Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘tower hamlets council’

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.

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 21.05.05

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.

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 20.19.29

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.

TO RECEIVE WRITTEN QUESTIONS FROM MEMBERS OF THE COUNCIL

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

Read Full Post »

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… .

Read Full Post »

Pleasing TakkiTo cut a long story short, I was ejected from a Tower Hamlets council meeting tonight and frogmarched out of the town hall by two uniformed security guards on the orders of Head of Communications Takki Sulaiman.

Because I told him he was acting like a prick.

I regret my choice of word. Four letters would have been enough.

He and I have a long history. He dislikes my journalism and I dislike his attitude to press freedom.

I’ve covered Tower Hamlets for nine years now and in that time I’ve seen a gradual erosion in the access afforded to reporters wishing to cover council meetings. That erosion didn’t start with Takki’s management of the communications department, but he has contributed to its acceleration.

He frequently converts press queries to Freedom of Information requests on the spurious grounds that they’d otherwise cause his team (which produces East End Life) too much work.

A couple of years ago, I felt he tried to get me the sack at the Sunday Express by writing to my editor because he objected to me using a scanner in my employer’s office.

And in 2011, he ordered the permanent removal of the reporters’ table that had been a fixture at the very front of the public gallery in the council chamber. After that, the council started reserving seats in the front row for reporters.

This last point is relevant to tonight’s events.

The meeting started at 7.30pm. I arrived some 10 minutes earlier. The public gallery was packed. I stood in the doorway of the council chamber looking for a seat and as is often the case, councillors and others came up to me to say hello.

I saw Takki sitting in a seat not far from the front. There was a space next to him, which he said had been reserved for East End Life. I asked another officer to show me the reserved press seats. She told me Takki had given them all up to members of the public. I asked why. She asked Takki. He told her because I hadn’t responded to an email to say I was coming. I told her I don’t think I ever got an email.

Besides, the council had clearly been expecting me. Here’s the ticket that had been waiting for me in the town hall reception when I arrived:

photo

I was then told I’d have to sit at the back of the public gallery behind a large pillar that obscures the entire council chamber. I told the council officers that that was completely unsatisfactory. By this time Takki had given up his seat for a member of the public.

I then stood at the back of the public gallery in the far corner of the room where I could see (from a distance) the backs of three councillors’ heads.

I started tweeting this and remarked that East End Life had been given a reserved seat. Takki strode over with his iPad. He was logged on to my Twitter timeline. Like many others, he probably enjoys my live tweeting of these meetings. Bless him. He said Laraine Clay, the East End Life editor, was using a crutch and that’s why he’d reserved her a seat. Fair enough (and let me stress as I have on many occasions my deep respect for Laraine). I asked him when he’d sent me the email about reserved seating. He said one of his team had sent it. I said I didn’t get one and that anyway it was irrelevant. As he turned his back to walk away, in a quiet voice, one on one, I told him he was acting like a prick. He asked me to repeat it. So I did. He then asked whether I’d like to be removed from the gallery. I said, ‘Do what you want Takki, I’m trying to report.’

He then hurried off and walked into a wall.

Then a few seconds later, two THEOS (Tower Hamlets Enforcement Officers) approached me. They asked me to leave the gallery. I followed them. Takki was waiting in the corridor outside. He asked me whether I’d called him a prick. I said Yes. He said I’d have to leave the building and the two THEOS walked me to the lift, got in, shook their heads in embarrassment and made sure I left the town hall.

The Evening Standard has covered this tonight. It’s another PR disaster for a council that desperately needs to improve in that department. And caused by the man who runs that department. Ours was a verbal spat between two grown adults – a hack and a spin doctor who are used to trading industrial language. And it comes at a time when there have been attempts behind the scenes to draw the poison from the political situation.

He says in a statement tonight: “This is my workplace, I have a right not to be abused in my workplace. I don’t know any other walk of life where it would be justified.”

Well, let’s try Tower Hamlets politics shall we? Over many years, both he and I have witnessed abuse hurled at councillors from the public gallery, some of it homophobic, some of it about personal appearance.

And in none of those instances did Takki or anyone else ask for people to be evicted.

In fact, the only other time I can remember Takki & Co asking someone to be marched out was last year…when the redoubtable John Wright, a 71 year old Alzheimer’s Ambassador was physically removed from the chamber for having the temerity to film proceedings after Eric Pickles had said ‘Go ahead’.

Anyone spot a pattern here?

PS Oli Rahman was named Deputy Mayor tonight. Congratulations to him. I’ve never heard him swear in my life. Ahem.

Read Full Post »

The Count

WHEN even the Great David Dimbleby starts sighing live on the BBC about a “shambles” in the Muppet land of Tower Hamlets, we know we have a problem.

