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I’m a bit late with this news but it merits recording, not least because it reminds us just how closely linked Tower Hamlets is to the City of London whose the borders still contain pockets of deprivation.
Friday before last, Cllr Shiria Khatun was made a Freeman of the City of London. It’s a rare honour (although more common than I’d thought: some 1,800 people a year are granted the privilege) and one which dates back to 1237.
It was carried out in a court room at the Guildhall, where her guests included councillors Sirajul Islam, Rajib Ahmed, Helal Abbas and Bill Turner. Toynbee Hall chief executive Graham Fisher and David Goodhart, the Demos director and author of The British Dream, were also there, as was Munsur Ali, the chief executive of the Limelight Film Awards, whose new film Shongram about the aftermath of the 1971 War of Independence in Bangladesh is being shown at a private screening at Rich Mix tomorrow evening.
The ceremony itself lasted only a few minutes and was all quite fun, albeit slightly strange. It was conducted by Murray Craig, the Clerk of the Chamberlain’s Court, who I think fancies himself, with some justification, as a stand-up comic. In fact, it was all perfectly civilised and pleasant, but I must say I much prefer the violence and poison of the Tower Hamlets council chamber.
Contrary to popular legend, Shiria does not now have the right to drive sheep across Tower Bridge, but she does have the right to draw her sword within the City boundaries.
There’s more about the tradition here
One of the oldest surviving traditional ceremonies still in existence today is the granting of the Freedom of the City of London. It is believed that the first Freedom was presented in 1237.
The medieval term ‘freeman’ meant someone who was not the property of a feudal lord but enjoyed privileges such as the right to earn money and own land. Town dwellers who were protected by the charter of their town or city were often free – hence the term ‘freedom of the City.
From the Middle Ages and the Victorian era, the Freedom was the right to trade, enabling members of a Guild or Livery to carry out their trade or craft in the square mile. A fee or fine would be charged and in return the Livery Companies would ensure that the goods and services provided would be of the highest possible standards. In 1835, the Freedom was widened to incorporate not just members of Livery Companies but also people living or working in the City or there was a strong London connection.
The Freedom in the City today is still closely associated with membership of the City Livery Companies. Visit the Livery page for an insight into the fascinating history and modern role of the Livery.

Modern Freedom

Today most of the practical reasons for obtaining the Freedom of the City have disappeared. It nevertheless remains as a unique part of London’s history to which many people who have lived or worked in the City have been proud to be admitted.

Prior to 1996, the Freedom was only open to British or Commonwealth Citizens. Now, however, it has been extended globally and persons of any nationality may be admitted either through nomination or by being presented by a Livery Company. There is a long standing tradition of admitting women.

The City of London is keen to maintain the Freedom as a living tradition. The Freedom is open to all who are genuinely interested and invited or born to it. The City Freemen are a very broad cross-section of the population​.

photo 2Sorry, I’ve been a bit of a tease, haven’t I? The question you’re all asking is, ‘Why?’
Well, for the past couple of years, Shiria has been working with residents on the Portsoken estate which is in the Aldgate area and so within the City boundaries. In fact, it falls within the ancient Ward of Portsoken.
She’s been helping families, and women in particular, who are suffering isolation and mental health issues. She’s also been helping the City Police and the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) carry out the Prevent agenda of the Government’s counter-terrorism and extremism policy.
This has impressed elected figures in the City, two of whom Deputy Henry Jones and Common Council member John Fletcher. This is what John sent me by way of explanation:
I have known Shiria for more than two years, since when she has been working with residents in the Portsoken estate. Her role is very crucial when it come to engaging with residents on improving health as well as promoting and signposting them on to other services.

Shiria has been working with the ‘hard to reach’ residents, mainly women whose English is not too good. She has done an amazing job in reaching out to them and as a result these women are now participating in activities as well as volunteering.

Shiria has gone the extra mile by working with the City Police Prevent Team on engaging with women and families on how to engage with Prevent. As a result, Shiria went on to become the chair of the Shanaz Network which was set up by Acpo and the Home Office. It is the first network giving women all over the UK a platform to unite against terrorism of all kinds.

