Posts Tagged ‘panorama’

Exactly seven months after Eric Pickles ordered Government-appointed inspectors to examine the books at Tower Hamlets council, the Communities Secretary will tomorrow publish their findings.

The report from PricewaterhouseCoopers will be published on the DCLG website at 9.30am, just as a written ministerial statement is made in the Commons.

Three hours later, the minister himself will make an oral statement in the chamber outlining the Government’s response.

Only a handful of people know what’s in the report: ie at PwC and at the very top of DCLG.

At this time of writing (about 8.20pm Monday), even Mayor Lutfur Rahman does not know what’s in it. It may be that the report has been sent to the council’s Head of Paid Service, Stephen Halsey, but even that’s not clear. Presumably, Mr Halsey would have to brief Lutfur if he had received it.

So anyone claiming they’ve heard this or that about the report’s findings is quite likely spreading unfounded rumours.

However, it would be a surprise to almost everyone if Eric did not announce he was imposing a new chief executive on the council…at the very least.

Clearly, whether he goes further depends on what has been found.

Lutfur’s camp believe, from the various questions they’ve had to answer and check during the past seven months, that any direct Government intervention, eg the appointment of Commissioners to run procurement and grants, would be vulnerable to a legal challenge.

So we could see more taxpayers’ money spent on legal bills….on top of the cash currently going on lawyers for the judicial review of Eric’s original decision, a hearing due at the High Court on November 14.

When Eric made his initial announcement on April 4 (four days after the Panorama programme), the council “welcomed” the chance to clear its name.

Here’s that statement:

We welcome the opportunity to demonstrate that council processes have been run appropriately and to date we have seen no evidence to suggest otherwise. This inspection affords the borough the best opportunity to demonstrate that the borough has acted in the best interests of all residents. We will release further information in due course.

Well, you could say they had a funny way of showing it. There’s a feeling in Whitehall that the council deliberately dragged its heels over supplying information to the auditors.

As I’ve noted before, the inspection has been trying to determine whether the council has achieved “best value” with the public’s money. Handing it to lawyers to try and block that process didn’t go down too well. It fed a narrative.

Has there been any fraud? I have no idea. Certainly, Panorama never made that allegation….although their team did find evidence of a fraud linked to the Brady Youth Forum, as mentioned here.

If the PwC report hasn’t found fraud, expect the Lutfur line to be “I told you so”.

But I’d be astonished if there isn’t severe criticism of the council tomorrow.

A minister like Eric Pickles just doesn’t make oral statements to the Commons so he can have egg chucked in his face.

So over to you, then, Eric, me old chum.

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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 former Labour councillor Carlo Gibbs, who was defeated in the St Peter’s ward on May 22. He was Labour’s spokesman for finance until then and is married to serving Labour Cllr Amy Whitelock Gibbs


Carlo_webThoughts on defeat

So. First off we have to congratulate Lutfur and his campaign team on their victory last Thursday. Regardless of views on him, you have to accept that he secured a big victory against a strong opponent. It also has to be recognised that the people have decided through elections that were free and fair and conducted under the most intense scrutiny. This was the result and we have to accept that. While there may be complaints about intimidation at polling stations and elsewhere, and any evidence should be looked at and referred to the appropriate authorities, this would not have shifted 3500 votes towards John Biggs or 174 to me in my ward.

As always with defeat, it is a time for reflection and this is something the Labour Party now needs to do before picking itself back up and moving on. We are a national party and will never give in, there is still fight in us yet and we will continue to represent the community and promote our values with our councillors and activists. Those who have said that we’re finished are just dreaming: we’ll never be finished in the East End, and they should get used to that. While we did take a hit, there are positives that we can take. We must remember that we had over 34,000 people casting first and second preferences for us and nearly 40% of the votes in council elections, our highest share since 2002 apparently. In any other election, that would have been enough. Tower Hamlets is unique.

The fact is our campaign didn’t connect with a large enough portion of the Bangladeshi community (a third of the electorate) in a significant enough way. Those who feel Lutfur has been treated badly again outlined their support for him. This isn’t just because he is Bangladeshi; the Bangladeshi community are smarter than that, they are some of the most politically aware people in the country. It was because they, on balance, felt that he has done a good job in difficult circumstances. Many felt the attacks on his record were harsh: some acknowledged them and even agreed, but voted for him anyway as they still felt the good still outweighed the bad.

