Posts Tagged ‘stephanie eaton’

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 20.27.42Shortly before Ramadan in 2008, then Lib Dem councillor Stephanie Eaton fired off a complaint to those in charge of council committees about a memo they’d sent out asking members to change their eating habits. Back in those pre-austerity halcyon days, councillors were given free snacks to help them endure the messy business of part-time democracy: biscuits, tea and coffee were served at the side of the room. It was all very civilised.

But the memo in August 2008 requested committee members to refrain from gorging on food until the breaking of the fast during the forthcoming month of Ramadan. This, the memo said, was out of respect for Muslim councillors who may be fasting.

Stephanie, who I think later regretted speaking out (for the fuss it caused nationally) but not the point of principle, said on behalf of her group at the time: “We fervently believe that the rules of any one religion should not be imposed upon others.”

Many, including Muslim councillors, applauded her. It was seen as a mistake by do-gooding non-Muslim council officers.

I think it’s fair to say that there’s no other borough in Britain that is more sensitive to observant Muslims than Tower Hamlets.

A quick glance of the calendar of council meetings, for example, shows that many have been scheduled to start earlier during this past month of Ramadan.

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Yet there remain those who wish to exploit whatever perceived or minor insults they can for sad political reasons. Or even create insults for the same end.

Next Wednesday, it is Mayor John Biggs’s first proper full council meeting and the list of papers for it has just been published. They include a list of tabled questions to him from councillors.

This is what Cllr Ohid Ahmed, Lutfur Rahman’s former deputy mayor and someone who fancies the main role for himself in 2018, wants to ask.

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Throughout London and elsewhere these past four weeks fasting Muslims and non-Muslims and others have shared offices without even the slightest hint of tension or friction or breakdown in “basic etiquette” as people have simply got on with their daily lives. Some have fasted, most haven’t. Some in the latter group will have politely asked their colleagues if it’s ok to eat in front of them. The replies are likely to have been ‘Of course! Thanks for asking.’

Indeed, this has undoubtedly been the case in Mulberry Place itself.

AMOhid-AhmedBut there will always be those wanting to whip up or fabricate friction. I suppose someone or some people must have moaned to Ohid for him to learn about this meeting, but his language – is the stuff of parody.

“I believe morning breakfast [what other breakfast is there?] was offered…with much pomp and grandeur [what?? was it served by Royal butlers??] to the behest [I think he’s picked the wrong word here] of those who were observing their faith and those who felt left out and demotivated and somewhat belittled by the event taking place when they are obligated to fast.”

It’s the kind of stuff you see in exaggerated whip-lash claims. Or OTT constructive dismissal cases.

So what was this event that “belittled” people anyway? Well, it was work. More than 1,000 employees were asked to turn up to work.

As it has been explains to me, it was the Senior Management Development Conference. Lutfur used to hold it for fewer people in Mile End but this year Biggs and the council top team switched the venue to the Troxy and extended the invitation to 1,000 staff members, some 20 per cent of the workforce. It was aimed at informing the staff about developments at the council and listening to their feedback.

It lasted from morning until late afternoon, apparently and simple food was served for those who wanted or needed it. Sandwiches during the breaks/lunch, and tea, coffee, orange juice, biscuits and other snacks on arrival.

I was told speeches from Sir Ken Knight, the chief Commissioner, and John Biggs went down well. The latter was apparently cheered when he said there would be no more chauffeured mayoral car.

And I was also told (but I haven’t checked) that there was also an 80 per cent satisfaction rate from a survey at the end of the meeting.

Earlier this week, I was at the Arbour Youth Centre for an Iftar hosted by the committee there and by St Dunstan’s Church in Stepney. Many of the congregation of that church, as well as the rector, the assistant priest and the wardens, attended having themselves fasted throughout the day so they could share the breaking of the fast with their friends in Stepney’s Muslim community. (At one point John Biggs turned up to say hello before moving on to another Iftar elsewhere).

It was harmonious, sharing, respectful and friendly. I wish Ohid had been there. I suspect many in the Muslim community will find his cheap attempt at entrenched identity politics embarrassing.

In the meantime, below are the other questions for next Wednesday’s meeting. They are the usual mix of sycophantic, silly and sensible. I’ll let you decide which is which.


And Eid Mubarak to all my Muslim readers. Don’t hoot your horns too wildly tomorrow…but then again why not!

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As promised, here’s Stephanie Eaton’s valedictory piece–a look back on her past eight years in Tower Hamlets as she prepares to stand down on May 22.

