Peter Golds, the leader of the Tory group on Tower Hamlets council, has today written a very interesting letter to Mayor Lutfur Rahman in response to his call for the police to investigate allegations of homophobia and racism.
In his letter, he highlights a significant controversy that has been bubbling in the background for some months now. In the six years I’ve covered Tower Hamlets politics I’ve seen the Conservative group being accused in the council chamber of racism several times.
Sometimes it would have been by Labour councillors (led by some now on Lutfur’s benches) and at other times it was by Respect (led by some who are now on Lutfur’s benches). The gist was the Tories were racist because they did not have any Bengali councillors in their number. These accusations always seemed more than a bit cheap, not least because good Bengali candidates were being fielded in elections but the votes went elsewhere.
One of those who used to make such smears was Ohid Ahmed, who of course is Lutfur’s frequently incomprehensible deputy
Well, it seems as though he’s been playing the race card again. In Peter’s letter, which is copied below, it emerges that during a council debate on whether to make changes to the constitution last November (so that Lutfur would be required to answer questions), an angry Ohid pointed at the Tories and seemed to imply that Lutfur was being targeted because he was Bengali.
This seems to be the basic tactic of the Lutfurites: they are putting the myth out there that there is a witch-hunt against Bengalis and Muslims. So much for the One Tower Hamlets rhetoric.
Two months after Ohid’s apparently nasty little tantrum, he delivered a three-line letter to Peter Golds in what amounted to a qualified apology.
Here it is:
A more detailed explanation was sent to Cllr Golds by Lutfur’s bizarrely slavish monitoring officer, Isabella Freeman. However, we are forbidden from knowing the contents of that letter (and Ohid’s defence) because it was marked confidential. I suspect that under the Nolan principles of accountability and transparency for those in public life, Ms Freeman’s decision may well be a touch questionable. I think that under those principles, we need to be told.
Peter is now demanding a full and unqualified apology from Ohid and that if one is not forthcoming he should resign.
Anyway, here is the full text of Peter’s letter to Lutfur:
I was interested to read your blog about council meetings here in Tower Hamlets and that you are calling the police to investigate the “homophobia” that has taken place at meetings. May I thank you for stating that although you disagree with my political stance you respect my tenacity and conviction. This borough would be far better governed if you could persuade those who support you that we may disagree but ultimately respect each other. The appalling behaviour from your gallery supporters (yes I do receive the text messages sent out claiming to be sent on your behalf, about attending and showing support) and some of your administration which equates questioning policy as something approaching hate crimes does you, the council and the borough no good.
However calling the police at this stage regarding the February 23rd 2011 meeting, will not work. Following this appalling meeting, I wrote to the Borough Commander, outlining my concerns in detail. I heard nothing. In May I raised this with the Borough Commander at Overview and Scrutiny and wrote again copying the original letter. I still heard nothing. I approached the former Chief Executive who informed me, staggeringly, that the “police had found difficulty in contacting me”. Eventually I Met the borough commander and we had a useful meeting. An officer was charged with investigating my letter, by which time six months had passed and nothing could be done legally.
At the 23rd February meeting I spoke to you in the interval about the abuse emanating from one of your close friends, you waved me away. Cllr Tim Archer raised the chaos with the monitoring officer and suggested the police be called in, only to be told that this would affect the reputation of the council. Another councillor went to a police statement and made a detailed statement of the abuse and name calling, which has remained a statement.
In short, as your blog is late in the day no action will be taken about that meeting.
That meeting was not the first incident we have seen in this borough, which degrades the political process and affects us all.
In 2005, the election campaign waged against Oona King, broke political bounds for sheer malice. I have, so far, missed your condemnation of this threatening campaign against the candidate of the party for where you lived.
In 2008 an organisation called Muslims4Ken made a series of false and inflammatory claims against Boris Johnson. It leafleted mosques claiming that Boris had “expressed his hatred against Islam” and also claimed that “he wanted to ban the Koran”. Sadly those who did this remain in your wider circle. The police should have seized the leaflets and prosecuted the publishers under Section 106(1) and 169 Representation of the people Act 1983 and Section 110(6) and (9) of the same Act. The first section covers false statements in attempting to procure support for a candidate and the second regards the imprint, which requires full disclosure of the name and address of the printer and publisher of election leaflets.
Should this happen in May of this year I understand that the police will be more vigilant. I know that you have met Boris Johnson, you may disagree with some of his politics, but I am sure that you would join in rejecting those allegations and for police action to be taken should such a leaflet be published again.
On election day in May 2010 I was personally subjected to a campaign of vilification that caused commonwealth election observers to complain. Men were placed at the entrance to polling stations and every Bangladeshi voter was stopped and told about my Jewish name and the fact that I share a home with another man. Despite regular complaints from me and the election observers, police officers chose to do nothing and they and the election authorities agreed it was the problem of somebody else and so nothing was done. It would be reassuring for you to inform the police that this behaviour is unacceptable and that those behaving in this fashion should be arrested under existing legislation.
In October 2010 we had the infamous mayoral election, for which comment must be reserved whilst there are pending legal cases.
Let us now turn to the present. Under the Localism Bill the council will be expected to follow the Seven Principles of Public Life as defined by the Committee for Standards in Public Life. These make interesting reading in Tower Hamlets and are:
- Selflessness Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family or their friends.
- Integrity Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.
- Objectivity In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
- Accountability Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
- Openness Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands it.
- Honesty Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
- Leadership Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.
Openness indicates that as Executive Mayor, you should “be as open as possible” and by any standard, not withstanding the myth of “Human Rights” you should answer questions from elected representatives about decisions you personally make. Remember your cabinet take no decisions, you have reserved all those powers to yourself and therefore they have no responsibility.
It is in this context that the behaviour of your deputy, Cllr Ohid Ahmed, brings his office and that of this council into total disrepute. At the meeting held on November 29th we were debating amendments to the constitution, including enshrining openness into the council constitution. At 10.35pm Councillor Ohid Ahmed, deputy Mayor, was speaking when he pointed to me and colleagues and bawled that this motion had been bought forward
“because he (the Mayor) is Bengali”
Needless to say there was uproar in the chamber and the Speaker immediately shut Cllr Ahmed up. Following the meeting I confirmed the words and the time with the monitoring officer. The next day there were complaints from a number of councillors,
In any other authority the leader would have suspended a deputy who made such a statement. This was directed not only to councillors but to the gallery and was an incitement to racial hatred. When Diane Abbott made an unfortunate and foolish tweet, Ed Miliband told her, whilst she was on TV, that she apologise or be sacked. However there was total inaction regarding your deputy, until minutes before the January 25th council meeting when your advisor on boundaries (is he paid £8.39 to advise on the boundary between good and bad behaviour?) handed me a three line letter from Cllr Ahmed. On it was written.
“I have already given an explanation for my comments in the last full council meeting.
I did not intend to accuse anyone of racism.
If I gave that impression, I wish to apologise.”
Of course he not only accused members of racism he pointed at them in full view of the gallery. So what is the “explanation”? This was a rambling statement in a letter from an officer marked private which suggested that Cllr Ahmed was posing a rhetorical question. Of course being marked private and from an officer (not Cllr Ahmed) remains private and unknown to his public supporters.
Having got away with this accusation on November 29th, Cllr Ahmed made a similar accusation on January 25th, this time pointing at a different group of councillors.
Once again the response was as predicted amongst his friends and supporters in the public gallery. We have now had two successive council meetings where the deputy executive Mayor has accused other members of racism, whilst playing to the public gallery.
When the police come, this behaviour, along with other problems will be high on my list of matters that should be investigated and action taken. Incitement to racial hatred is not acceptable, and your deputy should withdraw those statements unconditionally and apologise in public. Until he does you should consider his position.
(Councillor) Peter Golds