Additionally, he didn’t just receive support from the Bangladeshi community. The Labour party did receive a lot of support from that community and Lutfur must have, to make the numbers match, received support from other communities as well. While it was not as much as Labour (particularly looking at the second preferences) it was enough. No doubt the rise of UKIPs disgraceful rhetoric energised people to register their vote (for both John and Lutfur) even more.


John Biggs

It was disappointing to see John lose, given all he has put into the borough and the fact that he is genuinely in politics for the right reasons. The attacks on him were unfair and unjustified, but this was a political campaign and you have to expect your opponents to do whatever they can to win. This happens in the Shires as well as Tower Hamlets. There will be hundreds of people telling him why he lost and how he could have done it better (everyone is a campaign expert after elections!) but ultimately the coalition of voters he brought together, while sizable and broad, was just not big enough. Maybe now he has been defeated, those that attacked him can show some grace and again recognise his achievements in defeating the BNP in Millwall, in Barking and Dagenham and at City Hall and for the work he does to fight for resources for the East End.

The overall tactic from TH First was to try and frame every discussion through the prism of race and religion–to label every attack on Lutfur as an attack on a Bangladeshis and Muslims. They used emotive language and historical references (the Raj, Colonialism) and looked to whip up their base at every turn. It was very much from the George Galloway playbook. The idea was to paint John and the Labour party as racist, who didn’t think Bengalis could be trusted with power. It is similar to “swift boating” in American politics. Despite being a decorated war hero, John Kerry was attacked by George Bush on his war record using swift boat veterans. It was audacious and effective. The same here, the Labour party is the most representative of any party in Tower Hamlets (in terms of race, religion, gender, sexuality, disability, age and background), but was endlessly attacked for being racist.

This type of attack actually started years ago. We once attempted to change the open spaces strategy in a council meeting to limit the number of events in Victoria Park, a legitimate policy difference because we felt it was being over-used. Lutfur’s deputy, Ohid Ahmed, claimed we were only doing it because Lutfur was “Bengali”. While it may sound ridiculous, much like the ridiculous comments that come from UKIP, some people believe it…and more do the more you say it, unless it is effectively challenged. They escalated to ensuring every criticism of Lutfur was branded as being racist and then Islamophobic: they called Muslims who voted or stood against Lutfur, disgracefully, as “traitors” and “bad Muslims”. It is very similar to the tactics used by the Tea Party movement in American, where they use Christianity in this way, linking their policy beliefs to their religion and then claiming any attack on the policy is an attack on the religion, with those doing it being “anti-Christian”.

We could have challenge this more directly and call it out for what it was. Better showing how we represented all communities, including Muslims and Bengalis and the policies we proposed supported this community too. The Labour Group was and is the most representative of any of the parties in the town hall and includes many devout Muslims. We had a Bengali Group leader and a Member of Parliament. They are not fake Bengalis, traitors or bad Muslims. They are good people trying to do good work. We never opposed the faith buildings fund, mother tongue classes or the majority of grants that went to Muslim organisations. Yet the attacks continued.

However, in my view Panorama and others were too clumsy in their attempt to raise legitimate questions over his handling of the grants programme. For me, it was never the right point to suggest the grants issue was about supporting Bengali/Muslim organisations. Lutfur has cut funding to some Muslim and Bengali groups that didn’t support him. It is not to do with race or religion. He adjusted, meddled and failed to be transparent in an attempt to fund as many groups as possible in promotion of himself. That is where Panorama and others missed the point and played into their narrative. The newspaper, self-promotion, self-publicity, grants and others was all about using resources to bolster him as mayor. In that way he is a machine politician who focuses on self-preservation and every decision is a political calculation. He doesn’t do it because he’s Bengali, or Muslim, he does it because he has the power and wanted to hold on to it, in the same way someone like George Bush did as President.

