The Job is Done. After almost 4 years of battle, we have restored Democracy to Tower Hamlets

Posted on | Monday 4 May 2015 | No Comments

The Times Editorial from 24 April 2015 sums up our victory

Rotten Borough

A campaign of electoral fraud and intimidation in east London has been rebuffed

A free people requires a safeguard against the destructive power of factions. This argument, advanced by James Madison in the federalist papers of the emerging American republic, remains one of the finest justifications of representative democracy. Its vindication is the sole redeeming aspect of a squalid, fraudulent and corrupt episode in the municipal government of east London. 

Lutfur Rahman was returned in May for the second time as mayor of Tower Hamlets. He secured this result through vote-rigging, bribery and fraud. At the end of a High Court hearing, Judge Richard Mawrey, an election commissioner, laid out a catalogue of malpractice more reminiscent of the rotten boroughs preceding the 1832 Reform Act than of a modern democracy.

Mr Mawrey found evidence of corrupt and illegal practices in the election. He ruled that Rahman must leave his post immediately and ordered him to pay £250,000 in costs. The election that Rahman “won” will now be conducted again; Rahman is barred from standing as a candidate. 

The evidence of Rahman’s fakery and bribery is expansive, and is enough to make the most world-weary observer of local politics gasp. Rahman, the first British Muslim to be directly elected as a mayor, used religious intimidation to secure support. More than 100 imams declared a few days before polling that it was a religious duty for voters to support Rahman. It was intended to exercise undue influence on the borough’s Muslim voters. 

In a grossly calumnious charge, Rahman and his supporters claimed that John Biggs, the Labour candidate, was a racist. And in one of his most shameless acts in public office, Rahman bribed voters by siphoning money from public-spirited organisations, including the Alzheimer’s Society, to “lunch clubs” serving the local Bangladeshi and Somali communities. Mr Mawrey further found that the behaviour of Rahman’s supporters had been “deplorable, even indefensible”. 

While Rahman has been exposed as a figure of duplicity, disrepute and permanent disgrace, there remain deeply troubling implications of this case. First, the fraudulent manner in which he secured his election would never have been exposed if it been left to the police. The court hearing took place because of a brave campaign by four local residents, who brought an election petition against Mr Rahman. Why did the Metropolitan police conclude last year, on reviewing submissions from government auditors, that there was no credible evidence requiring a police inquiry?

Second, Rahman’s supporters beyond the borough should explain themselves. Last November, Ken Livingstone, the former London mayor, spoke in support of Rahman and urged that Labour adopt him as a candidate. At the same event George Galloway, with characteristic demagoguery, declared action against Rahman to be “a racist, Islam-hating witch-hunt against the most popular and best mayor in the country.” 

Third, Rahman’s corruption shows how a peculiarly destructive form of factional politics can insinuate itself. Voters have all manner of affiliations, of ethnicity, language and faith, but the only identity that matters for civic purposes is common citizenship under the rule of law. Rahman and his supporters hold that identity in contempt. Their inflammatory, bigoted and corrupt campaign to subvert local democracy has been rebuffed, and must never again be enabled to flourish.

The Demolition of Democracy at Tower Hamlets Council, and why you need to vote on 22 May

Posted on | Friday 11 April 2014 | No Comments

The primary reason I’m campaigning to be elected as a local Councillor on 22 May 2014 is to rebuild democracy – comprehensibly demolished at Tower Hamlets Borough Council (THBC). It has been replaced by a dictatorship, and no one seems to give a damn. Council officers have effectively become quislings to an Administration that shamelessly flaunts its rejection of the democratic process. You don’t believe me? read on:

(In a later post I’ll explain how this American system of Elected Mayors can so easily fail within the structure of our – unwritten – Constitution of Parliamentary Democracy).

The THBC web tells us all we need to know about the flawed process.  It states under the heading Council and Democracy:

Tower Hamlets Council is made up of 51 elected local councillors from 17 wards across the borough. The council operates an elected Mayor and Cabinet form of executive decision-making, with an overview and scrutiny committee, a standards committee and various other decision-making and regulatory committees.
The political composition of the council is 26 Labour councillors, 14 independent councillors, 7 Conservative councillors, 2 Respect councillors, 1 Liberal Democrat councillor and 1 Labour Independent councillor.

