Most of my posts have been about improving Tower Hamlets but I need to do one negative post.
There should be a simple rule in elections – if you do a bad job as an elected politician at the next election voters should vote for somebody else, applies to all of us.
I think Tower Hamlets Council has done a bad job in a number of important areas since John Biggs was elected seven years ago (see list below), in some cases things are getting worse, in other areas progress has been too slow, only a few areas have shown real sustained improvement over time. This is based on eight years of detailed analysis of how the Council performs.
Part of the problem is that the Council itself has major cultural, managerial, and structural problems. So whoever is the next Mayor is going to struggle to deliver until the organisation is sorted.
And ultimately John Biggs as the Executive Mayor is responsible for these issues – that is the whole point of having a Mayor – one person to take responsibility
I gave John Biggs my 2nd preferences vote in 2014, 2015, and 2018 but I cannot do it anymore even to stop Lutfur Rahman (who I believe was a more effective Mayor from 2010 to 2015 then John has been in 2015 to 2022 but of course, Lutfur also has his own issues)
So I will be giving my 2nd preference votes to Cllr Rabina Khan – Lib Dem
But John & the Labour Party locally (as well as the Council) just keep blaming the government for everything that goes wrong BUT it is always possible to find Labour Councils who do a good or better job than us in a number of areas despite in theory austerity affecting us all equally e.g. Barking & Dagenham. And we are one of the richest (in terms of our income) and youngest Boroughs in the country (which means fewer older people to look after as a proportion of the population) so we have been less affected by austerity than many others. But it infantilises us to keep blaming others for things that we are also responsible for.
So I would encourage you to not to vote for John Biggs again, sometimes the safe option is not as safe as it looks. For example:
· Failing to prepare for the scale of development underway in the E14 area
· Not supporting the Neighbourhood Plan you voted for last May
· Not helping disabled people with cars
· Not running safe children’s services
· Allowing the leisure centres to become unsafe to re-open
· Losing so much money through inflation
· Not doing a public investigation into why so many girls tried to go to Syria
· Etc etc etc – see a partial list below, I stopped when I got to page 7
FULL DETAIL BELOW
· Failed OFTSED in 2017 – 2nd worst report that year
· No serious case reviews ever carried out for the three girls from Tower Hamlets who died in Syria
· SEND failure in 2021 requiring the Council to write a letter because of significant areas of weakness found
· Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse found issues in Tower Hamlets “It was clear from the evidence that none of the police forces or local authorities in the case study areas in this investigation had an accurate understanding of networks sexually exploiting children in their area”
Parking especially disabled parking
· Difficulty in getting disabled parking bays for residents requiring complaints to the Ombudsman
· Not protecting disabled residents parking access to private underground car parks in s106 legal agreements
· Not delivering the 3% disabled parking spaces required by the London Plan
· 210 blue badge thefts from cars because LBTH won’t consider providing disabled people with virtual permits for at least one vehicle used by disabled people. Forcing disabled people to pay extra to repair damaged cars or insurance premiums in order to protect LBTH from some additional parking fraud.
· Car-free properties include many people with cars, but LBTH has no strategy for them
· Granting permit transfer schemes for developments with little or no nearby street parking
· Introduce 3-hour mini zones initially without consultation and then change some zone boundaries to mitigate the impact
· Failures on parking enforcement resulting in the largest unpaid individual parking fine in the country
New Town Hall
· No detail has ever been provided to explain the increase in the budget since this Council first approved the decision. Was it inflation, larger building, asbestos? Was originally estimated to cost around £77 million now the budget is over £114 million
· But we still do not know the estimated final costs (not even Councillors on the scrutiny Cttee)
· Costs that should be included in the program are being kept separate i.e. London Yard
· 700 new homes promised as part of the programme not delivered
Council house building programme
· Not actually building 2,000 new homes as advertised – many were built by others and are not ‘new’ – only 225 genuinely new homes built by the Council so far
· Unwilling to build tall buildings on Council owned land in areas with fantastic transport connections and access to facilities proving that there is no actual housing crisis i.e., Mile End Veolia depot/Stroudley Walk – new development is lower than old nearby development or lower than nearby sites in Newham
· Buying expensive old stock in poor repair from one housing association and then making it difficult to find out how much spent on that stock even though clear more spent than originally planned
· Forcing existing tenants out of homes so that they can be presented as new Council homes
· Spending scarce funds on a large number of small projects resulting in high overheads and poor economies of scale rather than as a previous administration did using compulsory purchase powers to assemble large sites where large volumes of new affordable homes can be built more efficiently
· A lack of clarity (like Croydon) over what was bought, where and for how much? All we see is a dip in reserves.
