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JOhn Ware, panorama, bbc, lutfur rahman, tower hamlets Having been partly involved in the making of tomorrow night’s Panorama documentary on Mayor Lutfur Rahman and Tower Hamlets, it’s more difficult to judge what its impact will be (it’s a 30 minute programme and lots has been left on the cutting room floor).

From what I know, I think it’s a very measured, balanced and fair investigation and I suspect Communities Secretary Eric Pickles will take some action as a result. The programme exposes serious inadequacies in the checks and balances of a directly elected mayoral system, particularly when there’s a context of dysfunctional party politics.

Although pretty much every theme of what will be broadcast tomorrow will not be new to readers of this blog, there will be some disturbing details of what’s been going on behind the scenes. It’s clear a number of senior officers have had major concerns about process and decisions. To the wider national audience that Panorama is aimed it, the entire story will be worrying.

I’m not going to give anything away about the broadcast (except to say Lutfur may regret his decision to be interviewed), but I think the bigger story, in the short term at least, will be the background to the production itself: accusations of racism against the BBC and a so-called journalist betraying highly confidential sources (and then absurdly, in my view, claiming to be a whistleblower).

Lutfur Rahman’s council has spent tens of thousands of pounds (we don’t yet know the final figure) on City lawyers Taylor Wessing and PR outfit Champollion, whose remit was to suppress the programme. Over the past few weeks, they, Lutfur and the council’s interim monitoring officer, Meic Sullivan Gould, have tried to badger the BBC into pulling it at every opportunity.

This culminated last week in a letter to the BBC’s Director-General Lord (Tony) Hall (who, having seen the programme with the corporation’s editorial high command, gave it the thumbs up judging it to be fair and impartial).

Their main argument has been that the BBC should not be engaging in the sort investigative journalism that might affect the outcome of an election so close to an election. Which is a curious argument indeed.

They have also argued the production was biased from the outset and that its primary aim was to unseat the Mayor. And surprise, surprise (given what we know about the tactics of Lutfur’s people in this regard), they’re again playing the race card.

Instead of me doing the talking, here’s the statement Lutfur himself issued last night (after it became clear the programme would be aired):

BBC Panorama whistle-blower reveals racist and Islamophobic programme

Criminal investigation underway as BBC Panorama whistle-blower reveals racist and Islamophobic programme on Tower Hamlets

You may be aware that BBC Panorama is due to air a programme about Tower Hamlets next week.

I believe the programme is being used for political campaigning and electioneering purposes just weeks before local and Mayoral elections in May.

A dossier passed to us by a BBC whistle-blower has revealed it to be in total breach of the BBC’s editorial guidelines as a public broadcaster.

It has clear racist and Islamophobic overtones targeting the Bangladeshi Muslim community in Tower Hamlets.

The BBC and the undercover production company, Films of Record, have also been referred to the Information Commissioner and there is now a criminal investigation underway.

Sadly this programme is already being used for political campaigning by politicians from Tower Hamlets Labour Party and promoted by right wing journalists.

The BBC’s targeting of our borough is nothing short of a direct intervention in the outcome of an election.

I’m proud that with your support I have been able to deliver some of the most progressive policies of any council in the country, whether that’s building the most homes; supporting our young people; providing free school meals to all primary school children; protecting our heritage; looking after our elderly or improving our environment.

I’ll let the people of Tower Hamlets judge my record in office – not by a programme with a clear political bias, broadcasting for Tower Hamlets Labour Party.

Here is my 3 years in office report – Transforming Tower Hamlets: Three Years On.

You can also watch this short counter documentary for an alternative perspective on the Panorama programme http://vimeo.com/90422433.

So let’s look at this “whistleblower” accusation.

First, here’s the BBC’s response:

“The BBC emphatically rejects any suggestion that its investigation into Lutfur Rahman’s administration was either politically or racially motivated. We can confirm that there has been a breach of data protection at an independent production company working with the BBC on a Panorama investigation as a result of unauthorised disclosure by a former researcher on the production team, in breach of her obligation of confidentiality. This breach includes material relating to the programme’s confidential sources. Our primary concern is to protect our sources and we are urgently investigating the matter. We have also notified the ICO.”

Now the background.

In January, Panorama reporter John Ware and the production company Films of Record (it’s a production company, not an undercover production company) hired a young Bengali broadcast journalist student). At her interview, she was highly critical of Lutfur Rahman and his administration.

They got her to do some research on some of the third sector organisations they were investigating as part of the programme’s focus on taxpayer grants. She was also asked to do some translating and she’d also been keen initially to do some undercover work.

She was only with the team for four days in mid-January and on the last day she was given access to a shared but restricted computer file.

After she started demanding more money, the team let her down gently and said thanks but no thanks. But then some six weeks later, the team were dropped with a bombshell. A dossier containing a significant amount of confidential material had been taken from the shared drive and handed to Mayor Lutfur’s office.

It is thought the council had this dossier for a number of weeks before their lawyers Taylor Wessing disclosed it to the BBC and Films of Record. This is important to note.

How this dossier was accessed is not yet fully clear. I understand the BBC is satisfied as to the involvement in handling the “dossier” of certain paid individuals in the Mayor’s office. Inquiries by the Corporation are progressing.

As to whether there is a criminal investigation into the BBC/Films of Record, my understanding is that is manifestly not the case. The BBC has told the Mayor this but he seems to have ignored it. Both the BBC and Films of Record quite rightly notified the ICO as soon as they were aware of the data breach. Note my point re the council’s actions above.

