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Posts Tagged ‘robin wales’

One of the accusations regularly chucked the way of Newham mayor Sir Robin Wales is that he buys off the support of his Labour colleagues by giving them all paid jobs.

In Tower Hamlets, there are 23 Labour councillors (out of 45 in total), so they control the town hall.

At Wednesday night’s full council meeting, the Labour group will nominate (and so highly likely vote through) paid/Special Responsibility Allowance posts for, er, all 23 of its councillors.

And of course, as my last piece detailed, all these will in some way receive a pay rise.

The proposals agreed at the recent AGM of the Labour group are:

Cabinet/Mayoral advisors: Helal Uddin, Dave Chesterton, Denise Jones

Chair of Development: Marc Francis

Chair of Licensing: Rajib Ahmed

Speaker of the Council: Khales Uddin Ahmed 

Deputy Speaker: Sabina Akhtar

Chair of Overview & Scrutiny Committee: John Pierce

Scrutiny Lead Members for Labour: Amina Ali (Development & renewal); Clare Harrison (Chair of Health Scrutiny); Abdul Mukit Chunu MBE (Resources).

Chief Whip and Chair of the new General Purposes, Appeals and HR Committee: Danny Hassell 

Chair of Audit Committee: Candida Ronald

Chair of Pension Committee: Andrew Cregan

And the Cabinet members remain the same, so:

Sirajul Islam: Housing management and performance (and statutory deputy mayor)

Shiria Khatun: Community safety and deputy mayor

Rachael Saunders: Education and children’s services, and deputy mayor

Rachel Blake: Strategic development 

Asma Begum: Culture 

David Edgar: Resources

Ayas Miah: Environment

Joshua Peck: Work and economic growth

Amy Whitelock Gibbs: Health and adult services

Mayor: John Biggs

That Cllr Chunu Mukit MBE, formerly the chair of Spitalfields Housing Association’s audit committee, is to be given a scrutiny lead for resources, eg examining the way money is spent and how expenses are claimed, is of particular note. Senior Labour figures are full aware of this. Watch this space.

 

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Firstly, thank you to the new wind blowing through East End Life (and to the reader who spotted it) for providing me with a new banner photo for this blog. Historic.

Secondly, good luck to all the candidates for the bust-up on June 11. Peter Golds was selected as the Tory candidate on Monday after a hustings at the Bow Belles pub in Bow Road. He secured 33 votes against seven for the only other candidate Ahmed Hussain. Ahmed’s pitch was that the Tory party needed to show more that it can and does reach out to the Bengali community. It’s worth noting that he’s taken much flak from people he had considered friends for siding with the Conservatives and he has played an important role in recent events over at the Royal Courts of Justice. Fortune favours the brave.

This is the full list of candidates as per the close of nominations on Thursday afternoon:

Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 10.59.20

The candidates in the post-Alibor Choudhury Stepney Green by-election are:

Stepney Green

[Abu Chowdhury is the neo-Tower Hamlets First candidate. His LinkedIn profile is here. He used to be a caseworker in Lutfur’s office, his dad is a boss at the notorious London Bangla ‘newspaper’  , and worst of all he appears to be a Chelsea supporter. Anyway, good luck to him.]

Thirdly, over the coming days, Andy Erlam, John Biggs and Rabina Khan will be writing articles here explaining why they’re standing and what improvements they’d like to make to the way the council is run in the wake of the Lutfur Rahman eviction. Rabina’s article will hopefully explain why she’s insisting she’s not a “puppet” of Lutfur Rahman and very much her own woman, yet at the same time plastering his face all over her election leaflets (and engaging the dodgy invoice writer Cllr Ghulam Rabbani as her election agent, and appearing to fail to disclose who is promoting her leaflets and her campaign website):

rabina khan

 

Fourthly, there seems to be something of an edit war going on over Rabina Khan’s Wikipedia page. It’s had an awful lot of attention this month and as a result, it has this warning at the top:

Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 11.06.39

 

There is a discussion about this among the Wikipedia editors here. One editor has questioned whether she, as a mere councillor, is actually “notable” enough to have a Wiki page.

