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Archive for July, 2012

At the Opening Ceremony

On Friday night, I was honoured to attend the 2012 Opening Ceremony at the Olympic Stadium in Stratford. What an amazing show. I was glued to my seat from start to finish.

The representation of the Industrial Revolution was stunningly realistic – in a way that the TV broadcast couldn’t do justice. I thought it was great to showcase this part in history which changed Britain like no other period.

Other highlights included our very own Pearly Kings and Queens, the dance arrangement that formed the shape of the CND symbol (as a Mayor for Peace, this organisation is close to my heart), the brilliant dance section choreographed by British Bangladeshi Akram Khan and, for comic value, Her Majesty the Queen’s cameo appearance in a mini-Bond film, parachute-jumping into the ceremony with Daniel Craig.

I was also deeply moved by the section that highlighted the importance of our NHS. Those involved were not merely actors, but real-life nurses and patients from Great Ormond Street Hospital, renowned throughout the world as a centre for excellence in children’s medicine. I do believe that viewers throughout the world, particularly in those countries not lucky enough to have national healthcare provision free at the point of need, will have been able to see what high regard we Britons have for the NHS and the fabulous work they do. It’s particularly important at a time when the very foundations of the organisation are under threat from a Tory government intent on privatisation, run by politicians who clearly do not share the values upon which the NHS was built.

But now, over to you! Which bits of the ceremony were your favourities? Let me know on Twitter by tweeting @MayorLutfur.

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Olympic chimes

I was invited to ring the bells at Bow Church on the edge of the Olympic Park on Friday as part of the national carillon that rang out at 8:12am across the country to welcome the games. I would have been happy to – the seven centuries old Church has a serious history, and commemorates assorted martyrs from all eras.

Thirteen protestant martyrs were burned at the stake there in 1556 for fighting for freedom of conscience – and there is a plaque there to parishioner and Labour icon George Lansbury who helped pioneer our welfare state and who when he was a councillor in this borough went to gaol for his stand in support of suffragettes. He was also to become the leader of the Labour Party, and is still remembered here as ‘Good old George’.

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This weekend trade unionists from across the country will be gathering in Tower Hamlets to mark the 40th anniversary of the release of the ‘Pentonville 5’ – the five London dockers sent to jail for picketing in 1972.  Edward Heath’s Conservative Government had introduced a new Industrial Relations Act, designed to stop working people from expressing solidarity with one another. The Pentonville 5, along with trade unionists up and down the country helped defeat that legislation, and the role of the miners in helping to do that was never forgotten or forgiven by Margaret Thatcher when she came to power. The rest, as they say, is history.

The arrest and jailing of the five shop stewards lead to an unofficial wave of work stoppages which culminated in a one day national strike. The dockers were released within a week to great scenes of celebration. Many of you will remember the huge solidarity demonstration that also took place outside the Tower of London with the banner of the Royal Docks Shop Stewards Committee taking pride of place. It read simply; ‘Arise Ye Workers!’

The event was a seminal moment in the history of British trade unionism in demonstrating the power of the trade unions to overturn anti-union laws.

Tomorrow’s commemoration takes place at from 2pm at The Boat House, Ferry Street, Isle of Dogs, London, E14 3DT opposite Island Gardens DLR station and features a key note address from Len McCluskey, Unite General Secretary, workshops, and a social in the evening. It promises to be a very uplifting and memorable event, and is open for local residents.

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Only 48 hours to go!

In just over 48 hours time Tower Hamlets will welcome the world. After 7 years of planning the final touches are being put for the greatest show on earth – the 2012 Olympic Games.

On Friday I joined with Lord Coe, London Mayor Boris Johnson and thousands others to watch the Royal Marines abseil into the Tower of London with the Olympic flame securely attached! The excitement was palpable and residents came out in force to line the streets along the route and cheer on local torch bearers. 

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There are 126 languages officially spoken in our schools—but in reality the 127th, Cockney, is probably the biggest of all, even though it’s not on the census form.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of joining the Pearly Kings and Queens at the Carpenter’s Arms in Stepney to celebrate East End cockney heritage, and listen to them talking about the history of cockney rhyming slang.

The Pearlies are London’s other Royal Family. Their long coats lavishly decorated with buttons symbolise a long and rich tradition of raising money for charity, and they’re an important part of East End history.

Whilst Cockneys are famous for not suffering fools gladly, they’re also known as incredibly welcoming and inclusive bunch. I was born in Bangladesh, but came to Britain at the age of four and certainly consider myself to be an East Ender, and proud to be so.

With the Olympics, we are welcoming the world to East London and it’s a great opportunity to showcase everything this thriving area has to offer. As well as our businesses, our parks, our landmarks and our found, culture is an integral part of this, and cockney heritage is an integral part of our culture.

Let’s give the Olympics a proper East End welcome!

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Ramadan Mubarak, London 2012

The holy month of Ramadan begins today, Friday, July 20.

Ramadan is a time for contemplation and generosity and it is also a time for us to be compassionate and thoughtful towards others.

In Tower Hamlets, where we pride ourselves on our inclusiveness and unity in diversity, I know that these are values which are important to us all.

This will be especially true as we welcome visitors from across the world for the Olympics and show our commitment to the Olympic values of respect, excellence and friendship.

The Olympics will also be a busy time for us in Tower Hamlets but I know that local people are looking forward to the greatest show on earth, which will be taking place on our doostep during this holy month.