(For what it’s worth, my view is that apart from one or two slightly rose-tinted opinions on the current regime–at its outset, at least–she’s been the most reasoned councillor in that time. Like Peter Golds, she has also been the target of attacks from senior council officers and ruling Labour councillors after she dared to take them on. The below front page story we did for the East London Advertiser was particularly memorable; it came only a few months after she was elected. It was highly embarrassing for Labour at that time, so much so that the council’s communications department posted thousands of letters to nearby residents to say she and the ELA were scaremongering. We weren’t. Eight years on, that site at the Oval in Bethnal Green remains derelict. But that brush with the East End Life department certainly opened her eyes to the misinformation it can spread.)

Here’s her final fond farewell (she declined to offer any views on the calamitous Lutfur Rahman/Labour fallout, but she does share a quite pointed opinion on the system of directly elected mayors; perhaps there’s a hidden meaning, who knows…)

I was elected to Tower Hamlets Council on 4 May 2006. On July 7 that year, I attended a memorial service for the victims of the London bombings the previous year. The then Assistant Chief Executive, Sara Williams was there too and I asked her what she had been doing at the same time last year.

Her answer opened my eyes to the importance of the organisation I had just joined.

Sara told me that the Council had activated its emergency plans on that terrible day, to ensure that children who could not be collected from school were cared for until their parents arrived; that meals for vulnerable residents were still delivered; that Mosques and Muslim businesses in the community were supported and protected from any retaliatory actions; that resources were made available to help the hospitals and Police; and transport was arranged so that workers at Canary Wharf and around the Borough managed to get home, or to other accommodation for the night.

Sara had worked continuously for 18 hours even though she had lost contact with her own family members.

Recognising the importance of the Council to people’s daily lives, it was a steep learning curve for me to appreciate how all the different elements of the Council work in the Borough. It was an even more difficult task to understand the politics of the Council and how to get things done as an opposition councillor.

I may be unusual in not coming from a political family or from student politics, and some political experience would have helped. I was told that people considered me naïve – I’m sure they were right. But I did have a terrific mentor in Peter Truesdale from Lambeth, and Peter’s advice and encouragement proved invaluable.

He told me not to take criticism personally, to divide my time equally between managing my group of fellow Liberal Democrats, attending Council Committees, and spending time in my ward listening to residents and helping them deal with concerns.

I didn’t quite manage to split my time into thirds: in my first year I attended every committee I could so that I could get to grips with the business of the Council. It was useful and important. However, when the then Leader of the Conservative group Simon Rouse told me “You’re spending too much time in the Town Hall”, he was right and I changed the balance of my work to spend more time with businesses and residents.

Being in opposition is horrible.

I presume some people enjoy it, never having to take difficult decisions, but not me.

Nevertheless, being in opposition is important, and a lot can be achieved, but it’s not the same as having a chance to put your plans into action or working closely with officers to implement policy. But all councillors can do important work to represent their constituents.

One of the first and most important pieces of casework I did was for a man who lived in a two-up two-down maisonette. He was dying of emphysema and could barely walk. He had a choice of living upstairs with the bathroom or downstairs with the kitchen.

He came to me and asked for help because he had been sleeping on the sitting room couch, using a bucket for a toilet so that he could be close to the kitchen. I arranged for him to get a stairlift as an emergency, to enable him to sleep in a bed and use a bathroom for the last few months of his life.

It shook me that firstly, it was so easy for me to do this for him – Council staff were brilliant and immediately recognised the need and urgency of the case – and secondly, that I had the power or influence, whatever it should be called, to make this happen.

All Councillors will have stories about strange requests and unreasonable demands: mine is the man who called me and said he had an emergency and I needed to come to his house. I had to see the problem, he couldn’t describe it, and it had to be that day.

I reshuffled my life, rushed over there to be shown to the back patio area. “Look!” he said. I looked and then asked “What am I looking at?”. “The leaves” he replied. “They’re falling onto the ground”. “It’s autumn” I said, “That’s what leaves do…”. “The council must sweep them up” he said. I’m afraid I left a slightly disgruntled homeowner that evening – even though I had offered to sweep up the leaves myself!

I have loved (nearly) every minute of being a Councillor, but especially the first four years up to 2010. I opposed the directly elected mayoral system made possible by the Local Government Act 2000.

The referendum in 2010 that brought an executive mayor to Tower Hamlets was shrewd politics for the Respect party – because it means that only one elected position really matters any more – that of the Mayor, as that person can administer the borough without the input of any councillors.

Having power vested in one individual is potentially risky, and for me, the model of collective decision-making by a leader and cabinet elected from among the Councillors provides a more representative way to take decisions on behalf of our community.