In my view, the journalist they hired should be ashamed of herself. She apparently claimed she had become concerned about the nature of the programme, that it was somehow trying to bring shame on Britain’s Bangladeshi community. Whether any pressure was exerted on her from external sources, I don’t know. I do know that many, many Bangladeshis are terrified about speaking out in public for fear of vilification in their own community. They’re quite happy to talk to journalists in private but very rarely go on the record. The few that do are brave.

What also galls is that this journalist now claims whistleblower status for betraying whistleblowers. It’s my understanding that she made not one attempt to raise apparent concerns about the programme with any of the Panorama team. As a journalist, she would have known the BBC has in place strict and confidential channels for such concerns.

As for the other allegations in Lutfur’s press release….

Panorama was ‘politically motivated’: Rubbish. Their methods were exemplary; the team knocked down weak hypotheses at every stage. They were rigorous and judicious.

Panorama has been Islamophobic: Rubbish. Lutfur Rahman (by even his own admissions and boasts) is a highly public and controversial figure. He boasts he’s Europe’s first directly elected Mayor, he invokes Islam and Allah in his speeches and he boasts that he’s the first to put such high priority on faith buildings. His support is drawn almost exclusively from one community, the Bangladeshi population in Tower Hamlets. There is undoubtedly a strong public interest in scrutinising him and his policies.

Mayor Rahman is also putting it about that John Ware is a Zionist Islamophobe who targets Muslims. Rubbish. They’re claiming this is ‘proved’ because the BBC paid out libel damages from a previous investigation of his in 2006 into the charity Interpal. Well, actually, that documentary led to a Charity Commission reprimand for Interpal. The libel damages were incidental to the main story: they were paid to a man whose face had not been blanked out on a photograph featuring one of their main subjects.

Whether or not tomorrow’s Panorama proves to be a game-changer in Tower Hamlets on May 22, I don’t know.

But the evidence has been submitted to Eric Pickles who now says this:

“There is a worrying pattern of divisive community politics and mismanagement of council staff and resources by the mayoral administration in Tower Hamlets. I will carefully examining the evidence provided by Panorama’s thorough investigation and will consider the appropriate next steps, including the case for exercising the legal powers available to me.”

In the meantime, Lutfur is publicising this 26 minute attack video on Panorama (quite how it was funded or who made it hasn’t been disclosed, but it features a number of useful idiots)…it’s all the fault of the ‘right wing’, you see.

Enjoy the warm-up (and oh, by the way, I gather that John Ware found the council’s head of communications Takki Sulkaiman to be one of the most manipulative press officers he’s ever dealt with in a long career in journalism…which I can’t disagree with: he should have stuck to politics.)

 

Lutfur_ferdhaus-460480Many of you would have already seen this piece I wrote for the Express on Thursday, but it needs recording here.

You’ll remember last month this blog post about Mayor Lutfur Rahman providing another court character reference for a convicted criminal. As I said then he has rather a habit of using his office for such good deeds. First, it was a minicab driver who molested a woman in the back of his car who secured Lutfur’s praise, then last month it was his friend and admirer, Mohammed Mahee Ferdhaus, aka Mahee Jalil, aka the most influential man in British Bangladeshi TV.

Mahee is the founder Channel S, a rogue satellite TV company based in Walthamstow. And until he was sentenced to his second stretch in jail last month (he previously did a couple of years for insurance fraud; this time it was for money laundering £500k from a motor insurance fraud), he was the channel’s main anchor.

Politicians fell at his feet and helped repay them with favourable coverage…which meant that when Ofcom wasn’t actually asleep on the job, the channel was in breach of broadcasting rules.

In fact, Channel S has been a repeat offender with Ofcom. In 2012, they said this of biased coverage towards Lutfur:

We are concerned that the breach in this case comes after three previous contraventions of the Code rules covering due impartiality and elections recorded against Channel S: in Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin 1773; Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin 1884; and Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin 2035. We therefore put the Licensee on notice that further breaches of the Code of a similar or related nature will be considered for statutory sanction.

Yet when Ofcom came to sanction the broadcaster for its next breach the following year, it said it was powerless to take a stronger line. As the Evening Standard reported in March 2013, Channel S had recreated itself under a new management structure and with new directors registered at Companies House. How convenient. Here’s what Channel S told the Standard back then:

“Channel S Television Ltd in its present form has only been trading since the end of June 2012. Everything that you mention was prior to June 2012 and I cannot comment on it as it was under different management at that time.”

The council, too, seems to have hidden behind this line because it has continued to pay the channels tens of thousands of pounds in public money for advertising and grants for “award ceremonies”. It also employed the channel’s main reporter, Mohammed Jubair, as a £50k a year part-time mayoral adviser on “community media”.

Now, wouldn’t it be a scandal if the council was fully aware that Channel S throughout all this time was being still being controlled by a convicted fraudster and that the new management structure was something of a con?

Which brings me back to my article for the Express on Thursday. After we discovered last month that Lutfur had provided a glowing character reference for Mahee, we wrote to the judge to see a copy of the Mayor’s letter. The court wrote back to decline our request on the grounds the letter had been provided in confidence as part of Mahee’s mitigation.

So we pursued the case and in a hearing before Judge Anthony Pitts at Southwark Crown Court on Thursday (Judge Pitts presided over Mahee’s case), we argued that what an elected public official was saying in mitigation for a known criminal was a matter of strong public interest. We argued that I had a long and acknowledged record in investigating Tower Hamlets and that Lutfur’s letter did not fall within the category of a confidential note to the court such as a mitigating victim statement.

So impressed was Judge Pitts with our arguments, he not only made extra special efforts with his court officials to find the reference, but also he revealed Lutfur’s deputy mayor, Cllr Ohid Ahmed, had also provided one as well. Intriguingly, he added that some other “well known….extremely well known people” had also given letters of support, but because we had made no application on that score, those names remain anonymous. I wonder who they were.

