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Posts Tagged ‘shiraj Haque’

biggs2One of the reasons given for the disastrous move to a directly elected mayoral system of governance in Tower Hamlets in 2010 was it would end the inherent instability of the ‘leader and cabinet’ model.

The latter entailed the ruling party group, ie Labour councillors, voting each April for their leader. This led to endless faction fights that eventually resulted in the rise of Lutfur Rahman.

It turns out these were the halcyon days of Tower Hamlets politics. As I write, the party is again at war with itself in a tragic case of history repeating.

In most councils, I think I’m right in saying that what most people care about is the efficient running of frontline services: bins, schools, street lights, housing etc etc. In Tower Hamlets, the discussions among many politicos at least (but more widely as well) centre more on race and Islamophobia….and when will there be another Bengali mayor. Of course, these are then wrapped up as one.

So the smear tactics that eventually led to the ousting by a court of Lutfur Rahman are once again being deployed against Mayor John Biggs. On a Bengali TV political chat show tonight (‘Straight Dialogue’), the topics due for discussion were “police brutality, harassment, racism, hate crime, Islamophobia and any other issues of concern”.

Panel members due to appear included former Labour and Respect councillor Gulam Mortuza, ex-Labour councillor Abdal Ullah and, lo and behold, Shiraj Haque, who everyone knows as ‘Curry King’ and who used to boast he was Lutfur’s main financial backer until people started to realise that accolade actually resided with the taxpayer’s grants pot.

Mr Haque is a Labour member although for how long is another question. He is currently in league with former (Labour) council leader Helal Abbas and a number of others to “stand up for democracy” and ensure there is no stitch up over who is chosen as the party’s mayoral candidate in 2018.

One of the consequences of the Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum show at Westminster has been a significant increase in party membership in Tower Hamlets. [I am also told that influential activists have been busy buying up party memberships for people. One informed source told me this “has long been the custom in Tower Hamlets” so that you have people who can turn up to branch meetings and vote as puppets. Some convince themselves this is democracy in action but the reality is that it is fraud and if anyone has any information on this please do get in touch – confidentiality guaranteed.]

Possibly because the “wrong” kind of members may have joined (legitimately and otherwise), Labour has decided to very quickly settle the important issue of who will be its candidate for 2018.

A series of trigger ballots among all the borough party’s wards and affiliates has just got underway. The intention of the party leadership is to affirm there is no need for an open election process for the 2018 candidate and that the incumbent is automatically chosen, ie John Biggs.

It’s my understanding that John has genuinely impressed the Government appointed commissioners and senior officers who oversee and run the council. The council is regaining respect in Whitehall.

But for a great many people, and not just loons, this doesn’t really matter. For them, partly because of his character (dry and sometimes blunt), but more because he is not Bengali, it’s time for another Bengali mayor.

So they are seeing this decision to “impose” him as candidate for 2018 as an undemocratic stitch up. The rallying calls have gone out. These trigger ballots must be completed by November 16. Only those who were registered Labour members before April 16 are entitled to vote.

If he loses the trigger ballot (he has to win a majority of wards and affiliates), there will be new selection process. And that will mean new hats into the ring. What is probable if that happens is that John will not win.

Who those new hats may belong to is a fascinating question in itself. I am told Helal Abbas has not ruled himself out, although he also fancies himself to take over Jim Fitzpatrick’s seat in whatever becomes Poplar and Limehouse in 2020.

But the really wild card hat is Rabina Khan, who, with her husband Aminur Khan, yesterday quit the Tower Hamlets Independent Group. This was as I predicted last month when THING and Lutfur chose Ohid Ahmed as their 2018 candidate for mayor. I am told she was subjected to a certain degree of misogyny by some of her former group colleagues, which does not surprise me. So good on her.

 

img_3718So here’s the interesting scenario. Remember she is a former Labour councillor who defected to Lutfur in 2010. She and others would like to return. Senior local figures like Abbas have made it known that the party should be “reaching out” to her and others (to Ohid Ahmed, even), to draw a line and readmit them to the fold. Some regard this as breathtakingly cynical.

But I would not bet against it happening. And if she is readmitted, there is a very good chance that the woman who lost to Biggs in 2015 could defeat him in an internal selection process next year. Even if Biggs wins the Labour trigger ballot this month, she could take him on outside the Labour tent as an independent.

Oh, the machinations, eh… . Well, they’ve only just begun. Last night, the first of the affiliates to hold the trigger ballot, the Women’s Forum, descended into farce and acrimony — and resulted in an official complaint by Shiraj Haque to Labour’s general secretary Iain McNicol about the way it was conducted.

I have been sent a copy of that letter, which was copied to Jeremy Corbyn, Len McLuskey, Shami Chakrabarti, loads of others, and Christine Shawcroft. I’ve copied it below.

