Comrade Coatesy has provided excellent coverage of today’s ruling of the Election Commissioner, who has found Rahman guilty of massive corruption and illegal practices, commented upon his personal dishonesty, barred him from office and fined him £250,000. Coatsey’s piece is rightly scathing about the various “leftists” who have defended and/or covered up for Rahman, often joining in with the ritual cries of “racist!” and “Islamophobe!” directed at anyone who dared criticise him.
Though Cowards Flinch places the scandal in the context of an underlying problem with elected mayors.
I will, no doubt be returning to this matter in due course. In the meanwhile, readers may find the following background information helpful:
Rahman was previously the leader of the Labour group on Tower Hamlets Council. However, he lost this position in 2010. The same year he was selected as the Labour candidate to stand as the directed elected mayor of Tower Hamlets before being removed by the party’s NEC. The reason for him losing both positions were accusations that the Islamic Foundation of Europe (IFE) had signed up some hundreds of members to the Labour Party to advance Rahman’s cause. The IFE is part of a network of groups around the East London Mosque aligned to the Jamaat-e-Islami (aka Maududists), which has its origins in India but is now more significantly is a force in Pakistan and were chief amongst the anti-secessionist forces in the civil war that created Bangladesh. They are Islamist in that they support an Islamic state based on Sharia law, but are (on the whole) social conservatives not jihadists.
Rahman won the 2010 mayoral election as an independent although Tower Hamlets is by no means a majority Muslim borough, less than 40% are Muslims but they do constitute the bulk of Labour’s electoral base and once Rahman was able to win this no-one could beat him. Rahman’s position was strengthened by the party formed around him, Tower Hamlets First (THF), winning 18 of the 45 council seats in 2014 and under the mayoral system Rahman could run the administration drawing on only these councillors. THF is entirely drawn from Tower Hamlets Bangladeshis (and one would assume, Muslims), although six have previously been councillors of both the Labour Party and Respect. One of these, Abjoi Miah, was a key member of Respect and appears to have been the key link person between Respect and IFE/Jamaat. He is now the central organiser of THF and a power behind Rahman’s throne. The turn to the Labour Party and Rahman appears to have been because IFE/Jamaat lost confidence in the Respect MP for Bow and Poplar (in Tower Hamlets), George Galloway, after he made a complete fool of himself on Celebrity Big Brother.
There are three important points to make about the Rahman/THF rule in Tower Hamlets and the possibility of other councils becoming Muslim run:
First Rahman and THF do not present as Islamists. For example, the council maintains an LGBT policy. It might be the case that Rahman and many of the THF councillors are not Islamists but communalists who wish to promote the interests of those of Bangladeshi origins, something that is not without precedent in local government politics in Britain. The most notable feature of Rahman/THF rule is not the establishment of an Islamic state in the East End, but the creation of a version of the millet system that existed under the Ottoman Empire whereby everyone is related to as a religious group. It is common for local councils to run a layer of social services through local voluntary groups and charities. In Tower Hamlets these are becoming increasingly demarcated on religious lines, that strengthens the links between people of Bangladeshi origin. Through its Community Faith Building Support Scheme the council gives direct support to faith based groups, the budget for 2014 being £1.3 million. Of the 2013 funding, although funding went to a variety of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh groups, two-thirds went to Muslim groups. It is such communalism and setting of religious identity into policy structures that is most problematic here, not any overt militancy.
Second, what is notable about Tower Hamlets First is their relative youth. These are not bearded elders in traditional attire, but young men in suits and whose beards are either neatly clipped or absent. In sharp distinction to older generations, there are women amongst THF’s councillors. This group has coalesced around three factors: the shutting down of channels in the Labour Party to their advancement, the rise of Respect in Tower Hamlets showing the potential to mobilise Muslim voters in a new way, and the organisation hub of Jamaat-e-Islami based on the East London Mosque. The last of these is probably the most important, but one that might not be readily replicated elsewhere. As Innes Bowen has shown in her recent book, Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent, while most mosques in Britain are affiliated to the conservative quietism of the Deobandi and Barelwi strands of Sunni Islam, the East London Mosque is affiliated to the Islamist idea of Jamaat-e-Islami, with IFE being part of this stable too.
Third, success for Tower Hamlets First was tied up with the mayoral systems. Tower Hamlets First do not have the spread across the borough to win the majority of the council seats, and have only 40 per cent. Their control is thus based on winning the direct elections for mayor that Rahman did comfortably in 2010 where he took much of Labour’s vote, and more tightly in 2014 against a strong Labour challenge.
Rahman’s links with the Islamic Forum of Europe and Jamaat-e-Islami are described on pages 27-29 of this booklet.
