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Posts Tagged ‘shafiqul haque’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Murky, but that’s politics I suppose.

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At first sight, this one is straight from Comedy Central. Greece is in a bit of a pickle. It’s had a bit of a problem with corruption, and with how its politicians spend public money.

So who better to call in for a bit of advice than a special hit squad from Tower Hamlets?

Here’s a tweet from Stepney’s Tower Hamlets First councillor Mahbub Alam.

Yes, that’s Deputy Mayor Oli Rahman, two of his cabinet colleagues, Shahed Ali and Shafiqul Haque, as well as Mahbub, sitting there facing Greek MPs in Athens two days ago. Thanks to Alam, here are some other photos from their trip: CBBS0BmWQAAgzYe CBCwM2UWQAA-hr0   CBB0OnlWAAAXolu       CBDX7FOUQAAqWe-

CBGAlNMW4AAvkXj   CBGAlNQWwAEbUns

Where to start? As Private Eye’s Rotten Boroughs editor Tim Minogue remarked on Twitter last night….wtf. First, the hat. In the first picture above, it’s resting on the head of the deputy mayor, Oli Rahman. He says it was a gift from George Galloway. George_galloway_011 Indeed, he does look like a mini-George and Oli was once upon a time one of his Respect councillors in Tower Hamlets. In fact I’m told that Oli, like George, has also taken to cigars. I’m not sure if he’s started wearing leotards yet, but you never know. galloway-big-brother There are other links to Galloway with this trip as well. In that fourth picture above, showing a tasty meal in Athens on Thursday night, you can see sitting at the far end of the table on the left hand side as we look at it, Kevin Ovenden. A socialist philosopher mathematician, he was for very many years the left hand side of Galloway’s brain (the right being the slightly more creative Rob Hoveman).

Kevin has been in Greece for some time and is no doubt excited by the rise of the Syriza party there, but I’m assured this Tower Hamlets delegation was not his doing. It was all Oli Rahman’s idea, Oli told me this morning. He called me from a Greek train slightly distressed after one of their wider group had just been robbed of their wallet.

So why are they out there and who’s paying for it? When asked about the latter on Twitter last night, Mahbub (who has a fondness for travel, especially if it’s supported by public money..), had this to say:

HaringeyThey flew out on Thursday and are due back tomorrow. Also with the four Tower Hamlets councillors is Haringey’s Labour councillor, Isidoros Diakides (left), who is co-chair of the London-based Greek Solidarity Campaign. There are also officials from the NUT and Unison with them, including the Tower Hamlets council branch secretary John McLaughlin

Yesterday, they all met a group of Syriza MPs in Athens, the party’s head of international affairs, a local mayor and a member of the Greens. As one Tower Hamlets politico said to me yesterday, it’s difficult to understand who exactly is advising who.

However, while it’s easy and perfectly reasonable to mock and laugh, there is a serious side to this. Greece has a serious problem with racism and a growing one with fascism. Golden Dawn are neo-Nazis.

Last year, there were cries of “scandal” after a Greek court acquitted two farmers of shooting 28 Bangladeshi migrants who had been claiming back pay for their strawberry picking work. Very good accounts of the story are here and here.

Oli told me this morning there are some 700 Bengali businesses in Athens alone, many of which are struggling with the austerity measures. Oli thought that most of the Bengalis in Greece did not have Greek passports, merely indefinite leave to remain there. I asked whether any those he had met there wanted to come to the UK. He said if some were “given the possibility to, they would come”. However, he added many others simply wanted to pursue a life in Greece.

He said the Greek MPs and the Greek Bangladeshi Chambers of Commerce wanted to hear about how the racism of the Seventies and Eighties in the UK had been defeated. Oli said the MPs were amazed and impressed that people of an Asian immigrant background had conquered such prejudice and were now running a major London authority. “They were fascinated about that,” Oli said.

I asked Oli what he’d been most impressed with so far and he highlighted a movement set up by Syriza MPs called ‘Solidarity for All’. Each Syriza MP donates 20 per cent of their salary to it for humanitarian causes such as food distribution.