The facts are that 67 people signed in to vote, but somehow 80 ballots were cast (so the usual story, really). The organisers, Victoria Obaze and Catherine Overton, who are John Biggs supporters, say they had no choice but to declare the vote null and void. It is claimed by John’s opponents that the vote would have gone against him.

Over the next few days, there will be many more such ballots.

Oh, we also have the matter of the Whitechapel by election on December 1 after the demise of jailbird Shahed Ali who is serving time for housing tenancy fraud.

Labour is selecting its candidate tomorrow night. John I think favours ex-councillor Motin uz-Zaman, but Abbas, Khales Uddin and Shiraj Haque are said to be lobbying hard for Tarik Khan. (Update: Tarik denies this; at the shortlisting session on Wednesday night, Motin, Asma Islam (Wais’s wife) and Victoria Obaze were chosen: the full selection is Thursday night. This is also being viewed as a stitch up.) 

Oddly, THING is not putting up a candidate. A certain Shafi Ahmed is believed to be standing on behalf of something called the ‘Residents’ Alliance’ and THING are standing aside for him. Any more details on Mr Ahmed gratefully received.

Here’s the letter sent by Shiraj Haque and friends to Labour’s general secretary. One person who was at the meeting has told me the letter is “bollocks”.

 

Dear Mr McNicol,

Affirmative ballot for the mayoral candidate in Tower Hamlets

We write to formally inform you on behalf of a number of distressed members the Tower Hamlets Labour Party whom have been victims of intimidation, bullying, harassment and blackmailing by members of John Biggs’ campaign team; some of whom are senior and leading figures of the local Labour Party including Jim Fitzpatrick MP.

These allegations include threats of being blocked on shortlists of future councillor selections in Tower Hamlets, being expelled from the Labour Party and threatening to refuse and withhold support for community events.

Additionally, there are also serious concern of data protection violation whereby members of John Biggs’ campaign team have been seen with membership data when approaching members for support and it is unclear how such data was obtained and with which permissions.

It is quite clear that Mr Biggs’ team are clearly lobbying support for the trigger in every ward in Tower Hamlets which of course they are entitled to do, however in the process there are clear violations of due process taking place. We shall be following up this letter with evidence and affidavits which shall be sent to you shortly.

As you will be aware the first trigger ballots of Tower Hamlets Labour Party was from the Women’s Forum organised trigger ballot this evening, 1 November 2016 at 7pm at St Margaret’s Hall.

There was a large turnout of members. Many have complained about a lack of organisation, transparency and being denied access to the hall, being asked for photographic ID is which was not communicated beforehand and a new requirement for these types of meetings. Many members did have identity cards in their possession in form of student photo card, driving licence and so on, but due to not presenting their Labour Party membership cards they were asked to stand to a side of the hall, treated like outsiders and entryists and made to suffer humiliation in front of other members.

Finally when members demanded the production of Labour Party rulebook evidence stating that the only acceptable identity cards has to be Labour Party membership cards, they were allowed entry. The vast majority of the members did not receive notice of the meeting to attend this women forum ballot in the first place disenfranchise many eligible to attend and vote.

Members attended the meeting after hearing this via word of mouth and as a result the attendance was high, demonstrating that this is a vote members want to participate in and be heard on.

Many will be relatively new to the Party therefore unaware of the process and some of them did not carry their Labour Party membership cards. Those that did receive notice were not informed in that notice that they needed to bring proof of identification. It has come to our attention that a member and organiser known as Catherine Overton arrived at least half hour after the closing of the door. She was allowed to canvass for Mayor Biggs, take part in the voting process and become a teller while other women who arrived at the same time were turned away. A clear example of discrimination. Members were individually counted numerous times and had to sit through three registration and verification processes before the release of the ballot papers which was done by two people running through the attendee list and yet again verifying each member present individually before issuing them a single ballot paper. The public announcement by Victoria Obaze which announced the opening of the meeting during which she categorically stated that she was delighted that at least 80 members had turned up for the meeting.

The members explains their frustration and intimidation that they had suffered from some of the women councillors during this process. They were strongly advised by some of these women councillors and the organisers to support the trigger ballot in favour of Mayor John Biggs. These members state that upon the first counting of the ballot papers most of the councillors and organisers gathered around the counting table and started gossiping. They then announced to re-count the ballot papers again, but did not explain the reasons. They finally re-counted these papers up to four times before declaring the ballot to be invalid and gave their reasoning as receiving 80 completed ballot papers when they had only 67 members registered and the “discrepancy” in numbers was too large. One councillor went as far as to say publically that perhaps the ballots were tampered with while unattended and extra ballots added to the pile sending a message to members that their presence was unwelcome or some way underhand.