Judge Pitts agreed that the matter was “important” for the rights of the press to investigate and for criminal procedure rules in sentencing. Essentially, we have set a precedent for journalists.

So let’s have a look at these obsequious references.

Do they sound like they thought Mahee was just some mere presenter? What about Ohid’s comment that Mahee “sent his camera crew” to a news event?

Now remember this. At the time Lutfur and Ohid wrote these letters on official council notepaper, they knew Mahee Ferdhaus was a twice convicted criminal, a massive fraudster;  a man who, through his no doubt inflated motor insurance company premiums, stole from Bengali residents in Tower Hamlets. They also knew his not-so-squeaky clean personal life led to his kidnapping, torture and beating by associates and gangsters.

In short, to pretty much any reasonable individual, he’s a rotten egg.

So don’t these character references say something about the characters of the men who gave them?

Ohid Ahmed is the the cabinet member for “community safety” but here he is praising a Class A criminal.

And Lutfur Rahman is among other things in charge of a multimillion pound discretionary grants programme and is responsible for ensuring there is no fraud. Yet here he is fulsome in his praise for a fraudster. Maybe he’s not that bothered about “white collar crime”.

What shining examples they are.

They might not realise it, but their actions are bringing shame on the decent Bengali community.

Anyway, here’s the Express article in full. (And I’m going to write a separate post later about some new breaches of the Ofcom code by other Bengali TV stations in favour of Lutfur.)

EXPRESS Newspapers today scored an important victory for the rights of the press to view court documents by persuading a judge to release a glowing character reference from a London mayor for a convicted fraudster.

Judge Anthony Pitts at Southwark Crown Court agreed to release the reference from Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman in support of millionaire Mohammed Mahee Ferdhaus, an influential TV mogul and presenter who was sentenced last month to three years in jail for laundering £500,000 of proceeds from an insurance fraud.

The judge was so impressed with the arguments put forward by Express barrister Joseph Lewis and its journalist Ted Jeory that he revealed Mr Rahman’s deputy, Councillor Ohid Ahmed, had also provided a reference that praised Ferdhaus’s attempts on TV to reduce crime.

“You may as well have that too,” the judge volunteered. The judge said the case had been an important matter for criminal sentencing procedures.

Both letters, which were used by Ferdhaus to try and secure a lower sentence, were written on Tower Hamlets council headed notepaper. While the deputy mayor added a postscript to his reference that he was writing in a “personal capacity”, no such note was on Mr Rahman’s letter.

Judge Pitts in earlier correspondence with the Express had declined an application to disclose the reference, saying it had been handed to him in the sentencing hearing “in confidence as part of the mitigation”.

However, after listening to arguments at a hearing in open court today, he said he had “changed his mind”.

He said: “I think that the press are entitled to know these two particular documents. “They could easily have been read out and they could have been called as witnesses. “For that reason, I am going to disclose both of them.”

He said he had found arguments “extremely interesting” and had ordered his court officials to look “extensively” to see if the references remained in the building. Officials had only found them 10 minutes before today’s hearing, he said.

In his arguments, Mr Lewis said Mr Jeory had a long and acclaimed record of investigating Tower Hamlets and the links between the mayor and Bangladeshi television stations.

Mr Lewis told the judge Channel S had previously been “repeatedly reprimanded” by Ofcom for biased coverage in favour of Mr Rahman. He said Ferdhaus’s influence “held great sway” within the Bangladeshi community of east London.

He said Mr Jeory was investigating the nature of the links between the mayor, who was elected to office in 2010, and Channel S. He added a BBC Panorama programme due to air “in the not too distant future” was also probing the relationships.

Mr Lewis said while he accepted the principle that certain references supplied to the court should remain confidential, for example victim statements in domestic violence cases, a letter from an elected public official on council paper was “a different matter”.

“This was a political ally effectively providing assistance to his friend or ally,” Mr Lewis told the judge.

At the sentencing hearing last month, the court had been told Mr Rahman had provided a reference, but the details of the letter had not been read out in full. Mr Lewis said the public had a right to know what had been said.

He said court guidelines recognised the “special position of the press’s role as a public watchdog” and that Mr Jeory’s application as an accredited journalist should be accepted.

Judge Pitts also revealed a number of “very well known” other personalities had supplied references for Ferdhaus but their names remain anonymous.

Ferdhaus’s case was reported by Express.co.uk last month. He had admitted his part in a £1.9million “crash for cash” insurance scam between 2006 and 2008. Gangs had rammed expensive cars such as BMWs into each other at drinking parties and Ferdhaus, 40, had a “background” role in the crime.

Until the day of his trail he had tried to pin the blame on his innocent brother Abdul. He had been jailed for 18 months in 2008 for conspiracy to defraud in respect of an almost identical earlier insurance scam between 2002 and 2003.

The businessman was on bail awaiting trial at the time he became embroiled in the later fraud. Ferdhaus had suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after being kidnapped at gunpoint outside his TV station offices in Walthamstow, east London and issued with a £250,000 ransom demand.

When he refused to pay his assailants they tortured him, hanging him upside down and pouring boiling water on his head, before threatening to rape his daughter.

In his reference for Mr Ferdhaus, Mr Rahman wrote: “Mr Ferdhaus has played an instrumental role in promoting British Bangladeshis across the globe through Channel S.

“His contribution to the British Bangladeshi community especially in the fields of media and culture is widely recognised and commendable. Under Mr Ferdhaus’s leadership Channel S was one of the first satellite BME channels to initiate free viewing, connecting the Bangladeshi diaspora across Britain and the world. He has played a critical role in philanthropy, supporting charity and humanitarian organisations following natural disasters.