Shiria was nominated on to the network by the City Police Prevent Team. She does this on a voluntary basis and it’s in addition to her work with the City residents and her role as a Tower Hamlets councillor. She has gained the respect of residents and the City Common Councilmen and Aldermen here in the Ward of Portsoken as well as other City wards.

Shiria has contributed immensely to improving health of residents through engaging with them and facilitating activities that residents want to do. Shiria’s hard work and commitment to the residents of the City has resulted in us awarding her the Freedom of the City which she deserves.

And here’s Shiria’s own explanation:

I am really honoured and privileged to have been nominated for the Freedom of The City of London. I have been working with residents of the City for the last two years via Toynbee Hall.

The City is truly a fascinating place. It’s not all about the corporate industry, there are some amazing people living there too. Walking around the City you get to see some of the historical buildings that still exist as well as new emerging glass type office buildings.

My work involves working with residents of the Portsoken estate (previously many years ago was part of Tower Hamlets).

When I first came to this estate two years ago I was amazed to see how residents co-existed with each other in harmony. Neighbours supporting and helping each other as family members would. As it’s a small ward/estate, the majority of the residents know each other well and this makes it easier to know who’s who and what’s what.

You might be asking where the issues are? Well, there are significantly high health issues and this is where my role comes in to place. Working with residents and City of London departments I have been trying to reduce health issues/inequalities affecting residents of Portsoken. What are some of the health issues you ask? Well, like the neighbouring borough Tower Hamlets, residents of Portsoken have/are experiencing something similar such as diabetes, heart disease, physical inactivity and mental health problems.

I must say it is impressive how the City of London has been supportive of its residents in Portsoken to reduce those health issues. Through key interventions there has been a visible reduction in physical inactivity. For me this is rewarding knowing that I have been able to help many residents to better their lifestyles through healthy eating, exercise and the many other interventions on offer.

I decided to go even further by giving up some of my extra time beyond my working hours to work with the City of London’s PREVENT team, who nominated me on to the Shanaz Network which was initially set up by ACPO and the Home Office approx two years ago (I have only been involved with the network since last November). It is the first network of women from all over the UK countering terrorism and radicalisation of all forms.

The women on the network like myself have been nominated by local/regional PREVENT teams. I am the Chair of this network.

Now you’re probably asking where I find time to attend/deal with Shanaz Network business? Well I take annual leave for all this; yes, I do because I feel this is an important piece of work and for the first time we now have a platform for women to come together and have their say.

After all, who better than women to know what’s happening in their communities and how best to keep it safe? I was invited to attend the last Extremism Task Force meeting where I made my contribution.

As stated before I am honoured to be awarded Freedom of The City of London. My family, friends and colleagues have shown immense enthusiasm and support.

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Shiria with City of London Clerk Murray Craig

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It’s being said the biggest problem John Biggs is going to have in beating Lutfur Rahman this May is his skin colour. Race and accusations of racism haunt Tower Hamlets politics like nowhere else.

The allegation is chucked around like confetti by politicians who really should be guarding and upholding the meaning of the word for those who are truly victims of it.

Very often those who feel so wronged are also sadly blind to the teeny-weeny possibility it’s they who might just possibly be the racist.

But are all parties institutionally racist to some degree? That’s possible as well.

anwarTake the case of Bow West councillor Anwar Khan. I wrote about him here last month when he was finally dropped as Labour candidate for the May election. I’d previously written that would have been a shame because as a successful professional in the City, he was a role model for young Bengalis.

At that time, I wasn’t aware he was in dispute with the council he represents over a parking issue. The allegation is that Anwar abused a parking  attendant, but Anwar says it was he who was abused. There’s an ongoing investigation.

Separately, there was another parking matter in which Anwar had been raising a number of member’s enquiries to argue a case for a constituent. Cllr Carlo Gibbs, Labour’s chief whip, made reference to that to the party’s selection panel, but apparently got his facts wrong. That said, there does seem to have been some concern in Labour circle about Anwar’s temper.

I’ve also been told that Anwar was involved in some smear campaign against John Biggs last year led by a former enemy of the Labour mayoral candidate. Anwar denies that as well.