The Guardian journalist James Ball tweeted in the early hours of this morning: “There’s always one. And it’s always f***ing Tower f***ing Hamlets.”

Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament was understood to be irritated.

Today, broadcaster Iain Dale devoted an hour of his LBC radio programme to it.

Delaying the results of the European Parliament elections by five hours last night wasn’t the best of PR moves.

A borough that had already been branded by some as a byword for sleaze is now (perhaps a little unfairly) a byword for incompetence.

If Eric Pickles was in need of any extra camouflage for a form of intervention when the PwC auditors hand him their report by June 30, he now has it.

There will be many reasons for the counting shambles of the past few days, but the most basic is that we have a dysfunctional local authority at a political level.

John Williams, by day the head of democratic services at Tower Hamlets (a job in which he largely excels, given the circumstances), is a very decent and straightforward man.

But I’m not sure he was the most senior employee available to act as Returning Officer.

My understanding is that he was thrust into the role because other more qualified individuals may have ducked the job or could not be trusted by some of the political parties.

And the reason the parties felt they couldn’t trust some of these candidates is because of previous political shambles.

The chaos and dysfunctionality that some of us have been writing about for years manifested themselves right at the heart of the democratic process at the weekend.

Clearly, we are now at a point where serious action is needed.

Which brings us back to the election and the results.

Maybe the words spoken in the aftermath of election war aren’t the best guide to future thinking, but they can reveal innermost thoughts.

At his press conference in the early hours of Friday morning, Mayor Lutfur declined to say John Biggs wasn’t a racist. I think that was a mistake and perhaps Lutfur also knows this.

Some time later, he tweeted this to John:

 I extend my thanks to ‪@johnbiggs4mayor for the work he put into his campaign and hope we can work together to better Tower Hamlets.

 John replied:

‪@MayorLutfur I am happy to repeat best wishes & offer support for nxt 4 yrs. Non-sectarian partnership always possible.

This was conciliatory and professional.

John, having been baited by Lutfur’s supporters, also tweeted these messages over the weekend:

3 tweets: 1 Thanks for the support. Pleased many know I’m a good guy. Not a racist. Proud to be here and of what we have achieved together.

2. & I don’t mind the abuse – it helps understand the polarised, dishonest, and often quite racist thinking behind the Mayors party.

3. Finally most of us in East End want to live together. We must continue to fight those who try to divide us. From right, or pretend left.

The more learned in Lutfur’s camp believe John was wrong to react to the thugs, but I disagree. I think he was quite right to take them on and he probably should have done so in similar language during his election campaign.

A worrying race-fuelled frenzy was whipped up by the Tower Hamlets First campaign. In the same way they believe the EDL came banging on the borough’s doors due to errant words and inaccurate labelling, they must now recognise similar dangers by their own words.

The mayoral election result and the campaign that went with it underlined the racial divisions in the borough. I’m fairly sure they’re mainly at the political level at the moment, but there’s a serious risk of that becoming part of a wider mindset.

Community cohesion, a phrase that has for so long been associated with Whitehallspeak, now has to take on real meaning.

Even many in Lutfur’s own camp, and in the Bengali media, recognise his victory was too narrowly based. He has a strong mandate, but mainly from one community. His Tower Hamlets First group has, at the time of writing, 18 councillors, all of them Bengali, 17 of them men. Just one woman.

He now has to show he can truly lead for the whole borough.

So how does he do that when there are so many dynamics at play?

 

My greatest criticism of Lutfur in his last term were his disregard for scrutiny and an insecure appetite for trappings of power.

With a bigger group behind him in council, I suspect we’ll see him become more confident and address some of these criticisms. In the council chamber, I think he’ll start to take more questions and I suspect he’ll ditch the chauffeured Merc and hire an eco car instead.

And wouldn’t it be lovely if he issued a call for reconciliation, a plea for everyone to work together to draw the poison from Tower Hamlets politics? He could ask Labour to supply members to his cabinet, he could form a group of resident advisors to act as a monthly sounding board; he could have public question times every six months.

But I think his overriding desire for readmission to the Labour party (on his terms) will drive him more than anything else. On Channel S TV tonight he said his door is open to the Labour group if they would like to cooperate.

He has a cabinet to pick by June 11, the date of the Annual meeting of the council. I’m sure he’d love to have the likes of David Edgar and Marc Francis serve with him, and quite possibly Rachael Saunders.

Whether Labour would allow that so soon after the election is doubtful. Personally, I think they should just get on with it and give him a go. Nothing wrong with a trial period.

But what would be Lutfur’s price…and also the cost to him?

