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Archive for August, 2011

Anyone who thought the question of the EDL protest in Tower Hamlets had simply vanished the moment Home Secretary Theresa May announced a ban last week is in cuckoo land.

The following email has just been sent out by the Respect party to its supporters (it makes reference to an email from Fozol Miah – he’s a Respect councillor in Spitalfields).

New meeting place for anti-EDL protest in Tower Hamlets.

Further to the recent email from Fozol Miah about the EDL in Tower Hamlets, the meeting place for the anti-EDL protest has now been changed to Whitechapel.

The new assembly point and time is 11am, corner of Vallance Road and Whitechapel Road, London E1.

Further details from http://uaf.org.uk/2011/08/new-whitechapel-assembly-point-for-3-sept-anti-edl-demo/

Although it has been banned from marching, the EDL has confirmed it still intends to turn up in Tower Hamlets for a “static protest”.

The Home Secretary’s ban, of course, referred to all marches through Tower Hamlets and four other boroughs. It means that Unite Against Fascism is also banned from marching.

However, UAF, on its website, is still issuing a rallying call for the largest possible turnout on Saturday and it many hope and probably intend to march. UAF has this petition:

Right to march against racist EDL

We, the undersigned, welcome the banning of the racist English Defence League’s march through Tower Hamlets.

However, we believe the headlines claiming the EDL have been ‘banned’ from Tower Hamlets are misleading. The EDL will still be holding a static protest in the borough.

We are also appalled to discover that the home secretary, Theresa May, has agreed to the Metropolitan Police’s application for a blanket ban on ALL marches across five London boroughs – Tower Hamlets, Newham, Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest – and the City of London for 30 days.

This is a huge attack on everyone’s civil liberties and prevents people’s rights to oppose racism.

We have the democratic right to peacefully march through Tower Hamlets on 3 September to show unity of Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, Black, Asian and LGBT communities, trade unions and all those against fascism and for freedom, and to voice opposition to the EDL’s attempts to divide us.

Our legal advice says there is no law that says if one march has been banned, all marches in that area must be banned.

It is our human right to peacefully march in Tower Hamlets.

We therefore support the joint Unite Against Fascism / United East End protest on Saturday 3 September.

I’ve just spoken to the Metropolitan Police who told me that anyone who marches on Saturday will be “liable to arrest” under Section 13 of the Public Order Act. The protests will be “policed accordingly” in terms of numbers and officers will use “discretion” in deciding what constitutes a march.

It’s looking like a recipe for disaster on Saturday.

UPDATE – 6.45pm

The Press Association reports that Theresa May has now extended the ban to the City of London. I guess they’ve just realised how close Tower Hamlets is to the City..

 

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When I was at the East London Advertiser, I tried to persuade the bosses at Archant that we should be running restaurant reviews. Hardly a revolutionary idea as local newspapers had been doing this for decades, the idea being that reporters claim back the expense of a meal in return for writing a review.

Archant’s bosses declined the request by insisting it was an expense they could not afford. I thought they missed an easy marketing trick: restaurants, particularly the smaller, non-chain owned ones, love those reviews and often frame the cutting on a wall inside or on the door to boast to passing trade. I argued that would get our brand to a wider audience. But the argument was over-ruled by short term cost management.

On Tower Hamlets Council’s East End Life, they don’t have those problems and they run a restaurant review every week. They are mostly written by the paper’s staff and council press officers who spend about £50 every week and claim the cash back from the taxpayer. (Intriguingly, we don’t know who the authors are because all reviews are written under silly pseudonyms such as Munchin’ Minnie or Pot-Bellied Pig; why their identities need to be protected I don’t know, but if I were a councillor I’d be trying to ensure genuine bylines were used – I suspect there would be fewer volunteers for the freebies as a result… .)

We used to complain regularly about these reviews at the ELA, as did Tory councillors Tim Archer and Peter Golds; more recently, Local Government Minister Grant Shapps has voiced his own criticism. However, Tower Hamlets Council continued to press on with the practice, claiming – disingenuously, in my view – that the review brought in external advertising to that page.