When the deselection decision came through last month, Anwar said he would maintain a dignified and noble silence. He told me he’d maintain the moral high ground and wait to fight another day. He scoffed at the suggestion he might stand as a Lutfurite or help in the mayor’s campaign. He said he would make a more detailed statement in the New Year and when I asked him about the parking issue, he said he was unable to comment.

That conversation took place on December 11.

Yesterday, he sent me a press release that he’d sent out on December 18 in which he re-iterated comments he’d made that day at a press conference he’d called in Spitalfields. He forgot to invite me.

What he did say is detailed painstakingly here. This is a straight copy and paste from his press release and it’s worth reading all of it.

Labour Councillor Anwar Khan, representing Bow West in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, confirmed at a press conference in his home ward of Spitalfields that he will not be standing in the 2014 Local Government Elections.

Councillor Anwar Khan challenged John Biggs AM, City and East to provide valid reasons for his deselection and felt that the bullying that he has been subjected to has been an injustice to the community that he has served for the last four years.

Councillor Anwar Khan raised serious questions about the integrity of the selection process. Councillor Anwar Khan attached an email that went to the Labour Party selection committee from the current serving Chief Whip, Councillor Carlo Gibbs representing the St. Peters ward.

In that email, Councillor Anwar Khan confirmed that there were false accusations and lies that influenced the decision of the committee.

Councillor Anwar Khan said “there has been a false allegation made about a parking ticket incident, which is not true. I have not received a parking ticket for about 4 years”.

He continued, “Looks like John Biggs and the Labour superiors haven’t learnt from the dodgy dossiers in 2010. We have yet another set of lies and another dodgy dossier. This certainly is a déjà vu moment, one dodgy dossier is bad enough, but two goes to show the heart of Labour politics needs be more transparent and removed of the nastiness”.

Councillor Anwar Khan said “ if that wasn’t enough, Carlo Gibbs, Johns Biggs Chief Whip, hit the nail in the head with an email suggesting that he has the power to “stitch me up” if he wanted to. The exact quote from Carlo Gibbs is “if I wanted (or still did want) to stitch you up, I could easily have given them some of the emails”.

I am disgusted and horrified that John Biggs and Carlo did not allow the course of the selection process to work and this email just proves, the selection process overseen by John Biggs wasn’t whiter than white”.

Councillor Anwar Khan also questioned, it seems odd, that John decided to deselect genuine hard working Labour Councillors in favour of defected Respect activists. He said “Hard working sitting Labour councillors and activists are ditched in favour of Respect members, this doesn’t make sense”.

See attached email evidence from Carlo Gibbs – “stitch up email” and the “dodgy email” about the parking ticket.

Councillor Khan stated that on one hand, Johns Biggs AM (also proxy Leader of Labour Group) talks about, making politics in Tower Hamlets healthier and cleaner, such as the motion agreed in council on the allegations against the Mayor on paid canvassers in the last council meeting.

Councillor Anwar Khan said “it strikes me that John Biggs is accusing others of nasty politics, when he needs to get his house in order first”. The lies and false information from the Chief Whip shows that this isn’t the case and this is certainly not healthy for the good people of Tower Hamlets.

Councillor Anwar Khan said, “what was stopping John from asking me, whether I received a parking ticket or not and why did he feel the need to use Carlo to do the dirty work and write these false emails”.

Councillor Khan also confirmed that he was given an additional interview, which was one more than everyone else, which is unfair to all those who only got one.

He said, “it looks like they have been after me and simply fishing for a reason, in the additional interview, a regional officer, who was supposed to be an observer led the questioning, I think that was quite unfair, and I am concerned that he may have been subject to information that was provided by third parties, he even said that he was only an observer and won’t do any questioning”.

He went on to say “it is also surprising that others were only interviewed once, then why was I interviewed twice.”

Anwar Khan continued “in the Whips report that was prepared by Carlo Gibbs, once again there was reference to a “disciplinary matter”, that disciplinary matter, was actually me trying to do my job as a councillor to help a resident get a parking permit. If Carlo just asked me, why I have been challenging officers, I would have given him an explanation, that it was an ongoing issue for about 4 years where the resident has been misled about his car parking permit, I have tried to help the resident and the council have been unreasonable, as the resident was lied to that his new house offered a street permit, when in actual fact it was a car free zone.

