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Archive for March, 2012

Like most people, including those usually well-informed Westminster pundits, I was pretty surprised by the scale of George Galloway’s victory in the Bradford West by-election.

The usual suspects are already braying for Ed Miliband’s head on a plate. His leadership must be weak, they crow, for the party to lose a safe seat in this week of all weeks.

This narrative is being stirred up by right-wing spinners. In a week that has seen George Osborne’s ‘Robin Hood in reverse’ budget laying the burden of economic difficulties on the poor, the vulnerable and the elderly, another Tory cash-for-influence scandal and a fuel crisis stirred up by out of touch ministers; it’s easy to see why they’d want to shift some media pressure onto Labour.

But as far as I can see, these questions about Ed’s leadership are purely opportunistic.

This is no win for Cameron. Indeed, the Conservative vote collapsed – and Bradford West was one of their target seats at the last general election!

There is, however, a salient point to be drawn from this result.

People in the inner-cities are really feeling the impact of this government’s vicious austerity programme, and Galloway’s victory shows that a staunch anti-austerity campaign does not disconnect us with voters, as some would have us believe.

The nuances and triangulations so popular in Westminster make politicians appear out of touch. People in Bradford wanted to discuss more substantial issues. In other words, it was bread and butter issues, rather than the politics of pasties, that resonated on the doorsteps and ultimately won the day.

It is important that the Labour Party learn from this for the future.

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Teachers across the country will begin a one-day strike tomorrow.

This action follows the break-down of negotiations with government over pensions.

They have been asked to pay larger contributions, work for longer and get less in retirement.

Negotiations were ongoing, but the government have now dropped out of the discursive process, preferring to prematurely impose a settlement that teachers are not happy with.

Our teachers in Tower Hamlets are hugely talented and hard-working. They do a tremendous job in our schools, as can be seen with the record GCSE results that our youngsters have achieved. But we cannot take them for granted.

Cutting pensions will lead to fewer ambitious and enthusiastic graduates going into the teaching profession, shortages of staff and a greater reliance on supply teachers from agencies. This can only be detrimental to our children’s education.

I am truly proud of our teachers, and we owe it to them to stand by them in their hour of strife. That is why I am supporting tomorrow’s industrial action.

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Mayor Boris Johnson’s campaign website is “misleading” the public on crime figures, a statistician has told BBC London. The Conservative candidate for Mayor of London writes that “robberies are down 16.3%” under his mayoralty on the website backboris2012.com. But robberies have risen 18.8% over the course of Mr Johnson’s time at City Hall, according to research by independent analyst Professor Allan J. Brimicombe.

Read the full report from the BBC here

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Blood, sweat and gear

On Tuesday night I had the special honour of welcoming Bangladeshi trade unionists to the borough.

Mr Amirul Haque Amin, President of the National Garment Workers Federation of Bangladesh and Ms Arifa Akter, a full time staff organiser with National Garment Workers Federation, were speaking at a meeting organised by Councillor Rania Khanon behalf of the council and War on Want  about its new report into the garment industry in Bangladesh.

The report illustrates how sportswear giants Adidas, Nike and Puma are making huge profits from outsourcing their production to Bangladesh while more than 3 million workers in the garment industry get paid a pittance, work in unsafe conditions and are subject to bullying management.

Our honoured guests spoke powerfully about the responsibility of multinationals to ensure that the factories they outsource to respect and pay a decent wage to the workers who work in them.

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A visit from royalty

Earlier in the week I received a visit from an East End cultural institution; the Society for the Pearly Kings and Queens. The pearlies do valuable charity work and popped in for tea and a chat about how best I can offer support. It was great to see them. In a borough already distinguished for its fashion sense, the pearlies definitely take the prize for having the most distinctive and stylish outfits! Read more their history here.

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I was shocked and saddened to hear of this morning’s fatal incident in Toulouse, France, in which a teacher and three young children were shot and killed outside a Jewish school.

The attack appears to have racist motivations, and police have provisionally linked it with two other recent shooting incidents in the same area, in which three French servicemen of North African origin were murdered.

It also bears echoes of last summer’s horrific attack in Norway, in which 76 people were killed and 92 injured by the white supremacist Anders Behring Breivik.

These are hate crimes of the gravest nature. My heart reaches out to the familes of those whose lives have been so cruelly snatched by these hateful killers, and with the young man who was also injured in today’s attack: I hope and pray that he makes a full recovery.

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On Friday I hosted the Bangladesh Olympic Delegation at the Town Hall. With a large Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets, I am keeping a close eye on progress of athletes from Bangladesh.

Led by Nurul Fazal Bulbul, the chef de mission of the Bangladeshi Olympic Committee, I was pleased to hear how the team is preparing during its pre Games visit toLondon. The Bangladesh team is hoping to win medals in shooting, archery and fencing. I wish the athletes the very best and hope to see you cheering them on during the Games!

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International Women’s Day Q&A

Last Saturday I was delighted to attend our Women in Public Life Human Library at Whitechapel Ideas Store, to celebrate International Women’s Week. The event was organised by Cllr Rania Khan, lead member for Culture, to encourage more women to become involved in public life.