Note, the above description hyperlinks to the 51 elected councillors, but does not link to the all important Cabinet. It also tells us the political allegiances of the councillors, but not the cabinet…
Let’s see what it’s concealing:

The Mayor and Cabinet
Tower Hamlets has a directly elected Mayor, Lutfur Rahman, who is supported by eight councillors who each have a defined area of interest. Together the Mayor and Cabinet make the decisions on strategy, policy, service provision and finance that ensure the council is run in accordance with our Community Plan and the relevant statutory guidance and legislation.

 (My highlighting).

You see, the ‘Cabinet’, the composition of which is shown below, are all (so called) Independent Councillors, i.e., none from the majority party or from any other party for that matter, and they alone make the major Council decisions.

The effect is that the majority party in council becomes the opposition! Absurd but true. Further, the Mayor’s gang of councillors in cabinet (as I’ve highlighted below) make the final decisions on strategy, policy, service provision and finance. Democracy? You decide.

Cabinet members, (as of July 2012):
The following councillors are not in the Cabinet, but have advisory roles:
p.s. Yet to be examined is the legal relationship between the Mayor’s ‘Tower Hamlets First’ party and ‘Independent Councillors’..

UKIP To Scrap East End Life

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We can discuss Editorial integrity at length. But with the soon to be despatched East End Life the conversation has to be brief because integrity simply doesn't exist in this rag; never has under the current regime, never will.
This is the latest edition - post the arrival of Inspectors from PriceWaterhouseCooopers on the express orders of the Department for Communities and Local Government. Nothing on the front page to report what just about every national newspaper covered!
But the rag still carries '5' pictures of Lutfur Rahman, but more than this...remembering there are 51 Councillors across all parties in the Council ...6 pictures of (Rahman supporting) Councillors - all  Independents (3 of which are in Rahman's Cabinet). Go figure. Open, balanced journalism? or quisling reporters?

Front Page EEL 7-13 April 2014
Front Page EEL 7-13 April 2014

In fact coverage came in a defensive series of statements on page three..with no mention of the Ministers statement which read, '“It is a matter of public record that I have long been concerned about a worrying pattern of divisive community politics and alleged mismanagement of public money by the mayoral administration in Tower Hamlets'. Integrity?

Finally, how about this on a later page...

No title but its all about Roman Road Parking. Reading through you'd expect to find out who the 3 are holding up the plaque in the picture. No, just the mention of Councillor Shahed Ali (Independent in case you weren't aware).

UKIP are committed to scape this politically divisive circular posing to be a newspaper

Fun with Numbers - Is Lutfur Rahman Innumerate or Just Putting a Favourable Spin on Tower Hamlets' Crime Figures?

Posted on | Sunday 22 July 2012 | No Comments

On the subject of Crime, the Mayor has informed us, variously:

Mayor"I know that crime and the fear of crime is an issue for our borough even though crime is falling - 2.7% drop in overall crime (744 fewer crimes), including knife crime – down by 10.4% since the previous year (50 fewer incidents)" Tower Hamlets Web site Community safety

"Overall crime is down 30% since 2003"  East End Life, 9 July 2012

"In the last three years overall crime has dropped by more than 23%" Tower Hamlets Web site Crime prevention

(Note: the picture of THEOs comes courtesy of EEL: their agenda seems to be to link them, not the Met with any perceived crime reduction)

Now, the above statements by Lutfur Rahman are all pretty impressive, if taken on face value. I mean to say, 'overall crime down more than 20% over the last 3 years'. That's a huge turnaround. One can't deny it's a staggeringly profound achievement - am I right? Yet some may say this is all propaganda, even intentionally meant to deceive. But what possible grounds would detractors have for challenging these figures? Surely Lutfur Rahman wouldn't lie on a matter as serious as crime statistics in the Borough - would he?

Perhaps we should consider the official Metropolitan Police figures as grounds to challenge the Mayor's version? You decide..

Here is an extract of the official crime statistics for the Borough courtesy of the Metropolitan Police DoI Reporting Service:

Tower Hamlets       Offences
     2005                 22,560
     2006                 29,677
     2007                 29,385
     2008                 26,811
     2009                 25,684
     2010                 26,884
     2011                 28,110

You don't need to graph this data to see that crime in Tower Hamlets has actually been on the increase since 2010.... Hang on, isn't that when Lutfur Rahman took office as Mayor?

