Former Labour council leader and defeated mayoral candidate Helal Abbas was suspended from Tower Hamlets council on Monday after a complaint by a leading figure in the Islamic Forum of Europe.
I don’t have the full details, but I understand that council employee and IFE member Hira Islam had complained that Abbas had broken the Code of Conduct when he cited his name in the document he sent to Labour’s National Executive Committee during the notorious candidate selection procedure last September. That document, you’ll remember, was used as the basis for removing Lutfur Rahman from the party’s shortlist, which itself resulted in Abbas being installed as Labour’s candidate.
The relevant text relating to Hira Islam in that document is here:
12. It was when he became Council leader that I began to suspect Luthfur [sic] Rahman’s involvement in the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE). This is a fundamentalist organisation which is gradually infiltrating the Labour party… Some of his actions led me to believe that he was being influenced by the IFE. Hira Islam, a Team Manager with the Council was seen to offering and negotiating positions on Luthfur [sic] Rahman’s cabinet. He is a prominent member of the local mosque and is suspected of being a member of the IFE. I challenged Luthfur [sic] Rahman about this saying it was improper to meet Labour councillors with someone who had a prominent role in the local mosque. That individual Hira Islam, was also an officer of the Council and should not be interfering with the political process. For me that was the confirmation of Luthfur [sic] Rahman’s links with IFE… He has never clarified the position on record nor has he ever disputed his links with IFE.”
Hira, a longstanding member of the Labour party who has previously refused to deny those claims, apparently complained to the council. The complaint was then referred to the council’s Standards Committee. Abbas argued strongly that this was entirely a Labour party matter.
I understand that the committee was made up of two independent members (ie non-councillors – I’m not sure who yet) and one councillor. That councillor was Respect’s Fozol Miah. Some question this: they point out that Fozol supported Lutfur in the mayoral election campaign and that like Abbas he is also a member for the Spitalfields and Banglatown ward, hence, they say, a conflict of interest and political bias. I’m told Fozol lobbied the two lay members quite hard to uphold the complaint.
And that is exactly what they did. Last week, they ruled that Abbas had broken the code. He was handed the judgement last Friday. Their decision was to suspend him as a councillor for one week and if he didn’t apologise within that, he would be suspended for four weeks.
He refused to apologise and he immediately lodged an appeal with the Standards Board for England. Instead of waiting a few days to hear whether that application to appeal had been accepted, Tower Hamlets suspended him on Monday. I’m told the Standards Board accepted his application today and his suspension has been, well, suspended.
Now, I don’t know the full details of Hira’s complaint so if anyone has it, do send it to me. But I am aware that this is not the only complaint in the Standards Committee pipeline. Other opponents of Lutfur have similar cases pending. There is a belief that this is a deliberate tactic. We’ll have to see.
UPDATE – December 23, 11am.
I have received the following statement from Cllr Fozol Miah:
In your blog you make a number of claims that are inaccurate in general but most importantly you have accused me of ‘a conflict of interest and political bias’ and have falsely stated that I ‘lobbied the two lay Members quite hard to uphold the complaint’. Both of these allegations are manifestly untrue and have been published to the world at large with reckless disregard to whether what is said is true. You did not contact me or make any effort to establish the facts before publishing. I consider that these comments are defamatory of my position as Councillor as they are intended to ridicule me in my office as Councillor and damage my reputation in the community.
I am a Member of the Council’s Standards Committee and was selected to be on the hearing panel that considered the complaint against Councillor Abbas the facts of this you have incorrectly reported. I consulted officers about whether there was any personal interest that I should declare in this case and I was told there was not. Being a ward councillor is not a conflict; I have acted with the utmost integrity in my role on standards and have no personal conflict with Councillor Abbas. Had officers advised me that there was any conflict then I would have been happy to step down.
The Members of the Committee at the closed meeting carefully considered the case on its merits. Councillor Abbas admitted that he had disclosed confidential information relating to an employee which was in breach of the Code of Conduct for Members. The Panel received independent legal advice on the relevant law and cases and considered quite carefully the penalty that should be imposed for this admitted breach. I most certainly did not lobby the panel for a stronger penalty; it was in fact the Independents who felt that it was a very serious offence and should have been a more serious penalty but were content to give a penalty of one week suspension if there was an apology.
He has also demanded a retraction and an apology.
I have asked him whether he was happy with the outcome of the meeting, whether he agrees with the recommended penalty, whether he tried to persuade any panel member to be more lenient, what his personal recommendation in the deliberations and whether he agreed with the proposed four week suspension or whether he suggested something less.
I’d also like to know whether he is a member of the IFE, whether he supports them, whether he has any other links to them (given that his former leader George Galloway said IFE were an integral part in the rise of Respect), whether he personally knew Hira Islam, and whether he declared any such links to the Standards Committee or sought advice from officers prior to that meeting.
If I have made Fozol a figure of ridicule in the community, then I apologise unreservedly. I look forward to more of his contributions to council meetings in the future.