Construction management failures by Tower Hamlets Council
· Two residents died in construction-related accidents outside the boundaries of the construction site – this should not happen
· Things routinely falling off construction sites onto public areas or people’s homes – there is no public record of how many & where
· Pavements blocked for years – making sites safer but making it more dangerous for pedestrians especially the disabled
· Permitting cutting down trees often when not required or too early
· Always saying yes to developers including allowing them to work over the Easter weekend
· Making it difficult to track the extent of permissions to work late
· Not encouraging the use of off-site parking areas for trucks to wait before being called onto site has happened with the London 2012 Olympics
· Not enforcing the relevant policies in the Isle of Dogs Neighbourhood Plan despite it getting an 86% yes vote
· Not using enforcement powers to discipline bad behaviour in the past
· No air quality nor noise sensors next to construction sites providing public information about their impact
· Continuous digging up of key roads like Marsh Wall because there is still no long-term plan for utilities
· Danger to residents of living in incomplete buildings like Amory Tower still under construction
· Failing to challenge housing targets set by the Mayor of London which we are now failing to achieve making it harder to resist new development
· Setting targets that put 57% of all new housing into a relatively small part of Tower Hamlets, the Isle of Dogs and South Poplar and then creating Supplementary Planning Documents for the largest part of Tower Hamlets to make large developments more difficult there, mean it will be even harder to meet targets overall putting more pressure on small parts of Tower Hamlets
· Failing to learn the lessons of previous failures i.e., Blackwall is the worst planned place in the UK (playgrounds!) when it comes to new development areas like along the river Lea
· Failing for the 2nd time to decide the West ferry Printworks planning application on time, on both occasions allowing others to make the decisions instead
· Routinely losing planning appeals because LBTH has not designed a process to ensure that if Councillors reject a scheme recommended by Officers that Councillor decisions are supported with the strongest possible planning reasons for a rejection
· Failure to report alleged corruption around planning issues to the Police until told to do so
· Failure to so far use new technology in the planning process until years after its introduction, Vu.City 3D model for example
· No effective meanwhile use strategy for the many large sites demolished and then left empty i.e., JP Morgan site
· No response to the poor door controversy – Councillors complain at planning committee but there is no formal policy response to the issues raised by the segregation of tenures
· There is no strategy despite talking about it for years
· Substantial and continuing losses from reserves through inflation approximately £10.8 million in the last year, in 2018 to 2020 the Council finance team estimate was that we lost £22.3 over 3 years – this loss is not reported in the accounts nor commentary
· LBTH holds substantial reserves but there is a lack of clarity over what they are for
· Services that actually support children in the Borough: Scouts, Sea Scouts, Police Cadets, Brownies, Guides etc get no support from LBTH only impediments (have to pay business rates for example) – struggle with facilities
· Continuous restructuring of the youth service – four in recent years meaning no stability
· Youth centres cut and cut until only open 3 times a week
· Unwillingness to consider different funding models bringing in external funds and resources i.e., Youth Zone
· Moving a Council investigator into the team he was investigating to work alongside the people he was investigating.
· Temporary closure of youth centres like St Andrews Wharf in previous years due to inability to recruit staff (even when they had budget)
· What is there for teenagers to do?
· York Hall and St Georges swimming pools still closed; Tiller not safe to re-open last year
· Failure to deliver the infrastructure required as set out by the Isle of Dogs and South Poplar Development Infrastructure Funding Study commissioned by the Mayor of London
· Not spending s106 funds within 7 years as agreed
· Delays to the 4th attempt to build a new pedestrian bridge across South Quay & to make it compatible for cyclists
· Lea river bridge by Poplar gas works – allowing new development to occupy land required to allow construction of a new bridge that had planning permission (but was not built)
· Loss of GLA funding for the Poplar River zone
· DLR only 3 carriages long – should have been built 4 or 5 carriages
· No growth of public services to match population growth despite that being what New Homes Bonus is for.
· Second library for Whitechapel but libraries on the Isle of Dogs at risk of closure despite 57% of all new housing in Tower Hamlets allocated there.
· Loss of the Isle of Dogs Police station
Crime & Anti-Social Behaviour
· Worst ASB rates in the UK during lockdown, worst in London outside of lockdown
· Has been the top or 2nd highest concern of residents for years in the Residents Survey
· Little investment in ASB, the CCTV investment programme is mainly driven by the need to digitise the CCTV network to allow the move to the new Town Hall
· Most CCTV cameras are placed where the main population centres were a generation ago not where they are now i.e., Millharbour and Marsh Wall, densest place in the UK has no Council CCTV cameras
· Introduction of new PSPO to deal with NOX, six years after first introduced in London
· Still a lack of clarity over how to report ASB and to whom
· On a range of issues related to planning and rubbish little evidence of LBTH using its enforcement powers
· Other Boroughs are noticeably keener to enforce and take people to court
· Pension’s failure – having to declare our failure to the Pension Regulator
· Accounts from 2018/19 still not signed off by auditors with material issues found by auditors requiring major changes in the reserves position
· Still using Microsoft Excel to track key data
· Every year failing to spend our capex budget
· Threat of business rate reductions to our future income if properties revalued – what are we doing to attract new or retain existing businesses and encourage the full occupation of our shops, offices, and restaurants?
Homes of Multiple Occupation (HMO)
· Watering down limitations introduced by other Labour controlled councils to regulate the growth of HMOs.
· No strategy to provide a wider range of home tenures then just private for sale apartments, shared ownership, and social rent.
· Loss of family sized accommodation in existing larger houses as private developers meet demand instead by converting family homes which results in financial losses for the Council as well as the loss of affordable homes which might have been gained by developers building new buildings to meet this demand instead
Quality of Life
· Allowing parts of Tower Hamlets to look like a shambles due to the neo-liberal attitude of LBTH
· London rates poorly for quality of life in a number of international surveys – LBTH contributes to that
· Suffers high turnover as a result and skewed demographics (vaccine uptake might suggest we have the youngest population in the country)
· Facilities for teenagers are poor to non-existent in large parts of Tower Hamlets or noticeably poorer than elsewhere i.e., skateboard parks in Lewisham superior to those in Tower Hamlets
· Playgrounds in or near to new developments are too small, badly located, or inadequate – LBTH has not provided new playgrounds to compensate for this.
· Only 30% of staff earning more than £60k are BAME but BAME staff comprise 59% of all staff
· Staff sickness rates – this leads to additional pressures on other staff
· Proportion of senior staff promoted from within the organisation is extremely low – high quality organisation would promote a % of management from within – this leads to higher recruitment costs, loss of knowledge, and low staff morale as can see little hope of advancement.
Rubbish & recycling
· Worst recycling record in London in last full year measured, 2nd worst rate in England
· % Recycled has declined over time – is getting worse – but has improved for London as a whole
· Blackwall Reach URS bins routinely not emptied on time or full – within sight of the sales office trying to sell apartments at Blackwall Reach. LBTH is the developer!