On a personal note, having been a councillor for eight years, I now understand much better how the world works, from getting the rubbish collected, to the development of multi-million pound contracts for new homes.

I have been warmly welcomed by many people into their homes and lives. I have made an astonishing range of friends across the political boundaries: of course my partner is a Labour councillor and our home has been visited by people from all parties.

Other political party activists canvassing in our area know they are always welcome to use the loo! On one memorable occasion – Liberal Democrats, Labour, and Conservatives met in our house on the same evening – but that’s a story for another generation.

My best wishes go to all new and continuing Councillors taking office on May 23.

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As a little bank holiday break from the Panorama fall out, I’m publishing two less controversial pieces today. The first is by Chris Wilford, the Conservatives’ candidate for Tower Hamlets Mayor, Chris Wilford (I asked him to write about who is and why he’s standing).

The second will be by Cllr Stephanie Eaton, the lone Lib Dem and for the most part the lone voice of reason. She’s standing down as a councillor in May, having been first elected in 2006 when the Lib Dems were initially routed. I’ve asked her to look back at the last eight years (although disappointingly she doesn’t want to dwell much on the Lutfur/Labour fray; interestingly, she’s been more sympathetic towards Lutfur than most but even she never took a seat in his all-Bengali cabinet).

Anyway, here’s Chris Wilford (he’s the chap in the chinos):



Time for a fresh start for Tower Hamlets

It has certainly been a frenetic few weeks in what some in the national media term the brutal politics of our borough. On the doorstep, many have asked me why I want to become the youngest directly elected Mayor in Europe and what I have to offer as the Conservative candidate.

Well, despite not being a former Labour leader of the council nor having a famous cousin, I put myself forward quite simply because I passionately believe it is time for a fresh start for Tower Hamlets and I want to work with residents to build a better borough.

I’m 28 years old and first moved to the borough five years ago. After living in a bedsit near Brick Lane with people from all over the world for three years, I now live in Bow.

Like many others I moved to the borough for study and work. I have made it my home and its energy quickly took a hold of me. I have known times of unemployment and uncertainty here but the variety and dynamism of Tower Hamlets has always got me through.

Born in Merseyside, I moved to Kent when I was 10 and was educated at state grammar schools before coming to London for University. I now work in communications after a time as a recruitment consultant and working for the government’s British Council on educational projects.

I believe the individual is the central force for change in modern Britain. I believe aspiration and innovation should be the central drivers of British society. I believe in the freedom of responsibility.

I joined the Conservative Party because of these values and got my first proper taste of Tower Hamlets politics as a Conservative candidate for the then St Dunstan’s and Stepney Green ward. Memories of the vicious tussle betweenLabour and Respect for control will stay with me for a long time to come.

Tower Hamlets is famous for its history, its diversity, and its politics. After decades of neglect, residents feel shut out of local decision-making, and are fed up by the squabbling of the local political class as we face up to some of the most serious challenges in the country in areas such as child poverty and unemployment.

I want to reopen the channels of communication between the people and those in power, I want to implement a long term plan to tackle issues such as unsustainable development, and I want to clean up the borough ….. literally.

My detractors have had a go at my willingness to discuss issues that matter to local people such as potholes and rubbish. The fact is Tower Hamlets is dirty and its roads need sorting out. Time and time again residents have described to me in vivid detail the potholes that disrupt their daily life.

Whilst some candidates wish to talk about the availability of Class A drugs on the NHS, I want to sort out the problems that have a direct impact on our quality of life. I want to give our Estates a fresh lick of paint, I want to fix up our roads and I want to get rubbish under control once and for all.

My long term plan for Tower Hamlets is based on sustainable housing, strong schools, safer streets and stable finances. I want to rewrite the local development framework following consultation with residents, I want to cut Town Hall waste, I want to launch an enterprise fund for local pubs (including real ale apprenticeships for those who want to go into the pub trade), I want to work with employers in the borough to deliver jobs for residents of all ages, and I want to deliver a 5.7% council tax cut for residents (worth £50 to each household).

Like many people from around the world I have made Tower Hamlets my home. The record of our Councillors in delivering for residents is testament to what the Conservatives can achieve in our borough. This election people are waking up. The vote is split and every vote will count – make sure you vote for a fresh start.

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Every month councillors are required to submit a timesheet detailing the work they claim they’ve been doing to collect their allowances and special responsibility allowances from the public purse.

Well, let me clarify that: they’re meant to submit them and they collect their allowances regardless of the work they actually do; the timesheets and their pay are not in any way related.