The neutrality warning works both ways of course: it can apply as a warning to her or her supporters, for example, or to her enemies. Either way, over the past two weeks entries that have been critical of her have been added and removed several times.

The edit warring has been taking place, not surprisingly, over the section ‘Political career’. As of Saturday morning (today), this is how it stood:

Rabina 1 Wiki

 

ie

Electoral corruption

In April 2015 following the discharging of office of the former Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman, Khan along with the remaining 17 Tower Hamlets First councillors were all named by Commissioner Richard Mawrey QC as being elected to Tower Hamlets Council as a result of corrupt and illegal practices.

At various other times references to her husband Cllr Aminur Khan’s association with the IFE have been added and deleted.

The same also applies to the taxi bills that Rabina racked up and which were later reported here on this blog. The following sentence has made its way on to the Wiki page, only to be deleted repeatedly within hours:

taxis

ie

In February 2013 Khan was widely critized for her use of taxi’s at taxpayer’s expense whilst apparently undertaking duties as a councilor. On one occasion Khan billed the taxpayer for £120 for a journey of just 1.5 miles.[20]

The reference number 20 at the end of that sentence is to the piece I wrote on this blog in 2013. Despite those figures coming directly from council papers, a Wikipedia editor stated that wasn’t a strong enough source and deleted the entry.

All this can be seen in the Revision History of Rabina’s wiki page here. In total, there have been 65 edits since April 25 when it was clear that Rabina would become Lutfur’s nomination.

So who’s been behind all these edits?

The revision history gives us a few IP addresses. One, which has been adding in some of the critical stuff, ie 91.213.110.4, is Tower Hamlets council IP address. So this is someone who works there. This IP address also matches an account called A Wikia Contributor at the London Birders Club. And on Wikipedia, this IP address has also been responsible for deleting information from the Wikipedia page of Labour councillor Shiria Khatun. I don’t know who this is and the IP address has never left a comment on this blog.

A couple of the other IP addresses listed on the revision history as having added in critical sections about Rabina also match IP addresses that have left comments on this blog before. Again, I don’t know the real names behind these people.

One of the most active critics has been a Wiki user called OneTowerHamlets, whose IP address details do not appear. Perhaps someone can help me with that.

Those who have been deleting the critical comments on Wikipedia fall into two categories: responsible Wiki editors who are trying to determine what’s accurate or not, e.g. PatGallacher; and those who have only a very recent Wikipedia editing account. One of those falling into the latter category complained that the taxi fares were being cited from a blog. They suggested this was against Wikipedia rules. Seems a silly rule to me. This same user was warned by another Wikipedia regular that their IP address appeared to be “very close to the individual in question”, ie Rabina.

The mystery of it all, eh? Politicos seem obsessed with editing Wikipedia. Such strange people.

Interestingly, of the challengers from the two other main parties in Tower Hamlets, only John Biggs has a Wikipedia entry. It’s small and straightforward (could make a Biggs campaign logo that possibly…).

John Biggs wikipedia

Peter Golds, meanwhile, appears in another person’s Wiki entry – that of Norma Major. Here:

Norma Major

I wonder if Peter could persuade Sir John Major to bring his soap box for a bit of campaigning.

Meanwhile, tomorrow it’s the Boishakhi Mela in Victoria Park. Le merde could be about to hit the fan on the running of that event…again. The Commissioners at a public meeting at the town hall this week decided to reject a £75,000 request for a council grant/subsidy because they were unhappy that fully audited accounts had not yet been provided for previous years and because of concerns the Mela was becoming too much of a commercial venture.

The man behind the Mela of course is our old friend, Shiraj Haque…Lutfur Rahman’s backer. He lost control of it in 2007 following a damning audit report commissioned by then council chief executive Martin Smith (would he ever return??) and then leader Denise Jones. After Lutfur became Mayor, Shiraj was able to take charge again (with the blessing of Stephen Halsey).