The other attack was to suggest that TH Labour party is full of middle class, Blairite, student, machine politicians, characterised in Kazim Zaidi’s ignorant post on this blog last week. The main plank of our manifesto was free school meals and a pledge to build 1,000 council houses. There is nothing Left wing about having a chauffeur-driven car, selling off public art, commercialising public spaces, only building 15 council homes, using reserves to pay for advisers, charging for bulk waste, cutting advice service funding and so on. Labour “lobbyists” include people working for a range of charities, voluntary organisations, trade unions, housing providers and so on. We are not all from middle class families: my mother was a single mother who raised four children on a nurse’s salary in the Thatcher years. Most of us didn’t do student politics and some of us have views somewhere left of Tony Benn (no, not me). Kazim must have been out of the room when Lutfur was buying off people with cabinet positions in return for their support for his group leadership bid in 2008. It wasn’t about political ideology.  He probably didn’t remember that Attlee came to the East End, a middle class Oxbridge graduate, to help better the lives of the local residents.

Again, you can moan about their tactics as much as you like, but you have to expect this in politics and ensure that you counter it effectively. That’s what the Labour party needs to work on. We need to ensure that the Muslim community knows that we believe that they should be protected and free to practise their religion, which is a decent and important religion, and that they are supported with policies that benefit them in the way any other community is. That they are entitled to grants and support in the same anyone else is. We also need to challenge those who attempt to misuse Islam for their own political ends. We need to do this while ensuring that we continue to work with, and represent all other communities, and particularly those most disaffected. We need to continue to highlight that we are the most diverse and representative group and to legitimately point out their failures. For example, having just one woman in 18 councillors is pathetic in this day and age.

My result

Having been one of the main protagonists against Lutfur over the past few years, it was no surprise that I became a target of theirs and they will no doubt be glad to see the back of me. In my finance lead role I had led our budget campaigns, which caused them numerous headaches. As whip I had to orchestrate council meetings in which Lutfur genuinely looked uncomfortable when under attack. I did the enquiry that found that the council had built just 15 homes. I recently called his handling of free school meals an Omnishambles, which it was, and had various set-toos with him and Alibor Choudhury in particular (Lutfur broke his famous council silence to call me “stupid councillor” at one stage!).

I knew that would be the case in taking on the role, but I did what I could to give the Labour candidates the best chance of winning by highlighting the genuine failures of the administration. I stand by the issues of concern we picked up and I am proud that our Free School Meals campaign means this is going ahead this year (regardless of what they said, this was not in their budget and would not have happened without us pushing it). The council’s finances remain a significant concern and without our campaigns against advice service cuts, or the campaign to keep open the Rushmead One Stop Shop in Bethnal Green, or the fuss we made around the proposed redevelopment of Watts Grove, and others, we would not have got him to change his decisions. I still believe it’s wrong to waste council money in any way, when we have to strip back services and deal with cuts, and we should have been planning for how to deal with the budget cuts much earlier than now.

I did all I could in my ward campaign and I couldn’t have worked any harder to get out our vote. I polled nearly 400 votes higher than I did in 2010, taking into account boundary changes and turnout this is still an increase of around 30%, which I can take some heart from. Ultimately, we underestimated was the level of which the Mayoral vote would cross over to the TH First council candidates, which ultimately did for us and many of the other Labour candidates. I had known for a while that there was a concerted effort from them in my ward and their canvassers had been busy raising hundreds of enquires for residents over the past year. While we ran an expert traditional campaign (door knocking and voter identification) they had mastered the informal community network campaign and were disciplined in turning it out, particularly through postal votes where they always excel (regardless of their faux pretence otherwise).

Overall, I believe that you need to accept defeat graciously and I have looked to do that since the result in my ward was clear. I congratulated Lutfur, as well as the St Peter’s Tower Hamlets First candidates. In my view there is no point getting angry, saying we woz robbed or claiming foul play: you have to accept the results and move on. I always thought Muhammad Ali said it best: “I never thought of losing, but now that I have the only thing is to do it right. That’s my obligation to all the people that believe in me. We all need to take defeats in life”.

I stayed at the count as long as it was going (yes until the Tuesday!) to ensure that I could commiserate other colleagues that lost and to cheer those that won. The Labour party is a family and it’s good to be around for people in the good times and bad.