· URS truck problems
· Issues with collections being missed on a regular basis or not being picked up for other reasons that are not made clear to residents i.e., Castalia Square
· Council fleet of vehicles still fossil fuel-powered with only a couple of hybrids – bought new fleet of diesel refuse vehicles after City of London sometime before proved that electric refuse vehicles worked
· No electric vehicle chargers in any Council facility
· Only one Council building has solar panels on roof
· No other form of sustainable electricity generation in any Council building
· Bought electricity from renewable sources ten years at least after this was possible
· No emergency response to the emergency declared in 2019
· Most affected Borough in the country by a factor of two, 293 buildings asked for Building Safety Funds versus Manchester 144
· Almost every week new buildings are being added to the list of building with issues requiring a walking watch – perhaps 1⁄2 to 1/3 of all tall buildings are affected in some way?
· LBTH does not know how many buildings were affected by wider fire safety issues as mainly focussed on ACM clad buildings at the request of MHCLG
· Fire risk reports old and out of date for THH buildings
· No tall ladders placed in LBTH by the London Fire Brigade – does LBTH have a view on this?
· No evidence that LBTH has committed any of its own financial resources to this issue until 2022 (extra staff employed funded by MHCLG) despite earning approaching half a billion in funds from development (s106, CIL, NHB) now at risk
· Not commissioning a fire safety report following the NPW fire to help learn all of the lessons from the fire.
· How will LBTH help affected residents? Will it support a reduction in Council tax based on a decline in property values?
· Raines Foundation secondary school – second OFSTED failure despite LBTH staff being placed on the governing body to turn it around and eventual closure despite building a new secondary school in Wapping proving there is demand for secondary schools
· Loss of world-class new secondary coding free school on Commercial Road due to opposition from LBTH despite the Department of Education buying the site for tens of millions of pounds
· Schools struggling to recruit staff due to cost of living in Tower Hamlets and journey times
· Schools are average in London based on their OFSTED inspection results despite getting the highest funding per pupil
· Failure to ensure delivery of new secondary school on the Isle of Dogs for an established school but building a new secondary school for a school that does not yet exist in Wapping
· Unlike many other Boroughs LBTH has failed to commission a new school in over twelve years now despite being the fastest growing Borough in the country for more than twenty years – it has solely relied on others to provide new schools with the Wood Wharf primary school being the first to be provided by LBTH (to open in 2022)
· A process that started with broad public support – to stop vehicles rat-running through Wapping has created division and conflict by being rushed through in a pandemic and by ignoring consultation responses
· Has created revenue-generating assets (bus gates) from using money meant to support new infrastructure in other parts of Tower Hamlets
· Danger to life and property from emergency vehicle delays by using planters rather than ANPR cameras as requested by the London Fire Brigade
· Opportunity missed for liveable streets to be self-funding through the use of ANPR camera-controlled gates rather than using scarce infrastructure funds
· LBTH still acting as if air quality is getting worse when its own sensors show the opposite, that air pollution levels have been dropping for years in part it is assuming due to new EURO standard engines.
· LBTH buying an all-new fleet of diesel refuse vehicles in 2020 (using latest EURO engines) shows that it actually believes this is also the case.
· As a result, it is not focussing its efforts on those areas with poor air quality nor other sources of air pollution (construction sites)
· Evidence that LBTH will ignore consultation responses if they do not fit what LBTH has already decided to do i.e., Bethnal Green ward name change not supported by residents of the ward, Wapping residents wanted Wapping residents to be able to drive through Wapping
· Consultation hub does not alert you to new consultations, have to manually visit the website to see what is being consulted on
· Many consultations are not advertised by the Council via its social media or are only done once
· High levels of deprivation remain – suggesting a generational failure by LBTH
· Lack of a strategy to welcome new immigrant groups, how many people from HK will more here, what will we do if they do come in large numbers?
· Too many people still cannot speak English well which has a detrimental impact on their ability to access a range of services (health especially) and jobs
I have done this because we desperately need more good Councillors from a range of political parties who can help residents, work hard and hold the Mayor to account
As pictures below or as a PDF here
First of a series of analyses of work that Cllrs do (or not!) in advance of the elections in May
Why elect people who won't work hard for you?
As Cllrs we can ask questions of the Council or housing associations, these are called Members Enquiry (ME). Most ME's are done on behalf of residents, helping them get information, help or answers.
The table below is just of the Cllrs standing for election again showing Members Enquiries from May 2018 to February 2022
From lowest Abdul Ullah to best Rabina Khan.
The detailed backup is in this Excel file here, from an ME I asked the Council.
48 Cllrs in total as 3 Cllrs started after the May 2018 elections due to a resignation, a Councillor being jailed, or sadly a Councillor passing away.
So this is a crude measure of who does work on behalf of residents
This is not perfect record of work as won't include answering questions, Councillor surgery sessions etc but should be a guide as to who to vote for this May
Another useful measure is how many LYN reports they have submitted
This is a picture of my reports as an example but there is no central list by Cllr
Another key measure is who attends most Council meetings will do later & then do combined analysis
What do Councillors actually do?
On the 5th May you will be electing a new set of Councillors so this is the 1st of a series about the skill sets required, what your elected Councillors might have to do, if you do not think a person is able or willing to do this kind of work then you should not elect them.
I am currently helping three active Police investigations - one is going to trial this summer, one is underway, and I am hoping the Police will arrest somebody soon, and one investigation has just started - as a result, I cannot say very much for now.
In all three I have had to provide the Police with evidence and background information. In one of them, I was the 1st to spot something odd which later led to an investigation. In the other 2, I am following up on other complaints.
And as a reminder three Tower Hamlets Councillors have gone to jail for fraud in the last 10 years although the 3 cases above do not directly involve other politicians (although 2 are political).
We also had a high-profile court case last year where it was clear fraud had taken place just not by whom.
Over the years Cllr Peter Golds and I have received a number of tip-offs about issues and have had to investigate. For example, why was a Cllr able to buy a new 2nd/3rd/4th? property for £850k in cash for example? (I believe legally)
But why do we investigate?, it is not our job to do this.
Because if we don't often nobody else will, so we often have to collate evidence or ask questions in order to get a case to a state where somebody else will investigate it.
Generally, the Police / Council won't investigate unless the evidence is really solid (which it rarely is).
And by the way, all of these cases are after Lutfur Rahman was removed (except the 1st jailing of a Cllr).
