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Archive for June, 2012

Report on the ABC Convention

As I mentioned earlier on this blog last weekend I had the honour of attending the America-Bangladesh-Canada (ABC)  Convention in New York.

The ABC’s mission is to ‘promote Bangladeshi cultural heritage abroad, build up bridges between homeland and motherland as well as to develop the harmonious relationship between growing Bangladeshi community and the main stream’. With the international Bangladeshi community expanding, these aims are more pertinent to us than ever before.

It felt appropriate therefore to talk in New York about our experience in Tower Hamlets.

New York is the world’s great immigrant city.

It is the shining example of how immigrant communities, often escaping the most desperate circumstances, can overcome great obstacles to thrive and advance.

Central to its success as a city as been it’s the way it has come to embrace the multiple identities of its citizens.

The history of New York is completely intertwined with the history of communities, who have multiple identities, whether it is Italian-American, or Irish-American, or African-American, or Asian-American.

New York provided the template of multiculturalism. And key to its success is its embracing of multiculturalism.

With the concept of multiculturalism under attack here in the UK, there are many positive lessons for us from the experience of multiculturalism in New York.

I really enjoyed participating in the Convention, and learnt a lot from it. Thanks to the organisers for inviting me, and especially to John Liu, the New York city comptroller and first Asian person to run for Mayor in 2013, who presented me with an award for dedication to public service.

 
 
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The truth about Victoria Park

Followers of East End politics will have become accustomed to reading outbursts in recent weeks from the Opposition over the holding of parties and festivals in local parks.

Don’t get me wrong, residents are right to be concerned about the potential impact of too many events and possible damage to the landscape left behind by heavy vehicles and apparatus. This can impact on the enjoyment of our parks and is obviously of concern to local residents. Those concerns are clearly my first priority.

That’s why I’ve worked hard to ensure that we get the balance right.

We desperately need the money that these events bring in, particularly in the current climate with this vicious Conservative government cutting public services here in Tower Hamlets.

But equally, our parks must not be over used by those organising festivals and parties. That’s why we ARE limiting the scale and frequency of events. Aside from the small-scale parties, mainly marriage receptions, that we envisage taking place in the parks on the Isle of Dogs, the big festivals in Victoria Park only happen once a year. In all of this we want to hear from you the public as to how you want to see your parks used.

What leaves a sour taste in the mouth is that some of the complainants are clearly being disingenuous. Labour group leader, Cllr Josh Peck, didn’t kick up a fuss when he was my Cabinet Member for Resources. On the contrary, he was glad of the revenue each year as he set his budget.

And just days before Josh and Cllr Bill Turner flooded the social media networks with their manufactured outrage over the damage caused by a music festival; their group representatives on the licensing committee gave the go-ahead to the Live Nation event in Victoria Park as part of our Olympic host borough programme of events.

Clearly, like me, they saw the importance of allowing our young people to be part of the Olympics when they come to London in a few weeks time. Clearly, they knew it would be unfair for residents in Hackney to have a good time at Hackney Weekend whilst next-door, Tower Hamlets residents had to put up with the congestion without being involved in the fun. AND fun it will be: there are plenty of free tickets for local residents and as well as music and entertainment, there will be big screens to watch the games live. I look forward to seeing councillors Peck and Turner there!

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This weekend I have been in New York where I am one of the chief guests addressing the third American Bangladesh Canada Convention. An estimated 6,000 participants are expected.
 
The Convention is one of the highlights in the calender of the international Bangladeshi community. I am travelling at the invite and expense of the event organisers to discuss with an international audience the experiences of Bangladeshi communities in Western societies and to promote Tower Hamlets abroad.
 
Much of the Convention is focussed on the themes of integration, employment, business opportunities and cultural events. We have a rich experience in Tower Hamlets to draw from in all these areas. And I hope to learn from the experiences of others too.
 
Keep on eye on this blog; I will be posting a full account of the event shortly.

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As Mayor of Tower Hamlets I am very proud that the East End will host tens of thousands of competitors and visitors, from all over the world, for the Olympic Games.

The Games are an amazing sporting spectacle, but they are also so much more than that. They provide a unique platform for international cultural exchange. In the very act of bringing together so many different nationalities from across the world, the Olympic Games send a message to the world of solidarity, friendship and peace. At a time when our headlines are dominated by economic uncertainty, war and terrible injustices, that Olympic message of peace and goodwill is as pertinent as ever.

It is also a message that is very close to my heart.