In the past couple of years, the trust/charity that runs the Mela (let’s see if the Charity Commission have a closer look at that arrangement) had more luck with its grant applications. In 2012, Lutfur gave it £180,000, in 2013 £170,000 and last year £100,000. The latter two amounts came from the infamous £954k slush fund identified by the PwC auditors last year.

The Commissioners will no doubt be blamed by some if as a result the Mela trust falls into the red, but good for them for being tough. Senior officers should have had more balls in the past.

The Mela is a great event and it’s right that it’s given the use of Victoria Park for free (a cost worth £25,000). The problem is with the people running it. I’m sure it’s not just me who’d like to see a full forensic audit carried out. Perhaps the council should just run it entirely again. After all, Sir Robin Wales runs a successful Mayor’s Day in Newham every year.

Meanwhile, the council continues to deflect any questions over scrutiny.

Here’s a Freedom of Information request that I asked on this earlier this year.

FOI 11843 Boishakhi Mela 

Please supply all documentation, but primarily third party invoices, provided by the trust responsible for the Boishakhi Mela to support /justify its receipt of council money. I’d also like to see the trust’s detailed accounts. This request relates to four years: 2011-14. For example, in the case of the security company used for Mela, I’d like to see all invoices submitted by the hired contractor. I’d like to see the results of any council post-audit of its grants to the mela for each of those years. 

Response 

In 2011 the Mela was run by the council and there is therefore no trust involved or information falling under the scope of this request. 

For 2012 and 2013, invoices are held by externally commissioned auditors and we have asked for these to be provided to us. I will contact you once they are received. The invoices for 2014 are not yet collected. 

The audit report for 2012 has been completed and is held by the Council However the Council is of the view that this is exempt from disclosure under section 41 of the FOI Act 2000, as information provided in confidence. The audit report disclosure would constitute a breach of confidence actionable by the author of that information. The Terms of Business under which the report was commissioned stipulate that that the report is confidential and for the exclusive use [of the Council] and must be used solely, for the purpose described in the Engagement Letter. Disclosure of the audit report would, therefore, constitute an actionable breach of confidence and the Council could be subject to claim for breach of contract as such. Section 41 is an absolute exemption. 

It is also considered that section 40(2) would also be applicable to parts of the audit report as it contains personal data. 

The requested information is (or contains) the personal data of other people. Section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act sets out an exemption for third party data if disclosure of the information to a member of the public otherwise than under FOIA would contravene any of the data protection principles. 

The first data protection principles states that we can only disclose the personal data if to do so would be fair, lawful and meet one of the conditions in Schedule 2 of the DPA. 

This means that, if the disclosure would not be fair, the information must not be disclosed. It is considered that the provision of this information would not be fair as the person it relates to would not expect the information to be released in this way. This is an absolute exemption and the information cannot be provided to you. 

Furthermore, the Council is of the view that it’s disclose is also exempt under Section 43 as its disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of the Trust, auditors and the Council. This is because the report contains detailed information relating to the governance structure and accounting/banking arrangements of the Trust. It could, in our opinion, be prejudicial to the Trust’s commercial interests if this information was disclosed to a third party. Appendix 2 to the Report contains the Auditors Engagement Letter and thus sets out the confidential terms on which they agreed to perform the services for the Council. It contains details of the fee, engagement team and other terms of engagement. Such information is commercially sensitive and in the hands of a competitor is likely to cause prejudice in terms of tendering for future work. 

This is a qualified exemption, and in considering the Public Interest the Council has weighed up the factor in favour of disclosure which are: 

• further the understanding of, and participation in the debate of issues of the day; 

• facilitate the accountability and transparency of public authorities for decisions taken by them; 

• allow individuals to understand decisions made by public authorities affecting their lives and, in some cases, assist individuals in challenging those decisions; 

On the other hand, the council has considered 

* the impact on the commercial interest of Trust, auditors and the Council 

* the need to obtain value for money which is likely to be compromised by disclosure 

* the audit offers scrutiny and accountability to the process in accordance with the contract 

I am sorry but based on these three exemptions we are unable to disclose the information requested 

The 2013 audit is yet to be completed and the 2014 audit has not yet commenced. 