He has a much larger group to please now, including a certain Abjol Miah, the former IFE-aligned Respect leader, who doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to getting along with party colleagues. Those who served with him in Respect remember him as a rather malign influence in group meetings, someone who shouted at women members. Personally, I’ve always found him courteous, but there’s certainly a risk he could cause internal trouble for the mayor: I understand they’re not best buddies.

Lutfur could of course try to do what Sir Robin Wales is said to do in Newham and placate his group with artificial new committee/advisory positions that pay generous allowances. But because he doesn’t have a controlling majority of 23 councillors, that might be tricky.

Some Labour members might defect of course; but then again, those who lose out under Lutfur may be dangled a destabilising carrot back into the Labour stable.

So among the soft and fuzzy ideas of peace, a complex and hard-nosed game of realpolitik poker is about to be played.

On Lutfur’s side, he has many cards to play. He’s shown what a superb grassroots organiser he can be and he’s devastated Labour while even using many of their policies for his campaigning. What now worries them is whether he can suck in more of their councillors and whether he can mobilise his support in next year’s general election against Jim Fitzpatrick and Rushanara Ali.

His sole female councillor, Rabina Khan, is said to be keen to take on Rushanara in Bethnal Green and Bow. That would be a close fight. In Poplar and Limehouse, Jim is probably safer, but the danger is there. Lutfur could offer to call off this potential war in return for his re-admittance, but he would no doubt demand all his councillors go with him. I think that would be too much for Labour to stomach. Could Lutfur agree on a certain number going with him? I doubt it; he’d be branded a traitor by the rump.

On the other hand, Lutfur may also overestimate his own victory. He’s very popular personally among Bengalis but his success was also due to a collective Bengali ‘patriotism’: many voted for him, not necessarily because they thought he was particularly good, but because they felt he had been wronged and he was fighting a non-Bengali in John Biggs. Had Labour fielded a popular Bengali in Biggs’s place, the story might be different today.

Labour’s post-mortem on its defeat is going to be painful. Next week, they have to elect their new group leader and this will give us an indication on their thinking.

But here’s one last thought. In a recent pamphlet of essays from the think tank, Demos, Max Wind-Cowie, a policy wonk, suggested Tower Hamlets was now so dysfunctional that it should be abolished as a local authority. He said it could be absorbed in parts by neighbouring Hackney and Newham.

I’m not sure Jules Pipe or Robin Wales would be thrilled at that prospect, but is there some merit in that kind of idea?

After all, Tower Hamlets as an authority is a fairly artificial entity, having existed only since 1965. Before that we had the boroughs of Bethnal Green, Stepney and Poplar.

Former Labour councillor Kevin Morton tweeted last night that David Owen, who lives in Narrow Street in Limehouse, once suggested a London Borough of Docklands. Kevin said it was perhaps time to revive that idea…a borough that took in Canary Wharf, the Isle of Dogs and parts of Poplar and Wapping.

Perhaps not as daft as it at first sounds.

In fact, I think a certain Ken Livingstone thinks we have far too many boroughs in London. Maybe he can help drive that campaign.

Read Full Post »

This is a guest post by TIM ARCHER, who is standing down as a Conservative councillor tomorrow after eight years in the job. He was elected in 2006 and formed part of an exceptionally strong trio at the top of the local Tory party, along with Peter Golds and Simon Rouse. I asked him to write a piece reflecting on his time at the town hall. He sent it to me last week; I should have published it then, but I was on holiday…

CON1223

They say a week is a long time in politics… I was elected to Tower Hamlets council 8 years ago but it seems like only yesterday!

I’m ‘retiring’ from being a local councillor in Tower Hamlets. We’ve recently moved house, I’ve got a busy day job and with a young family it’s time for someone else to have a go. But it’s with a mixture of pride and sorrow that I look back at my time on the council.

Pride at some of the things we’ve got done. In 2010, I led a scrutiny review into the causes of childhood obesity; the borough had one of the poorest records in the country on this measure. And why should we care? Well because it can lead to a myriad of other illnesses and complications and is one of the key determinants of success, opportunity and health in life. Our key recommendation from that review was the introduction of free school meals for all primary school children in the borough, something that all parties in the council (and the government) are now supporting.

To be frank, it’s not something that I ever thought 8 years ago that I’d be a supporter of. But having led the review and seen the facts, I know it’s something that stacks-up for Tower Hamlets and not just economically.

I worked with councillors from across the chamber to get agreement for the independent review of leaseholder charges. I got the future of the Council owned Henry Moore statue ‘Old Flo’ debated in the chamber and beyond. I’ve exposed waste and held the council to account, from eye-watering housing benefit payments to excessive use of consultants. And I got the council to put up a portrait of the Queen in the town hall, as virtually every other council does – a daily reminder of what good leadership looks like in a building where it is often lacking.