“As a prominent media personality, I have always known him to be constructive, critical but impartial as an anchor on community and current affairs.”

In his reference, Deputy Mayor Councillor Ahmed said Ferdhaus influenced his thinking on policies. He said Ferdhaus’s ‘Reality with Mahee’ Tv programme was “particularly useful”.

He wrote: “His programme helped the community enormously as his show always talk about real issues and problems (sic). I often watch his programme and find it very useful particularly his suggestions and recommendations to solve these problems. 

“As founder of Channel S (Number one Bangladeshi TV channel in UK) he has always helped us promoting the good initiatives particularly the community safety issues, recent example was that when Tower Hamlets facilitated the biggest police operation in the country, he sent his camera crew in the middle of the night with reporters which was broadcast in the channel extensively (sic).

“As TV presenter and Founder of TV channel he has his own community intelligence which he often share with us in order to resolve problems in our community particularly drugs, prostitution and antisocial behaviour related problems.”

I asked Nick McQueen, the new Ukip candidate for Tower Hamlets mayor to write a short piece to introduce himself and to outline some of his views and how he would improve the borough. I also asked him for his views on the important second preference vote that Labour’s John Biggs is probably relying on.

Below is Nick’s piece and below that, I’m copying the short manifesto Ukip has drawn up for Tower Hamlets.

The three things that stand out for me in terms of headline grabbers are the decriminalisation of heroin in Tower Hamlets (to get rid of the dealers, but which could also have the effect of attracting every junkie in London to the borough); new “Moses” clubs in every school to help children of different faiths mix more; and the abolition of the council funded “mother tongue” classes for Bengali families (something I and many others including David Goodhart have called for).

I think this should prompt a good discussion….Here’s Nick’s piece:

Why I am Standing

I am an East Ender born and bred. My life experiences set me apart from the political class. They are trained to argue for policies that they do not believe in but in the East End we call that lying. Instead I will be honest, transparent and accountable.

Children in the borough are suffering. Some of them are being fed soup at the end of the month.

Others are being segregated due to the current mayors policies, and the funding for their clubs has been taken away. There is overcrowding in the borough I grew up in the East End but I have never known it this bad. I want to fight for the multi-cultural, multi-religious society of London’s East End.

The East End is not a colour, we all become as one. A community is assessed NOT on how well the rich live, but on how well we look after the less fortunate.

My Views of the Current Mayor Lutfur Rahman

Mr Rahman uses policies of segregation rather than integration – for example his “mother tongue” lessons. The mayor of Newham (Sir Robin Wales) has recently accused him of bringing a form of apartheid to Tower Hamlets. He rarely speaks in the council meetings. He does not have the interests of the whole community at heart. Have you ever seen him at Canary Wharf standing up for the City, one of our country’s most important industries and a major source of the tax revenue that funds our public services?

Would I like Rahman out at Any Cost?

Yes of course I want him out. But the answer is not to elect a different socialist administration under Labour. Their candidate John Biggs will keep his role on the London Assembly – we don’t need a part-time mayor. He ran the council for a number of years and the Labour Party created Rahman. Would you give a lighter back to a previous arsonist?

The Tory candidate (Chris Wilford) has been parachuted in. He has no real background in the East End and is currently talking about potholes. We need something very different for Tower Hamlets – UKIP can be that difference.

How Can UKIP Make the Borough Better?

We will breathe new life into the borough with our policies. UKIP does not have a whip in local government, which gives our councillors freedom to fight for the specific things that matter to their electors.

 We are very different to the other parties. See my views on the decriminalisation of drugs to solve the heroin problem in the borough. I will use council resources to generate more money.

See my vision for an East End Wonderland every year in Victoria Park.

I will introduce free breakfast clubs for primary school kids and after-school “Moses” clubs to bring together children from all backgrounds (Moses is a prophet to the Jews, Christians and Muslims).

I want grammar schools for the academically-gifted children and trade schools for those of a practical disposition so that they can learn the real skills they need to earn good money in the trades.

I will support small businesses in the borough by easing the bureaucracy and making the council more responsive. I have been in business for most of my life so I know what it is like. And I will always stand up for Canary Wharf and oppose EU interference. The City gave me my start in life – I started a business providing the plants for their offices.

I will support genuine civic groups as long as they are for the whole community, to promote integration rather than separation.

The conduct of the council meetings is a disgrace. UKIP will restore order and dignity to the proceedings.

I will bring in forensic accountants to go over the books and look for asset stripping and misappropriation, and I will prosecute those responsible. Those accountants will also find me millions of pounds of savings and I will be ruthless in cutting out waste.

I will support the arts in the borough and will find a permanent site for Old Flo.

Do I Have Bengali Support and Candidates?

I know a lot of Bangladeshis – some of them are my next-door neighbours. They have promised me their vote because like the rest of the community they are fed up with the current system. Why should they be any different? Their kids are also being targeted by the heroin pushers. So yes, I have Bengali support. But no, we do not yet have any Bengali candidates. If anyone from that community is interested in standing for UKIP please contact me.

We only formed the UKIP branch in December, so we are starting from behind. We do not have the local structure and activist base that the other parties have. We have set ourselves the goal of finding twenty candidates – one for each ward – so that everyone in Tower Hamlets who wants to vote for UKIP can do so. That would be a massive achievement.

Second Preference Votes

We are in this to win. I want people’s first preference votes only. If you want UKIP and the change that we will bring then you should vote only for me and my councillor candidates. If you absolutely must vote for your old party – Tory or Labour – then please lend me your second preference votes (and please give our councillors one of your votes on that ballot). We are not instructing our supporters to give their second preference votes to anyone.

I am getting the support of working class people, Conservatives, Labour, and also from people who have never voted before. Our challenge is to get enough of the people who have given up on politics to register to vote. Our first flyer simply has UKIP on it and the contact details for the voter registration department at the council.

The following is from the Tower Hamlets Ukip website:

My Plan

  • Zero tolerance on heroin to protect our youth.
  • Free breakfast clubs and school dinners for primary school children.
  • East End Wonderland at Victoria park to raise funds for open spaces.
  •  “Moses clubs” in all schools to bring the different races and religions together, with special activity programmes during the holidays.
  • Quickly create new primary schools by using existing college buildings.
  • Grammar schools for the academically gifted and trade and technical schools for those of a more practical disposition.
  • I want community integration rather than segregation.
  • My office will be fully transparent and accountable.
  • I will bring in forensic accountants to look for asset stripping and misappropriated funds, and I will prosecute those responsible.
  • I will promote culture and art in the borough and find a permanent site for Old Flo.
  • I will support businesses, for example with a late license for Brick Lane.
  • I will always stand up for Canary Wharf and oppose EU interference in our vital financial services industry.
  • I will replace the mayoral dictatorship with a fully democratic system.
  • I will cut open the belly of this beast for everyone to look inside.

Budget savings to implement my plans

My accountants will find millions of pounds in savings by cutting unnecessary spending. But the following “quick wins” can be implemented straight away.

  • Abolish unnecessary expenditure on faith buildings.
  • Abolish “mother tongue” lessons.
  • Abolish the mayoral car and highly-paid advisors.
  • Stop the translation of information into foreign languages, removing the need for council-funded translators.
  • Scrap the East End Life propaganda newspaper.

Personal message from Nicholas

Dear Voter,

I’m aware of the ups and downs of life and how difficult it is to cope with the austerity measures that we are all experiencing, be it on an individual basis or from a family or business perspective. Let me explain to you my political position. In some ways I go further than Labour when it comes to delivering social protection. In other ways my policies are more conservative than those promised by the Conservatives.

I truly believe that the basic human needs – heating, eating and housing – must be affordable to the community, especially where children are concerned. For example, children cannot learn if they are underfed and this is unfortunately happening in our borough. Hence my commitment regarding the school breakfast clubs. A community is assessed not on how well the rich live but on how well we look after the less fortunate among us.

I’ve been in business for most of my life and I understand how much we need good businesses to create jobs and pay taxes, which is why I support the growth and expansion of the business and financial districts in the borough, and I will help them above and beyond expectations.

The middle section of my politics is libertarian – the philosophy that places the highest value on personal freedom and limited government. More liberty helps us all to achieve more, to be happier and healthier, and it will make the community a better place to live in. I will integrate libertarianism with modern-day politics to confront the problems that we face today.

The national leadership of UKIP does not dictate our policy in local government but leaves us free to do what we need to in the local setting. UKIP is the fastest growing party in the UK because it is for everyone, especially the working man and woman. We believe that if you work then you should be better off. When we run the borough you will benefit. When we run the country it will be strong once again.

I was born and bred in the East End. I am old school, but my life experiences set me apart from the schoolboys that have been running the borough. My promises set out above will breathe new life into the borough, making it a better place to live and work. Our history, and our multicultural diverse community is what makes Tower Hamlets one of the most dynamic places in the world and one of the most interesting places to live and work.

Thank you for reading this, and I hope you will support my campaign for the greater good of our local community.

Love East End. Vote UKIP. Vote Nicholas McQueen for Mayor. 

Every month councillors are required to submit a timesheet detailing the work they claim they’ve been doing to collect their allowances and special responsibility allowances from the public purse.

Well, let me clarify that: they’re meant to submit them and they collect their allowances regardless of the work they actually do; the timesheets and their pay are not in any way related.

So in some ways, these timesheets are meaningless.

However, they are somewhat illuminating because they shine a we light on a councillor’s character. Some take them very seriously and submit them as regularly as clockwork. Some are also completely honest about what they state on them.

For example, Labour’s excellent Bow East councillor, Marc Francis, falls into both categories. His timesheets are pretty much up to date and you can read his latest one for January 2014 here:

Screen shot 2014-03-08 at 09.23.10In fact, this probably understates the work he does.

In contrast, let’s have a look at the latest Tower Hamlets turncoat, the newly Independent Anwar Khan, who will now stand against his own sister-in-law in Bow West.

The last timesheet he appears to have submitted (and hey, as a management consultant he knows full well the importance of well kept timesheets) was in September 2011. In fact, in the 46 months since he was elected as a councillor, the council only displays records for nine months.

And in that time since he’s been a chief whip for the Labour group, one of whose duties was to ensure colleagues kept up with their timesheets.

Perhaps he was just too busy to submit them. I mean, he’s a really busy man, it seems.

Have a look at his timesheet for September 2010, the month before Lutfur was elected mayor and when he would have presumably been spending an awful lot of time on party, not council, business.

Screen shot 2014-03-08 at 09.40.59

Wow. A hugely impressive 144 hours on councillor business that month. That’s 36 hours a week–a full time job in itself. How he managed to combine that with raising a young family and a high-powered job in the City, I’ll never know. He must have understanding employers.

I wonder whether his timesheets for them include such guff as 15 hours on “community events”. In fact, he states 15 hours per month on every sheet he’s submitted. It’s a lovely catch-all phrase is ‘community events’.

But out of the various councillor records I’ve looked at, his isn’t the worst. His latest enemy and fellow Bow West councillor Ann Jackson takes that prize: she hasn’t submitted once since January 2010.

Councillors may think these timesheets futile but they are among the few scraps that their voters have to examine what they’re doing.