Reference: Freedom of Information Request Crime Statistics Tower Hamlets 2005 - 2012

The Tragedy of Assigning Responsibility for Regeneration to Petty Politicians and Institutionalised Planners/Developers

Posted on | Monday 16 July 2012 | 1 Comment

Or, how an opportunity to infuse social enterprise life-blood into the ailing, lifeless body of Tower Hamlets' Bromley-by-Bow Ward was scuttled by uncreative, unimaginative philistines, responsible for regeneration and planning.

None of us are in denial over the incriminating reality that in England around 1.75 million households are on the social housing waiting lists. As the demand for social housing has increased, so the supply has withered - there has been a drop of 1.7 million in the total number of social homes, from 5.5 million in 1981 to 3.8 million in 2009-10. But we need to realise that lack of work is a major cause and consequence of homelessness, eroding skills and self-esteem and acting as a practical obstacle to finding and keeping a home. It's no secret that job training and education can give unemployed and homeless people the skills and confidence required to get them back on track and help them prepare for, find and keep jobs.

The London Borough of Tower Hamlets contributes significantly to the huge and growing national social housing list, estimated to be 10% of the borough's population. Yet the Council continue to foster the belief that this is a legacy problem best treated by infusions of new building stock. Their solution is to squeeze more and more poor and unemployed people into fewer and smaller homes. Their focus is on the effect of this 'legacy problem' - a social housing bottleneck - rather than its cause. Councillors and MP's alike drag the chains of this misery as if it represented some high moral cause to justify their existence. We repeatedly read of how they 'represent one of the poorest boroughs in the country', yet, as we can see by this one glaring example, they compound the problem, rather than recognise the cause, and set about curing it.

As stated earlier, lack of work is a major cause of Tower Hamlets' growing social housing list. Uncontrolled immigration into the borough is another, but that is less complex and ought to be solved by closer liaison between the Council and Immigration (more on this in a upcoming blog). From the Council's point of view, the long term strategic focus must be on reducing the social housing list not by simply building more units but by reducing the need for social housing through new social enterprise and local employment which will inevitably raise the standard of living. All regeneration and development ought to be aligned with this strategic aim so that employment enablers figure prominently in any development.

Let's relate this strategic no-brainer to the recent disastrous planning approval given for the Hancock Road development in the Ward of Bromley-by-Bow. You can read how this project for 741 residential units, office space, and a huge car dealership was steam-rollered through a poorly advertised 'public' Planning Committee Meeting held in Newham by the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation (LTGDC) on 12 July 2012.

The site is historic - most in East London are. But more than this, the Hancock Road site sits adjacent to the River Lea's network of underdeveloped canals, and at the intersection of two of East London's arterial roads - the A11 and A12. It screams out for redevelopment focusing on tourism, and that means local employment and income. Think Camden Market, the fourth-most popular visitor attraction in London, attracting approximately 100,000 people each weekend. The canal fronted Hancock Road site is far better located than Camden Market. It has the potential to become a vibrate tourist destination with restaurants, bars, shops and market stalls catering for crafts, clothing, bric-a-brac, and fast food. As part of the Olympic legacy development, the canal network will be revamped and this will further add to what may have been termed, the new Bow Bridge Market becoming a major attraction.

This is a wake up call to say that the shocking LTGDC decision was wrong and the site surely ought to have been used primarily for building social enterprise initiatives/models to kindle (re)training and employment, and raise the local standard of living, not to provide more cell like social housing which only further exasperates the problem.

This is not to underestimate the importance of our social housing need, and it should be accommodated on the site as part of a balanced mixed development, but supporting the strategy outlined above.

Alas, it is now too late. Gone is the opportunity for creative regeneration, servicing local needs; our Councillors and LTGDC have seen to that.

Maintaining Pressure on the Met for an Investigation into Alleged Postal Voting Fraud in Tower Hamlets (3)

Posted on | Thursday 5 July 2012 | No Comments

Following on from my last post on this topic, its worrying to report that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Hogan-Howe has failed to respond as promised. Coupled with zero progress on the Commissioner front, it was necessary to remind Tower Hamlets Chief Superintendent Dave
Stringer that a response was also due from his office.  Finally, on 27 June, I received a response from a PC in the Borough Commander's office advising me that New Scotland Yard's Specialist Operations Department (SO15) are now investigating the matter. The PC advised me to contact SO15 for further details.

I did as the PC suggested, and as of the date of this post, have still not received a response - not even an acknowledgement to an online enquiry although their site promises (a term the Met are not unfamiliar with it would seem) a response within 24 hours.