Brown paper bags?
For years I have downplayed accusations that planning permissions are bought via cash contributions to Cllrs, Tower Hamlets Council is so pro-development that it would be pointless for a developer to take the risk. The Council grant nearly every permission because as a Council they make so much money from development.
But given what happened after the 2017 Sunday Times story about alleged corruption at Alpha Square and recent events. I am no longer so sure. I do think there is something happening and we have received a number of allegations about planning applications on the Isle of Dogs. That the Councillors making the decisions do not make the decisions with an open mind but may enter the room already being supportive of the developer, why is unclear unless they benefit in some way.
And we also have Westferry Printworks, I do not think that was direct corruption in terms of a paper bag full of cash, but I do think Robert Jenrick was keen to develop a good relationship with Richard Desmond, to have him owe Jenrick a favour. Influence peddling that started at a dinner table.
And in 2017 a developer told Mayor John Biggs that somebody had approached him offering to buy the votes of 4 Councillors for £0.5 million each, the Alpha Square case, reported by the Sunday Times
What happened as a result? nothing, the Council and the Mayor sat on the story until told 8 months later that they had to report it to the Police.
The Police then never investigated it as far as I know.
We would never have known about it unless somebody involved leaked the story to the press. But because nothing happened I think others think they can get away with it now.
We then had the very mysterious ASDA funfair, the biggest mistake I have made in recent years was to tell the Council in advance about the allegations about ASDA, it meant Cllrs were warned off and no investigation resulted.
And more recently allegations about collusion at another development, that two Councillors were involved with an agent of the developer and were being paid. But although we have circumstantial evidence to support the allegation we have no proof.
The Council were informed after the meeting.
And again we have decision-makers attending events with multiple developers where there is little transparency about who is paying for what
But if you have more information then let Peter and I know
My email is
Tower Hamlets Council has no foreign policy responsibilities, we elect Members of Parliament to undertake that role.
As a result, no local political party has any mandate to discuss foreign policy (although that did not stop the majority of Tower Hamlets Councillors voting to recognise Somaliland a few years ago!) and there are more than enough local issues and concerns to keep us busy.
But inevitably there are three foreign issues that do get mentioned a lot in Tower Hamlets, so I wanted to express my personal opinions on them and what I would do if elected Mayor (where relevant).
Because one of them (Palestine) creates internal divisions within Tower Hamlets.
Which is really odd because the foreign policy issue where people in Tower Hamlets could be most active is China, the Chinese occupy Tibet illegally and they are destroying democracy in Hong Kong. The Chinese Communist Party is destroying the culture and religion of the Uighurs in Xinjiang (they are Muslim), they have been locked up in camps by the millions and are made to do forced labour. The Chinese government owns an important site here IN Tower Hamlets, to be their future Embassy, they give gifts of wine to local politicians HERE. There has already been a protest outside the embassy site but by people from outside of Tower Hamlets. Only Cllrs Rabina Khan, Peter Golds, and I have made any real effort on this. It is barely mentioned on social media here. Why no regular protests outside the Chinese Embassy here?
Why are people so passive about China despite its abuses when they could do something here by making clear their position on the Chinese Embassy, where are the protests outside the Embassy? I thought I was taking a political risk by supporting the principal of the Embassy of the people of China moving here but making clear my opposition to the Chinese Communist Party by renaming a road in front of the embassy, see below, but very few seem to be interested. Why?
But if you decide to base your local election vote on international issues – please do not vote for me. Local government is also important and should be decided on local issues.
This conflict is an ideological struggle between those who have chosen Europe, peace and democracy, and a dictator, Putin who believes in neither, who wants to reverse their democratic choice through force because of his warped sense of history. Democracies need to support each other, and this is why we are also directly involved in this conflict as well. It is also geographically in our neighbourhood. As British people, we are also combatants in this struggle even if our weapons are mostly economic and diplomatic. It is precisely why NATO is so essential, only by acting together are we strong enough to deter Putin, Ukraine would not have been invaded had it been in NATO, which is precisely why they wanted to join.
It is what makes it different to many other conflicts – where often two other peoples compete with each for control of land and where as a result we are not involved even if we have sympathy with one or both of the combatants.
But this crisis may also have a direct impact on life in the UK in terms of refugees, government spending, and our food and energy bills. If sanctions are to hurt Russia, they will also hurt us as well. But we have no choice.
And it is scary how history repeats itself. In the 1930’s we had apologists for Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, two of the three greatest butchers of the 20th century (Mao was the 3rd). Like the British Union of Fascists. We now have people in the UK repeating some of the Russian propaganda points, more on this later and below (but who don’t also comment on China).
But increasingly I wonder how many ‘people’ on social media here are actually here, we know the Russian government pays people to create fake profiles on social media, pretending to be somebody else in order to spread disinformation and confusion. It is called hybrid war, destabilise your opponent by creating internal division. They seem to be more successful at that than on their conventional military.
People seem to have forgotten that for all of their fault’s democracies are far superior to dictatorships. And I will talk about one of those faults, race later.
What would I do as Mayor?
I will welcome people from Ukraine moving here with practical help, we already have a Ukrainian community here in London.
And make clear that the blame for this conflict solely resides with Putin and not the Russian people, some of whom live with us here in Tower Hamlets and are very welcome. We need to encourage a brain drain out of Russia, so we need Russians to feel safe and welcome. The oligarchs who work with Putin are different.
But the main impact on Tower Hamlets may be an economic one especially those suffering from fuel poverty and 20% of global wheat production is in Ukraine & Russia. So we need to make sure people are prepared for those food cost rises.
China – Hong Kong, Tibet, and the Uighurs
My views on the Chinese Communist Party are:
• I strongly object to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) control of China, they have kept China poor isolated, and backward for 70 years. Compare Taiwan, free, rich, and democratic on a per person basis to mainland China to see how unsuccessful the CCP has been by comparison.
• The Communist party since before the founding of the Republic has been directly responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of Chinese people – see the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.