I suspect there is a demand for reviews of local restaurants and by failing to serve its readers properly, the ELA is shooting itself in the foot – and also from a strategic point of view. If it carried them, it could cite that as another area where East End Life is competing in its space.

However, there is a gap in the market and East End Life can argue (albeit weakly) that it is performing a public service. But the review in the current issue is taking the mickey. On p29, under the headline “Firm ribs, boozy Ribena and the best ‘slaw ever”, a council officer hiding as Pot-Bellied Pig reviews the cocktails and food at the chain restaurant Giraffe in Spitalfields Market.

Is there really another need for a review of Giraffe? Aren’t East End Life reader able to do simple searches of the internet finding reviews here, here, or here for example?

Surely this is just an example of a council officer enjoying a perk at our expense. If those reviews are to be run in East End Life, shouldn’t they be reserved for genuinely local restaurants?

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Lutfur’s new blog

Shows you how informed I am…I hadn’t realised that our dear Mayor has found time to start a new blog. It’s here. I’ll also add it to my blog roll; let’s see if Lutfur reciprocates… .

Interestingly, he’s writing it on a WordPress site, just as this one is (although his looks far neater; he clearly has an artistic eye, just like one of his predecessors as council leader, Denise Jones).

I have to say though, having listened to Lutfur countless times, the writing on his blog doesn’t sound like him. I wonder who’s penning for him.

Any guesses?

 

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My own view, as outlined here, is that the EDL should be banned as an organisation. I’ve seen them for myself on marches and they’re little more than a bunch of football hooligans who give both football and free speech a bad name. They go out to provoke and they glory in trying to outwit the likes of Anjem Choudary and the police when it comes to the former’s demonstrations.

So the Met’s decision yesterday to ask Theresa May to ban the EDL marching through Tower Hamlets last week is a good thing. Well done to Mayor Lutfur Rahman and all the other politicians and grass roots activists who helped persuade Scotland Yard. It was an easy win-win for Lutfur, but he grabbed the opportunity.

Let’s hope he’s not thrown away his success by what I hear might be some grubby backroom dealing and political opportunism over a planned Eid in the Park prayer meeting that was due to be held in Stepney Green park next week.

I’m awaiting confirmation from the council (I placed the enquiry with Takki Sulaiman’s press team on Tuesday), but senior figures there tell me a gathering had been planned for next Wednesday. It had been organised with the help of Labour’s Abdal Ullah and with the backing of the Islamic Relief charity. In previous years, it had passed off without incident and had attracted some 3,000 people who stay in the park for an hour.

Last week, though, the organisers were told it had been cancelled. An email was sent by Heather Bonfield, the council’s head of culture, saying “we are a borough that is severely under-provided with open space”. Given her previous attitude to the exploitation of Victoria Park as reported in comment 22 of this post here, this a touch ironic.

However, she seems to have more underlying concerns. Reading between the lines of her email — she says the prayers would damage “community cohesion” — it’s clear the council is concerned about attracting the presence of the EDL. That seems a fairly preposterous position: I doubt even the EDL would disrupt a prayer meeting, particularly one of 3,000 people. There’s nothing wrong with having prayers in the park for an hour or so. If the Pope had come to Tower Hamlets last year, I’m sure no one would have objected to Victoria Park being used.

Here’s Bonfield’s email:

I am writing with regard to your application on behalf of Islamic Relief for
the use of Stepney Green Park for Eid Prayers.  As you know, the Arts and
Events Team have processed your application, but there have been recent
developments which have an impact on your booking.

Whilst the Council acknowledges that the Park has been successfully used for
Eid Prayers for the past two years, this year it has received multiple
requests for Tower Hamlets parks to be used for Eid-related faith events,
including an additional application to use Stepney Green Park for a large
number of participants.  This level of applications has not been received in
previous years.