Keep in mind that so far I, and I'm sure many others, have made representations to Tower Hamlets Borough Council, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and the Electoral Commission, for an open investigation into this issue.

The latest attempt is my Freedom of Information request to the Metropolitan Police. Let's wait to see whether a 4th post on this serious issue can deliver any news of progress....

Maintaining Pressure on the Met for an Investigation into Alleged Postal Voting Fraud in Tower Hamlets (2)

Posted on | Thursday 21 June 2012 | No Comments

(1) How disappointing; the WebChat was little short of a farce, with a constant steam of unanswered questions rolling through the Met's HashTag #AskMetBoss 

As for my own questions, they received this (Private) response:

[Private Message to Grenville Mills] Hi, if you give us your contact details we will follow it up after the chat with the Commissioner?  (Reply Privately)

Why a private exchange? What is it with this voting issue that causes so much subterfuge?

To compound matters, we were subjected to the following: (6 times!)

While the Commissioner answers this question please watch this video.

This is not the way forward Commissioner. A WebChat project on this scale cannot possibly succeed and you were poorly advised to launch it. It suffers from the same mentality that would have us believe an MP representing 70,000 constituents, can fairly listen to, and represent their interests. Much better you devolve this project down to your Borough Commanders and if possible Wards. This will achieve a workable ratio of public/police dialogue.

p.s. And please, if we are invited to a WebChat, no force fed videos.

(2) Finally on Thursday 21 June 2012, I was able to deliver my collective emails on alleged Postal Voting Fraud prior to the Spitalfields and Banglatown bi-election personally to the Met's Borough Commander, Chief Superintendent Dave Stringer. On Friday I received  a call from his office to say that a formal response will be issued next week. 

Maintaining Pressure on the Met for an Investigation into Alleged Postal Voting Fraud in Tower Hamlets (1)

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Tomorrow, Thursday 21 June, I will be (1) joining the Metropolitan Police Commissioner's afternoon WebChat during which I will raise the issue of alleged Postal Voting fraud prior to the Spitalfields and Banglatown bi-election, and (2) in the evening I will be attending a Community Briefing by Tower Hamlets Chief Superintendent Dave Stringer, during which I will again raise this issue, specifically:

Why Tower Hamlets Chief Superintendent Dave Stringer has not answered THREE emails concerning accusations of electoral fraud prior to the Spitalfields and Banglatown bi-election. For reference, the Electoral Commission stated that it does not have power to investigate alleged electoral fraud and it is the responsibility of the Police. The Police have so far not even provided (separately requested by me) a single point of contact for electoral offences.

In light of the exceptionally high and unprecedented postal vote and rejection rate during the bi-election, there is ample justification for the Metropolitan Police to investigate and they were asked to:

1. Interview each of the 956 constituents who submitted a postal vote to establish whether any were forced to vote under duress (a clear risk in postal voting), and

2. Examine each of the 135 rejected PVS and in the case of fraudulent signatures/submissions, prosecute as appropriate. (These documents will be destroyed after 1 year)

To recap:
40% of votes were Postal (i.e., 956)
Of these the reject rate was 14% Reject (i.e., 135)
The margin of victory was just 43 votes

Anti Social Behaviour and Lutfur Rahman's Cheeky Roadshow

Posted on | Sunday 17 June 2012 | No Comments

There is an old East-End Music Hall monologue that starts, "Saturday night in Bethnal Green, naptha lamps a-flarin' Along the gutters for nearly a mile, and men and wimmen blarin". Times have changed in a 100 years, but we can still find a modern version of long lost Music Hall entertainment at the Town Hall and every Sunday night courtesy of clown Lutfur Rahman's East End Life (EEL). This little man's army of quisling editorial staff routinely haul the integrity of a free press through the gutters of dictatorial third world censorship and cheap propaganda, and then have the gall to force this rag through every letter box in the Borough. I say 'force' as it somehow appears in letterboxes in secure apartment blocks, but then that's another issue. 

Today's monologue - how much of this rag does today's Joseph Grimaldi write himself? - promotes him, his small posse of followers, and his THEOs. It's the sheer impudence of the man that's turning him from a threat into a Music Hall act. Most in the Borough will remember that the Metropolitan Police, in conjunction with Safer Neighbourhood Teams, recently completed an exhaustive series of Ward by Ward community meetings. They were big, and well resourced by the Met, SNT, and occasionally THEOs. The focus was unreservedly on anti social behaviour (ASB) and it was a Met initiative.