That’s wonderful, I said. I asked him whether he and other councillors in Tower Hamlets would do that, ie donate 20 per cent of their allowances to such causes. At first he said the deprivation in Tower Hamlets was nowhere near the scale of Greece. I pointed out there were food banks crying out for money. I said he’d be setting a fine example.

And then I think he got it. He said he would add a line to a motion he’s already submitted on the issues in Greece for the next council meeting. That should be an interesting vote.

So something good might well come from their diplomatic efforts. Overall, good on them for going.

On a lighter note, I asked Oli if he’d heard anyone using the word “malaka” around him. “I don’t speak Greek, mate,” he said, “but I think so, yeah.”

This is what it means.

Bless.

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Apologies for the lack of posts: I’ve been settling into a new job.

It’s full council tomorrow night and it’s likely that the two commissioners, Sir Ken Knight and Max Caller will be there for a bit of midweek comedy. I’m sure everyone will try to be on their best behaviour but at some point councillors are bound to visit the playground.

One subject which might provoke a reaction is Rich Mix, which is based in what traditionalists call Bethnal Green but which is increasingly known (incorrectly) as Shoreditch.

Rich Mix opened as a £26m arts and cinema centre in 2006 with a specific remit to tap into artistic interests in the Bengali community. From memory, I think it launched with a working display by an artist from Dhaka who was assembling an old car in full view of the public. Art can be a bit like that..

Rich Mix relied on various strands of public funding, including from Tower Hamlets council and the Arts Council. It was very much a Labour project, driven by the likes of Oona King, Michael Keith and Denise Jones…and a certain Mayor of London Ken Livingstone.

One of the early board members in fact was a certain Lutfur Rahman when he was cabinet member for culture under Denise. I don’t remember and I can’t find any record of him ever opposing or being critical of the project back then.

I did. The place was a management disaster in its early days. Its business plan was flimsy and it had bosses who loved spending other people’s money.

In fact Rich Mix was the subject of one of my early posts on this blog in 2010 when I quoted an article I’d written for the East London Advertiser in January 2006 about the initial teething problems.

It’s worth reading that piece from nine years ago again because it provides some background for a row that I think will feature tomorrow.

Here’s what I wrote in 2006:

SERIOUS concerns have been raised about the financial viability of a major new national arts centre that is due to open in the East End later this year.

The Advertiser has obtained a secret report revealing that the Rich Mix Cultural Centre, which is being built in Bethnal Green Road, needs extra taxpayers’ help to meet soaring costs. Tower Hamlets councillors have been asked to top up loans to the project and some are now deeply worried the borough’s £3.5m investment in the £26m centre is at risk.

They are angry that costs have spiralled and are concerned more money is being sucked into what could become a huge white elephant draining the public purse for years to come. One councillor has branded the project ‘scandalous’ and a ‘bottomless pit with no proper business plan’. But his claims have been angrily rejected by the centre’s bosses.

The prestigious arts complex, whose board members include former Bethnal Green and Bow MP Oona King, is seen as crucial for the regeneration of the deprived area around Brick Lane. Concentrating on ethnic cultural projects, it will house BBC London, a three-screen cinema, art galleries, a Sunday market place and music and dance studios.

Ms King dubbed it the East End’s ‘very own Tate Modern’ and it is Mayor Ken Livingstone’s flagship arts project.

With most of the six-storey structure completed, designers are currently working on the internal fittings with the centre due to open in the spring. However, the project, run by the Rich Mix Cultural Foundation and funded by backers including Tower Hamlets council, the Arts Council, the London Development Agency and the Millennium Commission, has been dogged by delays and cash problems.

A new management team was put in place last year and since then cost controls have improved markedly, but some councillors still fear a future financial crisis.

It is expected that by the time the centre opens, Tower Hamlets taxpayers will have paid into it some £3.6m. The council has also pledged a further £300,000 to contribute towards the annual £4.6m running costs in the first three years of operation.

Bosses at the centre are currently trying to attract sponsors but if crucial income from the centre’s cinemas fails to materialise, a council loan of £850,000 could be at risk.