The count

It was a shambles. I have no idea why it took two hours to submit people initially, eight hours to verify the mayoral, another six to count it (including two hours to check challenged ballot papers) I have no idea why they asked all 200 or so candidates for their opinions on whether to go straight into the council counting at 3am (at one point at around 8am a member of the count team actually fell asleep while tallying!). Count totals varied significantly from one to the next with candidates in close races winning after some counts and losing after others, no wonder tension was high. I have no idea why some count staff were sat around idle for a lot of the time. I have no idea why ballot papers and counting sheets were left on tables often unsupervised. Having finally decided to finish the counting on Sunday I have no idea why they chose 2pm as the start time and didn’t even have the hall ready until after 3pm. It has to be accepted that what happened needs to be looked into. A high turnout, close results and a lot of challenge should have been expected. That said I have lot of respect for Returning Officer John Williams and his deputy Louise Stamp and I am sure that they are just as unhappy with how it went as everyone else. Even though it was shambolic there is no question in my view that the results for the mayoral or in my ward were wrong (after the recount not the first count which was way off!!), they we just late.


Moving on

So where do we go from here? First of all, I think leadership is needed on both sides to de-escalate the worrying tension that has built up between groups and in the community. The past few years and the campaign were often fought in the prism of race and, more recently religion, and this has created division and tension that can be exploited if it is not healed. It is no use either side saying it is the other’s fault and continue throwing slurs back and forth: the sensible majority on either side need to step back, seek to temper their language and either calm or disassociate themselves with those that continue to go too far. While the banner of One Tower Hamlets and One East End are often used, in reality there is a polarisation in the community and it is incumbent on all people elected or otherwise to work together to reduce this. It is not good enough to just talk about it, it needs action. We need a better understanding of each other and to not allow differences to become divisions. There needs to be more trust and less suspicion, but this will take time. Some people want this division for their own ends and they will continue to fight on these grounds. These people need to be challenged by the moderate majority on both sides. It is an incredibly difficult thing to judge, but it is imperative we try. Writing blogs suggesting “a civil war will spill out into the streets”, as Kazim Zaidi did here for example, is exactly the kind of inflammatory rhetoric that the sensible majority should seek to temper. Smarter and more thoughtful language is needed.

During the campaign, I spoke to a Jamaican immigrant who was voting UKIP. He was adamant that the Labour Party “only looked after Muslims” (what would TH First make of that!) and that even I was “a latino”. Yes really. He seemed bemused when I explained in my Home Counties accent that I was actually from Cambridge. But a Jamaican immigrant not voting for a white man with an Italian name because he thinks he only represents the Muslim community, and instead voting for a party whose main focus is to restrict immigration, something he himself had benefitted from in the past, is evidence that there are issues that need addressing which go beyond whether you like Lutfur Rahman or not.



The calls are already starting for Lutfur to be readmitted to the Labour party, but that is difficult to reconcile with the election they have just fought against the Labour party and its people. Lutfur and his team have thrown allegations of racism and other things at Labour Councillors and candidates and the suggestion that they will forgive and forget within a week or so is unrealistic. He, as the leader, presided over some outrageous behaviour that was public (The KKK and Blackshirts comments by TH First candidates to name but two) and much more in private. Emotions are still raw and the heat of the election is yet to cool. Suggesting it is likely to anger those that have fought hard campaigns and likely to push them toward rejecting any advances more vehemently.

Additionally, while Lutfur may have won the election, a large portion of the electorate (including about 80% of second preferences) voted against him and Labour secured the most votes of any party in the council elections; much of this was in opposition to Lutfur. These people would not want to see the councillors they just elected in opposition to him, become yet another coalition they didn’t vote for.

The tactics of their campaign are not ones that any mainstream political party would accept. Even UKIP throw people out when they make outrageous comments. Not TH First.

The other issue rightly pointed out by Ted here is the question of his councillors as well. Regardless of what people say of Lutfur, most of his councillors are not from a Labour background (despite what they may pretend) and do not have the values of the Labour party (just look at what their councillors have been saying publically about Rushanara’s vote for gay marriage!) If, for example, all 18 of Lutfur’s councillors were admitted with him it would also send a terrible signal (ie stand for whoever you want and if you win Labour will just accept you anyway!) and cause a great deal of resentment for the current group who stayed loyal and fought hard to win their seats and lost colleagues (who were Labour through and through). In that regard having such a big group may actually now make it more difficult for Lutfur to ever be accepted.


Where next?

So where do we go on that basis? For the Labour Group the first thing it needs (in my opinion, I have no say now!) to decide on its leadership team and begin discussions over the composition of the council’s committees and scrutiny panel as the largest party. They would do well to select a leader and deputy that understand it is now peacetime, who can de-escalate the tension between the groups, open up channels of communication and begin the process of renewal (as Sun Zu says, “There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.”) Someone who can understand that fighting in the town hall is an energy and time-sapping endeavour (and quite often entirely fruitless) and that the whole group needs to be set up to focus on working in the community.