As a Conservative on the council I’m proud of the way that our small team has punched above its weight. It has shifted the debate budget after budget, and I’ve lost count of the number of our initiatives, which, at first were voted down to cries of indignation by the members of other parties, have then been quietly adopted. Examples range from the tens of thousands spent on pot plants in the town hall (scrapped this year), to saving millions from moving out of rented office blocks like Anchorage House (moved out of last year); alongside reductions in contractor spend, reductions in councillors’ allowances and the scrapping of free food for councillors to name but a few.

Sorrow too though. Sorrow at no longer having the privilege of representing Blackwall and Cubitt Town ward and, more widely, the residents of Tower Hamlets. Sorrow at the way certain aspects of politics work in Tower Hamlets. I’ve witnessed the unedifying sight of councillors, elected to represent people suffering some of the worst deprivation in our country, brawling in the council chamber.

Erroneous and unfounded accusations of racism being made – invariably when the debate gets too uncomfortable/accurate for some. And, sorrow that, despite all my, and my Conservative colleagues, hard work, so much more still needs to be done to make Tower Hamlets deliver the services, value for money and transparency deserved by its residents.

During my 8 years I’ve held many roles: deputy leader of the opposition; deputy group leader; chair of health scrutiny; and scrutiny lead for the chief executives department. I’ve also served on many committees and outside bodies. But being a councillor isn’t about collecting job titles. It’s what you get done that really makes a difference.

The things of which I am most proud are the cases where I’ve been able to help people – individuals – the unspoken achievements that make a real difference to people’s lives. Like the housing association who I convinced to let a family stay in their home when they were actually, needlessly in my view, taking them to court to turf them out. Or the lad who got into his first choice school after I pointed out that the council had incorrectly calculated how far he was from the school gate (they’d missed the small matter of a bridge over a dock that just ever so slightly changed the total distance to walk to the school). The alternative school being offered was 4 miles away…Or perhaps the saplings that I got planted on a street that did not have a single tree.

Of course, my 8 year stint is very much a tale of two halves, with the introduction of a directly elected Mayor in 2010. It was a move I was sceptical of at the time, but having been introduced we’ve all had to try to adapt to the new reality. Sadly, the council’s wider structure hasn’t really changed, when it must – full council must now be more about holding the mayor to account, and in that sense needs to work more like the GLA. The reduction in the number of councillors is a step in the right direction and recognises that councillors have less responsibility under a mayoral system but what is the point of Overview and Scrutiny when the Mayor decides he can simply not bother attending?

On a personal note, knowing that I was elected as a Conservative, in an area where it was said for decades that it couldn’t be done, it is with a heavy heart I step aside. I won’t miss the late night meetings and I will enjoy having more time to spend with my family. But I will miss my constituents, the many local community activists I have had the pleasure of working with, and the strong team spirit of my Conservative council colleagues, led by Peter Golds.

Finally, in an era where trust in politicians seems to be at an all time low, it is important to remember that most councillors are there for the right reasons; they work hard and are trying to build a better future. A few are not and they should be exposed but not used to dismiss the positive contributions of the rest. I maybe saying farewell to Tower Hamlets politics, but not to Tower Hamlets. I still work in the borough and after 8 years of being a councillor and many more campaigning in the area, I am sure I’ll be keeping an eye on things for a while to come (and I’ll certainly be following Ted’s blog….).

Read Full Post »

8.15am…This has just come to me. At 8am this morning a number of specially appointed auditors from PriceWaterhouseCooopers arrived at Tower Hamlets town hall in Mulberry Place on the express orders of the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Eric Pickles has heard enough and he has now put his words into action.

Officials at DCLG have been watching Tower Hamlets extremely carefully for many months, amassing their own evidence.

The BBC Panorama documentary on Monday was the final straw. Evidence amassed from that programme, and not just that relating to the broadcast itself, is also being examined.

I understand PwC’s people are taking away boxes of files relating to the grants process and the disposal of assets, probably including the sale of Poplar Town Hall.

Mayor Lutfur Rahman is due to hold an anti-Panorama rally in Stepney on Saturday. I suspect the tension will be ratcheted up.

More on all this later, but spare a thought for interim officer Meic Sullivan-Gould, who’s missing all this fun having flown to Japan…where they know what to do in these sorts of circumstances…

I’ve written a more detailed account for Express.co.uk here.

And here are the letters sent from DCLG to the council and PwC.

Read Full Post »

Jan0700146_biggerMeic Sullivan-Gould, a Past President of the Association of Council Secretaries & Solicitors, has ruffled a few feathers since becoming interim monitoring officer at Tower Hamlets council in January.

I’m told he’s a great fan of Private Eye and that he believes he’s a real bloodhound when it comes to sniffing out town hall wrongdoing.