The Trusts detailed accounts are not held by the Council and are the property of the Trust. You can access their published accounts at Companies House 

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I asked Nick McQueen, the new Ukip candidate for Tower Hamlets mayor to write a short piece to introduce himself and to outline some of his views and how he would improve the borough. I also asked him for his views on the important second preference vote that Labour’s John Biggs is probably relying on.

Below is Nick’s piece and below that, I’m copying the short manifesto Ukip has drawn up for Tower Hamlets.

The three things that stand out for me in terms of headline grabbers are the decriminalisation of heroin in Tower Hamlets (to get rid of the dealers, but which could also have the effect of attracting every junkie in London to the borough); new “Moses” clubs in every school to help children of different faiths mix more; and the abolition of the council funded “mother tongue” classes for Bengali families (something I and many others including David Goodhart have called for).

I think this should prompt a good discussion….Here’s Nick’s piece:

Why I am Standing

I am an East Ender born and bred. My life experiences set me apart from the political class. They are trained to argue for policies that they do not believe in but in the East End we call that lying. Instead I will be honest, transparent and accountable.

Children in the borough are suffering. Some of them are being fed soup at the end of the month.

Others are being segregated due to the current mayors policies, and the funding for their clubs has been taken away. There is overcrowding in the borough I grew up in the East End but I have never known it this bad. I want to fight for the multi-cultural, multi-religious society of London’s East End.

The East End is not a colour, we all become as one. A community is assessed NOT on how well the rich live, but on how well we look after the less fortunate.

My Views of the Current Mayor Lutfur Rahman

Mr Rahman uses policies of segregation rather than integration – for example his “mother tongue” lessons. The mayor of Newham (Sir Robin Wales) has recently accused him of bringing a form of apartheid to Tower Hamlets. He rarely speaks in the council meetings. He does not have the interests of the whole community at heart. Have you ever seen him at Canary Wharf standing up for the City, one of our country’s most important industries and a major source of the tax revenue that funds our public services?

Would I like Rahman out at Any Cost?

Yes of course I want him out. But the answer is not to elect a different socialist administration under Labour. Their candidate John Biggs will keep his role on the London Assembly – we don’t need a part-time mayor. He ran the council for a number of years and the Labour Party created Rahman. Would you give a lighter back to a previous arsonist?

The Tory candidate (Chris Wilford) has been parachuted in. He has no real background in the East End and is currently talking about potholes. We need something very different for Tower Hamlets – UKIP can be that difference.

How Can UKIP Make the Borough Better?

We will breathe new life into the borough with our policies. UKIP does not have a whip in local government, which gives our councillors freedom to fight for the specific things that matter to their electors.

 We are very different to the other parties. See my views on the decriminalisation of drugs to solve the heroin problem in the borough. I will use council resources to generate more money.

See my vision for an East End Wonderland every year in Victoria Park.

I will introduce free breakfast clubs for primary school kids and after-school “Moses” clubs to bring together children from all backgrounds (Moses is a prophet to the Jews, Christians and Muslims).

I want grammar schools for the academically-gifted children and trade schools for those of a practical disposition so that they can learn the real skills they need to earn good money in the trades.

I will support small businesses in the borough by easing the bureaucracy and making the council more responsive. I have been in business for most of my life so I know what it is like. And I will always stand up for Canary Wharf and oppose EU interference. The City gave me my start in life – I started a business providing the plants for their offices.

I will support genuine civic groups as long as they are for the whole community, to promote integration rather than separation.

The conduct of the council meetings is a disgrace. UKIP will restore order and dignity to the proceedings.

I will bring in forensic accountants to go over the books and look for asset stripping and misappropriation, and I will prosecute those responsible. Those accountants will also find me millions of pounds of savings and I will be ruthless in cutting out waste.

I will support the arts in the borough and will find a permanent site for Old Flo.

Do I Have Bengali Support and Candidates?