• That if threatened they will kill, silence, or imprison you
• There is limited freedom of religion, and they see all religions but especially Islam as a threat
• They do not respect the individual nor the rule of law
• They treat the Chinese people like children who cannot be trusted with any responsibility
• They are colonial occupiers of Tibet, they have destroyed democracy in Hong Kong, they are trying to erase a whole people in the Uighurs by removing their culture and religion
• I worry that after Ukraine Taiwan is next (but the Western response to Ukraine has I think greatly reduced that chance)
What I would do as Mayor
Because the Chinese Embassy is moving to Tower Hamlets, we have some involvement as a result:
1. I welcome the Embassy moving here – I do want good relations with the Chinese people, my disagreements are with the CCP, and the embassy building should last much longer than the CCPs control of China – I want the embassy staff to see how a democratic multi-cultural, multi-national, free Tower Hamlets actually works
2. But there are a number of serious planning issues to resolve first related to security in particular
3. I will add a new name to the short section of road in front of the embassy with no current name – personally, I like ‘Tiananmen Square’ (because of the massacre of 1989) but which the Chinese government cannot object to as it is an important landmark in Beijing but am happy to consult on the name
4. I won’t accept any gifts from the Chinese government and will return any sent in the post
5. I will welcome people from Hong Kong moving here with practical help (the government has announced a programme of support, but I am unclear what is happening here)
Is the most dangerous conflict for us here in Tower Hamlets because of the internal divisions it can create here. It is not the worst, biggest nor most dangerous conflict in the world but it is the only one that is able to create real division here in Tower Hamlets because for some Tower Hamlets residents it is a part of their political identity even though they are not Palestinians.
Some British people have chosen to wholeheartedly support one side, Palestine. Since the invasion of Ukraine, what they mainly want to talk about, is Palestine. They are suggesting we should all respond to Palestine and Ukraine in the same way. I would suggest there are some differences.
And as a British person, I do not have to pick a side, I support both Israelis and Palestinians equally, Jews and Muslims equally. It is not possible to do that in Ukraine (because the conflict is between a dictator Putin and the people of Ukraine (not Russia versus Ukraine)).
But for a small number of people that is not possible, this is black and white, good versus evil and if you won’t support the Palestinians, then you are on the other side, a Zionist. There can be no middle course, of being compassionate to both sides in Palestine.
As we live in a democracy, you can of course pick whichever side you want to support or to believe in.
AS LONG AS:
1. It does not affect your personal relationships with your neighbours who may have different views or support another side in a foreign conflict – in this country we need to live in peace and harmony with each other
2. It does not result in direct action nor violence here
3. It does not bring into the UK the ugly stain of anti-Semitism (and after the Ukraine invasion that was again very evident on some social media channels)
For example in May 2021 the cars with Palestinian flags that drove through areas of London with many Jewish residents while honking their car horns and screaming “F*** their mothers, rape their daughters.”
What I personally think about Israel and Palestine
• I support a two-state solution based on the borders approved in 1947 by the United Nations
• Both peoples deserve to live in peace, but that can only happen when both peoples are free from fear, Israeli security therefore depends on Palestinian security
• As a result Israel is illegally occupying land that it will have to hand back or swap one day in negotiations
• Israeli Arabs are in an odd situation, while having many more rights than their neighbours (for example in Syria) they often have worse outcomes and fewer opportunities than Israeli Jews, but with an Arab Muslim party (United Arab List) supporting the current Israeli government I am not sure that the term apartheid state fits but unless Israel does more to improve the life of its Arab citizens then that title may become to be deserved
• Gaza is blockaded by Egypt (which never gets mentioned) and Israel because both do not trust Hamas, they control what is allowed to enter
• There are opponents of peace on both sides – Hamas does not want peace and the Israeli settlers want land that is stolen from others
• Israeli armed forces know that their tactics will result in many more Palestinian than Israeli deaths (which is one reason why Hamas launches rockets) and as a result, their tactics at times are borderline war crimes (and some individual Israelis have committed serious crimes against Palestinians knowing they will get away with it)
• So, yes it is possible to be very critical of Israel, I do not buy any goods from Israel until I can be sure they are not from any occupied territory.
BUT this is also true
• Jews have been killed for thousands of years because of who they are, in many countries across Europe and IN the Middle East.
• The Jews were expelled from England in 1290, it is now the home for some, but no Jew should ever fear living in this country
• My German grandparents lived in a country that tried to murder every Jew in Europe (& almost succeeded) – it makes me very conscious about anti-Semitism today
• There used to be large and vibrant Jewish communities across the Middle East, who had been there for thousands of years (Iraq) now they are almost all gone, forced out (some of this happened before the foundation of Israel i.e. the Farhud in Baghdad 1941), so it is not just the Palestinians who lost their lands. The Jews forced out of other parts of the Middle East are now the largest Jewish group in Israel, why should they leave the Middle East?
As a result, I cannot argue against the need for a Jewish homeland as long as it is democratic and gives all of its citizens equal opportunities and treatment.
Israel will have to give up some of the lands it controls, Palestinians need to hold new elections, they need their own state, Hamas needs to change or be replaced, the settlers need to accept that they will be living in a Palestinian state or leave. How this will be achieved has to be led by the two people involved with support from us. And yes, some pressure.
But violence is not the answer, both sides have tried violence for 80 plus years and failed to resolve the principle of how to share land.
People may have different and completely acceptable views on other solutions. But there is, unfortunately, a casual or sometimes deliberate strain of anti-Semitism in some of the objections to Israel (& why is it the most important issue here for many but not China?).
So I think the key question to ask people who focus on Israel so much is whether or not they have any Empathy and Sympathy for both sides in this conflict but especially:
1. Has that individual made clear they are supportive of the local Jewish community? That in their criticism of the actions of a foreign government they have made clear that it is separate and unconnected from what happens here?
2. Are they conscious of the unique history of the Jewish people including the many pogroms in different countries and the holocaust, where Jews were slaughtered over who they are, that there are good reasons why Israeli Jews act the way they do, even if like me you think their methods maybe counterproductive?