He’s something of a travelling wilbury in local government circles. Councils queue up for his consultancy services, it seems. He must be the best thing since sliced bread. He’s an expert. In everything.

Except keeping counsel as a good lawyer perhaps should.

Within a few short weeks of of working in Tower Hamlets the white knight of local government was letting it be known there was nothing to investigate. He, Meic, had given the council and Mayor Lutfur Rahman a clean bill of health.

Nothing to be seen here, you pesky journalists and opposition councillors; run along now.

How he had managed to go through the books and processes of the council is such a short space of time, I have no idea. He must be superhuman.

And so confident was he of his thorough investigation, he took to Facebook as the Panorama programme was airing on Monday night.

Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 13.07.15

The man he is chatting to is Mark Hynes, the director of law at Lambeth Council, who, significantly, is the President of the Lawyers in Local Government. So a heavy hitter. I’m not sure he’ll be most impressed about Meic’s privacy settings.

So what we learn is that Mark Hynes is shocked by Panorama’s findings. “Where were all the officers?” he asks. “..it would seem that the Bengalis through the mayor and cabinet are doing what they want.”

I’m not sure “the Bengalis” is a term he’d like to use again. And I think the headhunters will knock no more about him moving to LBTH.

But Meic doesn’t pick him up on his use of language. Instead he berates Mark for taking a view. In fact, Meic goes further: He offers his expert political analysis. “The mayor’s support will be galvanised by their unfair coverage….chances of a free fair and credible election diminished by an unnecessarily contentious rehash of longstanding unproven allegations!”

Remember, Meic had just watched a programme proving a dubious relationship between the Mayor and Channel S. Meic thought there were Chinese walls in place surrounding Mohammed Jubair’s work for the broadcaster and as a mayoral media adviser.

So in Meic’s view, Lutfur is not the Bad Mayor, but a good guy. Clean bill of health.

Part of his job, of course, is to be impartial on many matters, and to retain the trust of members and officers. He may just have lost that. They almost yearn for the return of his predecessor Isabella Freeman. I’m not sure he can hang around too much longer.

That’ll give him time to scour the pages of Private Eye (for articles about himself.)

Or return to his thoughtful musings on Twitter..

Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 16.30.43

 

 

Read Full Post »

One of the features of Lutfur Rahman’s divisive administration has been the readiness of his low-grade lieutenants to chuck around the word ‘racist’. I’ve documented this far too many times on this blog to list them again now.

It’s also been clear the past few months that this would be their strategy in the lead up to May’s mayoral election. And having grown up in the swamp, they know that mud can stick.

They’ll probably find some way to label me racist for even saying that, but I’m not.

You see, my wife and her family sometimes call themselves Bangladeshis; more frequently it’ll be Bengalis. All the time, of course, they also say they’re British. And at other times, when they’re describing someone who’s white, they’ll say they’re ‘English’.

All terms of common parlance. And they’re the most lovely, open-minded family I know (and yes, I would say that, but it’s true.)

Unlike the dimwitted muck-rakers who pretend they’re campaigning for a One Tower Hamlets, ie Lutfur’s Tower Hamlets First crew.

Lutfur was always described to me by those who knew him better as an empty vessel. It seems that vessel now poureth over with poison.

How so?

See this press release from Lutfur’s campaign manager Cllr Alibor Choudhury.

John Biggs: Dividing the East End

Labour Mayoral hopeful reported to Equalities and Human Rights Commission over inflammatory and divisive comments

Pressure was today mounting on Tower Hamlets Labour Mayoral hopeful John Biggs after he was referred to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission for remarks made on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme

The complaint, by Cllr. Alibor Choudhury of Tower Hamlets First, refers to a statement made by Biggs on 22 September 2013.

Attempting to refute claims of institutional racism in the Labour Party, Mr Biggs said: “All of the Mayor’s Cabinet are Bangladeshi and his primary policy focus has been the concerns of one community, the Bangladeshi community.”

Cllr. Choudhury said: “First off, the makeup of the Mayor’s cabinet is a result of Labour’s policy of non-cooperation. Secondly, John might want to think of me as a foreigner, but I was born here and am as British as he is. Thirdly, policies like free homecare, bringing back EMA and building the most affordable homes in the UK benefit everyone. John’s remarks are untrue and inflammatory and are doing lasting damage to community cohesion in the East End.”

The comments reported to the Commission are the latest in a long line of racially charged comments by the Labour Mayoral hopeful. In 1998, he campaigned against the creation of Banglatown and in 2013 his dog-whistle claims on housing were picked up and gleefully used as propaganda by the EDL who marched on the borough just a couple of months later. More recently, one of his Labour colleagues accused him of having a problem with outspoken Bangladeshis.