So in some ways, these timesheets are meaningless.

However, they are somewhat illuminating because they shine a we light on a councillor’s character. Some take them very seriously and submit them as regularly as clockwork. Some are also completely honest about what they state on them.

For example, Labour’s excellent Bow East councillor, Marc Francis, falls into both categories. His timesheets are pretty much up to date and you can read his latest one for January 2014 here:

Screen shot 2014-03-08 at 09.23.10In fact, this probably understates the work he does.

In contrast, let’s have a look at the latest Tower Hamlets turncoat, the newly Independent Anwar Khan, who will now stand against his own sister-in-law in Bow West.

The last timesheet he appears to have submitted (and hey, as a management consultant he knows full well the importance of well kept timesheets) was in September 2011. In fact, in the 46 months since he was elected as a councillor, the council only displays records for nine months.

And in that time since he’s been a chief whip for the Labour group, one of whose duties was to ensure colleagues kept up with their timesheets.

Perhaps he was just too busy to submit them. I mean, he’s a really busy man, it seems.

Have a look at his timesheet for September 2010, the month before Lutfur was elected mayor and when he would have presumably been spending an awful lot of time on party, not council, business.

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Wow. A hugely impressive 144 hours on councillor business that month. That’s 36 hours a week–a full time job in itself. How he managed to combine that with raising a young family and a high-powered job in the City, I’ll never know. He must have understanding employers.

I wonder whether his timesheets for them include such guff as 15 hours on “community events”. In fact, he states 15 hours per month on every sheet he’s submitted. It’s a lovely catch-all phrase is ‘community events’.

But out of the various councillor records I’ve looked at, his isn’t the worst. His latest enemy and fellow Bow West councillor Ann Jackson takes that prize: she hasn’t submitted once since January 2010.

Councillors may think these timesheets futile but they are among the few scraps that their voters have to examine what they’re doing.

Here’s a little table of the records for Respect and the independents:
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I’ve put a N/A by the name of Gulam Robbani (who has had some previous difficulties with his timesheets, remember) because the council’s website has none next to his name. Shurely some mistake?

I don’t have time to go through all the other councillors, so maybe someone else can help.

However, among the group leaders, we see this:

Labour’s Sirajul Islam – Dec 2013

Tories’ Peter Golds – Sep 2013

Lib Dem Stephanie Eaton – Sep 2013.

And unless I’ve missed it, I can’t see any timesheet section for Mayor Lutfur Rahman himself. Maybe he just uses a tachometer.




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The Tower Hamlets Labour party yesterday issued the following statement about the series of posters that have appeared in Bow smearing ex-Lib Dem councillor and pro-Lutfur community activist Nigel McCollum.

Labour condemn smears against former councillor Nigel McCollum

Responding to reports of a poster smear campaign against former Tower Hamlets councillor Nigel McCollum Leader of the Labour Group, Cllr Sirajul Islam, said:

“I totally condemn these utterly atrocious attempts to smear a hard-working and respected former councillor. Whilst we may have our political differences with Nigel nobody should ever be subjected to this kind of abuse and we hope that those responsible will be swiftly bought to justice.

“To baselessly imply without any reason or cause that this is related to any exchange of opinions in the Council chamber does neither them, nor Nigel, justice. Now is not a time for politics, it is about finding those responsible and ensuring they face the consequences of their actions.”

Labour’s Candidate for Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, said:

These attacks on Nigel McCollum are disgusting and unacceptable. I and the Labour Party stand firmly in support of him and against such cowardly homophobic behaviour. Anybody found to be behind these attacks should face the full force of the law.

“I and the Labour Party defend absolutely his right to challenge any public spending decisions under whatever administration. However, anybody attending the Council meeting will be aware that Labour members clarified that his claims were in our view ill-informed and misleading and were a rather clumsy political attack by one of the Mayor’s supporters.

“To link our disagreement with this attack against him is a slur. One of the reasons I am standing for Mayor is to challenge the nasty tendencies that often lurk in East End politics. This sort of conduct has no place in civilised society.”

Here’s a reminder of what Mayor Lutfur Rahman said yesterday:

“He [Nigel] had raised what he believes to have been the scandalous role of some local Labour councillors in wasting £1.6 million on developments in the Roman Road the previous evening at a meeting of the full council.

Both Lib Dem leader, Councillor Stephanie Eaton and I are urging the police to mount a full and thorough investigation. Both Stephanie and I wish to condemn what Nigel and ourselves believe to be a serious homophobic attack, and one that may well be politically charged. I have spoken to Nigel and offered him both our sympathy and our full support.”