To Muslims, people of other faiths, and of none, we wish you Ramadan Mubarak.

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Supporting our troops

I was sorry to find another inaccurate article about our borough in tonight’s Evening Standard.

Peter Dominiczak reported that soldiers stationed in the borough to provide support for the Olympics in light of the G4S catastrophe were being ‘charged £1 for a shower’.

I’m glad to say that this is not the case.

As soon as we were approached, this morning, by representatives of the army, requesting free use of our facilities at the newly-refurbished St George’s Leisure Centre, which is run by the contractor GLL, we were only to happy to oblige.

We are, of course, very grateful for the contribution that they are making to keeping our residents safe and our neighbourhoods free from potential disorder during the Games.

I want to extend a warm welcome to the troops on behalf of East End residents. I hope that they enjoy their stay here, and we will strive to do all we can to accommodate them.

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I was pleased to read that one of the poems specially commissioned for the Olympics commemorates the famous three week long Match Girls Strike of 1889. ‘Spark Catchers’ by Lemn Sassy was inspired by the campaign against the horrendous working conditions in the Bryant and May match factory in Bow where girls as young as 13 worked 14-hour days and suffered horrendous health problems from working with white phosphorus.

Many of civil rights we enjoy today have been won on the back of hard struggles waged in the past. The Match Girls Strike is one such event. It inspired a wave of trade union organising that had long term consequences for women and the low paid. With the Trade Union Congress having just appointed Frances O’Grady as General Secretary, the first woman to occupy that post in the TUC’s 144 year old history,  it seems especially fitting to remember the struggles of other women activists from days gone by. Thanks to Lemn Sassy for reminding us of an inspiring chapter from our history.

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“Have you ever been called an Islamist? How about a Jihadist or a terrorist? Extremist maybe? It’s pretty depressing. Every morning I take a deep breath and then go online to discover what new insult or smear has been thrown in my direction. Whether it’s tweets, blogposts or comment threads, the abuse is relentless as it is vicious.”
 
These are not my words – although they could be. They belong to the respected journalist, Mehdi Hasan, and they appear in The Guardian. His words have even more resonance for me, as they coincided with a typically vicious blog by Andrew Gilligan in the Daily Telegraph, in which he once again trotted out the old smear referring to me as “the borough’s extremist-linked Mayor”. This is in clear breach of the undertaking made by the Daily Telegraph to the Press Complaints Commision last year, that any such allegation would be countered by a clear and explicit denial from me. It doesn’t surprise me that an individual who forged references to gain a job with Keith Vaz MP, who has compromised his sources and been fired by the BBC, should trot out this predictable nonsense. But it is a surprise that the newspaper that allows these smears to be re-printed ad nauseam, has such disregard for the Press Complaints Commission. I hope that Lord Leveson will take note.
 
It would also be refreshing if the management and editors of the Daily Telegraph took some responsibility for the activities of one of their employees. They should perhaps read the trail of hate mail that follow a typical Gilligan blog, and ask themselves; do we really want bigots, racists and xenophobes being published on our site? Do we really think that feeding the hate merchants in the British National Party and English Defence league is something that the Daily Telegraph should be proud of?
 
It is worth pointing out that up until this week Gilligan hasn’t written a word since the election of his friend Boris Johnson as Mayor. Some of us thought that even he had finally managed to vent his spleen.
 
In The Guardian, Medhi Hasan argues that;  ‘We mustn’t allow Muslims in public life to be silenced’. I would agree, and add that none of us whether Muslim, Christian, Jew or none of the above, should be silenced by those whose stock in trade are lies and hatred. 

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So should the inquiry into what has gone so badly wrong with our banks be led by Parliament, as David Cameron wants, or by a Judge, as Ed Miliband wants? On the basis that Parliamentary Inquiries and Royal Commissions are time honoured devices ritually deployed in Britain to kick a huge problem into the long grass for as long as possible and until people forget what the inquiry was all about, I back Ed Miliband’s demand for a powerful judicial inquiry. Afterall, remember the Chilcott Inquiry into the Iraq War? Whatever happened to that?

It remains a fact that on both sides of the Atlantic not a single banker has yet to be put in the dock and faced justice. This despite the fact that corrupt and fraudulent activities in Wall Street and London led to the banking crisis, exacerbated a crisis in the Euro zone and have conspired to give us a World wide recession, now in its fifth year. If it is right to send looters to prison for stealing during last summer’s riots, then surely it is right to send fraudulent bankers to prison too.

It has cost each adult in the land over £20,000 to bail out the banks, and yet these same banks seem just as incapable of investing in the productive base of the economy as they were a few years ago. The bosses of those banks also continue to award themselves grotesque bonuses, and as a reward for failure. It is not just the banking culture that needs to be revisited; it is the whole manner in which the financial sector was given carte blanche following Margaret Thatcher’s ‘big bang’ of the 1980s, to do as it pleased. The case for a state investment bank grows stronger by the day.

Tower Hamlets is one of the poorest boroughs in the land. The juxtaposition between the wealth of the City and Canary Wharf on one hand and our crowded borough is not only an immensely powerful image, it is a reality, and for many of our residents who work for the banks on very ordinary wages.

I have never known people as angry as they are now at the arrogant and flagrant behaviour of a minority of people in the financial sector who clearly believe that they are above the law. They are not. Now we need to see those clearly guilty of massive fraud sent to jail.

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