Cllr. Choudhury added: “Biggs’ slogan is ‘Uniting the East End’ but with far-right ‘patrols’ on our streets and bomb threats to the Town Hall and East London Mosque, his remarks are doing the opposite. Residents have tried to get him to explain his comments and have been ignored, so there’s no other option but to report him to the EHRC.”

Very kindly, Alibor also sent us the letter he’s written to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

Dear Commissioners,

I have been an elected councillor in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets since 2006, and currently serve as the council’s Cabinet Member for Resources, serving alongside the directly-elected mayor, Lutfur Rahman.

I’m proud that in Lutfur, Tower Hamlets has elected Britain’s, and Europe’s, first BAME directly-elected mayor. He is standing for re-election this coming May. Sadly, however, the local Labour Party, who are currently in opposition on the council, appear to be centring their campaign to unseat Lutfur on racial grounds.

Appearing on the BBC’s Sunday Politics show on 22 September 2013, the Labour mayoral candidate said, “all of the mayor’s cabinet are Bangladeshi and primary policy focus has been the concerns of one community, the Bangladeshi community.”

This is worrying on a number of levels. First, I am one of those cabinet members. I may be ethnic-Bangladeshi but I was born and brought up in Britain, I have always lived here, and I am as British as Mr Biggs is.

Second, there is a clear appeal to racial prejudice, which is deeply irresponsible, particularly given the backdrop of tensions around the EDL march that had taken place weeks before the programme, and constant negative press coverage around the local Bangladeshi community and Muslims.

On 25 September, three days after the broadcast, the East London Mosque was the subject of a bomb threat and police were called. On 26 September, a suspicious package arrived at the Town Hall. It is very possible that these sinister incidents were the work of extremists whipped up by Mr Biggs’s outburst.

Even if there is no direct link, Mr Biggs should know that his position as a London Assembly member gives him a prominent and influential public platform and that as such, he should choose his words responsibly.

Third, that there are no white members of the mayor’s cabinet is not of his own choosing. When Lutfur stood as an independent candidate following the Labour Party’s suspension of his candidacy – on the basis of allegations that were never put to him and later proved to be false – a large number of Labour councillors supported him. Those who were ethnic-Bengali were expelled from the Labour Party, whereas those who were not were permitted to remain.

On winning the mayoral election, Lutfur wrote to all Labour councillors – white and non-white – inviting them to apply for cabinet positions. But Mr Biggs’s party colleagues ordered all Labour councillors to refuse the offer or be expelled from the Labour Party. This is the reason why there are no non BAME cabinet members.

Apart from anything else, I was hoping that Mr Biggs would have something more constructive to observe about me and my fellow cabinet members, rather than crass complaints about the colour of our skin.

I truly believe that the reason for such messaging is that the Labour Party feels it has lost the ethnic minority vote to Lutfur and therefore needs to appeal to a section of the electorate who resent Bangladeshis and Muslims’ involvement in local democracy and civil society, and who do not normally vote.

Such sentiments are fuelled by hysterical newspaper articles branding this multicultural borough ‘Taliban Tower Hamlets’ and ‘Sharia Zone’, and of course the false allegations famously made by Labour Party figures that Lutfur had been ‘brainwashed by Islamic fundamentalists’.

It would not be the first time such a strategy has been adopted: you will be all too familiar with Phil Woolas MP’s racial smears against the Liberal Democrats after he lost much of his ethnic-minority support base to that party following the Iraq war.

I trust that you will share my grave concern over these deeply unappetising and irresponsible election tactics. I write to you now because my analysis of the opposition’s approach has been reaffirmed by further developments in recent days, which have seen a Far-Right racist party, British First, mount intimidating vigilante patrols outside the East London Mosque, a serving opposition councillor accuse his party leaders and Mr Biggs of racial prejudice, and the party’s election organiser telling the public that the way to remove the mayor from office is to get more non-Bangladeshis to vote. I am happy to release the evidence of these incidents to you as you require.

My foremost concern is the community cohesion in this borough. Its sure destruction should not be a price any legitimate party is willing to pay in return for winning an election.

I very much hope that you will look into this situation carefully, and I look forward to a prompt and thorough response.

Yours sincerely,

Councillor Alibor Choudhury

Cabinet Member for Resources
Shadwell Ward

CC: The Labour Party National Executive Committee Chair Angela Eagle
The Labour Party BAME National Executive Committee Chair Kamaljeet Jandu
Greater London Authority Monitoring Officer

Well, this is a bit thick really. And remember, Alibor is the cabinet member for finance. And not only does he in private call himself Bengali/Bangladeshi (he has to me many times and never British Bangladeshi, because that goes without saying), but he also signs off grants galore for groups whose names suggest Bangladeshi-only.

Only last week, for example, he and the Mayor handed out a ‘Third Sector Award’ to the Bangladesh Football Association, which has also received tens of thousands of pounds in council funding under Lutfur and Alibor.