It would follow that if at the start of the meeting Victoria announced the number in attendance having completed the registration was 80 members, you would expect that same number of votes to be cast as was the case. How was there suddenly a 30 vote discrepancy which allowed the vote to be nullified?

For a women’s meeting late on a cold night to have a high turnout is something to be celebrated and encouraged. The above examples show a lack of respect for the wider membership by officers and councillors and makes a mockery of the efforts many women made to attend the meeting despite work, childcare and other commitments. It is unacceptable to Labour Party values of fairness, democracy and transparency to treat members this way. The Tower Hamlets membership list is perhaps one of the most scrutinised in the country and having undergone rigorous due diligence in recent years has been confirmed as robust and on the whole accurate. To treat members this way is appalling.

It is with regret the members wish to know from you whether the process applied tonight by the organisers and some of the councillors was the process held under the Labour Party rulebook.

In addition, we seek the Labour Party to immediately suspend the trigger ballot process in Tower Hamlets with immediate effect pending an independent investigation into our concerns raised above in order to ensure a fair and just process is adhered to. In the absence of any action we shall seek legal advice on this matter.

Yours faithfully,

Apsana Begum

Shiraj Haque

Sabina Akther

CC:

Jeremy Corbyn

Chris Weavers

Tarik Khan

Ali Craft

Dan Simpson

Ann Black

Claudia Webbe

Christine Shawcroft

Darren Williams

Rhea Wolfson

Peter Willsman

Francis Prideaus

Shami Chakrabarti

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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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England may be out of the World Cup but the summer agony is set to continue for Tower Hamlets council and its residents.

I understand that PricewaterhouseCoopers, the auditors ordered in by Eric Pickles in the wake of the Panorama programme on March 31, have asked for another month to write their report.

They were due to file it with the Department for Communities and Local Government by June 30, but that has now been delayed until the end of July.

That might well be because they have so much more work than at first realised, or because they just need more time to reflect and analyse their findings: they’ve been inundated with information, that’s for sure.

Mayor Lutfur Rahman told BBC London radio’s Eddie Nestor last week:

I don’t believe they will find any serious irregularity in any of our governance, our financial structures or the way we run the council.

If there is any issue here, of course we will look at it and try to learn from it and try to improve on it, but don’t forget, if he was looking for fraud, he will find no fraud.

This seems an implicit acceptance the auditors will find something. Team Lutfur say that’s inevitable: put in a team of highly skilled auditors into any borough for a concentrated period of time and murky details will surface, they say. It’s just a question of seriousness.

I wonder how the council will react. I wonder whether they might even resort to their favourite tactic of hiring expensive barristers and contemplate a judicial review of the decision in the High Court.

Personally, I don’t think the auditors will find any outright fraud (on the whole, they have a good team of senior officers in Tower Hamlets) and certainly the Panorama team never made that allegation. There’s an element of ‘creating goalposts’ within the Lutfur spin camp on this.

I also think there’s an acceptance within his team that they got things wrong in the past four years on the questions of transparency and governance. Lutfur says in his fascinating interview with Eddie Nestor that he has no idea why Tower Hamlets attracts so much bad press. Well, he didn’t really help himself on the questions of perception and appearance, did he? The chauffeured Merc, the prominent associations with rogues and criminals like Shiraj Haque (I’ll be kind and say ‘the former’) and Mohammed Mahee Ferdhaus Jalil (twice the latter), the failure to answer questions in council, the failure to attend hustings etc etc.

He has a much bigger group of councillors to manage this time as well and hopefully they will ensure these matters are addressed. He’ll probably enjoy the challenge.

Here’s the interview with Eddie Nestor: it’s 20 minutes but certainly worth a listen.

As for the council’s commitment to transparency, I leave you with this FOI response they gave me yesterday. I’d asked for all invoices supplied by the Champollion, the expert PR outfit they hired to counter the Panorama programme.

Here are the invoices they supplied:

Here’s the explanation:

In terms of the Champollion contract the Council officers took the view in late January 2014 that in order to ensure the position of the council was clearly represented to the production company and the commissioning organisation, specialist media advice was required.

The in-house media team did not have specialist knowledge about the operation and application of the BBC’s editorial guidelines and were already occupied in managing an existing workload.

A brief was produced and a Record of Corporate Directed Action (RCDA) was signed by all relevant officers to consider the procurement issues involved. Given the short timeframe and the specialist nature of the advice required a longlist of specialist PR firms was identified. Four companies were then invited to apply after receiving a brief and invited to interview.

Section 36 (2)(b)(i) has been applied to the financial elements of both contract and internal discussion between officers on the basis that their disclosure would inhibit the imparting or commissioning of advice subject to the public interest test and information relating to financial and business affairs which could prejudice the Council achieving its obligation to obtain best consideration from the use of its resources and the best value from the procurement process. 