Here’s a little table of the records for Respect and the independents:
Screen shot 2014-03-08 at 10.02.04

I’ve put a N/A by the name of Gulam Robbani (who has had some previous difficulties with his timesheets, remember) because the council’s website has none next to his name. Shurely some mistake?

I don’t have time to go through all the other councillors, so maybe someone else can help.

However, among the group leaders, we see this:

Labour’s Sirajul Islam – Dec 2013

Tories’ Peter Golds – Sep 2013

Lib Dem Stephanie Eaton – Sep 2013.

And unless I’ve missed it, I can’t see any timesheet section for Mayor Lutfur Rahman himself. Maybe he just uses a tachometer.

 

 

 

[Watch the video of the racist row in the council chamber here].

Eric Pickles should be congratulated for insisting council meetings should be filmed. Remember that Tower Hamlets council tried to block this idea: they knew there was dirty linen to hide.

I hope he watches the web cast of last week’s full council meeting which was picked up in this edition’s of Private Eye.

Alibor Choudhury, the man in charge of the borough’s £1.2billion budget thought he had a good gag when he wanted to accuse Labour’s Bow West councillor Ann Jackson of being a racist and a fascist. Heck, she was wearing a black cardigan, so, er, wow, like Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts she must be part of John Biggs’s “black cardigan brigade”.

How tasteful.

The problem was she was wearing a black cardigan because she was in mourning for her ex-husband, whose funeral she had attended the day before.

All this is recorded in glorious Tower Hamlets Technicolor by those Pickles webcams.

As was a quite twisted rant by a rather hysterical Anwar Khan, who I once praised on this blog but who has since lived up (or down, rather) to the descriptions others gave me of him: a slightly disingenuous hissy-fitter, with an anger management problem. According to his register of interests, he works for Lloyds Bank. Good luck to them. Since his deselection from Labour he’s been accusing Labour of institutional racism. They don’t want incredibly talented Bengalis like incredibly talented he to speak out, you see.

No, they want thickos like his own sister-in-law to stand in his place instead, he believes.

Today, he quit Labour and announced he would stand as an independent in Bow West against his own sister-in-law – and in doing so won praise from the man he now himself praises, Mayor Lutfur Rahman. This is the same Lutfur about whom Anwar was until late last year scathing at every opportunity.

You can read all about that meeting and, more importantly, watch the videos of the race row on the Express website, where I and my Tower Hamlets dwelling colleague Owen Bennett wrote this piece today.

A couple of months ago the commenter ‘imran’ left these observations on this blog:

The stats are stacked against Biggs. Lutfur doesn’t need dead voters to turn up, just all the Bangladeshi uncles and unties would be enough. Based on the assumptions below for 100,000 voters in TH, I’ve worked out Rahman would get 24,790 votes and John Biggs only 13,325. 

White British make up 45% of the population of which 20% are active voters. 90% of them vote for Biggs and 1% vote for Rahman. Bangladeshi make up 35% of the population of which 80% are active voters. 15% of them vote for Biggs and 80% vote for Rahman.

Others – Non Muslim make up 15% of the population of which 10% are active voters. 60% vote for Biggs and 20% vote for Rahman. Others – Muslim make up 5% of the population of which 50% are active voters. 5% vote for Biggs and 80% vote for Rahman. 

It’s hard to see how Biggs can win, there will have to be a 50% plus turnout of the white British voters and 90% plus of them will need to vote for him. He also will needs to get at least 15% of the Bengali vote and 60% of the other non-Muslim vote.

I liked this comment and I hope Imran will be pleased to know that I regularly refer to it when people ask me whether Lutfur Rahman will win in May.

The calculations are a bit ‘back of a fag packet’ but they have some logic nonetheless.

But what Imran didn’t factor in was Nigel Farage and Ukip.

The turnout for the mayoral and council vote on May 22 will be bolstered by the European Parliament elections the same day. And the European issue is of course pretty prominent right now. Many think Ukip might even win the Euro elections in the UK.

Until last December, Ukip had no organisational presence in Tower Hamlets, but then they formed a branch in the borough. And then they started looking for candidates to stand for the council. And then they decided to go for the Big One, the mayoralty itself.

They won’t win it (although who am I to say..) but they will probably have a bearing on the overall result.

With a bit of targeted publicity in the Advertiser and the Wharf, they’ll reach the very many disillusioned who haven’t bothered to vote in previous elections.

This will boost the “white British” vote that Imran referred to.

The question then becomes how does this affect John Biggs’s chances?

Well, John does need a higher turnout than the 23 per cent in October 2010 when Lutfur won, that’s for sure. But he also needs first and second preference votes.

I suspect the Tories, who have announced Chris Wilford as their man, are probably whispering to their voters to place a second preference number 2 next to John Biggs’s name.

But will that be the same for Ukip’s voters? The ‘get Lutfur out’ strategy demands they should but will Ukip get that message out?

Maybe that’s one we should ask their candidate. And this is where it could get interesting. Because the hack and wannabe spin doctor in me thinks they’ve chosen someone who could demand attention from the national press, or at least from the Evening Standard and BBC London.

So let me introduce you to the Ukip candidate for Tower Hamlets mayor: Nicholas McQueen (or as he might soon be described, the cousin of late fashion mogul Alexander McQueen).

nicholasmcqueen_base

The Tower Hamlets Ukip site has this about him:

Nicholas McQueen has been chosen as the candidate for mayor of Tower Hamlets for the UK Independence Party.  Nick is a real Eastender.   He was born and grew up in the East End, which he refers to as “his village”. He has lived a varied and interesting life. He is a self-made businessman, having started a successful flower business with his wife of 34 years – Pauline. Early in life he pursued his dream of becoming a commercial pilot and flew in Northern and Central America. He wrote a children’s book which was turned into a musical. He invented a flower vending machine.