Laurie Penny (idiot)
Having just read this (in the present edition of the New Statesman):
“Right now, there may not be much to vote for but there’s plenty to vote against. Go out and vote, if you can stand it, and I hope you can. Vote in disgust. Vote in despair. If I see you at the polling station with a grin on your face, I will worry, unless you have the good fortune to be Scottish. Vote against bigotry, hatred and fear. Vote today and change the world tomorrow. We are not as powerless as they would have us believe. Choose your enemy and choose wisely. Good luck.”
… a number of thoughts occur to me:
1/ OK: she’s (relatively) young … but on the other hand is being paid as a “political” commentator by the NS;
2/ The NS expects us to take seriously someone who writes: “I endorsed the Liberal Democrats in 2010, a fact that tops the long list of stupid things I did in my early twenties, but the feeling of hope was genuine and so was the pain of betrayal”;
2/ The NS, for all its faults, was once a journal that advocated positive socialist political engagement, not nihilism combined with vicarious Scottish nationalism;
3/ I’ll now be starting a “most stupid comment about the election” competition. So far, Laurie Penny’s in the lead, but there’s still time to go! Feel free to nominate.
About 200,000 Palestinians lived in the Yarmouk camp in a suburb of Damascus for more than 50 years. They were once held up as a symbol of Syrian support for the Palestinian cause, but when Syrian opposition forces moved in two years ago, Assad turned on the Palestinians, laying siege to the camp and blocking water and electricity supplies. Now Islamic State (‘Daesh’) jihadists have moved in, while Assad’s forces barrel-bomb the camp. The remaining Palestinians are trapped between the two forces of mass-murder.
Yet the UN stands by and does nothing. And the so-called Palestine Solidarity Campaign organises no protests and rounds up no celebrities to sign letters to the Guardian. Why not? Surely it’s not because on this occasion, Israel can’t be blamed?
To his credit, Mehdi Hasan speaks out.
Correction: the PSC has issued a statement … blaming Israel …
The death of Stan Freberg, at the age of 88, has been all but ignored this side of the pond. But there was a time (the 1950s and 60s) when as well as being a leading US comedian, he was also a familiar voice on BBC radio. His great spoof recordings were not intended as political satire, but one at least is as relevant – possibly more relevant – today than when he recorded it in 1957:
H/t Gene at That Place
I have sometimes been asked why Shiraz Socialist pays any attention whatsoever to the small-circulation British daily paper the Morning Star. The answer is because, despite its very limited circulation, it is influential within the UK left and trade union movement and – indeed – since the demise of the USSR (which used to fund it) is kept in business by the largess of major unions, including Unite and the RMT. Unfortunately, quite a lot of honest but gullible left-wingers and trade unionists take what the Star says as good coin.
Its coverage of the fighting in Ukraine has been a dishonest pro-Putin disgrace, branding the pro-Russian forces as “anti-Fascists” and the Kiev government as “pro-Fascist”. But it’s when it comes to the European Union that the Star really plumbs the depths of reactionary little-England nationalism, thinly disguised support for increased immigration controls and sheer all-round incoherence.
The editorial that appeared in Thursday’s print edition (Wednesday in the on-line edition) is truly bizarre. Starting out by playing to the gallery with an attack on Tony Blair, the editorial culminates in a truly extraordinary series of blatant falsehoods, conspiracy theories, non-sequiturs and self-defeating “arguments” on the subject of the EU. It is utter bollocks, even by the wretched standards of the Star’s usual commentary on Europe; so bad, in fact, that I feel the final section warrants being held up for ridicule here at Shiraz:
‘By adopting the “no referendum on EU membership” position, Miliband has put the ball in his own net.
Cameron is no less committed to EU membership than Blair and Miliband. How could he not be when this is the confirmed position of big business, especially the City of London, and it is these vested interests that the Tory leader represents?
Cameron’s plan to mobilise anti-EU feeling by offering the phantom of negotiations to “reform” the EU followed by a referendum is a swindle.
Any reforms achieved would be illusory or would underpin already weak workplace rights prior to the Tories uniting to back a Yes vote to remaining in the EU.
The Tories and their corporate backers are relaxed about their referendum pledge, looking back to the previous vote in 1975 when a concerted campaign of misinformation funded by big business and backed by the mass media swung the decision in favour of staying in.
By presenting itself as the party of EU integration, Labour is needlessly antagonising the anti-EU majority and handing votes to the Tories and their Ukip allies.’
The woman who was simply the greatest singer in the entire history of jazz was born 100 years ago. Apart from her extraordinary voice (limited but highly expressive), she tends to be remembered for her “tragic” life, bad choices in lovers and her clashes with the authorities (she was even arrested on narcotics charges as she lay dying in hospital).
