamlets First candidates who are known to have addresses outside of the borough but have given addresses within Tower Hamlets. The legal point is that there are four qualifications to stand for election. However, the address on a nomination paper, which is described as home address should be exactly that. It is an illegal practice to use an address as a home address that is not that.

This was what caused Fazlul Haque to be deselected by Labour in 2010 after it was obvious that his actual home was in Ilford. Equally Fozol Miah stood down this year when details of his home address in Barking were regularly circulated including to the police and the Electoral Commission.

Details of four other actual home addresses outside of Tower Hamlets are known to the authorities and other parties. Lutfur, as a solicitor, should have thought about that, as these matters will not go away. In any case, with the broad support that he claims, why could he not nominate 45 genuine local residents as candidates?

The Conservatives, contesting every seat, will concentrate on their stronger areas. They are losing four well known councillors: Cllr Tim Archer, one of the best debaters in the council chamber since 2006 is moving to be closer to his recently widowed mother; Cllr Emma Jones is marrying a serving; Cllr Zara Davis has a new job that requires more work commitments; and Cllr David Snowdon wants to concentrate on other things.

However, the Tories do hope to bring back former councillor Ahmed Hussain, who is standing in Canary Wharf.  Previous candidates standing include barrister Neil King in Wapping. There are several other candidates who have asked public questions at the town hall.

In terms of diversity they have eleven BME candidates including Chinese, Sinhalese and Bangladeshi nominees.

The Liberal Democrats, reflecting their withdrawal from the borough, have just two well known candidates, former councillors John Griffiths and Azizur Rahman Khan. An interesting nominee is Alex Dziedzan in Weavers ward. The Liberal Democrats and Ukip are to be congratulated in reaching out to EU citizens as potential candidates. Ferdy North, candidate in Spitalfields and Banglatown, is proposed by one Jemima Khan.

The Greens are fighting widely, with a concentration on wards in the Bethnal Green and Bow constituency. Another Green proposer for the Bethnal Green candidate is Alice Livingstone Boomla, whose doctor parents have both been involved in socialist parties of differing names.

Interestingly, Ukip are not fielding a council candidate in the Shadwell ward where their Mayoral candidate lives. They also found the nomination process perhaps more complicated than they thought. However, they are also to be congratulated in fielding Lubov Zsikhotska, an EU national in Bethnal Green.

Amongst TUSC’s 14 candidates are four candidates from outside of the borough. These have addresses including Basildon and Romford. The Whitechapel candidate who lives in E10, Michael Wrack, is understood to be the son of Matt Wrack, the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, previously involved in both Militant and The Socialist Party. Obviously TUSC finds the political situation in Tower Hamlets interesting!

One thing that we know as the count grinds to a halt at The Troxy (who on earth chose that as a venue?) late on Friday night, May 23rd, Tower Hamlets will surprise. There will be recounts, split wards controversy resulting in new faces across the chamber.

In 2006, Respect, reliant on the Bangladeshi vote, was unable to elect a single councillor from amongst their white, SWP element. It is likely that this will be the same this year, hence how few Tower Hamlets First candidates are non Bangladeshi.

A John Biggs win will see any Tower Hamlets First councillors completely isolated. Labour and Biggs will want nothing to do with those that are most likely to be elected.

A Rahman victory will cause enormous tension within the Labour group, in which case sit back and watch the musical chairs.

One final thought: as Respect so famously did in 2006, ‘decapitating’ the Labour leadership including Michael Keith, so too is Tower Hamlets First this time around. They would love to defeat Carlo Gibbs, Amy Whitelock Gibbs and Josh Peck. The battles in those wards is vicious.

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