Lutfur would do well leaving them to it and let the Labour party set up as the official opposition and form the scrutiny committee. This would help to show the community he is happy to be scrutinised fairly and give those that didn’t vote for him the confidence there is oversight of the Mayor. Which will also reduce some tensions. A strong scrutiny panel will also help him in the coming years when the money gets very tight. There have been some great scrutiny reviews that have added real value to the council in the last four years and more of this can only be of benefit to him and the council. He should also not be insulted or defensive if the decision is taken not to go in his cabinet. Again, for the reasons set out above, the election is still raw. He has his team that he selected and got elected to serve with him, to deliver the manifesto he stood on. It’s also not the Labour party’s job to bring equality to a cabinet that would otherwise have nothing of the sort. But that does not mean that they should not be constructive, and regular discussions should take place between him and the Labour leadership.

Labour can offer to discuss the urgent need to review the constitution (and potentially committees too) to ensure it is fit for purpose. There also needs to be a process set up for the appointment of permanent chief officers (and in my view a permanent CEO). As this is reserved to full council, it should be done following discussions between the two groups who should decide on a process and stick to it. Another four years of instability is good for no-one. A few years back, I, along with Cllrs Whitelock Gibbs, Peck and Francis, got agreement from Labour Group to establish a formal process of how it would work with Lutfur on key issues like this, but he failed to respond to the invitation (dismissing olive branches like that that did him no favours with moderates in group!) It may be useful for Labour Group to dust it off and reissue the invite.

Why should Lutfur do this and not just carry on as before? I’m sure he has people telling him to continue to ignore Labour and stick them at every turn and just keep pushing to get everything he wants. But he is going to have to lead the council through the most horrendous of cuts in the coming years as well as managing some significant changes and the impact of the cuts. He himself needs the space for his administration to deal with this and a de-escalation of tension will free up his time and energy do just that. If every council vote and issue isn’t fraught and on a knife edge, and issues are discussed and resolve constructively, his energies can be deployed on doing that job. Fair and constructive scrutiny from the Labour Group will help this. That would be for the good of the whole community. He also talks about wanting to be constructive; it’s a good chance to prove that he means it.



There is also the Blackwall and Cubitt Town by-election to consider, which will be a tough fight. While TH First will be buoyed by their results and are preparing to throw everything at it, realistically, I think our candidates have the best chance of taking the seats from the Tories after stealing a march on them in their Island stronghold. Making further ground here would send out a strong message ahead of the general election. While the party is a bit bruised, there is a lot of fight left and, from the conversations I have had, our members and our candidates are really geared up for it.

How TH First respond to this will be interesting. It is hard for them to call for reconciliation at the same time as fielding candidates that attack Labour, particularly if it is as ferociously as during the mayoral campaign. A hard campaign against Labour would drive a further wedge between groups (and surely kill of any last hope of re-admittance – nothing says I want to come back to the Labour party like standing against it in elections!) They could only ever end up on 21 seats, still short of a majority or, more likely, see the Tories pick them up.

If Lutfur were serious about wanting to come back to the party the clever thing to do would be to support the Labour Candidates in Blackwall, and then come out in full support of Jim Fitzpatrick and Rushanara for the general election. Could they ignore that? I never understood why he didn’t just do that for the original Spitalfields by-election. His support for Respect in numerous by-elections lost him the support of many who use to be more favourable to him.


Je ne regrette rien?

In politics it is also easy to look back and regret decisions. Should I have knocked on more doors, or said this and that, particularly if elections are close? But I have tried to do what I felt was right and worked incredibly hard. My only regret would be that I fell out with friends because of some of the approaches I took and decisions I made. Realistically, life outside of politics is more important than politics itself. Anwar Khan said to me at the count that sometimes people in politics turn into someone they never thought they would be. Maybe that happened to me a little and defeat now is the best thing for me to get back some perspective.


What will I do next?

I have been overwhelmed by the messages of support and thanks from residents, activists, council staff and others. I will miss being a councillor (some bits of it at least!) I don’t know what I will be doing from now on, but I want to continue helping people that need the most help. Defeat is only temporary, and it will be for me too. Maybe I’ll become a regular Trial By Jeory blogger! In the meantime I’ll be on the doors in Blackwall, there are Tories to defeat.

