Friday, 12 March 2010

Labour's divisive campaign in Tower Hamlets

Two Labour councillors in Tower Hamlets have resigned and joined Respect. Welcome to Councillors Salim Ullah and Fazlul Haque, who are now backing a Respect campaign that is going from strength to strength.

Some sections of the Labour Party in Tower Hamlets are fighting an increasingly dirty campaign. And their target is the growing confidence and influence of the Bengali community in East London.

With a general election almost upon us, Labour knows that its support among Bengali voters has massively eroded since the Iraq war. The election of George Galloway and Respect councillors in Tower Hamlets means there is at last an alternative. It seems that some in the Labour Party now think that playing the anti-Muslim card will shore up their crumbling vote.

It began last summer when MP and government minister Jim Fitzpatrick launched a witch hunt against Muslim weddings. He was invited to a constituent’s wedding, and proceeded to abuse their hospitality by storming out when he discovered that men and women would be seated separately. The groom, Bodrul Islam, was understandably upset: “He likened my wedding to the racial segregation, the apartheid, of the Deep South. I am disgusted at this degenerate politics and these insults”, he said. Fitzpatrick went on to call for a new law that would effectively make traditional Muslim weddings illegal.
Last week, the attack was stepped up by the Channel 4 Dispatches programme, describing Tower Hamlets as ‘Britain’s Islamic Republic’ and claiming that the Islamic Forum Europe was secretly infiltrating political institutions. It is the kind of witch-hunting story that casts a shadow over every Muslim in Tower Hamlets, including the many thousands who work for Tower Hamlets Council. Inayat Bunglawala, writing in the Guardian, is rightly confused by the double standards of those who say Muslims should engage with politics, and then take fright when we do. He concludes: “All in all, Gilligan's documentary left me with the feeling that there were elements in the Tower Hamlets Labour party who were rather aggrieved that they could no longer take the votes of local Muslims for granted...”. Exactly.

This divisive campaign is also revealing some deeply unpleasant attitudes. Tower Hamlets Respect takes up the story:

“George Galloway has written to Labour’s General Secretary Ray Collins, MP Jim Fitzpatrick and Labour candidate Rushanara Ali, demanding Tower Hamlets Labour Party election agent and council candidate Graham Taylor should be sacked and disciplinary action taken against him and other members. This follows Islamophobic and racist comments appearing on Taylor’s Facebook.

Taylor attended a meeting on election arrangements at Tower Hamlets Town Hall with the chief executive Kevan Collins, chief legal officer Isabella Freeman and chief elections officer Louise Stamp, on Monday evening.

Before going to the meeting he put out the following message on his Facebook group – 'Graham Taylor is off to that centre of Islamic fundamentalism – Tower Hamlets Town Hall'. A number of his Facebook friends then responded, including former councillor and Labour’s council candidate for Stepney ward Judith Gardner. Gardner wrote 'Give em hell!'. Another friend wrote the disgusting racist comment: 'Bring some pork scratchings' and another 'Pork!'

'This is a disgraceful example of the Islamophobia and racism now infecting parts of Tower Hamlets Labour Party,' said an outraged George Galloway. 'The comments were made just before the Dispatches programme on Monday, which a number of Labour members co-operated with and in some cases inspired. These comments should have no place anywhere, never mind in a party claiming its commitment to opposing racism and respect for people of faith.'”

The campaign to elect George Galloway in Poplar and Limehouse, and Abjol Miah in Bethnal Green and Bow, is also a campaign to clear out those who seem increasingly willing to pander to racism and division to stay in power.