3. Do they support a two-state solution as mandated by the UN in 1947?
4. Do they think Jews have the right to live in the Middle East or not?
If the answer is no to the majority of these questions, then I would suggest their motivations are not pure, but that they are partisans in this conflict and not really interested in finding peace.
BUT I do worry that Palestine gets mentioned so often given that it is not the worst, longest or biggest foreign policy problem we have
• Ethiopia – until Ukraine, was far and away the worst conflict underway in the last two years as measured by the number of refugees and the number of dead. But it never gets mentioned in Tower Hamlets.
• Bashar al-Assad has killed many more people in his bid to stay in power in Syria – but I rarely see him mentioned let alone condemned, the same with ISIS
• Kashmir is also disputed territory with similar issues to Palestine but is mentioned less often than Palestine
• Venezuela has seen huge refugees’ outflow almost comparable to Syria but never gets mentioned here
• Rohinga Muslims displaced by Myanmar
• Tibet – occupied by China since 1950
• Xinjiang – an attempt by the Chinese Communist Party to remove the Islamic faith from millions of people
• North Korea – a nuclear armed state run by 3 generations of one family
• Muslims in Crimea (Tatars) – the original inhabitants of the Crimea did not support the takeover by Russia in 2015 and are being oppressed but never get mentioned here
• And there are many more occupations and conflicts I have not mentioned
What I would do as Mayor
Make sure that we do not bring the hatred and division of the Middle East into Tower Hamlets.
Make sure schools are educating children about the complex history of Palestine and the Jews.
Ukraine 2022, Finland 1939, Grozny 1994, the fifth column of the 1930s & UK in the future
As a child of the cold war and a student of military history I wanted to comment about what the Ukraine conflict means for Britain in the coming years because the changes maybe profound.
The only way of stopping those changes from happening is to go ‘nuclear’ on the economic sanctions side especially by targeting some of the oligarchs still active in Russia. They may not be responsible, but they cannot be allowed to prosper anymore from riding two horses. We also need their money to pay to help look after Ukrainian refugees. It may not be fair, but they won’t be poor, they will become millionaires rather then billionaires. But I worry that it won’t work because Putin will believe that we won’t sustain those sanctions against Russia for long and the oligarchs are not as influential as we hope they are.
We also need to keep the Ukrainians supplied as best as we can, to allow them to fight on if that is their choice. But what happens if they lose militarily?
How should the UK respond to a Russian occupation of Ukraine? we will need to take our share of refugees in, we will need to re-arm, rebuild relationships with the EU and be a more effective and liberal democratic state. We need to be a beacon of freedom and also prepare our economy for a less connected world. Both the Conservative and Labour parties will need to grow up by removing the ‘useful idiots’ in their ranks. We need to root out the misinformation or poor knowledge of history that allows some residents to believe this invasion is the Wests or NATOs fault. It was not. We will be starting a new form of Cold War; Russia is smaller than the Soviet Union, but it is more dangerous because under Putin it is more willing to use force. And we can no longer assume that Putin won’t move against a NATO state unless we make very clear that he has no chance of winning such a war.
As the ancient saying goes “If you want peace, prepare for war” that means reversing the decline in the British army’s ability to fight a conventional war in Europe.
We were complacent about the danger that Putin created despite a wealth of evidence about his intentions. We now need to over-react in some areas as we are playing catchup.
What is happening in Ukraine?
War is now fought in the physical, financial, political, and public relations spheres.
Ukraine has won the first political battle in the sense that there can be no doubt that Ukraine is a democratic state that deserves the right to be free and will probably win the war in the long run. Russia has lost the public relations battle except among the small proportion of the UK population who blame the west for everything and anything that goes wrong anywhere in the world. Ukraine also won the humour war, their tax office saying that anybody taking away abandoned Russian tanks won’t have to declare them on their tax returns .
Russia has lost the financial war. This makes this war different to 1939, the weaponization of finance. But Putin hopes to wait out the West, he believes that within a year Apple will start selling iPhones again and that Europe will always buy his oil and gas. If that is the case, then we will fail, and Ukraine is lost.
And it is still possible that Ukraine will survive militarily – they have more armed men and women in the country then Russia has. But Russia has the heavy equipment and air forces to decimate lightly armed foot soldiers unless they are in cities, but cities full of civilians are terrible places to fight a war.
We only have to look at how the Russian Army acted when they invaded Chechnya and ‘liberated’ Grozny in 1994. I wonder whether the Russian Army remembers its early defeats in that battle? And it is possible that the Russian Army decides it does not really want to fight, there are many examples of poorly led, poorly motivated but well-armed armies being defeated by highly motivated local forces that know the terrain. The great fear though is that like Grozny, the Russian Army will need to destroy cities and towns in order to liberate them.
And what happened to Finland in 1939-1940 maybe a good example of what happens to Ukraine and Russia today but why we need to re-arm if as appears likely Putin wins round one.
In 1939-1940 Finland a small democratic state with a small standing army but large citizenship army (like Ukraine) fighting almost alone fought the Red (Soviet) Army to a standstill, with the help of General Winter, inflicted enormous casualties on the Red Army, and further encouraged the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union the next year by showing how inept the Russian Army was. But in the end Finland had to concede large amounts of territory (still held by Russia today) because in the end the Red Army could not be stopped, once it had time to re-organise and learn from its mistakes. The Russian military has in the first seven days made many mistakes, that does not mean it cannot learn from them. If it, does it become more dangerous in the way that the Germans became after invading Poland in 1939, they learned how to fight, and the next year conquered much of western Europe.
But Finland survived as a democratic state simply because even Stalin had had enough and was unwilling to incur further losses having achieved his objective of moving the border further away from Leningrad (St Petersburg). That has to be our objective with Putin today, the only problem is that he started this war wanting to destroy Ukraine as an independent democratic state. But if we think back to 1945 many Poles were unable to return to a Communist Poland, stayed in the UK and kept alive the idea of an independent Poland.