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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 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 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”.


“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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This is a guest post by Kazim Zaidi, Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s adviser who was Political Assistant to the Tower Hamlets Labour group when Lutfur ran the council as a member of the party between 2008-10. He lives in Bethnal Green.

*NOTE: Thursday, May 29, 4pm: Kazim Zaidi has asked me if he can clarify that while he continues to advise Lutfur Rahman on a voluntary basis, he has not been a paid adviser (in receipt of public funds) since March.

Kazim ZaidiIn 2010 it was the infamous “dodgy dossier” submitted by his 3rd placed rival that claimed Lutfur Rahman had been “brainwashed” by fundamentalists. These claims led to Rahman’s summary deselection as Labour’s candidate but have never been investigated.

Then there were claims of electoral fraud in two by-elections in 2012. Over 160 separate reports were investigated in one of the most comprehensive investigations ever conducted by the police and the Electoral Commission. Not a single one was found to have merit.

Not long after came claims that Rahman had been using “bogus” canvassers pretending to be from Tower Hamlets Homes. Another investigation was instigated at public expense and once again no evidence was found.

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 and highlighted his apparent reluctance to attend scrutiny meetings 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.

As for the car (now scrapped) it is a shame it was a Merc, but Mayors and Council leaders across the UK use similar transport. As for the rest, police found “no new credible evidence” of fraud and there are serious questions as to the process followed by the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles in sending in the inspectors.

Pickles claims to have had long-standing concerns about Tower Hamlets but chose to act weeks before an election. Not only that, these concerns were never raised with Rahman directly and repeated offers to meet went unanswered.

And now, despite securing 36,000 first preferences to Labour’s 27,000 on a high turnout, Rahman is again under the cosh with his beaten opponents claiming voter intimidation, harassment and fraud. Their hook for the story is the delayed European Election count – delayed, it appears, by the stringent Electoral Commission protocols put in place at the behest of opposition candidates to ensure the count was absolutely accurate and fair.

Those complaining in such lurid terms are beaten opposition politicians with a direct and vested interest in the story they’re selling to the national media. The fact they are complaining to the media, not the authorities, speaks volumes as to their motivation.

As Labour Group Political Assistant from 2008-10 I witnessed first-hand the party’s descent into civil war. The racial element has been massively played up, but for me it was a battle between Old and New Labour, between ex-student politicos, lobbyists and machine politicians on the one side and grassroots local campaigners who could actually mobilise a the vote on the other.

The fact that the middle class Blairites were almost exclusively white and the working class activists mainly Bangladeshi is an accident of history, as is the fact that Rahman came to power at a time when fear of Muslims and “Islamisation” is at an all time high.

It is these accidents, not his policy achievements that have dominated the narrative of his time in office, along with a resolute refusal by the Labour and the Tories in Tower Hamlets to work with him.

Lutfur’s not perfect by any means but all he’s asked is to be judged as any other local politician, with fair comparison to his fellow mayors and for people to judge him on his record. That has never happened or come close to happening.

In May 2010 as Leader, Rahman led the Labour Party to buck the national trend and gain councillors. He then won the Labour selection by a landslide. He won again as an Independent in the mayoral election in October of that year and last Thursday 37,390 people voted for him to be Mayor.

Rather than trying to ignore these facts or blaming the electorate or the system or making common cause with the Tories that are our natural foes the Labour Party needs to think hard on why that many natural Labour voters have consistently supported a man they so vilify.

One thing I can say for sure is that it isn’t an ethnic thing. I’m not a Bangladeshi and neither are many of the “Lutfurites” I know. I’m a middle-class north Londoner with Pakistani parents, a degree from a good university and a social conscience. I came to the East End wanting to work for the party I loved. I wanted to do some good. I wasn’t expecting a civil war, but when it happened, I went with my conscience. I’m still a party member and put my X next to the rose for the Euro ballot.

The last six years in Tower Hamlets has been nothing more than a civil war that got out of hand; it spilled out of the Labour Group room and into the Council chamber. If those who still seem unable to accept the result continue as they are, it will spill out onto the streets where even the cleverest machine politicians will not be able to manage it.

Lutfur has again said he’ll work with anyone who will work with him. One side in this ridiculous conflict has paused to stop and think.

It is time for the other to do the same.

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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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