The Council’s policy with regard to the use of its premises (which includes
parks) is clear.  The Borough is a multi-faith, multi-cultural community and
the use of a number of local parks for mass faith-based Eid Prayers would,
by their nature, prevent the use of parks at this time by local residents
who wish to use them as recreational spaces.  As we are a borough that is
severely under-provided with open space this may undermine community
cohesion.

The Council’s application documentation advises that the Council reserves
the right to withdraw permission for an event at any time.  As we cannot be
seen to be favouring one applicant above another, we have an unprecedented
number of requests to use the borough ‘s parks and open spaces for Eid
Prayers and we believe the risk to community cohesion is significant, we
will be adhering to our policy and no park will be used for this purpose
this year.  I therefore regret to inform you that permission for the use of
Stepney Green Park has been withdrawn.

I appreciate that this will be disappointing news, but I am sure that in the
current urban climate, you will understand the reason for this decision.

Heather Bonfield

Service Head (Culture, Learning & Leisure) 

Deputy Mayor Ohid Ahmed was more explicit about this: I’m told he has been telling colleagues that the police wanted the prayers off, an explanation rigorously disputed by those who have reliable connections to the borough police.

I’m told that what happened next sums up how Lutfur and Ohid operate. They apparently decided the prayer in the park was a good thing after all and that they would help organise an alternative. I was told they had even chosen Stepney Green park as the venue, but instead of using Islamic Relief as the preferred charity for donations on the night, they want to bring in Muslim Aid, a charity based at the London Muslim Centre.

As I said, I put all this to Takki Sulaiman’s team at Tower Hamlets council on Tuesday. I’m yet to have a reply. That usually means there’s substance to it.

UPDATE – 5.10pm 

Tower Hamlets Council’s press office has finally responded after four days. I suspect they’ve had a few queries about it because they answered me via a general press release. In it they do not state whether Muslim Aid or any public money is involved. Here’s the release.

Eid Prayers

To mark the end of Ramadan a community Eid Prayers event is planned to take place in Stepney Green Park.
This year Tower Hamlets Council received several applications from organisations requesting to use the borough’s parks for Eid Prayers.

As the events would have impacted on residents ‘ use of a number of local parks on the same day during the summer holidays the applications were refused. In addition there were also major concerns about the recent events that have swept the country and in particular the proposed march that was due to take place in the borough on 3 September.

However to ensure that an outdoor Eid Prayers event could take place in the borough, the council worked with all of the applicants to help to secure a single event. In partnership with the council, Islamic Relief is working with the other applicants to deliver this year’s Eid Prayers.

It is not possible to predict the date of Eid al-Fitr accurately because the month of Ramadan ends after a confirmed sighting of the new moon. The first day of Shawwal, the month of Ramadan, is marked with a feast and prayer.

Eid Prayers is likely to take place on Tuesday 30 or Wednesday 31 August.

The event in Stepney Green Park, Stepney Way, is open to all.


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While at the East London Advertiser, we regularly used a good photographer called Mike Wells. I know Mike very well; he’s a had a colourful career, including a stint as a UN elections monitor abroad.

He used to live in the Clays Lane housing co-operative that overlooked the former Eastway cycle circuit, which was a beautifully wild little spot next to the A12 by pass. He lived there, in fact, until it was demolished to make way for the Olympics.

Throughout the planning and construction phases of the 2012 Games, Mike has been (or hopes to have been) a Grade A pain in the arse to Seb Coe & co. He’s not against the Olympics per se, but rather he’s angry with the way they have gone about it.

Over the past five years, he and a few other friends who run the excellent Games Monitor website have ploughed through thousands of reports and other papers obtained under the Freedom of Information Act about the levels of contamination and remediation at the Olympics site. Mike, from his home in Clays Lane, even used to photograph site workers using their Geiger counters looking for radioactive material.

With Mike’s help, I’ve written several articles about this contamination. The first one was for the Sunday Express in 2006. It’s here (please forgive the cringeworthy second word in the intro – I was a mere cub reporter then!):

In 2009, we published this one about how 7,000 tonnes of radioactive waste was to be buried in a special bunker on the site.

In February 2010, we ran this piece about how a plastic sheet had been laid 3ft below the entire Olympic site to mark out potentially contaminated land for future developers, thus possibly affecting land and resale values.

Four months later, Ian Griffiths of the Guardian tied all these pieces together with his own investigation here.

Over the past few weeks, campaigning Mike Wells has brought all these strands together and highlights a couple of the articles in a new short film that stars Hackney lawyer Bill Parry-Davies and Hackney author Iain Sinclair.

Sinclair reads from his new book Ghost Milk in which he laments the loss of east London’s former wasteland and the arrival of an ugly corporatism (which has its nadir in Dow Chemical’s sponsorship of the main stadium). As Sinclair talks, Bill plays his saxophone. The film, Gold Dust, lasts seven minutes. You can read Mike’s blurb about it here and view it below.

http://vimeo.com/28065136

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You’ll remember I wrote this for the Sunday Express earlier this month. It was followed up by the Times and the Telegraph; it also caused outrage in India.

Seb Coe’s decision to allow Dow Chemical to try and detoxify its brand by sponsoring the 2012 stadium doesn’t exactly sit right with his boasts about leaving a legacy in east London free of contamination. Other than Coe, Boris Johnson and Sports Minister Hugh Robertson (who professed himself “delighted” at this month’s announcement), I don’t know one person who is happy with Dow’s involvement.

Since that original article, I’ve learnt that Dow’s wrap is not purely for decorative purposes: it will also act as a windshield against gusts blowing into the main arena that will hinder potential world records. It’s all for PR therefore.

Are we really saying that we couldn’t find a few million quid to fund our own unbranded wrap?

At the weekend, Labour’s Keith Vaz, who had just returned from India, offered his own thoughts in the Sunday Express here. This one is going to run.

By Ted Jeory, Whitehall Editor

A CAMPAIGN is mounting to force David Cameron to intervene in a row over a controversial sponsorship of London’s Olympic stadium.

Senior MP Keith Vaz has expressed “amazement” at a decision by Games boss Lord Coe to ask Dow Chemical to fund a £7million fabric wrapping bearing the company’s symbol that will adorn the stadium next year.

He has told Dow that if it has money to spare it should be donated to the victims of the Bhopal chemical plant.

Dow is the owner of Union Carbide, which operated the plant in India which suffered a catastrophic gas leak in 1984. Campaigners claim that and groundwater pollution before and after has killed up to 25,000 people. Although Dow says it didn’t own Union Carbide until 2001 and that a “full and final” settlement of $470million (£285million) was agreed with India in 1989, campaigners say the plant’s pollution causes babies to be born maimed to this day.

A Sunday Express article two weeks ago has provoked fury in India where politicians and Olympians have even called for a boycott of the London Games. Many highlight the irony of Lord Coe’s boast to have cleaned up a contaminated site in east London, only to help Dow detoxify its legacies now.

The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal has written to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, urging him to register an official protest with David Cameron to say that Dow is a “fugitive from justice”.

Dow remains the subject of a number of civil and criminal court actions in India. Last year, the Indian government filed its own court case asking Dow for another $1.1billion.

In their letter to Mr Singh, the campaigners write: “We have been waiting for you to register a strong objection to the UK Government.”

Labour MP Mr Vaz said: “Dow should honour the $1.1billion commitment if they feel they have enough to pay for the Olympics.”

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VOTE FOR ME!

Come on, Mr Mayor, I know you’re a fan.

Put your Merc class X here.

Voting is now open for the Total Politics Blog Awards 2011. Voting is here. This site is listed in the Total Politics blog directory here.

Spread the word, ring in the millionaires, print new newspapers…and let the smears begin

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Today’s East End Life has a small item on p9 headlined “Name that gate”. A fuller version is on the council’s website here:

Competition launched to name new gate in Vicky Park

Residents have the chance to leave their mark in history by naming a new feature at Victoria Park.

Victoria Park is one of London’s most important historic parks and is currently undergoing a multi-million pound makeover.

Tower Hamlets Council, Big Lottery Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund have secured £12million to carry out an extensive programme of works to improve the park for residents and future generations to enjoy.

The refurbishment includes creating a new community centre on site, building a new island to house a Chinese pagoda, construction of two attractive bridges leading to the island, improvements to the play areas and makeover of the Old English Garden.

This is the biggest investment in the open space since its creation in the 1840s.

The Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, visited the park today to unveil the newly refurbished Canal Gate and laid the final glass slab of the Jubilee Greenway Walk.

The Greenway Walk is a route that starts in Victoria Park and links the Olympic Park with London’s heritage sites and parks. It is intended to mark the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

The Mayor also launched a competition to name a new entrance which has been built in Grove Road.

The park currently has 31 gates which are named after famous people, local landmarks or have a royal connection for example Royal, Crown, Queens, Bonner, St Augustines, St Marks, St Agnes and Gunmakers.

The Mayor said: “Victoria Park has a rich history ranging from its role as the People’s Park hosting political meetings and rallies to recreation, live music and sport and will be playing a key role in the Olympics as a live site.

“The competition is a chance to find a unique name which pays homage to the popular park and its royal links.  It is the borough’s royal links and distinctive history, which marks it out as a leading contender to be the UK’s next city.”

Tower Hamlets is bidding for city status as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

To enter the gate competition, you can email your suggestions to dave.hime@towerhamlets.gov.uk or by post to Victoria Park, St Marks Office, Cadogan Terrace E9 5DU by September 16.

The park’s refurbishment is due to be complete by April 2012.

It’s great to see the Mayor taking such an interest in Victoria Park, especially after the council pimped most of it out for a third of this summer by boarding it off for a month of music festivals.

I’ve no idea who will choose the winning name, but let’s hope it’s not his cabinet member for culture, Rania Khan, who at a council meeting last year dismissed residents’ concerns about the number of festivals in the park by sniffily observing that those who live nearby are middle class white people.

I’d guess that Queen Elizabeth Gate might be contender; or the Jubilee Gate.

Or maybe it will be the Shiraj Haque Gate?

What are your suggestions?

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Apparently it’s not really done to criticise your former employers, but as a shareholder in Archant, which owns the East London Advertiser (the shares were acquired under an employee scheme), and as someone who helped lead the paper’s campaign against Tower Hamlets council’s East End Life, I think an exception can be made.

During that campaign, the council consistently hurled back at us the argument that the ELA was in no position to take a moral stand on issues as long as it continued to carry adverts for massage parlours. While I always thought this was tortured logic, pretty much all the journalists in the office were deeply uncomfortable that our salaries were being funded in small part by the pimps who would regularly turn up to pay cash for ad space on Tuesday afternoons.

However, at least those ads were buried on the inside pages.

In 2007, the council passed a motion to try and restrict the growth of lap dancing bars in the borough. As reporters, we were  happy to back that line.

So on several levels, it was more than disappointing to walk into my local newsagent’s today to see an upturned copy of the the new ELA with a prominent advert for a “fully nude” lap dancing club on its back page.

Even leaving aside the question of ethics, this decision is poor judgment by a newspaper that will be left around the family home. Given that the paper is trying to win new readers among the large religious community in Tower Hamlets, the decision does not seem to make sense commercially either.

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Well done to Mayor Lutfur Rahman for yesterday’s statement about the riots, particularly his remarks about neighbours. However, he let himself be dragged down elsewhere. Here it is:

Tower Hamlets residents will be deeply concerned by the outbreak of rioting and street violence across London. This violence is totally unacceptable.

As your Mayor I urge everyone in our borough to remain calm.

We are one community, one Tower Hamlets; and it is the responsibility of all us as neighbours to look after each other, our local area and our services. The council is working around the clock with community leaders to ensure that this message is taken directly to our young people.

It is also the responsibility of the police to deal with crime in a way that wins the trust of local communities. That job is being made much harder by the cuts to community policing being forced through by the Mayor of London and the government. We need a local police service that remains in touch with, and understands the community.

We do not yet know all the facts behind the outbreak of these disturbances. I believe when full investigations are carried out one of the factors identified will be a sense of anger among our young people that they have been forgotten.

Government cuts are hitting our youth the hardest. Youth unemployment is rising, while youth services are being destroyed.

When opportunities for our young people are closed off, it is inevitable that frustration and alienation will increase. It is a recipe for disaster.

Young people should not target their  anger at their own community. It is not our local shopkeepers and businesses that are to blame.

We must have a genuine debate about how our society is being fractured and divided by an economic crisis made far worse by government policies.

Here in Tower Hamlets my administration will do whatever it can to show that there is another way; by protecting youth services, delivering jobs for local young people, increasing community policing, and showing that they have a future ahead of them that is not worth throwing away.

Tower Hamlets Mayor, Lutfur Rahman

Sadly, I don’t think he really thought about what he said and what he could and should say now.

I don’t know where he was last night, but he certainly wasn’t down the Roman Road. Perhaps he was watching from the expensive and impressive CCTV control room in Tower Hamlets Council’s Mulberry Place.

Along the Roman Road, there are several cameras that feed into that room. In fact, there’s one right by the overturned car which I took a picture of here. The people who work in that room feed their evidence directly to Tower Hamlets police, and Lutfur, I’m sure, would have been given updates. If he wasn’t on the streets he would have known what was going on.

How was it that all night that overturned car was simply left there? Where were his £35,000 a head THEOs, the not exactly ubiquitous Tower Hamlets Enforcement Officers he recently decreed were crucial to crime-fighting in the borough?

Here’s what he said about them in June:

“The THEOs have been making a real difference to our communities for over a year now, which is why we protected their funding. They patrol the borough: reassuring residents and responding directly to concerns about anti-social behaviour.”

Were they patrolling yesterday? Well, they weren’t in Bow? What is the point of them if they can’t be deployed when most needed like last night?

Yet, in his statement last night, Lutfur, like his out-of-date mate Ken Livingstone descended into politics. He blamed the Coalition cuts. Well, the THEOs weren’t cut were they?

No, if Lutfur had been on the streets in Bow last night he would have seen with his own eyes exactly what was going on: looting as a spectator game of dare. There was no one there to deter these people.

I know some of the people involved last night because they live extremely close to me. They’re gang members, barely out of their teens. I’ve watched them grow up for years; their mother is an alcoholic. She doesn’t work; I presume she’s been on benefits throughout the time I’ve lived here.

She and her sons live in a lovely three storey housing association home with a garden (worth about £350k, according to property experts). These kids didn’t grow up during a time of cuts. More than one person last night said quite the opposite: it was the bloated spending of the last decade which created the culture of dependency that failed to force their mother to encourage them into work. Let’s face it, they proved last night they don’t lack a certain entrepreneurial spirit. And neither are they “angry youths”.

And if Lutfur had been in Bow and along Bethnal Green Road last night, he would have noticed a couple of other things. Most of last night’s perpetrators were white and black trash scumbags who have no pride in their area and no real sense of community. They’re the ones who looted and encouraged it. In contrast, along Bethnal Green Road, there were groups of Sikh and Bengali shopkeepers standing guard outside their properties and probably prepared to fight if attacked.

This is what Lutfur should be bold enough to say today and ignore anyone who calls him racist. He should tell the returning Boris Johnson and David Cameron they can probably learn a thing or two from the East End: that much like there used to be among post-war white working classes, there is a stronger sense of family and community loyalty among Bengalis here – and they’re much more likely to stand up and defend themselves. Kind of Big Society really.

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