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Archive for August, 2012

Get into the Paralympic spirit!

Councillors Rahman and Asad with local resident JohnYesterday saw an event at Mile End Stadium organised by the Council to celebrate the start of the Paralympics.

I couldn’t make it, but my cabinet colleagues Councillor Oli Rahman (Children’s Services) and Councillor Abdul Asad (Adult Social Care and Health) went along to join the festivities.

Local residents from disability groups including The Tower Project and Antill Road Centre were invited to come and enjoy an afternoon of sports.

The event included a special theatre performance called the Travelympics, depicting various Paralympic sporting events before asking for volunteers from the crowd to take part in activities such as water balloon javelin throwing!

The start of the Paralympic Games is an exciting moment for London, and I’m delighted that, as an Olympic borough part in hosting this historical event and sharing the excitement with our residents.

Working with our disabled residents is very important to us, and the Paralympics offer a good opportunity for us to champion the groups that do this invaluable work in East London.

I hope that residents will be as captivated by the Paralympic spirit as they were with the Olympics. There will be plenty of events taking place across East London – get involved!

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Protecting residents from Tory cuts

When even the Prime Minister’s own Tory controlled local authority, West Oxfordshire District Council, throw up their arms in despair, you know that something is truly rotten.

Cameron’s own councillors are objecting to so called council tax reforms which they say will cost their poorest residents an extra £420 a year. Furthermore, they say that that these changes do not provide any incentive for work – in fact quite the reverse.  

In Tower Hamlets, we know that when Cameron and his friends talk of ‘reform’, really they mean ‘cuts’. A few months ago the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies issued a damning report which stated that these housing benefit cuts replicated the worst elements of the poll tax and stated that councils could be left chasing desperately poor people through the courts for very small amounts of money.

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Well done to our students!

Yesterday was a day long etched into the calendars of young people in Tower Hamlets, and across the country. Thousands of 15-16 year olds from the East End, including my daughter, returned to school to collect their GCSE  results.

I joined students at Oaklands School to congratulate them on their stunning achievements. There were hugs all round and tears of joy, as students realised that their hard work had paid off – and their next step to further education was within their grasp.

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The Standard's previous campaign of apology to Londoners didn't change much

The Evening Standard has published a fulsome apology to Isabella Freeman, who is Assistant Chief executive of our borough, and in charge of our legal services. The newspaper, edited by Sarah Sands and owned by Russian oligarch, Evgeny Lebedev, claimed back in May that Isabella Freeman had ‘blamed Muslim voters for alleged voter fraud in the borough’ and had ‘showed a lack of care about alleged voter fraud in Tower Hamlets and was involved in a deliberate cover-up’. I wrote to the proprietor, Mr Lebedev, of the Evening Standard at the time, inviting him to visit our borough, to see things for himself. He did not see fit to reply.

The newspaper has now been forced to accept that its allegations were entirely untrue. Instead it accepted that our council has the most robust systems and processes permitted under election law to ensure the integrity of the electoral register and identify any malpractice. It also accepted that our borough electronically scans 100 per cent of postal votes and rejects any that have non matching signatures.

These deeply damaging and utterly false claims were published by the Evening Standard at the height of an obvious campaign by Sarah Sands and the Evening Standard to support the Boris Johnson Mayoral campaign. The Evening Standard wished to convey the impression that voter fraud was rife in our borough, and therefore could, in a tightly fought election, influence the result. The false claims about Isabella Freeman came after weeks of sustained hostile reporting from the Evening Standard, which included late night doorstepping and harassment of senior council officials by Evening Standard journalists.

The editor of the Evening Standard, Sarah Sands, took a personal interest in running stories that were both highly critical and inaccurate. Sadly, there were others, including Conservative leader, Councillor Peter Golds, who were more than happy to assist the Evening Standard in its disgraceful campaign.

Isobella Freeman has rightly been vindicated of all of the claims made by the Evening Standard. I am delighted that the newspaper has been obliged to apologise, although this will do little to undo the personal damage it has already caused.

I look forward to hearing the editor of the Evening Standard has apologised to Isabella Freeman, in person.

For those who may have missed the Evening Standard’s apology, I re-print it below;

‘On 2 May we reported allegations that Isabella Freeman, the Assistant Chief Executive (Legal Services) and Monitoring Officer of Tower Hamlets, had shown a lack of care about alleged voter fraud in Tower Hamlets and, on the contrary, was involved in a deliberate cover-up.

We accept that those allegations were untrue and any suggestion that Isabella Freeman had not overseen the correct procedures was wrong. She has, in fact, taken steps so that the council has the most robust systems and processes permitted within electoral law to ensure the integrity of the electoral register and identify any malpractice. Tower Hamlets electronically scans 100 per cent of postal votes and rejects any that have non-matching signatures. The article also incorrectly stated that Ms Freeman had blamed Muslim voters for the claims by others of voter fraud in Tower Hamlets. We apologise to Ms Freeman.’

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Bring Back British Rail

Yesterday saw a national day of action by transport unions and passengers to protest fair hikes and service cuts across the railways. I salute them. British train passengers already pay among the highest fares in Europe for train travel and now the government has announced that train operating companies  will be able to increase rail fares by three per cent more than inflation. 

For the last two weeks we have seen government figures in Westminster and London figures basking in the borrowed glory of the Olympics that their Labour  predecessors secured for city and the country.

