I was too busy with the latest developments in the Dow Chemical affair yesterday to blog about the new developments in the war between the two Tower Hamlets mayors. I first reported on their schoolboy spat here and the Evening Standard updated us all here yesterday.
As Ross Lydall reports:
The ceremonial head of Tower Hamlets has gone to war with the borough’s top politician after running up a £9,000 taxi bill.
Mizan Chaudhury, who is the council’s independent “speaker”, says he has been forced to take minicabs after directly-elected mayor Lutfur Rahman scrapped his official car.
He claims this puts him at risk of being robbed while wearing his diamond-encrusted ceremonial chain and has made him a laughing stock among other mayors who ask whether he has come by bus.
Figures seen by the Standard show that Mr Chaudhury, 35, spent £3,913 on taxis in four months attending engagements across London.
He also took Addison Lee minicabs to two events in Birmingham, costing £845 and £875 respectively.
The total bill since the Labour councillor became ceremonial mayor in May – the job was renamed speaker in November – was £8,972, including the cost of a chauffeur-driven Chrysler between May and September.
But Mr Chaudhury told the Standard he was the victim of a plot by Mr Rahman, elected an independent after being ousted by the Labour party, to discredit him.
Mr Chaudhury said: “Lutfur had his own taxi bill and he wanted me to exceed that. The way he did it was to remove the car I had, which we were paying £600 a month for.
“It was all a set-up. It was never to save money. It was to undermine the civic office.”Every other borough has a civic car. I go to events and don’t get the same respect because I’m not using the borough crest because I don’t have an official car. It’s become the talk of every event I go to. People joke: ‘Did you not take the bus today?’”
Mr Chaudhury claimed that Mr Rahman had also evicted him from the mayor’s parlour so he could claim it as his own office.
Mr Rahman attracted controversy last year when it emerged he had leased a £1,500-a-month chauffeur-driven Mercedes to take him to meetings rather than taking the Tube.
The borough of Tower Hamlets is one of the most deprived in the country.
A council spokesman said: “As part of the efficiency drive at Tower Hamlets we have sought to support councillors in discharging their duties in a cost effective manner.
“As such the speaker of the council was offered the use of a Toyota Prius to conduct his civic and ceremonial duties.
“This offer was declined and instead the Speaker chose to use more expensive taxi transport.”
I don’t know when the next cage-fighting event is on at The Troxy, but these two clowns should just battle it out there. As I’ve said before, Lutfur’s decision to strip the Speaker of his dignity and his car was lamentable, particularly when he is busy self-aggrandising leasing his own Mercedes Lutfurmobile. His was a silly childish act that belongs in the primary school playground.
At the same time, Labour leader Josh Peck needs to have a word with Mizan about how to play politics, how to keep the moral high ground; it seems his temper and his ego has got the better of him.
There can be no event that is worth a £900 taxi bill to Birmingham. What was that event? He needs to understand that it is not his money that he is playing hard and fast with, but ours. I’m sure it must be an ambition of his to run a cabinet portfolio one day, but this kind of spendthrift mentality reflects poorly on him and his party.
If I were him, I’d repay those large taxi fares from the Speaker’s special responsibility allowance, ie the extra £8,400 he gets for wearing the chain.
Together, Mizan and Lutfur have reinforced the reputation of Tower Hamlets as a laughing stock, not a clever thing to do when the borough is trying to persuade the Queen to confer it city status.