I know a lot of Bangladeshis – some of them are my next-door neighbours. They have promised me their vote because like the rest of the community they are fed up with the current system. Why should they be any different? Their kids are also being targeted by the heroin pushers. So yes, I have Bengali support. But no, we do not yet have any Bengali candidates. If anyone from that community is interested in standing for UKIP please contact me.

We only formed the UKIP branch in December, so we are starting from behind. We do not have the local structure and activist base that the other parties have. We have set ourselves the goal of finding twenty candidates – one for each ward – so that everyone in Tower Hamlets who wants to vote for UKIP can do so. That would be a massive achievement.

Second Preference Votes

We are in this to win. I want people’s first preference votes only. If you want UKIP and the change that we will bring then you should vote only for me and my councillor candidates. If you absolutely must vote for your old party – Tory or Labour – then please lend me your second preference votes (and please give our councillors one of your votes on that ballot). We are not instructing our supporters to give their second preference votes to anyone.

I am getting the support of working class people, Conservatives, Labour, and also from people who have never voted before. Our challenge is to get enough of the people who have given up on politics to register to vote. Our first flyer simply has UKIP on it and the contact details for the voter registration department at the council.

The following is from the Tower Hamlets Ukip website:

My Plan

  • Zero tolerance on heroin to protect our youth.
  • Free breakfast clubs and school dinners for primary school children.
  • East End Wonderland at Victoria park to raise funds for open spaces.
  •  “Moses clubs” in all schools to bring the different races and religions together, with special activity programmes during the holidays.
  • Quickly create new primary schools by using existing college buildings.
  • Grammar schools for the academically gifted and trade and technical schools for those of a more practical disposition.
  • I want community integration rather than segregation.
  • My office will be fully transparent and accountable.
  • I will bring in forensic accountants to look for asset stripping and misappropriated funds, and I will prosecute those responsible.
  • I will promote culture and art in the borough and find a permanent site for Old Flo.
  • I will support businesses, for example with a late license for Brick Lane.
  • I will always stand up for Canary Wharf and oppose EU interference in our vital financial services industry.
  • I will replace the mayoral dictatorship with a fully democratic system.
  • I will cut open the belly of this beast for everyone to look inside.

Budget savings to implement my plans

My accountants will find millions of pounds in savings by cutting unnecessary spending. But the following “quick wins” can be implemented straight away.

  • Abolish unnecessary expenditure on faith buildings.
  • Abolish “mother tongue” lessons.
  • Abolish the mayoral car and highly-paid advisors.
  • Stop the translation of information into foreign languages, removing the need for council-funded translators.
  • Scrap the East End Life propaganda newspaper.

Personal message from Nicholas

Dear Voter,

I’m aware of the ups and downs of life and how difficult it is to cope with the austerity measures that we are all experiencing, be it on an individual basis or from a family or business perspective. Let me explain to you my political position. In some ways I go further than Labour when it comes to delivering social protection. In other ways my policies are more conservative than those promised by the Conservatives.

I truly believe that the basic human needs – heating, eating and housing – must be affordable to the community, especially where children are concerned. For example, children cannot learn if they are underfed and this is unfortunately happening in our borough. Hence my commitment regarding the school breakfast clubs. A community is assessed not on how well the rich live but on how well we look after the less fortunate among us.

I’ve been in business for most of my life and I understand how much we need good businesses to create jobs and pay taxes, which is why I support the growth and expansion of the business and financial districts in the borough, and I will help them above and beyond expectations.

The middle section of my politics is libertarian – the philosophy that places the highest value on personal freedom and limited government. More liberty helps us all to achieve more, to be happier and healthier, and it will make the community a better place to live in. I will integrate libertarianism with modern-day politics to confront the problems that we face today.

The national leadership of UKIP does not dictate our policy in local government but leaves us free to do what we need to in the local setting. UKIP is the fastest growing party in the UK because it is for everyone, especially the working man and woman. We believe that if you work then you should be better off. When we run the borough you will benefit. When we run the country it will be strong once again.

I was born and bred in the East End. I am old school, but my life experiences set me apart from the schoolboys that have been running the borough. My promises set out above will breathe new life into the borough, making it a better place to live and work. Our history, and our multicultural diverse community is what makes Tower Hamlets one of the most dynamic places in the world and one of the most interesting places to live and work.

Thank you for reading this, and I hope you will support my campaign for the greater good of our local community.

Love East End. Vote UKIP. Vote Nicholas McQueen for Mayor. 

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Lutfur Rahman’s army of media advisers normally send me their press releases but I seem to have been left off the distribution list for this one that went out on Saturday:

Mayor to scrap council car

Transparency a top priority during election period

Mayor Lutfur Rahman has announced that he will be giving up the official car in the lead up to the 2014 local elections.

Mayor Rahman said: “Although I will continue to work hard and deliver for the people of Tower Hamlets up to 22nd May and beyond, I will naturally be attending more political meetings in the next few months.

“In order to ensure that the highest standards of probity and transparency are maintained, I will no longer be making use of the official car and I hope that the Labour Speaker of the Council will follow my example.”

Ends

Notes to editors:

Mayor Rahman is setting a precedent. Other local authorities provide transportation for Council Leaders and Mayors including:

· Lewisham, where the Mayor has a chauffeur driven car.
· Newham, where Robin Wales has use of a pool car.
· Kensington and Chelsea which maintains a £125,000 Bentley Continental.
· Redbridge which maintains £123,000 two stretch Jaguars.
· The car is leased and will be returned to the leasing company and the driver redeployed within the Council.

So the Mayor who has failed to answer a single question from councillors or residents in the council chamber during his entire time in office is now a great believer in “probity and transparency”.

The council stated here that the cost of the Mercedes it was forced to lease to meet Lutfur’s ego has been £42,300 a year. That’s £161 for every working day. During the three years he’s had it, the total bill to the taxpayer (during a time of heavy cuts from Whitehall remember) has been more than £120,000.

This £120,000 has come at the expense of frontline budgets. He’s made great play of proclaiming his Mayor’s Education Award, which allows a limited number of hard up students to apply for £400 cash bursaries. If he’d done what John Biggs said he’d do as Mayor and use public transport (or his own), Lutfur would have been able to give an extra 300 of those precious awards.

And look how Lutfur signs off with such grace:

I hope that the Labour Speaker of the Council will follow my example

The current Speaker is Cllr Lesley Pavitt, who is retired.

lesley pavitt

By pretty much universal opinion, she’s been the best chair of the council in many years, respected on all sides for the neutral way she’s tried to stamp out the immature behaviour of councillors from all parties.

I don’t know how she travels to ceremonial events at the moment, but I don’t think anyone (apart from the Thomas Cromwell convert Lutfur) would begrudge her anything less than a Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder, don’t you think?

In fact, here’s one that costs £120,000…

Labour have been good on this issue and were quick today with their response, which is below:

Lutfur Rahman bows to pressure and suspends use of tax payer funded Mercedes

– Last June John Biggs pledged to scrap car immediately if elected

– Rahman will only suspend car during election period

After months of pressure from Labour councillors Lutfur Rahman, the controversial independent Mayor of Tower Hamlets, has announced he would suspend his use of his £42,000 a year tax payer funded Mercedes until after the election.

Rahman’s u-turn comes after a damning report into the car from the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee and a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary which found the Mayor using the chauffeur driven car to collect dry-cleaning and travel distances as short as 0.2 miles.

Despite widespread criticism Rahman only pledged his intention to drop his car “in the lead up to the 2014 local elections” prompting Labour councillors to label it a “disingenuous election stunt”.

Labour believe the Mayor should make use of the borough’s extensive public transport system instead of wasting tens of thousands of pounds on a luxury chauffeured car. Labour’s candidate for Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs pledged back in June that he would scrap the car if elected later this year.

Responding to Rahman’s call to scrap the Speaker of the Council’s car Labour highlighted that the Speaker is politically impartial and is not standing for re-election. They also pointed out that the Speaker is required to use a car in order to protect the Council’s ceremonial chains of office which are worth thousands of pounds.