Section 36(2)(c) has been applied to elements of the Champollion contract as the brief point 4 (a specific requirement concerns seeking strategic or tactical advice from the contractor) and point 8 (dealings with the BBC) and this forms part of the internal thinking space of the Council which if it were to be released would prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs. The Council needs to be able to examine the options. 

Bollocks.

 

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I changed the photo at the top of this blog a few weeks ago, and it wasn’t just because Len McCluskey and his Unite union were then hot news nationally. I was also intrigued about what he was up to in Tower Hamlets.

Just why was he beginning to hang about with Mayor Lutfur Rahman (and the lovely champagne prosecco socialist/millionaire housing association tenant/champion of workers’ rights Shiraj Haque)?

Yes, I’m sure Len was 100 per cent sincere when he felt compelled to visit the East London Mosque to express solidarity with the Tower Hamlets community in the wake of the Lee Rigby murder, but once a deal-maker, always a deal maker.

Perhaps Lutfur had the answer.

In February, a Lutfurite cabinet member Oli Rahman proposed an amendment to the budget that would divert funds from council reserves to a new community centre in Shadwell.

Here’s the text of that amendment:

This Council Resolves:

1. To allocate the one-off funding in the following areas allocated from funding already set aside in the budget for third sector grants :

This Council Resolves:

1. To extend provision in the borough for those without formal qualifications and effected (sic) by welfare cuts by committing £65,000 to the establishment the new Unite Community Centre in St George’s Town Hall.

2. This is a partnership between the council, Unite – Europe’s largest trade union and Barclay’s (sic) Bank.

3. The Unite Community Centre will offer:

• Education courses, employment and welfare advice services and community events.

• It will run three Skills for Life courses a week, and each will hold three sessions a week.

• Over the course of the year it aims to have 300 learners take Skills for Life courses.

• Based on this, and the provision of non-accredited ESOL, art and photography courses, and cultural events, the centre expects 50 unique visitors a week.

The minutes of that meeting show that Lutfur accepted this amendment and that it formed part of the overall deal between Labour and the Independents. The minutes also show that no councillor declared any interests. Presumably, this means that no councillor is a member of Europe’s largest trade union…

And the next we hear of this little proposal is on April 30. Hidden away in the murky and unsearchable section of the council website that details the mayor’s executive decisions (isn’t it interesting that Lutfur uploads only scanned documents there, unreadable by Google…), we are told that £64,000 of our tax money has indeed been given to Unite, a political organisation that is overtly campaigning to bring down the Coalition government, and, as some would have it, covertly manoeuvring against Ed Miliband as well.

But it surely can’t be legal to transfer public money to political outfits, I hear you cry. Well, Tower Hamlets council insists it’s all entirely acceptable.

The full details of the background to this decision are here.

We learn that it is for a new “community centre” in the basement of council-owned St George’s Town Hall in Cable Street, Shadwell. We’re also told that the money is part of a matched-funding deal between Unite, Barclays and the council. Unite is contributing £140,000, the council £64,000 and the public-spirited bank £60,000.

The benefits the money will generate for the local community justify the arrangement, the council says. The document explains: “Residents from all communities will be encouraged to use the centre, as its principle (sic) aim is to reduce unemployment across all sections of the borough… . This project is of particular interest to the borough…given Unite’s experience in running entry-level courses, integration of employability skills into educational courses and given its wide relationships with employers.”

Helpfully, the report adds:

Screen shot

And the justification from legal chief Isabella Freeman:

Screen shot 2

The document says anyone needing advice can get it. And as well as advice on how to get a job, you also get advice on how to sign up to Unite.

The Unite Community Centre is also a Unite recruiting office. The staff are all very friendly, but also very enthusiastic about their employer. The office is stuffed full of leaflets on the negative effects of Coalition cuts and how to join and fight these.

Unite 1

Unite 3

One man who’s been in there said he was encouraged to join during a discussion on how the centre could help him. A “Unite community membership scheme” offers membership for those not in paid work for 50p a week.

unite 4

There’s no such thing as a free lunch is there?

I’m sure the training is great and beneficial, but why should tax money be used to subsidise a recruiting office? Perhaps the TaxPayers’ Alliance should put in a bid to train council officers how to save cash.

A second Unite Community Centre opened in Barnsley in June, but I can’t trace any use of public money for that. I understand more are on the way.

Unite gets to expand its membership and that expanded membership increases the size of its bloc vote within the Labour party.

But in London, does Unite have a different agenda? There’s been some talk of George Galloway running for London mayor and we know that Lutfur is close to Respect.

I wonder if this deal between Len and Lutfur is part of some pro-Galloway plan.

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