And eventually Poles in England built the Polish Social and Cultural Association in Hammersmith to keep alive Polish culture and history. We may need to help Ukrainians do the same.
But something has changed in Europe. Our lack of a reaction to Russia’s invasion of Georgia, and the 1stoccupation of Ukraine in 2014, the murder of Litvinenko etc etc etc we now regret.
This is a very rare war where the moral responsibility is so clear. Where good (Ukraine) is opposed to bad (Putin) are so clear cut. That is not to say Ukraine is perfect, it is not. But it does not deserve this.
Unfortunately Russian propaganda has been very effective in creating division and misinformation here in the UK (and I am now curious how active the Russian troll farms are here in Tower Hamlets) helped by the useful idiots that we have seen before in the 1930’s. I have twice seen a video about a climate protest with moving dead bodies in Vienna being presented as from Ukraine on local WhatsApp groups.
So what do we need to do?
Child sexual exploitation by organised networks Investigation Report
The Independent Inquiry Child Sexual Abuse commissioned a national report into child sexual exploitation, it picked six local authorities to investigate in order to help develop national recommendations and then looked at the detail of what had happened to some children in recent years.
So while not aimed directly at Tower Hamlets it provides important information about the safety of our children in recent years, it has lessons for the Met Police and Tower Hamlets Council, both of whom are responsible (with the NHS) for child safety. It does talk about improvements and there have been big changes in leadership in the last year or two.
BUT as is common when I read reports like this I realise that the problems were even greater than I thought they were and the hill to climb to better protect children is steeper than I thought. And as a Councillor, I am too dependent on external reports like this to understand what is happening inside the Council when my job is to scrutinise what is happening inside.
The newspapers have strong quotes from those involved in the report, see 2nd picture
The original report is here
I have attempted to summarise some of the issues on Twitter here and as pics below
But at the heart of this report are the stories of four local children, whom we know as CS-A22, CSA77, CS-A81, and CS-A90
These are their stories, it helps explain how difficult these cases are but why it is so important to get them right
Child CS-A22 female
CS-A22 was reported to have a difficult background, with a history of violence in the family. She had multiple episodes of going missing and was taken into care in 2017 at the age of 13. The evidence demonstrates that she was the victim of sexual assaults from 2018 to 2019.
Among the case study children, CS-A22 was found in 2017 with injuries suggestive of serious sexual assault after a two-day episode of going missing. The local authority raised concerns with the police that she had been raped.
CS-A22 was placed out of the Tower Hamlets area for a year and was then brought back to the borough. The London Borough of Tower Hamlets accepted that not enough was done to prepare CS-A22 or her parent for her return and that the school which she was due to attend was not made aware of her vulnerability. It was reported that CS-A22 was sexually exploited upon her return home and she subsequently disclosed further sexual assaults. She was later placed out of area in another specialist placement.
In Tower Hamlets, CS-A22 had been assessed as at high risk of child sexual exploitation at the age of 13. There were concerns that she had been sexually abused and raped and she was taken into police protection. However, she was described as “a frequent missing person [who] appears to willingly expose herself to danger” and “placing herself at risk”. Similar language was also evidenced in documents relating to CS‑A77, who was described as showing “risk-taking behaviour”. There was an example of an inappropriate use of the word ‘boyfriend’ with reference to adult perpetrators.The Children’s Society reported that, through their Return Home Interview Service monitoring reports in 2017, there were examples of victim-blaming language by both social workers and police officers. One example seriously undermined the severity of sexual abuse the child had experienced.
There were several examples of children being sexually abused and traumatised while living in residential homes before eventually being moved to specialist residential services which had an understanding of trauma and were able to provide therapeutic support. These include CS‑A22 in Tower Hamlets
In Tower Hamlets, in the case of CS‑A22, the child made disclosures of assault and rape but these allegations did not lead to prosecution. Although a number of named potential perpetrators were added to a crime report and suspects database, the report was closed. Some information was passed to the local force but there is no evidence of any arrests.
There was some evidence of victim-blaming in relation to CS-A22 and CS-A77.
Child CS-A77 Female
Some were taken into care for reasons unconnected with child sexual exploitation and then became victims of sexual exploitation. CS-A77 was taken into care in 2015, when aged 14 or 15. When she was 17, covert policing tactics were used to identify people who were suspected to be exploiting her, as a result of which multiple people were arrested and issued with Child Abduction Warning Notices (CAWNs). In late 2018, an assessment considered CS-A77’s life was potentially at risk due to a range of factors, including sexual exploitation, unmanaged mental health problems and a risk of sexually transmitted disease.
There were concerns that CS-A77 had been coerced into carrying large amounts of drugs inside her body.
Similar language was also evidenced in documents relating to CS‑A77, who was described as showing “risk-taking behaviour”. There was an example of an inappropriate use of the word ‘boyfriend’ with reference to adult perpetrators. The Children’s Society reported that, through their Return Home Interview Service monitoring reports in 2017, there were examples of victim-blaming language by both social workers and police officers. One example seriously undermined the severity of sexual abuse the child had experienced
CS-A77 was in care in Tower Hamlets from 2015. In 2017/18 and 2018/19 she went missing 40 and 47 times respectively from an unregulated placement.
There was some evidence of victim-blaming in relation to CS-A22 and CS-A77.
Child CS-A81 female
The evidence relating to the Tower Hamlets case study children showed its previous risk assessment documents being ineffective in assessing risk. Three assessments of 13-year-old CS‑A81 were completed in 2018. One in July 2018 considered her to be at medium risk. In September 2018, she was assessed as being at high risk after frequent episodes of going missing and being seen on Snapchat (a social media platform) and by other young people at house parties. In the same month, the Police Sexual Exploitation Team closed her case (against the advice of children’s social care).434 The risk assessments did not record the age or date of birth of CS‑A81. The London Borough of Tower Hamlets accepted that she should have been graded high risk and that the assessments were generally “on the back foot” and “reactionary”. Overall, it recognised that CS‑A81’s case was “of the utmost concern”.