When I was elected in 2010, one of my first acts to sign up to ‘Mayors for Peace’. This is a global community of over 5,000 Mayors, from all corners of the world, united by our commitment to a vision of a nuclear-free world. Our message is simple: eliminate the nuclear threat and protect our cities from the horrors of war. We lobby governments, send delegations to the United Nations, form partnerships nationally and internationally, and strive to raise awareness around the world about the pressing need for nuclear disarmament.

As we enjoy the Olympics, let us also recall the circumstances of their historical birth in ancient Greece. At that time, Greek societies were in turmoil, ravaged by war and pillage. The Olympics emerged as part of a rebirth and with two aims: to celebrate sporting prowess and to end war.

That message is as relevant to us today as it was to our forefathers all those centuries ago.

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I share the frustration of many in our borough that we still find ourselves without the services of a Chief Executive. This has not been for want of trying on my behalf. But I take very real exception to the intervention of Labour Group leader, Joshua Peck on this matter. For the truth is that Councillor Peck originally supported a candidate most of us believed was both the most experienced and best qualified for the job. The fact that he subsequently changed his mind, along with the leader of the Conservative Group, Councillor Peter Golds is a now a matter of public record.

To discover Councillor Peck is now telling the media that he is concerned that Tower Hamlets “cannot be left rudderless”, and claims that the council has been without a “Chief Executive for too long”, would be vaguely amusing, if it were not for the case that Councillor Peck appears not to wish to bare any responsibility for the actions of his Group in blocking the appointment of a Chief Executive at the full meeting of the council on May 16th this year. Due to the actions both he and Councillor Golds embarked upon, our local authority now faces legal challenges that were wholly avoidable.

This was a particularly shameful intervention on Councillor Peck’s behalf, and I had hoped to see some degree of contrition from him. There will be many in the Labour Party locally and nationally, who will have been appalled to learn that there is in effect a Tory/Labour coalition in this borough.

In the time since Labour and the Tories colluded to block the appointment of a Chief Executive, I have done my level best to attempt to break the log jam and move the process forward. So it is rich in the extreme for Councillor Peck to call, as he does, for me “to join us in our attempts to find a workeable solution”. He has failed at evey opportunity to do just that, and engaged in the type of political activity more often seen in a Student Union. I am always willing to listen to serious suggestions that may help us undo the damage that has been done in recent weeks, but it is high time time that Councillor Peck engaged in some grown up politics for us to do so.

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I remember when Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party promised to make Britain a ‘home owning democracy’. In order to make that happen they allowed tenants to buy their council houses and flats, while at the same time refusing to allow local councils the revenue raised from selling them. So Britain’s social housing stock simply shrank. I am also old enough to rmember the subsequent housing boom, which burst like a pricked bubble, as recession hit and mortgages became more difficult to attain.
Today we have another Conservative led Government. But this one, under David Cameron, is presiding over a housing crisis, with the under 30s age group destined to become ‘generation rent’, as the housing shortage caused by years of failure to re-build the social housing that was sold off, hits home with a vengeance. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says that by 2020 more than one million young people will have been forced out of the housing market. Instead the young of today will either have to rent property for most of their lifetime or remain with their parents until well into their 30s before being able to joing the housing ladder. All of this means that many young people’s dreams of owning a property will never become a reality. It also means that Britain as a ‘property owning democracy’ is fast becoming a myth.
There are ways of tackling this crisis, but will the Government follow them? It could for instance intervene in the housing market and control rents, or it could build substantially more social housing, or it could do both. However, on current performance it seems unlikely to do any of this.
Here in Tower hamlets, we are contining to do our best, despite all of the impediments placed in our path. We are committed to building over a thousand new homes each year – which is far more than any other local authority. Of course we would like to, and need to, build far more homes for our young people. But for that we will need a change of Government. And that can’t come soon enough.

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I welcome the announcement that the government is to make forced marriages illegal. I hope it signals that this issue will now be taken more seriously by the police and other agencies. It is estimated there have been over 1500 cases of forced marriages in the last year, with one third of those involved being minors. While some of the victims of forced marriage are men, the vast majority are women. It is unfortunate therefore that just as this government is voicing concern for vulnerable women, it is slashing funding for women’s refuges by over 30%. These organisations provide an invaluable service for vulnerable and isolated women, like those being subject to forced marriages. I am proud that in Tower Hamlets we have protected our funding for women’s aid organsiations and I call on the government to do likewise. 


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