The Bangladeshi Youth Movement, seen in this document here, also received grants aplenty. There are many other examples.

Hey, and what’s this we see in the Tower Hamlets Strategic Plan for 2013/14, authored by the Mayor himself: an action point for the Deputy Mayor, Ohid Ahmed…”Implement action plan for improving drug and alcohol treatment recovery rates across the borough, including for younger adults, Bangladeshi women, people with disabilities and LGBT residents. (March 2014)

Well, perhaps Alibor has referred himself to the EHRC.

As for suggesting John Biggs has somehow sinisterly prompted bombs to arrive in Tower Hamlets…well, Alibor is no stranger to violence. Perhaps it’s time he can explain how he got that six inch scar on his neck.

Every time I’ve asked John Biggs about Alibor’s past experiences with the gang-ridden Ocean estate, John has always declined to say anything. You see, Alibor was once John’s protege: John mentored him onto a straighter path and helped him see the potential power of politics as a force for good.

Perhaps he’s forgotten those lessons.

Actually, I think he needs a bit of love, a nice big cuddle. When you see him knocking on your door next, give him a squeeze.

Alibor

In the meantime, here’s John Biggs’s response:

Lutfur Rahman’s smears are an insult to true victims of racism

Labour have today responded to a disgraceful press release which was issued by Lutfur Rahman supporter Cllr Alibor Choudhury unfoundedly accusing Labour’s candidate for Mayor of Tower Hamlets of racism. The press release made sweeping and baseless accusations and stoking racial fear amongst voters.

At the same time another Rahman supporting councillor took to twitter falsely claiming that if elected John Biggs planned to use his powers to scrap the “Banglatown” ward name which is a point of significant pride in the Bangladeshi community. Cllr Choudhury was also promoting his statement on Facebook openly referring to John Biggs as John Bigot.

The attack was described by Labour as a “desperate tactic” and said that “baseless cries of racism for political gain are an insult to anyone who has actually suffered true racial abuse.”

Labour drew attention to positive nature of Biggs’ campaign including the cross community support it enjoys. They highlighted that whilst Rahman’s supporters were intent on spreading baseless smears and character attacks Biggs was focused on speaking with local people and announcing policies which will help all residents such as free school meals for all primary school pupils. Over the last two weeks Labour councillors and John Biggs have announced a multitude of policies including:

– Free school meals for all primary school children
– A 24h out of hours noise service at weekends
– Working towards building 1,000 new council homes after the current administration built only 15.
– New measures to tackle drug dealing on estates
– Creating a new private lettings agency to cut out rip off charges for private renters
– Bringing the popular borough fireworks display back to Victoria Park

Leader of the Labour Group, Cllr Sirajul Islam, said: “Let’s be clear about this, John Biggs is no racist. John Biggs has devoted his life to serving all the people of East London. This vicious character attack is nothing more than a desperate tactic from a party who know they are losing the battle of ideas.

“Whilst John Biggs is pledging to provide free school meals for all the borough’s primary school children, all Lutfur Rahman and his supporters can do is cry wolf. Their shameful and baseless cries of racism for political gain are an insult to anyone who has actually suffered true racial abuse.”

John Biggs, Labour candidate for Mayor of Tower Hamlets said: “I am extremely disappointed by this misleading, divisive, and inflammatory outburst from supporters of the current Mayor. I’m going to run the type of campaign Tower Hamlets deserves – one about ideas for how to make life in our borough better.”

In a joint statement MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, Rushanara Ali, MP and MP for Poplar and Limehouse Jim Fitzpatrick MP said: “We are utterly appalled by this behaviour. Tower Hamlets is, and deserves, better than these bullyboy politicians who resort to lies and character attacks. Labour have been clear from day one that we want this election to be about uniting Tower Hamlets, the policies that will improve peoples lives and the best person to serve all communities. Instead with over two months to go Lutfur Rahman is resorting to baseless, divisive smears and attacks.

“If Lutfur Rahman thinks Labour is standing against him because of his race then he needs to get real. The reason John Biggs is standing is because he passionately believes in uniting all communities in Tower Hamlets and with a strong unified Labour team he can bring the change the borough needs. The current Mayor just isn’t up to the job and is clearly more interested in his own self-promotion and wasting public money than helping the people of Tower Hamlets who will see through these inflammatory accusations for what they are: a desperate attempt to divide based on the politics of fear.”

“For over 30 John Biggs has worked tirelessly, fighting the fascist BNP and EDL and uniting communities across the borough. The diversity that runs through our party is represented by the fantastic slate of council candidates that will be standing side by side with John, as we will be, throughout the campaign and onward.”

Read Full Post »

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.”

