I can’t find the article online, but Andrew Gilligan reports in the Daily Telegraph today:
Council leader used staff to campaign for Labour
By Andrew Gilligan
A LONDON council leader used staff paid by the taxpayer to campaign for the Labour Party in a recent parliamentary by–election.
Lutfur Rahman, the controversial directly elected mayor of Tower Hamlets, took a coachload of people, including a number working for the council, to canvass for Labour at the Leicester South by–election. The visit took place during working hours on a weekday. Asked by The Daily Telegraph, the council refused repeatedly to deny that the staff were on duty at the time.
Mr Rahman was elected as an independent after being expelled from the Labour Party for his alleged links to an extremist Muslim group, the Islamic Forum of Europe, which has been accused by the local Labour MP of infiltrating his party. The April 27 visit to support Labour’s candidate, Jon Ashworth, was part of Mr Rahman’s so far unsuccessful attempt to win readmission to the party.
In emails to Peter Golds, the Tory opposition leader in Tower Hamlets, the council’s head of democratic services, John Williams, admitted that “staff from the youth service did attend in Leicester, but did so in their private capacity”. The staff were from the “rapid response” team, a community–based outreach service.
However, Isobel Cattermole, the council’s director of children, schools and families, stated in a further letter to Mr Golds that “no staff were on leave” on that day. Another council officer told The Daily Telegraph: “The staff attended the event as paid staff and did not take leave.”
Mr Golds said: “It is a blatant abuse of public money for party political purposes. If a minister had taken civil servants in a coach to campaign for a political party during working hours, we would never hear the last of it.
“We will be sending our full dossier to the District Auditor.”
Footage of the visit broadcast by a local television channel shows people working for Tower Hamlets council among a group wearing red Labour rosettes and campaigning for Mr Ashworth.
A spokesman for the council said the staff present were “not necessarily” working at the time of the event because they might have been part–time or rostered to work outside normal hours. He insisted that “no staff due to be working on that day were absent from their ordinary duties”.
But he refused to respond to questions about how the council monitored whether community–based staff were performing their “ordinary duties.” Invited to deny that any staff from Tower Hamlets were in Leicester during their duty hours, he three times refused to do so.
The fact that council staff seem to have been campaigning while on paid duty is fascinating enough, but there are some more interesting wider issues at play here and ones that go right up to Ed Miliband.
At the very beginning of this video, you can see a victorious Jon Ashworth thanking his supporters. In the front row, with their backs to the camera you can see the nodding heads of Lutfur Rahman and his deputy Ohid Ahmed. Ashworth then leaves the gathering and then Leicester East MP Keith Vaz manages proceedings. The Tower Hamlets contingent are singled out for praise and then at about 5mins 23 secs in, Vaz lays it on with a trowel. Ohid is picked out for setting up the Labour Friends of Bangladesh and Vaz describes how successful that group’s meeting at last year’s party conference was when 500 people packed into a Manchester restaurant. (He fails to mention that Lutfur and Ohid were both absent, having just been kicked out of the party..).
Then at about 7mins 30secs, Lutfur says a few words about how much of a “progressive” he is and how “we have come to show our support for the progressive elements of Ed Miliband’s Labour party”.
Take a look:
Why is this so significant? Well, Jon Ashworth, who is a former adviser to Gordon Brown, is a serious player in Ed Miliband’s camp as head of party relations. Keith Vaz, we know tried last year to ensure Lutfur remained a Labour party member and he is still determined to get him back in. By inviting Lutfur & co to campaign for a mate of Ed Miliband’s, speaking in Leicester mosques and using his Bengali connections, Vaz would have ensured Lutfur earned a few loyalty points.
Ashworth seems to have been happy to go along with it, which might well have been a mistake given the Telegraph story and the recent revelations that Lutfur spent £115,000 redecorating his offices.
Labour members in Tower Hamlets are utterly bemused by it all. During the 2010 general election, Lutfur, then the council leader, was regarded as the missing man of Labour politics. Indeed Bethnal Green and Bow MP Rushanara Ali complained to Harriet Harman last year that he singularly failed to support her successful run at Westminster. “You couldn’t see Lutfur dust,” was how one activist put it to me.
So while there seems to be some cynical momentum gathering behind his attempts at readmission, thanks to the Telegraph and to Peter Golds, that has been overshadowed by the word which follows Lutfur everywhere – inept.