CS‑A81 was a Tower Hamlets child. Two males were arrested and issued with CAWNs. The Metropolitan Police Service was planning the use of CAWNs against the child when she was 13 years old, with threats of arrest to stop her from associating with her peer group.645 This was challenged by children’s social care, which was concerned that a CAWN would criminalise CS‑A81.
There were failings by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in the assessment of the risk of child sexual exploitation prior to 2019, such as in its assessment of the risk of CS‑A81.950 More recently it has developed a rounded assessment form that moved away from a tick box approach. However, concerns remain as to how long risk assessments take to be completed and reviewed.
Child CS-A90 Male
CS-A90 moved to Tower Hamlets in 2018, when he was 13 years old. He went missing from home a number of times. There were also concerns about his sexual activity, county lines, gangs, and possible emotional and psychological harm. In early 2019, it was reported that CS-A90 intended to hold his birthday party in a hotel with people older than him. A child sexual exploitation assessment was completed and a strategy meeting held. The Metropolitan Police Service accepted that the focus had been criminal exploitation and drugs rather than child sexual exploitation, although CS-A90 had been put on a child protection plan.
An internal police audit found that CS-A90, who was deemed to be a victim of modern slavery following a National Referral Mechanism assessment, had been missing on numerous occasions but the Metropolitan Police Service had not developed a trigger plan for future incidents.
CS‑A90 was a frequent missing child in Tower Hamlets and was attending parties in hotels when he was only 13 years old. At the age of 14 there were concerns about exploitation but Metropolitan Police Service officers decided that this was not a child sexual exploitation case, based solely on a telephone call with children’s social care. The police did not speak to the child or any of his family about the concerns; no trigger plan for the episodes of the child going missing was developed; a mapping exercise of the child’s friendship group was agreed but did not take place; and there was no direct disruption of the hotel. A case audit later found that the Metropolitan Police Service should have fully considered the potential for child sexual exploitation.
In 2016, external inspection found that the Metropolitan Police Service response to children who go missing was poor. By 2018, there were some signs of improvement. Among the case study children, CS-A77 and CS-A90 frequently went missing from home or care without any effective responses
Last night I read this 313 page report into the condition of St Georges leisure centre, most of the report actually dates from October 2019 but the examination of the structure started in April 2017. Parts of the report were then updated in summer 2021. I saw it for the first time last night.
Here is the link to it:
I also added comments to this PDF copy which you may find quicker to read as my comments highlight key points, click here but you need to open comments to see them.
It was a deeply shocking report, showing a catalogue of failures over many years and many administrations back to at least 2003.
First the pool should have been closed temporarily in November 2019 as soon as they got this report, it clearly identifies health hazards to users and staff that needed to be rectified immediately, that does not appear to have happened although some work was done to keep the pool going over the winter.
Parts of the building were clearly known not to be safe in October 2019 so why was it kept open for months?
We were lucky that COVID closed it when it did BUT the situation then got much worse, as the pool was effectively abandoned, the water was not emptied allowing algae to grow. None of the faults identified in 2017 and 2019 were fixed by summer of 2021. It is arguable whether the existing pool could have had a major extension of life in 2017 but the damage caused by its abandonment in 2020 means that is even less likely.
I personally think the amount of work now required means a further closure period (this work should have already started) in order to replace all of the mechanical and electrical systems but I still worry about the largely unseen damage to the metal bars in the concrete and worry about the roof collapsing. So the building would have to be gutted and the roof replaced. You might as well build something new as would be cheaper and quicker but should be designed to be maintainable.
The building was completed in 1965 built to a finite life, it was not designed to last forever, it had major work done around 1983 and 2008. But some works recommended in 2003 had still not been done by 2021
And there were repeated references to works having been done cheaply and not lasting.
With the exception of the boilers and some filters there was no evidence of a preventative maintenance programme in place. Some parts of the system had never been cleaned.
There was no documentation or manuals available explaining how the building was built or how it should be maintained, clearly all of the original 1965, 1983 and even the 2008 work manuals appears to have been lost.
All of the automatic systems had failed so it required manual intervention to run the pool which is not efficient
The staff at the centre were not at fault, they did a good job to keep the building going and were put in danger as a result (& had their heating removed in 2008)
The cost of running the pool especially in winter when so much heat was allowed to escape must have been excessive and required more gas to be burnt in the year that the Council declared a climate emergency
Fire safety was an issue with the control panel showing a fire safety fault.
In 2011 the Council only committed to a minimum of an additional 5 years of life for the building.
But very little work was undertaken afterwards to identify a long term solution until the 2017 structural surveys. The documents talk about some work happening in 2012, 2014 and 2015 but little after that except for some new filters and pump work.
I got a copy because last Friday Cllr Peter Golds and I had a meeting with Will Tuckley, CEO and I asked for a copy of the engineering reports that justified closing the pool. He thought they were online already but I could not find them. So on Wednesday we were sent the link above:
There are actually 5 reports:
Mechanical and Electrical from page 1 to 212
Electrical from page 215 to 228
Swimming Pool Engineers from page 228 to 250
Building control systems from page 252 to 259
Structural from page 260 to end
Below is a summary from the 2021 update into the mechanical and electrical systems
Below is a selection of screenshots - there were so many I need to think of a better way of presenting them
INNOVATION IN LOCAL DEMOCRACY
A proposal for a new political manifesto written by and with the community
Got any ideas, policies, questions, suggestions email:
firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me Andrew Wood
See some suggested topics in the attached PDF here or below
If I have missed any let me know
The Facebook group set up to discuss this is here
The extent to which the council’s policies disadvantage disabled people with cars and what to do about it
I wrote an Alternative Report to the Overview and Scrutiny Challenge Session
on parking and submitted it to Councillors on the Committee and Council officers. I had emailed a long list of issues and concerns in advance.
I believe that Tower Hamlets treats its disabled residents who need access to a car badly.
My suggested alternative report was ignored and I was told off for submitting it.
But as I spent a long time writing it I thought I should publish it. It is here: