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Archive for September, 2011

This is cross-post from Kevin d’Arcy’s blog. Kevin is a governor at Morpeth school and an award-winning journalist who has worked for the BBC and The Economist; he is also a former adviser to the World Bank and various European institutions. He’s also the independent mayor we should have had.

Democracy dies again

Without communication with the public, no government is valid
Perhaps I should not have been surprised. The council newspaper, East End Life, declared on its front page in giant letters ‘London loves Vicky Park’. Also that it was voted the people’s favourite. What it did not say is that, out of 215,300 people in Tower Hamlets just 279 of them named the park as the best. Which compares with the overall British winner of The Old Station, in Tintern, where a population of 750 managed a vote of 2,421. I have to admit that Vicky Park is far superior to Tintern’s Old Station, despite it now looking like a building site, but both elections raise serious doubts about the nature of democracy. It reminds me somewhat of our mayor’s own election by one in seven voters.

The trouble is that all this a secret. The public is not being told. Clearly not byEast End Life, but neither by the previously independent East London Advertiser. Ted Jeory, now of the Sunday Express, who was previously deputy editor of theAdvertiser, says on his blog ‘trial by jeory’ what a pity this has happened.
Councillors still have regular meetings to decide how best to spend our money, but not a word about their work is reported to the public. Two newspapers every week elect to keep their silence.

Occasionally the truth leaks out. Either in the pages of Private Eye, or more recently in the Evening Standard, where the latest embarrassing spat was reported between the mayor and leader of the council about the use of the official car. The semi-elected mayor, having been prevented by councillors from taking over the vehicle, decided to hire a car of his own, then also blocked the use of the vehicle to the man who still represents the council, so needs to wear ceremonial gear.

This kind of nonsense is the only account we have of how our borough is run. Central government directives on the use of publicity, paid for out of the public purse, are totally ignored.

Endless pictures of the semi-elected mayor, smiling broadly at old people and children, is no compensation for practical facts about who is doing what and how.

As somebody use to say all the time: there ought to be a law against it.

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The atmosphere at Tower Hamlets Council is now so poisonous, and in some quarters overtly aggressive, that it risks undermining the borough’s bid to attain City status in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year, I’ve been told.

Commander John Ludgate, the Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London for Tower Hamlets, whose role includes representing the Queen at civic events, is, I hear, deeply concerned about how the antics and the ugly behaviour of certain councillors play out in the public arena. Apparently, he thinks Tower Hamlets has a decent chance of winning the competition but the nastiness at council level risks ruining it.

He was sitting on the dais at last night’s full council meeting which again descended into an unattractive farce as a row erupted between the chair of the council, Cllr Mizan Chaudhury and Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s sidekick, Cllr Alibor Choudhury.

The argument has been brewing for some time. Mizan is a Labour councillor and he gets to wear the ceremonial robes and chain. His role was formerly entitled civic mayor. Although its name changed to chair when Lutfur became the directly elected executive mayor, the role has remained the same.

The chair chairs council meetings – supposedly independently – and represents the council at various civic and non-political functions, and greets important visitors, including the captains of foreign ships.

However, since his election last year, Lutfur has had a bit of mayoral envy. At the same time as spending £120,000 upgrading his own suite of offices and splashing out £75 a day hiring the luxury Lutfumobile, he first shoved Mizan into a shoebox office, then banned him from holding a cost-free welcome bash for dignitaries, and then a couple of weeks ago he removed the car was being used for ceremonial duties (a story run by the Evening Standard but not, bizarrely, by the East London Advertiser, which is increasingly referred to by councillors as East End Life Lite for its minimal coverage of the borough’s important politics).

Mizan has been clearly riled by these decisions and last night, former small m mayor Doros Ullah spoke to the chamber in his defence. He said he was dismayed by Lutfur’s behaviour. This produced an angry response from Alibor, who does seem to be ever so angry and borderline aggressive these days. As Alibor threw accusations at Mizan and as Mizan lost his cool and forgot his independent role, all hell broke out in the public gallery where one man hurled  what must have been a particularly insulting insult in Bangla or Sylheti which caused his eviction from the building. (Those unfamiliar with Tower Hamlets Council meetings should be aware that turning up without any knowledge of Bangla or Sylheti puts you at a serious disadvantage, particularly when councillors start switching from English in the chamber itself).

The meeting had to be adjourned to allow everyone to calm down but the ill feeling remained.

This constitutional wrangling between the two mayors is understandable in some ways. I can see that Lutfur should wish to be seen as the borough’s main man, particularly as the civic role is held by a political enemy who might quietly wish to undermine the elected executive. But both boys really need to grow up and have more respect for the history of the office.

The role of the civic mayor is meant to be dignified and impartial. In Newham, elected mayor Sir Robin Wales wears the chains but I think it would be a mistake to go down that route because that only serves to inflate over-inflated egos.

I think the solution lies in Hackney, which also has a directly elected mayor. There, the former civic mayor is known as the Speaker and that seems to be a perfectly appropriate and sensible title. It also more accurately sums up what the holder of that office actually does (most people can surely relate it to the Speaker of the Commons). In another area where Hackney beats Tower Hamlets, its council’s communications department clearly defines what the Speaker does on its website. See here.

It is clearly wrong that the ceremonial representative of the borough has to travel to events with what Doros Ullah last night described as the “most beautiful chain in London” in a black cab. Not only that, it’s an insult to those attend such functions for whom the visits are often really meaningful and welcome.

Lutfur needs to rise above such pettiness and show some leadership. Last night, Alibor tried to argue that the decision to strip Mizan of his dignity was justified in an era of cuts. But that won’t wash when Lutfur spends so much on himself and when the savings aren’t that great anyway. The decision just makes them look silly.

The pair of them need to acknowledge the bitterness is bad, agree to a formal change of title from Chair to Speaker, and Lutfur needs to reinstate the car and a decent sized office for the Speaker’s guests.

Such a decision would also please Commander Ludgate, not only because it would shower Tower Hamlets in a more grown up light, but also because he would no longer have to get the DLR home after civic functions….Mizan used to give him a lift.

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Mayor Lutfur Rahman is trying a new strategy to suck up the Labour leadership. Here “he” (for is it really him?) is on his blog writing about Ed Miliband’s speech to the TUC today:

Today, Ed Miliband addressed the Trades Union Congress. He covered a wide range of interesting topics, centred around the immediate future for the left, how we oppose the Conservative government and what part trade unionists can play. As I’ve made clear before, I personally didn’t see eye to eye with Ed on the industrial action of 30 March – I truly felt that public sector workers had been left with no alternative – but on the whole it’s a brilliant speech, and well worth a read, so I’m reproducing it here.

(To read the entire speech, go to Lutfur’s blog).

In all the years I’ve listened to Lutfur talking, he has never sounded like this. So, who is Lutfur’s brain these days? Anyone know?

 

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The commenter Sheraz on this post here makes the following point about Anjem Choudary and his not-so-merry band of Muslims Against Crusades:

Did anyone, or has any see/heard of those poppy burner prats were at the counter EDL march?

The reason I ask is that they are partly to blame for EDL wanting to come to TH and I was very angry not to see them on the day to, they can pull off media attracting stunts but when they really needed, no where to be seen.

There are rumours surfacing that they may have become tools of the establishment, not sure if there is any truth to this but if they going help start something, they need to be there to face the consequences.

His last sentence gives even the more fanciful conspiracy theories a bad name.

That said, he raises an interesting point because he recognises partly what fuels the EDL. Today, September 11, Anjem will lead a MAC march to the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square. If past marches are anything to go by, the EDL will be there to greet them.

In researching this piece for the Sunday Express (you need to get past the tabloidised Royal Wedding stuff for the substance), I spent a fair amount of time watching who went in and out of the MAC basement office in New Road and into the Master Printers Shop above.

This place in New Road, Whitechapel, is Anjem’s headquarters and the familiar faces at the front of the periodic demos congregate there.

It is right in the heart of Tower Hamlets.

Here’s a thought: why don’t Sheraz and ordinary grassroots people in Tower Hamlets organise a large demo outside their office to say that like the EDL they’re not welcome in this borough either.

What a message that would send to the EDL. Given that Anjem’s lot despise the East London Mosque (Shah Jalal Hussain was scathing about how it had “betrayed Muslims” when I spoke to him), the IFE stewards would, I’m sure, be willing to help police the protest.

I’m just surprised the likes of United East End and Unite Against Fascism haven’t suggested this themselves..

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EDL: a victory for the IFE

Could the EDL prove to be as hopelessly hapless as it is vile? I wrote here that by turning up they handed  Mayor Lutfur Rahman a political victory and now his allies in the Islamic Forum of Europe are cashing in.

The East London Advertiser reports:

Hundreds of Muslim youths could be trained as stewards after success of anti EDL protest

By Nadia Sam-Daliri 
Wednesday, September 7, 2011 
9:58 AM

Hundreds of Muslim youths could be trained to steward volatile events following the good work of a peace-keeping team deployed on Saturday.

About 300 volunteers – most of them aged 18 to 25 – patrolled the streets around Whitechapel dispersing large groups of youths to prevent trouble breaking out over the English Defence League demonstration at Aldgate.

Volunteers and youth workers played a “vital role” in keeping young people calm, police said.

A Met spokeswoman added: “The stewards who worked on Saturday were well trained and effective.”

Wearing high visibility jackets, the stewards were joined by an extra 500 informal volunteers, meaning their numbers were not far from rivalling the 1,000 or so far right activists being held on the borders of Tower Hamlets by police.

While there were scuffles and arrests in the EDL camp, little trouble was reported in the areas around Aldgate East where a 1,500-strong crowd had gathered for a counter protest.

The London Muslim Centre and Islamic Forum of Europe, which jointly trained the volunteers, now wants to build up a bigger taskforce.

Dilowar Khan, LMC’s executive director, said: “We need to continue to strengthen our unity because the EDL issue is not going to go away.We need more trained stewards – the more we have the better.”

Stewards even stepped in and helped a female EDL member who fell out of the rogue coach that made its way through Whitechapel.

The woman was assaulted by a passerby after scuffles broke out close to the East London Mosque.

Azad Ali, IFE’s head of community engagement, said: “The volunteers escorted her back to where her coach was. They clearly have ideological differences but these Muslims were willing to protect EDL members from harm.”

Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman said: “If they weren’t there working with police things could have erupted.”

The teams met several times in the run-up to the static demonstrations and agreed tactics with officers.

Stewards are not a new thing at the mosque and LMC.

Many were provided in the anti war demonstrations against the Iraq conflict in 2003.

I congratulated the stewards in my last post but I fail to see the need for a mini-army of marshalls patrolling the East London Mosque. Are the IFE and the mosque hyping up the threat?

The EDL has given the IFE a golden recruiting tool to use on the large numbers of bored Tower Hamlets youths. “Come and join us, help protect the community from these Nazis, we’ll give you a purpose,” seems to be the message.

No doubt the next steps will be: “Hey, we’re training all these people, we’re providing all these hi-vis jackets, can’t you see we need some funding… .”

Let’s keep an eye on those grant applications.

(Photo by Fokrul Hoque.)

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The EDL’s “Angel Jo”

The commenter “anon” on this thread on my blog has highlighted what appears to be relevant information on EDL News (that’s anti-EDL news fyi) about the woman who was kicked on the ground after emerging from the coach through Tower Hamlets on Saturday evening.

Her name seems to be Joanne Dickens, or as the EDL label her, Angel Jo. Some angel. This is apparently her…before her jaw was broken. (Photo is copyright of BACPhotography – please get in touch with me if this is in breach.)

EDL News also have this screenshot of her Facebook page.

EDL News have also highlighted the EDL’s version of what happened. It’s here:

STATMENT: Tower Hamlets 03/09/11

– September 6, 2011Posted in: News

Fist off I’d like to make clear this is the events that took place on 03/09/11 and 04/09/11 are reported as viewed through my eyes,  the coach had 45 people on it and some events may be viewed differently  and/or some events were not witnessed by myself – i must also point out ‘all’ of the persons on the coach excluding Jo and the driver have been arrested and bailed so certain points i will not go into detail as this could harm investigations that are currently ongoing.

Ill start from the point of pick up on Tooley Street as our driver did not go to the designated parking that i told him to this lead to us traveling back as a lone coach instead of with other coaches heading north/M1, i don’t know London so i took my seat at the back of the coach and left the driver to take us home.

We must have been 20/30mins into the journey when we pulled up in traffic instantly we are all aware that we were in fact outside of a mosque on our right hand side(this has later been identified as east end mosque) – outside the mosque were about 40/50 Muslim men of all ages who recognised that we were EDL (on the travel in, we took the advice of no colours and flags but an anti sharia banner was taken from the demo and was put up in the coach window on the side of the mosque on the journey home, i was not aware of this until after) and instantly began shouting and banging the coach and in what seemed like seconds a window was broken on the left hand side, the driver then pulled away as the traffic moved but we were  again stopped in less then 100yds and at this point we were surrounded by more ‘muslims’ this time from shops with the others running up from the mosque – now more windows were smashed and objects were entering through the open windows.

The driver then was able to drive away and we covered a much further distance before having to stop again – in this time i did a check on the passengers seeing who was injured only then was i made aware that Jo a female on our coach was not there – personally i was shocked and this must be a mistake and checked the toilets asked everyone to check the floor(fuck i even checked the roof…) but we couldn’t find her, her friend telephoned her and she said she was the other side of the mosque from us and had been attacked  – at this point i asked everyone to stay on the coach and drive further up the road and i would go back for Jo – and i left the coach and moved down towards the mosque but even at this point more Muslims were gathering from the surrounding area – and it became clear the only option we had was to try and break through so i returned to the coach for more lads and we headed down towards the mosque – At this point i cannot include anymore information about the events as we have a ongoing police investigation against those that left the coach to rescue Jo, except to say that we were eventually forced back towards the coach by heavy numbers and unable to get to Jo.

Once we were back on the coach the driver informed us that the clutch was burned out and unable to move,we were sitting ducks and that’s when we were encircled with a estimated 1000 strong muslim group – video/images have been taken by ourselves and will be released – this onslaught continued for 5mins(it seemed like a lot longer) until what we believe was 150 riot police attended and pushed the Muslim group back.

A double decker bus was then sent to pick us up and we were moved onto it it then took at least 15mins to exit the area while still having objects thrown at us as the group of Muslims tried to block our exit with with bins, rubbish and even a sit down to block the road.

Once we were clear of the area(this is later explained to us as Tower Hamlets) that’s when the bizarre events took place with us being escorted all over London for about 2hrs under blue lights by what looked like 15 police vehicles till we eventually arrested and placed in cells – Now im no legal student but it seems very strange that persons that have been attacked (for some this has been a very traumatic experience) arenot counselled and asked to give a statement but instead are left to sit in cells for over 24hrs

Every person on the Coach was detained and interviewed and released on conditional bail while further investigations took place – At the point of writing this i believe that no Muslims were arrested over this incident.

Id like to personally thank the Met police for there swift response because i do believe if  they would have been 5 minutes later we all would not have been here to tell the tale and also to everyone who supported us like Tommy & Kev, Tony Curtis and Tracie and everyone who helped to get the division home including Craig Leicester and Shaggy who traveled down to pick up the last 3.

My thanks extend to those that left the coach to rescue Jo every individual directly risked there life for a fellow EDL member and as such should be credited not perscicuted.

NSFE

Richard Nottingham

This is an account of what happened to the lovely Angel by someone who clearly enjoyed the violence.

And this is what happened:

However ugly, disgusting and repellant this woman appears to be, I’m not sure I could have kicked her in the face on the floor. Could you?

Those who saved her from worse punishment deserve the biggest applause of the day. They’re the shining examples and leaders. Well done.

I hope she has enough integrity to reflect and learn. But somehow I doubt it.

 

 

 

 

 

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Gay rights protester Peter Tatchell issued a press release yesterday about the EDL and UAF protests. Harry’s Place reproduced it here and the comments on the thread are well worth a read. For ease, I’ll also publish Tatchell’s words below:


Like many other people, I went to last Saturday’s protest in East London first and foremost to oppose the far right English Defence League and to defend the Muslim community against EDL thuggery.

But I also wanted to stand in solidarity with Muslims who oppose far right Islamists. These fundamentalists threaten and intimidate the Muslim community; especially fellow Muslims who don’t conform to their harsh, intolerant interpretation of Islam. To varying degrees, both the Islamists and the EDL menace Muslim people.

In addition, I wanted to be visible as a gay man, to demonstrate that East London is not and never will be a “Gay-Free Zone” and to show that most lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are not anti-Muslim; that there are LGBTs who want to work in solidarity with Muslim people to oppose all prejudice, discrimination and violence.

To these ends, my human rights campaign colleague Ashley McAlister and I joined the anti-EDL protest, carrying double-sided placards which read on one side: “Stop EDL & far right Islamists. No to ALL hate” and on the other side: “Gays & Muslims UNITE! Stop the EDL”.

We got dirty looks from a small number of left-wing and LGBT anti-EDL protesters, some of whom said explicitly that our placards were “insensitive…provocative…inappropriate…divisive” and that I am “racist…fascist…anti-Muslim.”

There was also hostility from a minority of Muslims who were part of the anti-EDL demonstration, including attempts to snatch and rip my placard. These fanatics mostly objected to the slogan: “Gays & Muslims UNITE! Stop the EDL”. I was surrounded several times throughout the day by angry Muslim youths who ordered me: “You must remove this placard…You can’t walk here with these words…We don’t allow gays in this area…Gays are not permitted here…We don’t have gays in Tower Hamlets.”

When I suggested that LGBT Muslims must also be defended against the EDL, I was told: “Gays can’t be Muslims…We will never accept them (LGBT Muslims)…They can’t come around here…We won’t allow it.”

My response was to engage with these Muslims hotheads and argue against them. The discussions got very heated; at times even menacing and scary. There were moments when I thought I was going to be physically attacked. Thankfully, this did not happen, probably because there were police nearby and, more significantly, because several Muslims intervened to defend my right to be there and to express my viewpoint. Some Muslims even thanked me for joining the anti-EDL protest.

In the course of the arguments, I diffused the hostility of quite a few Muslim critics. I suggested that love and compassion were core Islamic values and that even if Muslims personally disapproved of homosexuality there is nothing in the Qu’ran that sanctions hatred or discrimination against LGBT people. Several eventually agreed that homophobia was wrong. Some shook my hand and parted with a more ‘live and let live’ attitude – a big improvement on their initial response.

This change in attitude as a result of Ashley and I being willing to engage in dialogue was really positive and inspiring. It shows how important and effective such an engagement can be. We need more of it.

Interestingly, there was very little overt, identifiable Muslim hostility to our placard slogan:
“Stop EDL & far right Islamists. No to ALL hate.” There were a few nasty, aggressive looks but that’s all. Indeed, several Muslims indicated that they also oppose the Islamist far right.  They realise that extremist groups like Islam4UK and Hizb ut-Tahrir, which want to establish a religious dictatorship, threaten the human rights of mainstream Muslims. These fundamentalists have a similar bigoted agenda to the EDL and BNP.

Our experience on Saturday is further evidence that we need an East End Gay Pride that goes through the heart of the Muslim community in E1, to engage with the Muslim communities and build mutual understanding.

Interestingly, there were lots of LGBT protesters against the EDL. But I never saw a single one with a gay badge, placard, t-shirt or rainbow flag. It was as if they’d all gone back in the closet. Why? Normally, on other demos, they always proclaim their LGBT identity. How strange. Ashley McAlister and I were the only visibly gay protesters in the entire anti-EDL demonstration.

The people who called for the anti-EDL protest to be called off were mistaken. In the absence of a visible counter-protest, the EDL would have been able to rally unchallenged and claim a victory. It would have sent the wrong signal if the EDL had been permitted to claim any part of East London as its own.

Saturday’s peaceful protest against the EDL was important because it showed that most of our communities are united in solidarity and that we will not be divided by the hate-mongering of the far right.

What too many anti-fascists refuse to acknowledge is that Islamist fundamentalism mirrors the right-wing ideology of the EDL (and the BNP). In fact, the Islamist goals are much more dangerous. They want to establish a theocratic tyranny, ban trade unions and political parties and deny women equal human rights. They endorse hatred and violence against Jewish, Hindu and LGBT people. Muslims who don’t follow their particular brand of Islam would face severe persecution in their Islamist state. These fanatical sects condone terrorism and the suicide bombing of innocent civilians. Not even the BNP and EDL are this extreme.

The failure of many people on the Left to speak out against Islamist fundamentalism is de facto collusion with extremism and a betrayal of the Muslim majority. It also creates a political vacuum, which the EDL is seeking to exploit and manipulate.

Some anti-fascists argue that we should not condemn the Islamists because this will fuel anti-Muslim sentiment. Wrong. Protesting against the fundamentalists and defending mainstream Muslims is actually the most effective way to undermine Islamophobia.

In the absence of a left-wing critique of the Islamist far right, the EDL is able to pose as the sole critic of Islamist extremism and to mount indiscriminate attacks on the whole Muslim community.

This silence and inaction by many on the left is objectively (albeit unintentionally) colluding with both fundamentalist fanaticism and anti-Muslim prejudice.

To be credible and effective, opponents of the EDL need to be consistent by also taking a stand against right-wing Islamists. Only this way can we offer a principled alternative to the EDL that isolates and targets the extremists without demonising the whole Muslim population.

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