Responding to Rahman’s u-turn Leader of the Labour Group, Cllr Sirajul Islam, said: “This is nothing more than a disingenuous election stunt from Lutfur Rahman. If he had any integrity he’d permanently scrap his taxpayer funded chauffeured Mercedes and admit it is a total waste of money.

“It’s totally wrong that Lutfur Rahman thinks a taxpayer funded life of luxury is acceptable, especially in one of the country’s most deprived boroughs.”

Labour candidate for Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, said: “Three years and over 100,000 taxpayer pounds later, Lutfur Rahman has decided to temporarily stop being chauffer driven around because his lawyers have told him he cannot stretch his misuse of public funds into the election period.”

“The best way to end this kind of abuse for good is to vote for me on 22nd May.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But who would deliver them for Labour?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does he suffer racial abuse now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The earlier the mingling starts in life, the better.

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

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

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

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

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

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This motion has been submitted by the Labour group to the full meeting of Tower Hamlets council on November 27 (declaration: I now live near the airport). It seems The Tower Hamlets Labour group might be on collision course with Labour’s Sir Robin Wales in Newham…

London City Airport

Proposer: Cllr Ann Jackson

Seconder: Cllr Motin Uz-Zaman

This Council notes that:

  • The significant noise nuisance experienced by many Tower Hamlets residents caused by planes taking off from London City Airport
  • This noise nuisance continues to increase as permitted aircraft movements increase by 50,000 to 120,000 a year.
  • This Council unanimously resolved to oppose any further expansion of London City Airport and has raised its concerns about the noise nuisance experienced by its residents but been consistently ignored by the Airport.

This Council further notes that:

  • London City Airport will shortly apply to the London Borough of Newham for expansion of stands at the airport, to facilitate the growth of the airport and the increase to 120,000 aircraft movements a year.

This Council resolves to:

  • Continue to oppose any further expansion of London City Airport
  • To formally object to the Airport’s most recent planning application to Newham
  • To publicise in East End Life this planning application and to encourage residents to make their views known to Newham Council

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In April, around the time David Goodhart published his book on immigration, The British Dream, I wrote this article for the Sunday Express comparing and contrasting Robin Wales’s Newham and Lutfur Rahman’s Tower Hamlets.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I suppose…the esteemed Economist newspaper published its own version yesterday. It’s here.

Why not compare and contrast the two pieces. The Economist piece seems to have been written by someone making their first visit to the borough, by someone overawed by the Mayor’s Hollywood limo-driving charisma (ahem); by someone who hasn’t even considered the resentment caused by his policies, by someone who thinks synagogues are aplenty and the backbone of the community, by someone imagining Tower Hamlets is a microcosm for potential Middle East divide: note the lack of a single reference to any churches.

Note also how it is Lutfur Rahman building all these five bedroom homes–nothing to do with the Ocean New Deal for Communities regeneration scheme…

STRIDING into the east London Central Synagogue, Lutfur Rahman grasps Leon Silver, a wiry Jewish elder, in his arms. Mr Silver hugs back. Since winning the mayoralty of Tower Hamlets, an east London borough with a quarter of a million inhabitants, in 2010, Mr Rahman has allocated some £3m ($4.5m) to repairing religious buildings. The synagogue is one of them. Tactile and soft-spoken, with a beaming countenance, Mr Rahman—a Bangladeshi Muslim—is every bit the local champion. Crossing the street, he poses for a photo with the owner of a café. That causes a traffic jam, which worsens when drivers spot the mayor and demand to shake his hand.

Fans duly placated, Mr Rahman sets out his political philosophy. Religious groups are the backbone of Tower Hamlets, he explains. The riots of 2011 never came there because faith groups patrolled the streets and elders kept the young in line. Nurturing a community, he says, means building up religious outfits and charities that serve particular groups: mosques, synagogues, lunch clubs and the like. Mr Rahman also waxes eloquent about the social benefits of large extended families; he is building five-bedroom public homes to accommodate them.