Nick is well-known and liked across the borough.  He says of himself that he is “fighting for the multi-cultural, multi-religious society of London’s East End. A community is assessed NOT on how well the rich live, but on how well we look after the less fortunate.”

Mark Webber – Branch Secretary of Tower Hamlets UKIP – released the following statement: “We are very excited about Nick’s candidacy. Nick is so well known in his community that we already have a large number votes in the bag.  Even before the press coverage has begun word has gone out on the “tom toms” – to use Nick’s phrase – and the response has been fantastic.  Nick will be the dark horse in this election.  I want to once again emphasise to people who are not registered to vote that they must contact the council as soon as possible.”

The site also says he will be standing for the council in Stepney Green. It adds this extra information about him:

Vote UKIP Nicholas McQueen Cpl.  I will fight for YOU!

Nicholas is a family man and has been married for 34 years. He has a daughter and two grandchildren. Today he is fighting for the multi-cultural, multi-religious society of London’s East End. A community is assessed NOT on how well the rich live, but on how well we look after the less fortunate.

He was born and raised in London’s East End.  In his early years Nick boxed for St. Georges and Poplar District.  He attended Caterham boy’s boarding school, played rugby for Caterham and was a member of the ATC.

    • Nicholas is the creator of McQueen’s Florist.
    • At age 26 he became a commercial, multi-instrument pilot, flying in North & Central America.
    • On his return to London he created Carole McQueen Florists (specialists in TV sets and funerals).
    • 1996/97 he was the creator of the world’s first fresh flower vending machine.
    • 1998 he created Bulbworld the children’s book.
    • 1999 Nick co wrote and directed Bulbworld the musical at The Royal London Palladium.
    • He designed the set for his cousin Alexander McQueen at London’s Christchurch.
    • 2000 McQueen’s Publishers represented Great Britain at the Frankfurt Bookfair.

Ukip also has this clarion call for candidates:

Could you stand for election to the council as a UKIP candidate?  We need decent, ordinary people from across the borough who agree with what we stand for to put their names forward as ward candidates.  Standing for election is a form of public service.  If you are elected you must be prepared to represent your ward on the council and to work on behalf of your electors.  UKIP do not operate a party whip in local government so UKIP councillors are more like independents because they do not have to follow a party line.

We are not ashamed to make this appeal.  UKIP is growing rapidly across the country.  We are now consistently polling in third place in the national polls.  There are many thousands of people across Tower Hamlets who want to vote for UKIP.  We must give them that opportunity.  Please note that all candidates will be carefully vetted.  You may have read in the news about some trouble we have had recently with some of our candidates.  Please do not apply if you have racist or extreme views.  Former members of the BNP, EDL and similar organisations are forbidden from standing as candidates by the Party Constitution.  Contact the Secretary for more information.

I think this could be fun.

 

 

I’m a bit late with this one but it needs documenting nonetheless.

The Tories have at last selected their man (for yes, it is a man: for all the talk about racism in Tower Hamlets, is there also a problem with sexism?) to fight Lutfur Rahman and John Biggs for Tower Hamlets Mayor.

Dr Anwara Ali, the former Labour councillor who defected to the Tories after she was moved from her Bow West seat in 2010, had been a contender but it wasn’t to be. Personally, I think that’s shame. Anwara did get some stick from me many years back when I accused her of being too silent in Denise Jones’s cabinet, but after that she improved greatly. I think she’s articulate and as a GP in Brick Lane, she’s respected and widely liked.

Being a Bengali, she’d also have taken some votes from Lutfur.

On that note, there was a bit a row about who would represent the Conservatives on May 22, with opinion divided between those who thought ‘get Lutfur out at all costs’ was the most important strategy, and those who thought ‘this is an election and we’re Tories, we need to take this seriously and treat it as any other battle’. (And also whisper to people to place John Biggs as their second preference vote.)

The latter camp won out and we therefore have a very serious candidate, who (and I mean no disrespect here at all)  almost no one has ever heard of.

So let me introduce you to:

Chris_Wilford_At_Canary_Wharf

Tower Hamlets Conservatives have selected Chris Wilford as their Mayoral Candidate

Chris lives in Bow resident, and currently works in public policy for a leading international body. Previously, Chris has worked as a recruitment consultant in the financial services, placing candidates from new graduates to global directors. Before this, he worked on education projects for both the British Council and the House of Lords.

After his selection, Chris said “Like so many others from around the world I have made Tower Hamlets my home. This is a great place to live, with its history, diversity, and dynamism. We are privileged to live here as we go about our business amidst the hustle and bustle of one of the world’s great cities.

“Yet there is one shadow that looms large – Mayor Lutfur Rahman. We are all familiar with his expenses, his taxis, and not least his photograph. And I for one tired of the stories of cronyism and waste whilst our borough faces up to some of the most significant challenges in the country in areas such as child poverty and unemployment.

“There are many reasons why I want to be Mayor of this borough. I want to see more transparency; more pothole repairs; cleaner streets; proper and meaningful consultation on development; a National Centre for Islamic Finance; a jobs for growth strategy; more police on our streets; less Mayoral advisors and a lower council tax. Above all, I want to be Mayor because I want to mend our broken local politics and build a better borough.

“I am grateful to local Conservatives for choosing me as their candidates, and will be working hard to win this May.”