In a confidential report for last week’s council cabinet meeting, Chris Holme, head of resources, wrote: “It will take robust cost and income management to prevent the centre falling into deficit on an annual basis.

“Failure to generate levels of income identified will have a significant impact on the sustainability of the centre.”

However, Lib Dem councillor John Griffiths said: “The whole thing makes me want to cry. Because the foundation itself is the accountable body for the project, there’s no proper scrutiny of the spending. They keep coming back to us asking for more money, but I’m really worried we’re walking right into a debt trap here.”

But Nick Kilby, chief operating officer for the centre, described the councillor’s remarks as political posturing. “There are no substance to them at all. This is a well-run project, costs aren’t out of control and there is no crisis. This is a terrifically exciting project and we look forward to persuading the councillor how it will benefit the East End.”

I’ve changed my mind about Rich Mix.

I suppose it was inevitable that such a politically driven project would become a political football but there does seem to be something spiteful and illogical in the way that Lutfur’s administration appears to be hounding the organisation to a point where closure is a real risk.

For the past four years, the council has been pursuing legal action (at an undisclosed cost: maybe we’ll be told tomorrow night how much) to try and force Rich Mix to repay that initial £850,000 loan. In that legal process Rich Mix argued it was in fact owed another £1.6million by the council as part of an agreed s106 planning gain fee from a nearby development.

The parties went to court and a judge ruled partly in favour of the council late last year on what some might say was a technicality. Because the wording of the s106 agreement deal was so vague, it was unenforceable.

The upshot is that Rich Mix has offered to repay the £850k in instalments. For whatever reason, Lutfur has demanded it be repaid in one go.

The East End Review, an offshoot of the Hackney Citizen, wrote a decent piece about the issue here.

That article was based on an interview with Rich Mix’s chief executive Jane Earl. Jane is a former chief executive of Wokingham Borough Council who has strong views on good governance. She’s the reason I’ve changed my mind about Rich Mix (and I’d have her as one of the Tower Hamlets commissioners).

She’s made Rich Mix sensible, popular and relevant.

The area has changed massively and maybe this part of the problem. As I said, it’s no longer regarded as the old Bethnal Green; this is now hipster country and it will eventually spread into the southern stretches of Brick Lane. Maybe it’s better to embrace and accept than be a bunch of King Cnuts.

Here’s one event that’s worth seeing next month, for example.

Rich Mix

Perhaps Lutfur should attend.

Or perhaps his “cabinet member for culture”, Cllr Shafiqul Haque (another former Rich Mix director when he served under Denise), should go. He’s paid an extra £13k a year on top of his £10k a year basic allowance for doing that job.

But apart from pocketing his cash and posing in the odd photo looking at a book, I have absolutely no idea what he does or what he’s done. I can’t wait to see him explain that tomorrow.

Culture? What culture? Is there actually a council culture strategy?

Here’s a thought for the council: get Rich Mix to write one for the borough. I bet they could easily do it for £850k… .

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Al-KalbaniRemember this photo from 2008? I wrote about it on this blog in 2010.

It shows Lutfur Rahman, then the council leader rather than his current position as executive mayor, with Sheikh Adel Al-Kalbani walking by the Tower Hamlets town hall at Mulberry Place.

Behind them are Rofique Ahmed and Shafiqul Haque. Both were then, like Lutfur, Labour councillors. They are now, according to officers who have worked with them, two of the least productive independent members of his cabinet (but they still get some £20k a year for their ‘work’).

Al Kalbani was at that time the Second Imam of Kabbah, the Grand Mosque in Mecca, considered by Muslims as the most sacred place on Earth.

He had been appointed to the position by the Saudi royal family shortly before his trip to the UK where he was attending the annual Islamic Global Peace and Unity event at the ExCeL centre (Lutfur spoke at this year’s gathering last month).

As he had some down time, according to a conversation I had with Lutfur about it a bit later, he decided to pop over to the town hall where he found Lutfur’s office door open and so they had a cup of tea. “He’s a very pious man,” Lutfur told me.

