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Archive for January, 2012

Divine dispatches

On Monday, I was interviewed by David Shariatmadari, the Guardian’s Faith correspondent. He included a quote in the paper’s blog on religion, Divine Dispatches – and I’m reproducing it here:

At the beginning of the week I found myself in Tower Hamlets to interview Lutfur Rahman, one of the country’s most powerful, if controversial, Muslim politicians. Once a member of the Labour party, he was deselected but decided to run for executive mayor as an independent – and won. He’s now had over a year in office. I was surprised to hear him say he had more in common with Prince Charles than David Cameron – in terms of his attitude to faith, that is. When I asked him about Cameron’s speech on the Christian foundations of British culture, he said:

“My religion is a private thing … if you go back to Prince Charles, when he talks about faiths, religions: that’s the kind of society I want to see, where no one particular religion has hegemony over society, we have a community of faiths.
“For me there’s a clear distinction between [Cameron’s] approach and Prince Charles’s, but I think Prince Charles’s would be much more appropriate given the country that we’re in.”

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Phil, Lutfur, Rabina, Shahed and Maium
Just before the New Year, I was pleased to attend an event held by the Tower Hamlets Federation of Tenants and Residents Associations.

The event was held to mark the launch of a draft residents charter, setting out the terms for a productive relationship with landlords across the borough.

I was joined by (pictured from left to right) the federation Chair Phil Sedler and ward councillors Rabina Khan (Shadwell), Shahed Ali (Whitechapel) and Maium Miah (Millwall).

We were delighted to be able to express our support for the draft charter.

Housing is my number one priority in my mayoralty, and residents are key to any improvements we are able to make. It is vital that all landlords listen to residents’ concerns and involve residents in decision-making processes, and my administration is doing its upmost to ensure that this happens.

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The long awaited judgement in the Stephen Lawrence case demonstrates that there are people, albeit a tiny minority, who harbour a deep racism and may even be capable of terrible, violent acts. The fact that Tower Hamlets is a multi cultural, multi racial borough, where the overwhelming majority of people work and live together happily, should not allow for any complacency. We must always be on our guard and be vigilant. Those are at least some of the lessons we need to learn from the Lawrence family’s epic eighteen year old battle for justice.

Much has changed since that terrible night when Stephen Lawrence and his friend Duwayne Brooks were set upon by a bunch of racist thugs. Back then many people ‘lived in fear’, such was the climate of race relations in some parts of the country. For a start the Macpherson Inquiry – which was set up by the newly elected Labour Government in 1997 – concluded that the police force was rife with ‘institutional racism’. Councillor Abdul Asad, who was the Mayor of Tower Hamlets when Macpherson visited the borough as part of a national fact finding tour, tells me that the issue of institutional racism featured prominently in the testimonials given from members of the public.

When it finally appeared the Macpherson Inquiry also showed that the police had simply failed to act quickly enough on the detailed information made available to them in the immediate period following Stephen’s murder. Macpherson’s recommendations – some seventy in all – of course owed much to the indomitable campaigning work of Stephen Lawrence’s parents, Doreen and Neville. Many of those recommendations have since been put into practice.

However, there have been set backs as well. Multiculturalism has come under attack and there has been an increase in Islamophobia in sections of the media that should know better.

Yet there has been almost a national sense of relief that justice has finally been done and that the long, hard struggle of the Lawrencefamily was not in vain. Justice has at last been achieved with the conviction of Gary Dobson and David Norris.

In many ways Britain is a different place to what it was that dark night eighteen years ago. But we cannot pretend that racism has been eradicated, nor that there is still much work to be done. Which is why I heartily agree with Lord Herman Ouseley, the former head of the Commission for Racial Equality when he says that “The police and criminal justice system should see this case as providing a baseline for establishing standards of investigation and prosecution for all hate crimes”.

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Fares are bedrock and bread-and-butter in most Londoners’ lives and Team Ken has devised a policy that grabs attention, defines a sharp difference with its main opponent and serves as a flagship for the broader Livingstone campaign theme of protecting “ordinary Londoners” from the effects of government policy. By defining the election as a referendum on the Tories, Ken breaks with his past in binding himself closely to Labour, which as a party has been doing far better in opinion polls of Londoners than Ken himself has. Note too that the fares rise is demeaned as a “tax.”

Read more from Dave Hill here.

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