Tower Hamlets Conservative Association chairmen Neil King (Poplar and Limehouse) and Matt Smith (Bethnal Green and Bow), who jointly organised the selection process, said “we congratulate Chris Wilford on his selection as our Tower Hamlets Mayoral candidate. Chris came through a strong field to be selected with the overwhelming support of local Conservatives, and will make be an outstanding Mayor of this borough.”

So that was the Tory press release.

This is Chris in his own words:

Chris Wilford

Policy & Public Affairs Manager at the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators




I started my career at the British Council. I left to complete a part-time MSc at the LSE, working as a recruitment consultant and parliamentary researcher during my studies. Upon completion, I joined the policy team of the professional body for the recruitment industry and have recently moved to the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.

Career Summary:

I started my career at the British Council. I left to complete a part-time MSc at the LSE, working as a recruitment consultant and parliamentary researcher during my studies. Upon completion, I joined the policy team of the professional body for the recruitment industry. I have recently taken up the post of Policy & Public Affairs Manager at the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, and I wrote my Profile when working at REC.

Academic/Professional Qualifications:

MSc Media and Communications, London School of Economics 
BA (Hons) Film Studies and American Studies, King’s College London, 
Member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations

How did you get into Public Affairs?

I had worked as a recruitment consultant and as a parliamentary researcher in the House of Lords whilst completing a part-time postgraduate degree at the London School of Economics. With a real understanding of the recruitment industry, as well as a sound understanding of politics and research experience, I was well suited to work in the policy and public affairs function of the largest trade association for the recruitment industry. My experience on the frontline has really helped me in dealing with members and I have really developed my skills in the role.

What does your current role entail on a day to day basis?

I check my emails and phone messages before engaging members on a variety of issues. This can involve engaging journalists, civil servants and politicians to put across the view of the industry. At the moment, I am: writing a number of consultation responses; running an election for the position of Chair of one of our sector groups; and organising a number of focus groups with the Department of Health on the clinical governance of locum doctors. I am also working with the editor of our magazine on a forthcoming feature on the public sector workforce, one of the areas I am responsible for. Speaking, writing, reading in other words!

Working in a trade association, how do you engage members in public affairs and policy issues?

We engage members in public affairs and policy issues through member events, webinars, polls, focus groups and meetings. We often hit the road and a key part of our job is getting members in front of decision makers. This facilitation of engagement is an increasingly important part of our job.

Which campaign/issue are you most proud to have worked on?

The campaign I am most proud of is our on-going activity on NHS VAT schemes. This is a complex area which cuts across employment and tax legislation. I have been working on this for months and it is an area of deep concern for members. My blogs, letters I have drafted to ministers on behalf of senior REC figures, presentations at conferences, together with countless meetings with members and government figures have really built momentum which culminated in the REC contributing to a major ITV News at 10 investigation. We had literally set the news agenda and senior government ministers are actively engaging with the REC on the issue. We are close to a conclusion and continue to drive activity.

What do you enjoy about working in public affairs?

I enjoy the buzz and, as a news junkie, I relish being paid to keep abreast of current affairs. Working for a membership body, I also engage on strategic issues on behalf of our members. It does feel like the work is really important and it is great to play my part on important issues such as the future of the NHS workforce.

How important is political party involvement to a public affairs career?

It helps. There are plenty of people out there who do not have any involvement but I do think it adds a valuable extra dimension. I was Chairman of a major political society at LSE and I am currently Deputy Chairman of an Association in the East End of London. I was also the parliamentary researcher for a government Peer in the House of Lords. I have an extensive network which has come in really handy for getting the full picture of what is going on out there. It has also helped when we are in tight spots, for instance getting speakers for our events at Party Conferences.

As a former recruitment professional, what advice would you give to job seekers (at any level)?

Get yourself out there. We often hear of personal brands and profiles. These are really important but you shouldn’t be scared of advertising that brand! I would also say use a good recruiter (well, given my background, I would, wouldn’t I?!). The amount of times that I have heard people have been looking for jobs for months and then, after getting in touch with a recruitment consultancy, they secure a role in weeks is ridiculous. They have the networks and the contacts and, if you are not right for one opportunity, they will keep you in mind for another. Finally, do your research – evaluate what you want from your next role, where you want to get to and what you want to learn. Take your time, be measured and make sure you have a plan.

What value does post-graduate study provide to a public affairs career?

For me, it added real value. It allowed me to build on the cultural and historical grasp of political persuasion that I had gained through my first degree, as well as the opportunity to hone my writing and research skills further. I would say that the educational institution matters as well. The contacts I made and the activities I was exposed to at the LSE, one of the world’s leading social science institutions, really helped as I sought to get into public affairs.

What are the challenges for the public affairs industry over the next five years?

I think the industry has to adapt to the challenges of the digital world. How can you shape the agenda across a variety of different platforms all at the same time? In this environment, where everyone has a comment or can position themselves as an expert, and one tweet can destroy months of activity, demonstrating the value you can add and leveraging off line and online networks to achieve results will be vital. Those who can cut through the huge volumes of information out there to provide clear, concise analysis and drive targeted, effective campaigns amidst a diverse mediascape will be the winners.

What’s your prediction for the next General Election result?

Conservative majority (just).

Quick-Fire Round  
Favourite restaurant for a business lunch Browns Covent Garden
LinkedIN or Twitter? Twitter
Tweet your career-to-date in 140 characters or less Policy professional at the trade association for the UK’s £26 billion recruitment industry, former search & selection specialist, LSE alum
What’s your Media diet? Guido (order order), Telegraph, Spectator, Economist, Guardian, BBC
Favourite Film Badlands
Guilty pleasure House of Cards (the original)

By the way, I also hear UKIP are building a branch in Tower Hamlets ahead of the European elections on May 22 as well. They’re thinking of fielding a few people, which could make it even spicier..

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