Ever so spontaneously, Al Kalbani then led prayers at the town hall’s second building, Anchorage House, for staff and councillors.

The episode was cited by Cllr Helal Abbas in his dossier of evidence to Labour’s NEC in 2010 as proof that Lutfur was taking a less than secular approach to politics.

In the months and years after his visit, Al Kalbani, a Sunni, seemed to develop some rather hardline views, arguably against Christian and Jews in Saudi Arabia, but particularly about Shia Muslims.

This five minute YouTube video of him in a broadcast interview is fascinating:

He says Shia scholars are apostates (the punishment for whom in Islam can be a bit harsh), that Shia laymen are ignorant, that there can be no such thing in Saudi Arabia as a “Christian citizen”: they can only be guests, because the guidance from the Prophet Mohammed was to drive Christians and Jews from that land.

In Britain, there is increasing concern about the Sunni/Shia divide. Counter-extremism experts believe the crisis in Syria, which on a simple level is Sunni rebels trying to topple Shia President Asad’s regime, might fuel latent dislike.

In May, Anjem Choudary’s hardline Salafi mob (Salafis follow the Sunni tradition) led a violent demonstration against Shias in Edgware Road.

It is possibly for this reason that the “very pious” Al Kalbani has been refused entry to the UK. Harry’s Place had a piece on this a couple of days ago, while I wrote this article for the Express yesterday. The Home Office refused to elaborate on why his visa was declined.

This Government is clearly taking a much harder line against potential problem preachers coming to these shores.

It means the Water Lily Centre on Mile End Road didn’t have a star guest today, and neither did the Esha’atul Islam Mosque in Whitechapel last night.

Adel-al-Kalbani-UK-tour
Here’s the piece I wrote for the Express:

ONE of the most senior Muslim clerics in Saudi Arabia has been refused entry to the UK, just as he was to embark on a speaking tour of British mosques.

Sheikh Adel Al-Kalbani, a former senior imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, was prevented from boarding his plane in Riyadh on Wednesday.

He was due to fly to London, where he had been expected to give a lecture in Whitechapel last night and another one in Wembley today.

It is not known why a visa for Al Kalbani was refused.

He has previously been allowed into the country and in 2008 he was a guest of the then leader of Tower Hamlets council in east London, Lutfur Rahman.

Mr Rahman is now the directly elected mayor of Tower Hamlets.

Since 2008, the Sunni cleric has been quoted expounding potentially divisive views regarding Shia Muslims. 

There has been increasing concern among extremism experts over attempts to divide Shia and Sunni Muslims in Britain.

Followers of radical hate preacher Anjem Choudary led a demonstration in London in May against Shia Muslims.

According to the Arab News website, Al-Kalbani had performed the noon and afternoon prayers before heading to the King Khaled International Airport.

He was quoted as saying: “I was stopped at the door of the plane and told that the authorities received a message from the British Embassy saying that I was not allowed to enter Britain.”

He said he had received his visa from the British Embassy in Saudi Arabia in October, just two weeks after submitting his application.

The British Embassy apparently did not explain why he was then later refused.

He said: “I don’t really know why they denied me entry. I was in Britain about four years ago and other countries.

“I was told that other Muslim scholars have also been denied entry and had their visas cancelled. 

“My gut feeling is that they don’t want to see me interacting with the Muslim community there.”

He said he would not be appealing the decision. He said Allah “has chosen the best for me”.

Al Kalbani was the star billing on the Qibla speaking tour over the next 10 days.

He was due to talk at the Water Lily centre in Whitechapel tomorrow, then at Luton later in the day, then Swansea and Cardiff on Sunday.

He had a talk planned in Kingston, Surrey, on Monday while Muslims in Birmingham and Walsall were due to welcome him on Christmas Eve.

A Home Office spokeswoman said she was unable to comment on specific individuals, but added: “All visa applications are considered on their individual merits and in line with the immigration rules. 

“The onus is on the individual to ensure they provide the correct evidence when submitting an application.”

I’ll leave it for you to debate whether this sheds new light on Abbas’s warning three years ago.

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