We also held a short listening time, where women could present their concerns and questions to me.

I am sure that many other women, and men, in the borough will be interested in the concerns they raised, as well as my explanation of what I, and the Council, are doing to tackle these issues.

The Financial Crisis and impact on local people:

Q: “Working class people are being made to pay for a crisis they didn’t cause. We need to campaign and fight back against the public sector and welfare cuts, especially against the housing benefit cap, which will especially impact on women. What has theMayor been doing to campaign around these issues?”

 A: “When cuts inflict pain and hardship on our community we must struggle and resist. My cabinet and I have been joining in national campaigns, including the demonstration last March and the day of strike action last November. We are all willing to work with partners to resist and we welcome any suggestions of campaigns we can be involved in.”

Additional Information on our replacement for the EMA scheme here and our welfare reform congress here.

Low Paid Jobs:

Q: “What is the Mayor doing to tackle the discrimination around low paid jobs?”

A: “We need to tackle the stigma attached to low paid jobs, especially when this stigmatises the workers, many of whom are women. We employ 10,000 people in the Council and we value each and everyone of them. In many of the services women outnumber men but we need to do more to ensure that we have women at every level in the Council. One of the most proactive steps we took in tackling low paid jobs was, in 2008, to implement the London Living Wage across the Council. It was a difficult procedure and I am very proud we delivered it.

Additional information the Council’s London Living Wage Policy here.

Prostitution:

Q: “Prostitutes have been let down by the care system, the justice
system; they suffer from stigma, shame, drug addiction. Why are these
women being criminalised and targeted by the police? Would the Mayor
consider including them in the Violence Against Women Strategy and
targeting the men who purchase sex, not the prostitutes?”

A: “I do not think that these women are being deliberately targeted,
and if that was the case I would support a campaign to introduce a
different tactic. The police are with us today, and I would be
interested if they could let us know how they work with prostitutes
and how we can best work together top support these women.

Additional information: I have since asked the director responsible for The Council’s relationship with the police to explore how policing prostitution can be improved to support vulnerable women.

Q: “Prostitutes have been let down by the care system, the justice system; they suffer from stigma, shame, drug addiction. Why are these women being criminalised and targeted by the police? Would the Mayor consider including them in the Violence Against Women Strategy and targeting the men who purchase sex, not the prostitutes?”

A: “I do not think that these women are being deliberately targeted, and if that was the case I would support a campaign to introduce a different tactic. The police are with us today, and I would be interested if they could let us know how they work with prostitutes and how we can best work together top support these women.

ESOL provision and childcare:

Q: “Women want to learn English and be in employment. However the national cuts to ESOL provision and childcare, as well as pressure due to the welfare reform means they are struggling to get into work. How can we support them to get into work?”

A: “Due to Central Government cuts, we had to cut £100m from our own budget. This was extremely difficult for us but we were committed to protecting important frontline services, protecting our investment in the third sector, investing in youth centres and children centres. Last year we opened a new children’s centre. We have also invested £245,000 into ESOL provision through the third sector as we know how important this service is.”

Additional information about the recent opening of our childrens center at Meath Gardens here and funding for ESOL projects here.

Private Schools:

Q: “Many of our young people do not access private schools, even when there are bursaries available. Should we be encouraging them to do so?”

A: “I believe in state education and I am proud of the schools we have in Tower Hamlets. We are seeing some of the best results in London. We have to keep investing to maintain the best facilities, best teachers and best results and we will make sure that our schools do as well as the private schools.”

Additional information about our education results here.

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Re-opening of Altab Ali Park

Earlier this week I took part in a ceremony to re-open Altab Ali Park following its recent restoration work.

Altab Ali was a young Bangladeshi man who was murdered in a racist attack 34 years ago on May 4th 1978.  His death sent shock waves throughout the community. The National Front were on the rise. Racist attacks were on the increase. And there was real fear that after Altab Ali’s murder no-one was safe.

But while Altab Ali’s murder created a fear of racism, it also created resistance to racism. Over 7,000 people marched behind his coffin to Downing Street. The Bangladeshi community and anti-racists started to organise against racist violence. And from that day to this, Tower Hamlets has taken huge strides to ensure it is a borough where there is no place for hate.

The park has been refurbished as part of High Street 2012, an ambitious programme to enhance and improve the thoroughfare which connects the City at Aldgate to the Olympic Park at Stratford.

Improvements to the park have included new trees being planted, a raised walkway, an improved setting for the Shaheed Minar monument, new lighting, and groves of silver birch and pine trees.

The improvements to the park followed widespread consultation with the community. Events included an archaeological dig organised by the Museum of Londonwhich involved school children and volunteers who helped inform the final design.

 A host of partner agencies were involved in the restoration including the council, Transport for London, Design for London and London Heritage.

During my visit I was also honoured to bury a time capsule in the park, documenting the area’s fascinating and rich history.

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Latest from Ted Jeory on LOCOG’s controversial decision to accept sponsorship from Dow Chemical for a fabric wrap about the main Olympic stadium.

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