She made an extraordinary impression on all who met her, or even just heard her records. The British jazz critic Max Jones who met her and got to know her when she visited Britain in 1954 and then just before her death in 1959, is typical:
“Soon reports were coming in regularly of her deteriorating condition. At the end of May she collapsed and was taken to hospital, suffering from liver and heart complaints.
“Still harried by the authorities, she died in degrading circumstances at 3 a.m. on 17 July 1959, with 70 cents in the bank and 750 dollars in large notes strapped to her leg. She was, by her reckoning, only 44 years old. And I was halfway through a letter to her when friends telephoned to say she was dead. Though half expecting it, I was devastated by the news.
“But still, we have those many lovely or disturbing recorded performances. They will be a pleasure to my ears for the rest of my life and those of future generations for all time, I guess.”
The actor, Billy Crystal (who, it turns out, is the nephew of Commodore Records’ Milt Gabler, who recorded Billie singing ‘Strange Fruit’ in 1939), still remembers her.
Billie is well represented on Youtube, including her incredibly moving 1957 TV recording of ‘Fine and Mellow’ , a reunion with her old (platonic) friend and confidant Lester Young, after some years of estrangement. Then there’s the cry of pain and protest that is ‘Strange Fruit.’
But I prefer to remember the young, joyous and careless Billie of the mid-to-late 1930’s, as can be heard on this little gem from 1936 (below):
Billie even (playfully) puts drummer Cozy Cole in his place in the opening banter. Bunny Berigan on trumpet, Artie Shaw on clarinet.
Above: Seumas getting all excited
The ‘Popular Front’ (ie what used to be called “class collaboration”) is alive and well in the fevered imagination and wet dreams of the Graun‘s tame public school Stalinist:
“[T]he prospect of a Labour-led parliamentary alliance – including, say, Lib Dems, the SNP, Greens, Plaid Cymru, the SDLP and Respect – taking Britain in a more progressive direction wouldn’t be so scary for most voters, to judge by opinion polls. It would risk being unstable and be bitterly opposed by some Labour leaders. Anything of the kind would depend on the numbers, of course, and may well be overtaken by the campaign in the weeks ahead. But it could also offer the kind of government that a large part of the population would actually want.”
Much to my surprise, this is rather good:
“But it isn’t just a choice between two different plans, two different ways of getting the deficit down. It’s a choice about what kind of country we want to live in.”
Lets have more of that, and less of this …
Above: the Tories wasted no time in rushing out this bizarre video
One thing emerged very clearly from Alex Salmond’s appearance on the Andrew Marr Show: the Scottish Nationalists are bare-faced opportunists and liars. Nicola Sturgeon has already back-tracked on the SNP promise not to vote on issues that effect only England; on Sunday Salmond made it clear that his earlier promise that the referendum would settle the question of Scottish separation “for a generation” has also gone by the board. He hinted in unmistakable terms that a pledge to hold a new referendum is likely to be included in the SNP’s 2016 Holyrood manifesto.
But it was his arrogant boast that the SNP would, in effect, control the policies of a future Labour government that was most memorable: “If you hold the balance, you hold the power” he gloated. Socialists should not be taken in by Salmond’s claim that the SNP would use its power to insist on some policies of which we might approve (dumping Trident and moving away from austerity): Salmond’s vision of the SNP as the force that will make or break a Labour government is both profoundly anti-democratic and a calculated gift to the Tories. Say what you will about Salmond, he’s not an idiot, and knows full well that his arrogant boasts about holding Labour to ransom (the accurate description used by the Tory press) make it more likely that the Tories will win in May – something that it’s pretty obvious that the SNP leadership relishes.
And, of course, the SNP has form when it comes to de facto support for the Conservatives.
Despite the Scottish Labour Party’s disastrous choice of the wretched Blairite Murphy as its leader, serious people who want a Labour government know that a Labour vote is essential everywhere – including Scotland.
Miliband should make it clear that no deal of any kind (including so-called “confidence and supply”) is on offer to Salmond, Sturgeon and the Tartan Tories.
And a final point: Alex Salmond is not the leader of the SNP and even if he is elected to Westminster in May, he won’t lead the party there (that role will remain with Angus Robertson). So who the f**k does this potential back-bencher think he is, to be dictating terms to anyone?
Apologies to all (and especially Irish comrades) for failing to mark St Pat’s Day.
To make up for this, here’s Ben Webster (and his performance is beautiful):
Ben Webster (tenor sax), Kenny Drew (piano), Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen (bass), Alex Riel (drums). Denmark, 1965.