Archive for September, 2011

My column in this week’s East End Life

I have written before in this column about the scale of the budget challenges facing the public sector.

I believe it is wrong that ordinary people should have to suffer the effects of vicious cuts to public services, due to a crisis that was the fault of the greedy bankers, and the irresponsible politicians who failed to regulate them.

I maintain my commitment to protecting those most in need from these cuts. (more…)


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Remembering Cable Street

Invitation to Battle of Cable Street anniversary event

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Ken promises to slash fares

Today Ken Livingstone launched his alternative fares package for London.

Ken has promised to cut fares on the bus and the tube by 5% after taking office, and freeze them thereafter.

This is in stark contrast to Boris Johnson’s recent admission that, even after raising bus fares by a whopping 56% since taking office, his plan is for fares to continue to rise by 2% above inflation every year for the next twenty years.

Ken is offering Londoners a clear alternative.

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East London Gay Pride

I had the opportunity to speak at the East London Gay Pride event yesterday.

Taking to the stage, I made it clear that our LGBT residents are part and parcel of the Tower Hamlets Community.

I talked of how important our togetherness, and our unity in diversity, is in our efforts to remain One Tower Hamlets – a community that welcomes people from all walks of life.

I expressed my gratitude to all those LGBT residents who had joined me in preventing the English Defence League from holding their racist march through our borough.

As a British Asian, as a British Muslim, I know what it’s like to be part of a minority. But minorities have since the beginning of time been woven into the fabric of this borough – and what makes us special is how we stand together and speak up for one another. It’s a sentiment that leading gay rights activist Peter Tatchell (pictured above) enthusiastically shared.

I want to thank Jack Gilbert and Rebecca Shaw, the co-chairs of Rainbow Hamlets, who took the lead in organising this – as well as everybody else involved.

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In memory of Barry Blandford

Yesterday I attended a memorial for former mayor Barry Blandford, who passed away in July.

It was a lovely event and well attended too.

Barry was widely respected for his commitment to public service.

And he is fondly remembered in the Bangladeshi community for his visit to Bangladesh in 1991 in the aftermath of the floods.

May he rest in peace.

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Rania on the radio

My colleague Councillor Rania Khan, cabinet member for Culture and longstanding feminist activist, had a brief slot on BBC London radio last night.

She’d been invited onto the show to debate the prosecution of two French women who’d broken the new law there which forbids women from wearing the full-face Islamic veil.

Rania, always a passionate advocate of a woman’s right to make her own choices, makes some salient points and the interview’s worth listening to – see below.

Rania Khan on the radio at MySpaceFileHosting.com
Rania Khan on the radio.

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Trickett hits the nail on the head

I was struck by the inordinate good sense in an article written by senior Labour MP, Jon Trickett, in The Guardian. Genuine Labour voices have been stilled and silent for too long, so Jon’s admission that ‘Labour lost touch with the mainsteam’, will strike a chord with many.

Lest we forget, Labour lost five million votes at the last election; although the party recovered some vital, lost ground in the last week or so by beginning to sound like the Labour Party again.

Here is Jon, who Ed Miliband has appointed as a Shadow Minister of State, in full flow in The Guardian.

He writes, “We need to re-connect with the mainstream, hard pressed millions who had come to doubt us. And we need to be fearless against the big battalions, however powerful they may be, to rebuild a society based on the British values of fairness and community”.

Perhaps Jon might like to accept an invitation to visit Tower Hamlets in the not so distant future, to see what we are doing to promote fairness and a sense of community in our borough.

We can learn from him, and he can learn from us.

To read Jon Trickett’s article in full, click here.

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Reflections on Full Council

By Tower Hamlets standards last night’s council meeting was largely a positive affair! At one stage it even looked like there might be an outbreak of unity about the success of our campaign to stop the EDL. Cross party unity was essential to that campaign and it is right that all members should feel proud of our collective efforts.

In the subsequent discussions however important differences did emerge.

Cllr Kabir Ahmed quite rightly raised concerns about the local Labour group’s calls for a blanket ban on static demos.

Of course my administration supports all measures that will protect our borough from the threat of the EDL. However, as Kabir pointed out, we need to be careful with the exact demands we make to this end.