 

Read Full Post »

I’v now heard of several cases of when Lutfurite canvassers (it’s alleged they’re being paid to knock on doors) have introduced themselves at people’s homes without clearly stating who they are. One contact said they were paid a visit by Cllr Alibor Choudhury recently and claimed even he failed to clarify his status; instead he apparently said “Hello, we’re from Tower Hamlets council and we believe in bringing the council to you” before asking whether there were any problems he could solve.

Mark Baynes, who runs the LoveWapping blog has detailed at some length the problems he’s witnessed, eg here, here and here. Channel 4 have also been examining the issue.

Peter Golds raised it at full council last week. I asked him to write a piece for this blog.

By Cllr Peter Golds

Three weeks ago a Labour candidate in Cubitt Town was calling on voters in Galbraith Street. How do I know? Easy, because a voter told me the next day.

The voter knew this was a Labour candidate because she had material identifying her party and herself as a candidate and indeed said so.  A week later I was with a team canvassing in Stewart Street and I have no doubt that the Labour party heard about this.

Why? Because we also identified ourselves and had leaflets and stickers indicating exactly who we were.

Once the local elections get fully under way candidates and helpers will be easily identified as they will be wearing coloured rosettes when calling on voters.

The stories circulating regarding canvassers supporting Lutfur Rahman and his team of candidates–and they are canvassers–are increasingly disturbing.

These people are not identifying themselves either as canvassers or immediately as supporters of the Rahman administration. In one case a resident on Manchester Road, questioned the two young men who called on him asking what it was about. He was told that this was their job. In which case who is paying?

Here is the text of an email sent this week to the police and the Returning Officer from a block on a Cubitt Town estate:

 I am receiving complaints from neighbours that two young men are knocking on doors with official papers in their hand and leaflets from the Mayor, when challenged concerning official ID they have fled saying contact the Mayor’s Office.

I am concerned at anyone going round knocking on doors without any kind of ID saying who they are and particularly where vulnerable people are concerned.

They have just knocked on my door and I can confirm they do not display any form of ID.

Perhaps you could kindly look into this and ask the Mayor to arrange for anyone canvassing for him to display appropriate and suitable Identity.

Note that once again when challenged they referred to the Mayor’s office.

There is also concern as to the huge numbers of letters, sent out at taxpayer’s expense by the council, supposedly as a response to enquiries.

A worried voter met me to say that she had received one of these visits from two young men (they always appear to work in pairs); again they were evasive as to who they represented, mentioning “the council”. 

A little later she received a letter from a councillor from another ward, whom she had never met, and would not in any case have contacted. This claimed to be a response from an “enquiry” that the resident had raised. As the lady said to me, she knows her local councillors by name. Why, so soon after the visit of the two young men had she received this letter when she was adamant that she not raised an enquiry.

 

Worryingly, these unsolicited letters are now logged on the council’s computer system. There is evidence that the number is very high. Will these people receive another unsolicited letter at the start of the election campaign?    

What data protection is there about his? The council is a public body, often holding sensitive information about residents, what is or could be fed into these letters and indeed visits?

Political parties contact voters, and we often contact them by leaflet or letter. However, we use our own resources and voters are made aware of our affiliation. We are also subject to strict rules on data collection.

This below the radar campaigning is part of the problem of the Rahman administration. They themselves are all but personally invisible to the electorate at large. Yes, the Mayor enjoys going to organisations who are the beneficiaries of his grants programme, and who naturally are delighted to have him unveil a plaque thanking him for his generosity.

This is not to use a campaign term, “pumping the flesh”. Nobody sees him on an actual doorstep or handing out leaflets on a street corner.

As for his candidates, there was a classic example this week.

The Mayor attended the new site of the traffic light tree sculpture close to Billingsgate Market. Naturally, he arrived in the taxpayer funded car, which promptly parked in the McDonald’s customer car park, using up a customer parking space.

From where Lutfur Rahman posed for a photograph, in front of Billingsgate Market, the town hall can easily be seen. It is a walk of three four minutes at the most. Had he walked it, he would have passed actual voters.

With him, in the car, was his media guru Mohammed Jubair and former councillor, Mohammed Shahid Ali, who was deselected by the Labour Party in 2010 and is apparently the Mayor’s chosen candidate for Mile End, some way from his home on the Isle of Dogs.

Perhaps Mohammed Shahid Ali needs a ride at taxpayers expense to find the ward he has been allocated? Certainly, whilst a councillor his main claim to fame was to fall asleep during a planning meeting and then vote on the matter in hand, which somewhat annoyed residents.

In conclusion, there are serious questions to be answered about these canvassers and council resources. Bluster, abuse and threats from the so called cabinet is not the way forward on this matter. It is time for others to look into the situation.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: