Oh dear. What should have been a straightforward farewell ceremony to the troops who had been stationed at Tobacco Dock in Wapping for the Olympics has turned into sour political row.
Mayor Lutfur Rahman, alongside Dame Helen Mirren, was given the honour of inspecting the military on Sunday in Wapping Rose Gardens.
Here they all are together.
Thanks to Wapping-based Baynes Media, we have a video of the event in which Lutfur’s young political adviser Axel Landin can be seen trying to scare the hell out of the soldiers by jumping up and down behind them with a camera at 1minute or so in.
After making a gracious speech thanking the Armed Forces for their efforts and then inviting them all to eat a curry that someone in Brick Lane had laid on for them all (who, I wonder..), Lutfur retired home, rested overnight and wrote an account about his experience for his blog on Monday. The full blog post is here.
Again, the bulk of it strikes the right tone, but then this:
There was unfortunately one sour note. As this was a civic occasion for all of our borough, I naturally invited the leaders of the other groups on Council, Joshua Peck (Labour Group) and Peter Golds (Conservative Group) to join me at the event in paying tribute to the efforts of our servicemen. They did not turn up.
I very much regret that our opposition leaders chose to absent themselves from this very moving ceremony. I sincerely hope that their discourtesy to our armed services, and indeed to our borough, will not prevent them from supporting the Covenant our borough has announced to ensure fair treatment for returning veterans.
Well, this is pretty rum. Someone I know who is an officer in one of the regiments who served at the Olympic Park believes these comments to be disrespectful to the soldiers. A gracious farewell event should be apolitical. Trying to make political capital out of this is fairly low grade.
Josh Peck tells me the invite to the event was only sent ou by Communications head Takki Sulaiman at 6pm on Friday, and even then only as a round-robin to all councillors. He says he had a long-standing family commitment that he just could not alter. I’m sure our soldiers, of all people, would appreciate the importance of family events.
Peter Golds, who has an OBE and from what I have seen takes more pride in such civic duties than most, has gone further. He was unable to attend because every Sunday he travels to look after his severely disabled brother. Again, I’m sure the troops, more than most, would understand the value of this.
It is a slur to suggest that Iwould show anything but utmost respect to our armed forces and had I been given notice about this event I would have attended. In fact notice was sent out at 18.14 on Friday evening. I have written to [Royal Navy Regional Commander] Commodore Atherton and also to Lutfur Rahman requesting that his blog be amended. I have also asked questions as to the timing of the arrangements via members enquiry and freedom of information.
This is his letter to Commodore Atherton:
Dear Commodore Atherton
On behalf of my group colleagues and local residents I am writing to express our thanks for the work that our service personnel put into the Olympics. Always cheerful, never failing to respond to requests for directions they were a credit to our city and country.
As reported in the East London Advertiser, your reception at the parade in Wapping on Sunday showed how much locals appreciated the work put in by our Forces.
I would like to apologise personally for not being present to pay my personal thanks. Sadly, Tower Hamlets Council notified members late on Friday afternoon and like many council colleagues I did not see the email until too late.
I know from residents who did attend, that you were given a rousing reception and I hope that this short letter adds to the cheers.
And this is the letter to Lutfur:
Dear Mr Rahman
Re: Your “Blog” – Thanking our armed forces for their Olympics Service
I have today written to Commodore Martin Atherton regarding the Parade on Sunday in light of your blog, which is accessed via the Council website and therefore can be construed as official and certainly more than the ramblings of a politician.
The blog makes an untrue and dishonest statement regarding me which I quote directly:
“I very much regret that our opposition leaders chose to absent themselves from this very moving ceremony. I sincerely hope that their discourtesy to our armed services, and indeed to our borough, will not prevent them from supporting the Covenant our borough has announced to ensure fair treatment for returning veterans”.
Notification of this event was sent to me by your Head of Communications at 18.14 on Friday 10th August using my normal council email address. I did not open this until late on Saturday – far too late to make arrangements to attend.
It stands to reason that arrangements for this would have taken some time and therefore members could have been given an indication of the time and venue before all details were finalised. I find it difficult to accept that the very late notification was anything other than intentional.
I will be raising questions with regard to this blog but expect that you will alter this untrue story and provide me with a right of reply in case anyone should be misled.
Unfortunately, Lutfur does not allow comments on his blog. If he did, I’m sure someone would have raised another civic occasion at which respects are paid to the military when another senior member of the council failed to show turn up…one which is marked in the calendar every year…
Remember the Remembrance Sunday Service in November 2010? Yes, the missing man on that occasion was a certain Mayor Rahman. His surprise absence apparently even baffled then council chief executive Kevan Collins. He warned no one he would be missing, I’m told.
Perhaps he was just out for revenge when he wrote his blog. Very silly, very student politics. He can do better than that.