And a reminder of what Lib Dem councillor Stephanie Eaton said:

Nigel and I believe this to be a serious homophobic attack, and one that is aimed at stopping him from continuing his political activities. To post anonymous homophobic attacks about a resident and former councillor simply because he has raised legitimate questions about public spending is cowardly and unacceptable.

I’ve no idea what evidence they have to link the attack to Labour but as responsible leaders, I’m sure they will provide it to detectives.

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Nigel McCollumTower Hamlets police have launched an investigation into a homophobic smear campaign against former Lib Dem councillor Nigel McCollum.

Posters appeared in bus shelters near his home in the Old Ford Road area of Bow late on Wednesday night, Thursday morning and again today. In total, about 10 have been found.

The posters, which include a recently taken photograph at him at an event in Bow attended by the Duchess of Gloucester, label him a ‘paedophile’. They gave his address and phone numbers.

They also went into more details which I’m not publishing. All are false.

He is openly gay and delivered a petition on behalf of other residents in Bow at Wednesday’s council meeting, which also heard a series of people and youngsters condemning homophobia in the borough.

Although a former Lib Dem, as regular readers of this blog will know, he is now a supporter and good friend of Mayor Lutfur Rahman.

The mayor has just posted comments about the incident on his blog today. That he failed to condemn the homophobic rants against Tory Peter Golds at previous council meetings in no way detracts from the gravity of his words.

Here’s what Lutfur says:

I have been appalled to learn of the quite shocking and potentially criminal actions that have directly followed the public intervention of one of our borough’s prominent and respected residents, former Lib Dem councillor, Nigel McCollum, in the full council meeting in the Town Hall on Wednesday night.

I understand the police have launched an immediate investigation in to who is behind the posting of deeply offensive leaflets, picturing Nigel McCollum, and claiming that he is a ‘paedophile’. These posters have been posted in and around public areas near to where Nigel lives.

Fortunately, Nigel was alerted by concerned neighbours and friends upon waking on Thursday morning.

He had raised what he believes to have been the scandalous role of some local Labour councillors in wasting £1.6 million on developments in the Roman Road the previous evening at a meeting of the full council.

Both Lib Dem leader, Councillor Stephanie Eaton and I are urging the police to mount a full and thorough investigation. Both Stephanie and I wish to condemn what Nigel and ourselves believe to be a serious homophobic attack, and one that may well be politically charged. I have spoken to Nigel and offered him both our sympathy and our full support.

There can be no place for homophobia and hate in Tower Hamlets. Those who attempt to promulgate it must know that there will be consequences to their actions.

And here’s what Lib Dem councillor Stephanie Eaton says in the press release she’s just issued:

Former Liberal Democrat Councillor Nigel McCollum has been the subject of anonymous smears and lies following his presentation of a petition to full council on Wednesday night. On Thursday morning, a number of posters were found in Bow making untrue and homophobic accusations against Mr McCollum. The police have launched an immediate investigation in to the production of the posters, which included a recent photograph of Nigel McCollum and his contact details. The posters were posted in public areas near to where Mr McCollum lives.

Liberal Democrat Councillor, Dr Stephanie Eaton said: “I am appalled to learn of the shocking and potentially criminal actions that have directly followed the public intervention of one of our borough’s respected residents, Nigel McCollum, in the full council meeting in the Town Hall on Wednesday night. Nigel McCollum had raised what he believes to have been the scandalous role of some local Labour councillors in wasting £1.6 million on developments in the Roman Road the previous evening at a meeting of the full council.

Nigel and I believe this to be a serious homophobic attack, and one that is aimed at stopping him from continuing his political activities. To post anonymous homophobic attacks about a resident and former councillor simply because he has raised legitimate questions about public spending is cowardly and unacceptable. It is an attack on all people involved in local politics, and one which has the potential to deter LGBT people from public service.

There can be no place for homophobia in Tower Hamlets and in Tower Hamlets politics.”  

Notes for Editors

Nigel McCollum was a Tower Hamlets Councillor from 2002-2006 representing the ward of Bow East. He is a gay man in a long term relationship with his partner.

In 2005/2006 Nigel McCollum was subjected to anonymous hate mail making similar homophobic accusations. At the same time anonymous defamatory statements were also circulated to the Police, media and local politicians. The intimidation and harassment was a key reason in Nigel’s decision not to stand for re-election in 2006. As soon as this decision was announced, the harassment stopped.

Whether it was politically motivated or just some evil idiot with another grudge should be easy to prove. Plenty of CCTV in the area in question.

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