Why and how that becomes a disciplinary matter is quite beyond belief, I was just doing my job to serve my constituents, what I was elected to disciplinary matter. And how can this be a disciplinary matter, they didn’t give me a chance to explain that.

All very botched up and this isn’t the reason I came into politics, I came into politics to represent people and that’s exactly what I did. I am a community councillor, not a town hall technocrat or bureaucrat”.

Councillor Anwar Khan, said, “there have been no reasons provided to me with regards to the reasons for my deselection. I have worked hard for the people of Bow, and I am confident there is not a single complaint against me from the community. I have one of the highest member’s enquiry rates”.

Member’s enquiries are a key measure of how effectively councillors are representing their constituents. He said, that the community should decide on which Councillors are hard working and which Councillors aren’t, they should review the members enquiry numbers for themselves.

Councillor Anwar Khan said “as his Shadow Cabinet Lead for Employment, I led the policy forum on economic growth and employment in Tower Hamlets.,

John talks about helping young graduates into jobs in the City and Canary Wharf, I am a local graduate working in the City and have helped many people into jobs in Canary Wharf, then why has John deselected me, it seems to me, that as soon as they fear that someone from the Bengali community is outspoken, and can challenge John’s politics, they easiest thing to do is to remove them. Why remove someone who has achieved something that you want other young people to achieve.

– ENDS – 

Notes:

1. Councillor Anwar Khan was elected in 2010 in the ward of Bow West, winning a conservative seat from Anwara Ali, a local GP.

2. Councillor Anwar Khan has lived in Tower Hamlets all his life, went to Osmani Primary School, Swanlea School. He studied in Newham Sixth Form and later achieved his undergraduate degree in Cass Business School, and has a Masters in Global Politics.

3. Councillor Anwar khan, lives in Spitalfields with his family

4. Councillor Anwar Khan works in the financial services industry in the City of London

5. Councillor Anwar Khan also served in Shadow Cabinet in all years, including holding the role of Shadow Cabinet Member for Resources and is currently the Shadow Cabinet Member for Economic Growth, Regeneration and Employment.

6. Councillor Anwar Khan was the Chief Whip for the first 3 years. During his term he also served as the Chairman of the Pensions Committee.

7. Councillor Anwar Khan has been one of the longest serving Chief Whips in the Labour Group. 

A lot to take in I agree and such injustices, but I was grabbed by this line in particular:

as soon as they fear that someone from the Bengali community is outspoken, and can challenge John’s politics, they easiest thing to do is to remove them

I asked him if he genuinely believed what amounted to an allegation of racism and he said he stood by his words. He said John wanted a group he could control, people who went ‘yes sir, no sir, three bags full, sir’. He said John had reacted badly when he, Anwar, challenged John’s choice for a health scrutiny role. John would dump anyone who stood up to him, he added.

And then came the poisoned arrow.

He asked how many of the current crop of Labour Bengali councillors are unemployed or “have ever had a proper job”. He said John was encouraging young people to go to university and look for a job, yet he was picking candidates who were the very opposite of that while deselecting him and Mizan Chaudhury, a professional civil servant.

So I asked a friend of his who he had in mind. Well, said this friend, look at the following:

Cllr Abdul Mukith Chunu – unemployed, serves as board member for Spitalfields housing association 

Cllr Rajib Ahmed – mini cab driver

Cllr Abdal Ullah – unemployed/ BBPower100 consultant/ President of Stepney FC/showboating councillor who does community radio

Cllr Motin Uz Zaman – long term unemployed 

Cllr Helal Abbas – Charity Outreach worker

Cllr Siraj Islam – works part time for two days a week at East London Business Alliance

Cllr Khales Uddin Ahmed – owns a restaurant in Bexley Heath

Cllr Helal Uddin – director at Bromley by Bow centre

Sanu Miah – St Peter’s candidate – long term unemployed and unsuccessful businessman

Faruk Ahmed – Whitechapel candidate – Works for Sonali Otith football club  

Cllr Shiria Khatun – community worker 

I suggested that many of these jobs, eg Rajib working as a minicab driver, meant they were more likely to be in touch with constituents than full time City professionals like Anwar. But the friend said “at least he lives in Tower Hamlets”.

There’s a few more things I could write from my discussions but I think this is enough for now!

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