One tangible related benefit of that much touted but hardly touched Olympic Legacy has been the development of transport links across the previously cut off poor areas of East London – and on its way is the Crossrail link which ties in the area to the greater region.

And now it is back to dismal normality with the announcement of 11% rail fare rises.  We will indeed be better linked to the rest of the Capital and the world. But far too many of our citizens will not be able to afford the tickets.

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Row, row, row your boat

On Monday 13 August I attended the launch of a boat hire scheme in Victoria Park, welcoming the return of boating on its lakes for the first time in over 30 years. 

A fleet of 40 pedaloes and rowing boats have been introduced to the lakes, which will be available for hire. One of my priorities is to encourage greater use of our parks by residents and the pedalos and rowing boats are part of this drive.

The country has been thrilled by the success of our Olympic rowers. While we don’t expect people to be rowing quite as fast as the medal winners, this scheme will hopefully encourage more people to get out on to their local lake – although in a more leisurely fashion!

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Lutfur with the Armed Forces, Helen Mirren and local volunteers

On Sunday, August 12, members of the armed services officially marked the end of their deployment in the borough with a ceremony in Wapping Rose Gardens, East London. I joined Commodore Martin Atherton, the Regional Naval Commander, to inspect the remaining detachment as they lowered the flag, accompanied by music from the Royal Marines band.

Lutfur with Commodore AthertonI was also proud to announce Tower Hamlets’ support for a Community Covenant with the Forces, guaranteeing fair treatment for local servicemen and women when they return to the borough after active service.

It was an event to be remembered. Hundreds of local residents turned up, including actress Helen Mirren. The band were truly fantastic, and it was great to see all those who had served the East End, and London more widely, throughout the Games recognised for their commitment and public spirit.

We owe our armed forces, public sector workers and local volunteers a huge debt of gratitude for stepping up in our hour of need. The Commodore spoke passionately about how grateful the forces were for how welcome East End residents had made them feel in their short stay in our borough.

Lutfur inspecting the troopsThere was unfortunately one sour note. As this was a civic occasion for all of our borough, I naturally invited the leaders of the other groups on Council, Joshua Peck (Labour Group) and Peter Golds (Conservative Group) to join me at the event in paying tribute to the efforts of our servicemen. They did not turn up.

I very much regret that our opposition leaders chose to absent themselves from this very moving ceremony. I sincerely hope that their discourtesy to our armed services, and indeed to our borough, will not prevent them from supporting the Covenant our borough has announced to ensure fair treatment for returning veterans.

(credit to Vickie Flores, vickieflores.com, for photos and Mark Baynes, baynesmedia.com, for superb video footage below)

 

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Team USA at Mile End Stadium

Cllr Rania Khan, Lutfur, Teresa Edwards and young athletes

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of joining members of the USA Olympic team and young aspiring athletes from schools in the borough at Mile End Stadium, which the US Olympians have taken over for this period for use as their training facility.

It was a great event. The most decorated member the US national team ever and current Chef de Mission, Teresa Edwards, gave an inspiring talk and fielded questions from the young people. She talked about everything from her diet, the training regimes and how hard she worked to make her dreams a reality.

It is fantastic that the USA athletics team chosen a Tower Hamlets sports venue to train during the Olympics.

They’ve put a lot of work into the stadium to bring it up to Olympic standard – resurfacing the track, pole vault and high jump areas and improving the throwing circles. As a special gift to the borough Team USA will be leaving their specialist gym equipment to provide long lasting benefits to the local community.

I was pleased to hear them lavish praise on the facilities and the locality, and tell me how welcome they had felt.

It’s also great that they took the time to talk to our youngsters – who have the potential to be the next generation of British athletes, providing they take on board Teresa’s advice to work hard and stay focussed on their goals.

 

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A grand knees-up with the Pearlies

Rania with the Pearlies

Today my colleague Councillor Rania Khan, Cabinet Member for Culture, attended a great old-style knees-up with the Pearly Kings and Queens at the Carpenters’ Arms in Stepney.

As you know, we’re currently promoting a campaign for East Londoners to take pride in cockney heritage.

The Pearly Kings and Queens are an important part of this. Theirs is an age-old tradition of eccentric dress and tireless charity work. They’re a great symbol of the East End.

Punters tucked into traditional delicacies of whelks and jellied eels, before a sing-song of old favourites such as ‘Maybe it’s Because I’m a Londoner.’

Then the gathering was addressed by Queen Mary academic Dr Colleen Cotter, a specialist in language and culture and finally Rania, who discussed our ambitious plans to get the Pearlies into schools to educate our youngsters about this element of the East End’s rich cultural heritage.

The event today was a roaring success. Rania tells me that the Sunday Times and international newspapers from as far as Australia attended. I’m very pleased that the Olympics has thrown the spotlight on all that East London has to offer.

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Lutfur Rahman, the first directly elected mayor of the borough, is also the country’s first, and so far only, Muslim to hold the office. He explains “I happen to be Muslim and I’m proud of that. I’m proud of my faith; I’m proud of my upbringing; I’m proud of my roots. I’m a British Bengali, but I’m also a resident of Tower Hamlets and a citizen of this country and I share its values.” It is difficult to recognise in the formal besuited mayor the demonised hate figure of the British conservative press who have been portraying him as a crypto-fundamentalist. Only this week, a Daily Telegraph columnist called him “extremist-linked” even though the British Press Council had recently ordered the paper to retract a previous statement. The “link” seems to be that Mayor Rahman goes to mosques – and so do Al-Qaeda members.

Read the full story here 

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