Any calls for a ban on static demos should specify that the ban be applicable only to those protests or events that could incite hate crimes. Any calls for new banning powers that do not differentiate between static demonstrations could have the unintended consequence of curtailing civil liberties and freedom of expression.

I was not surprised that the Tories were enthusiastic supporters of Labour’s proposal last night; with the full impact of the cuts yet to be felt, they know only too well there will be many more protests on our streets against them from trade unionists, pensioners, students and anti-cuts campaigners. It would be a bad day for democracy in this country if legislation intended to be used against violent, racist thugs is also used against anti-cuts groups.

It was a shame therefore that the Labour group sided with the Tories, (as they did on all issues through out the meeting), to vote down our amendment which specified that any ban on static demos apply only to those types of protests that might incite hate crimes.

The other issue which caused debate was the culpability of local politicians in fanning the very Islamaphobia that’s put wind in the sails of the EDL.

Unfortunately, it is simply a fact in Tower Hamlets that in their factional furies some politicians have sunk into the gutter.

Lies and smears about organisations and individuals in the borough promoting extremist Islamic agendas have abounded.

It’s a dangerous game in which only the racists can win.

Two organisations most in the firing line of Islamaphobic attack have been the London Muslim Centre (LMC) and the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE).

It was disappointing therefore, that Labour group leader Cllr Josh Peck could not find it within himself to join with the police and faith leaders to congratulate both the IFE and LMC for the role they played in keeping the peace on Sept 3.

He explained his refusal by saying there were many organisations who helped ensure Sept 3 was a success, which all deserve our gratitude.

This is true, and I have thanked them all publicly and privately.

However, not every organisation was specifically targeted by the EDL in the way the LMC and IFE were; it was not accidental the EDL wanted to make the LMC the focus of their march.

Imagine if I refused to join with the police and faith leaders to offer my solidarity to a specific church or synagogue, or Christian or Jewish organisation, under attack from racists and fascists?

There would quite rightly be outrage.

It is disappointing that Cllr Peck could not make such a basic gesture of solidarity with two organisations subject to sustained Islamaphobic assault.

Perhaps if he had attended the meeting in the LMC the night before the EDL’s planned visit, at which over 350 stewards attended, or perhaps if he had been out on the streets of the borough through out the day of their visit, he would have had a greater appreciation of their specific contribution.

Never mind. All in all, it was a positive meeting…

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Yesterday, Boris Johnson announced a whopping 7% rise in fares on the tube and the DLR.

Sadly, it doesn’t come as a surprise. Last year, Johnson paid for the £55million a year it cost to lift Kensington and Chelsea out of the congestion charging zone by raising £60million in extra bus fares.

With this coming year’s increase, which comes into effect in January, the standard bus fare will be £1.40 – a 50p increase (56%) on the 90p that we had to pay when Ken Livingstone left office. That will cost Tower Hamlets residents who get a single bus to and from work an extra £260 per year. And there’s no escape if they buy a weekly bus pass – that’s up by a shocking 47%.

As the Guardian’s Dave Hill rightly says, “the cold heart of the matter is that at a time when they can least afford it working Londoners, especially the least well off, are yet again being asked to pay far more to get around their city.”

And we can expect more and more of this if Johnson is re-elected – he’s admitted that, if his transport plan is followed through, fares will rise 2% above inflation every year for the next twenty years.

The only positive element to this announcement is that now it is brutally clear, as many of us have always known, that Boris Johnson cannot be trusted to speak up for ordinary Londoners. Even the Evening Standard is up in arms.

Ken Livingstone has organised a petition against these crippling fare rises – you can sign it at http://www.unfare.com/

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Ed Miliband at the TUC

Today, Ed Miliband addressed the Trades Union Congress. He covered a wide range of interesting topics, centred around the immediate future for the left, how we oppose the Conservative government and what part trade unionists can play. As I’ve made clear before, I personally didn’t see eye to eye with Ed on the industrial action of 30 March – I truly felt that public sector workers had been left with no alternative – but on the whole it’s a brilliant speech, and well worth a read, so I’m reproducing it here. (more…)

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