Mr Rahman’s job is unusual. Only four of London’s 32 boroughs have elected mayors. Elsewhere party-political cabinets elect a council leader. Borough mayors emerged mostly where local councils were ailing. These days all are overshadowed by Boris Johnson, the TV-friendly mayor of the whole city. But two stand out, because of their contrary views.

East of Tower Hamlets, Sir Robin Wales, the elected mayor of Newham, has an entirely different notion of how to run a diverse borough. Whereas Mr Rahman soothes and smooths, Sir Robin fizzes and bulldozes. “We need to be constantly knocking down walls,” he says in a Scottish accent (he moved south 30 years ago). He means it literally: he points to a forest of cranes erecting new shops and housing, some of it on the Olympics site. He also means it figuratively. Sir Robin wants to take a sledgehammer to divisions between religious and ethnic groups in his patch.

In Newham, every spare penny goes on events and organisations designed to benefit everyone. The borough provides children with three years of music lessons and a visit to the theatres of the West End. Sir Robin refuses to give money to faith organisations and has cut spending on translation services. “If you give money to a group you make it more powerful,” he growls. Any street that wants to hold a party can apply for money—so long as the event involves all, not just one community. In allocating social housing, Sir Robin insists he is ironing out the divisions between different ethnic groups.

The two mayors’ philosophies are thus utterly at odds—and also rather odd, at least for Britain. Mr Rahman’s style of ethnic-group politics is reminiscent of urban America. Sir Robin’s determined secularism is more French.

One explanation is the different make-up of Newham and Tower Hamlets. Both have lots of immigrants and non-whites, but Newham is more diverse. No ethnic group constitutes more than one-fifth of its population (see chart). Tower Hamlets, by contrast, is about one-third white British and one-third Bangladeshi. And, because the borough’s white Britons are divided between yuppies, many of whom work in the financial district of Canary Wharf, and old working-class Cockneys, the Bangladeshis hold sway.

For all that Mr Rahman brandishes his support for other groups, Bangladeshis run so many religious and charitable organisations in Tower Hamlets that spending on such outfits tends to benefit them. And money given can also be taken away. John Biggs, a Labour opponent of Mr Rahman (who is an independent), says some organisations have cancelled meetings with him for fear of losing the mayor’s support. One man, whose charity did invite Mr Biggs and whose grant was cut, says he was subsequently told at the local mosque: “If you want to live in the water, you have to be a crocodile.” Mr Rahman’s allies and aides deny the removal of funding had anything to do with the invitation.

Because Newham is more diverse and more immigrant-heavy (over half of its residents were born abroad) its political complexion is quite different. No group dominates. As a result, the mayor can eschew patchwork politics and run his borough as a melting pot.

He has critics all the same. Sir Robin’s decision to refuse planning permission for a new mosque drew protests from local Muslim groups. It also persuaded Respect, a left-wing, anti-war party with a strong Muslim following, to stage a rally in the borough—at which George Galloway, the party’s sole MP, called on the mayor to resign. Sir Robin insists that the mosque contravened planning rules and that the land was earmarked for houses and businesses. “The public has already paid for new roads and services there,” he explains. “Why should only one group get the benefit?”

Both Mr Rahman and Sir Robin go before voters next May. Opponents are stirring. Mr Biggs is confident that despite his disadvantage among Bangladeshis, a high turnout will propel him into office. Sir Robin has cross-community appeal (he won 68% of the vote in 2011, albeit on a low turnout) but Respect will challenge him. And both men are threatened by bigger forces.

London is churning, becoming ever more ethnically, religiously and linguistically diverse. Every year almost 1m people move into or out of the city, or between its boroughs. Bangladeshis are moving out of Tower Hamlets and their share of its population is falling slightly, threatening Mr Rahman’s power base. And both he and Sir Robin have ever stronger competition in Mr Johnson, who is steadily grabbing powers from the boroughs. Local politics is unlikely to produce more men like them. Which is rather a shame.

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