It’s been a busy week for Lutfur Rahman. On Monday, the mayor of Tower Hamlets was the subject of a Panorama investigation, which alleged he had misdirected public funds. Yesterday, Eric Pickles announced he was sending in PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct a fraud investigation. Rahman has vehemently denied all of the claims, describing the BBC as ‘Islamophobic’. On Thursday, he announced a ‘community walkabout’ to counter #PanoramaLies, so I decided to go along and find out what Rahman had to say.
Arriving outside at the Sir John Cass School in Stepney this afternoon, I found a group of around 75 waiting for the mayor. There was a fraternal vibe (I did not spot a single woman during my time there) amongst the crowd, who hugged and greeted each other. Nor did they seem pleased to see outsiders, especially when Sunday Express journalist and local blogger Ted Jeory turned up. Rahman supporters flocked across the road to snap our photos, including this one from Councillor Gulam Robbani:
Lutfur’s Cllr Gulam Robbani most pleased to see me at mayor’s rally. Came up close with camera to say hello pic.twitter.com/uDVVVyeIcH
— Ted Jeory (@TedJeory) April 5, 2014
On the topic of the so-called #PanoramaLies, Rahman told the crowd:
‘It’s a distraction from our campaign to help all the people of Tower Hamlets. We’re here to deliver for all of our people — whether they’re white, black or whatever.’
A police van circled six times during the time I was there and a Tower Hamlets CCTV car drove by twice. Rahman’s team distributed the below leaflets on Panorama, claiming that the programme was wrong:
— Sebastian Payne (@SebastianEPayne) April 5, 2014
I’ll let you judge how accurate these statements are, but it’s worth pointing out that on the topic of community grants, the leaflet states ‘The Mayor is completely within his rights to overrule council officers’. Two paragraphs down, it alternatively says ‘All decisions about council spending go through a series of checks and balances that involve council officers’. They also distributed the Autumn 2013 edition of Mayor’s News, which features no-less than seven pictures of Mayor Rahman, along with his achievements to ‘make Tower Hamlets safer’.
The event was marketed as a ‘community walkabout’, but there was precious little walking going on. Rahman spent the 90 minutes I was there posing with a variety supporters, moving no more than ten meters away from the point he initially arrived. As you can see photo above, Rahman’s supporters who turned up hardly represented the wider demographic trends of Tower Hamlets. This is a 2011 breakdown of the borough’s ethnicity:
I spoke to one of his cabinet members, Alibor Choudhury, the man responsible for Tower Hamlets £1.2 billion budget who recently said of Labour’s mayoral candidate ‘Oswald Mosely had his Blackshirts, John Biggs has his Black Cardigans’. Instead of welcoming the Pickles investigation (like Rahman), Choudhury said ‘it’s all really about headline generation’. Yet Choudhury cheerfully posed for a photo:
Having attended weekend campaigning sessions with the Tories, Labour and Ukip, I can confidently say that the gathering of Rahman and his ‘Tower Hamlets First’ party is by far the most unnerving, bizarre and amateur. There was very little campaigning and no talk of policies — just posing, posturing and aimless standing around. The Panorama allegations appear to have unnerved Rahman and his supporters, who must be worried about May’s election. The last mayoral election in 2010 had a 25 per cent, where Rahman garnered 52 per cent of the vote. They know that if the turnout is significantly higher this time, Rahman might well be in trouble.