Notwithstanding the sheer effort and co-operation of the above exercise, scantily reported in the EEL incidentally - in fact I only remember the Met's own advertisements, Mr Rahman has ordered the penning of this piece of self publicity in today's EEL:

'Residents had the opportunity to raise their concerns about ASB....when Mayor Lutfur Rahman put on a community road show with his Deputy, and Cllr Gulam Robbani'. Gulam Robbani, remember, is the controversially elected councillor for Spitalfields and Banglatown. 

Music Hall, aka Town Hall - have times changed that much after all? Perhaps the difference is that we once laughed with the clowns, not at them.

Monarchy or Republic? The Proposition is Premature

Posted on | Friday 1 June 2012 | No Comments

On Tuesday 29 May 2012, I attended a debate at the Bishopsgate Institute entitled, 'Monarchy or Republic?’ The Panel of speakers were:

Supporting Monarchy
Jacques Arnold (former MP and member of Council of the Constitutional Monarchy Assoc)
Peter Conradi (journalist and author)

Supporting a Republic
Graham Smith (Republic’s CEO)
Joan Smith (columnist and author)

Before the debate commenced the audience were asked to vote on the proposition, 'should we end the Monarchy'.  4 voted 'no', 3 'undecided', and the remainder (around 60) voted 'yes'. The effect of this overwhelming support for the Republican argument resulted in raucous shouts of outrage whenever the Monarchists spoke and rounds of applause extolling almost every Republican viewpoint, regardless of the banality of many comments.

However, it soon became apparent to me that the whole argument of Monarchy v Republic is a side issue to whether we want to be administered within a true democratic system or a sham one.  I’ve blogged many times on concerns over our democracy here, here and here.  

I was one of the 3 abstainers by the way, but by the end of the evening, was left deeply concerned that so many in the audience blindly supported pro Republican arguments that were clearly flawed, or at the very least, were open to more critical debate. Here is an extract from the first speaker, Joan Smith which basically summed up the level of debate:

She commenced by proclaiming that she loves voting and elections, emphasising the value of our democratic process.  Her naïve faith in what I consider to be an outdated and dysfunctional process undermined her credibility from the outset.

Next she ploughed into the quagmire of the Sovereign’s wealth, tax concessions and restricted Freedom of Information (FoI) access. Well, excuse me for mentioning this but our Government gives away unmandated sums far larger than the Sovereign's collective wealth to failed banks and in Foreign Aid. I’ve only to mention Dave Hartnett to send shivers down the spine of HMRC when they reflect on their reluctance to claw back tax owed by major corporations. As for FoI (aka transparency), hello Mr Lansley can we have that NHS Risk Report please?

Already disillusioned by the banality of the lead speaker’s arguments, Ms Smith then announced, ‘the Queen was never interviewed for the job!’  Words almost fail me on this revelation by the obviously popular columnist and author, who incidentally complained that the Queen ignored her after the prickly journalist greeted HRH (at the Palace no less) with a simple ‘hello’. One suspects she’s carried the grudge ever since. Does Ms Smith believe for example that Lutfur Rahman, Tower Hamlets ‘elected’ Mayor (elected incidentally by just 13% of the electorate) was interviewed before he took office controlling a £1billion+ annual budget and wielding almost despotic power? Or that any politician for that matter is interviewed other than by their own party electoral committees that are by definition not representative of the total electorate?

The remaining speakers swayed me to believe there is no substantive case for a Republic and I was getting an uncomfortable feeling that an angry petite bourgeoisie jealousy was bubbling to the surface through their flimsy arguments. Did this Republican cause consider that society ought to be respecting them rather than the untouchable Monarch – seen as a barrier to their own oligarchy’s upward mobility? One dreads to consider the prospect of a Joan Smith Lord Protector.

The final pitiful comment by Ms Smith was to decry the national campaign for the country to be bedecked in ‘red, white and blue’ to mark the Jubilee celebrations. But then perhaps that’s in line with a Cromwellian Puritanism that would denounce any form of revelry, or festivity.  Personally I’ll be flying the flag and hanging bunting - out of national pride; the celebrations are an opportunity for the nation to unite – young and old, poor and rich, black and white. One flag, one people. For the time being at least, God Save the Queen.

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