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Is government Pickle Labour’s recipe?

Harry Palmer reflects on the close alliance between Labour and the Tories.

town hallThis week Eric Pickles threw his spotlight on Tower Hamlets: but while he was shining his light on Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s Council, he also brought the actions of Tower Hamlets’ two Labour MPs, Rushanari Ali and Jim Fitzpatrick, into the open.

Referring to Pickles’ action in sending in government investigators after the Panorama programme, Ms Ali asked in the Commons question time, “Can the Secretary of State reassure me that swift action will be taken to restore public confidence, and explain what led him to make the decision to bring in investigators and refer files to the police?” Pickles quickly threw the ball back into her court and said that he had “listened very carefully to the views of the two Members of Parliament in Tower Hamlets with regards to what was going on there.”

Former Socialist Workers firebrand (and subsequently the FBU’s damp squib) Jim Fitzpatrick also got in on the act. His question was: “Will the Secretary of State agree that between 1994 and 2010, Tower Hamlets has been an improving and in many ways is a well-run council? Can he confirm the period under inspection is from 2010, and therefore the concern of ministers and others is a relatively recent phenomenon?”

In other words, he was seeking reassurance that the audit would not include the period when Labour controlled what was often then derided as a dysfunctional authority.  He did not get it. Again, Pickles gave the game away, saying: “There have been some worries about the running of the council; the hon. Gentleman has raised them with me privately.”

In other words, the two Labour MPs have been lobbying for the Conservative Coalition Government to intervene in the borough. Why haven’t they made their dealings with Pickles public? If only we could send inspectors in to check their correspondence… But you can’t do that with MPs, can you? Their correspondence is sensitive and confidential (though the money they are paid with is as public as the money which runs the Council).

The auditors who are now here will surely notice that the Labour group controlled the audit committee which approved the budget for the grants to community groups and accepted the KPMG audits for the last three years. They could note that not once did the Labour Councillors query those audits or challenge the grants, let alone ask for a judicial review.

Pickles, in effect, distanced himself from the Tower Hamlets Labour/Tory coalition chorus by gently chiding,  “Now that the investigation has started, it has to be on the basis that everyone is innocent until the allegations are proved. Therefore, it is probably not sensible for me, or indeed for others, to speculate about the strength and nature of those claims until we receive the report at the end of June.”

The local Labour Party seems to have confused the concept of “investigation” with the concept of “guilt”, and is hinting broadly that the investigation is virtually tantamount to wrongdoing. This should perhaps be no surprise, as it is after all the basis on which Lutfur Rahman was stopped from being Labour’s candidate in the first place.

Having been chosen to stand as Labour’s candidate by local members, Rahman was then removed by Labour’s National Executive on the basis that allegations had been made against him although they had not been investigated (though the Party had had them for several days); although Rahman had not been given notice of them and a chance to defend himself (making the Executive’s decision contrary to natural justice) and had not been found guilty of anything (indeed, an investigation into part of the allegations found that there had been no membership fixing).

Labour should come clean about their role in setting up the Panorama programme: not just because MPs should be accountable to their communities (which means making the facts public) but also because of the timing. If Labour had serious evidence of wrongdoing (and their allegations appear to relate to events some weeks ago, at least): why did they not take appropriate action then?  If they felt there were problems with the awarding of grants, why did they sit on the problems until just before the elections?

Similarly with Pickles: had he seen the substance of Labour’s allegations before John Ware interviewed him and he admitted that he would consider sending in inspectors if the allegations were serious?  Did Pickles’s concerns begin when he read Labour’s dossier?  If not, why did he take no action about his earlier concerns until just before the election?

It is only reasonable to conclude that both the timing of the programme, in the run up to the election, and the delay in his announcement of the inquiry, were designed to influence the election by having allegations running through it but not the conclusions of the investigation. It’s as if Labour was giving material to John Ware in the hope of gaining electoral advantage.

Mayor Lutfur Rahman of course declares he has nothing to hide and has invited Pickles to visit the Borough. As Eric Pickles had the honestly to note, Rahman has welcomesd the audit.

The issue  about Tower Hamlets that upsets both Labour and Tories alike is that a Mayor they cannot control has been very successful in blunting the effect of the government cuts on the poor and disadvantaged. The record of Tower Hamlets on housing, on education, on libraries and street cleaning has gained worldwide recognition and awards.

It has done so legally, responsibly and within the budget, showing up neighbouring Labour councils and quietly defying the Government. One can understand why Conservative councillors are angry, but it is a sad sight when Labour MPs and councillors call down the wrath of Pickles on their own borough. This week Eric Pickles threw his spotlight on Tower Hamlets: but while he was shining his light on Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s Council, he also brought the actions of Tower Hamlets’ two Labour MPs, Rushanari Ali and Jim Fitzpatrick, into the open.

Referring to Pickles’ action in sending in government investigators after the Panorama programme, Ms Ali asked in the Commons question time, “Can the Secretary of State reassure me that swift action will be taken to restore public confidence, and explain what led him to make the decision to bring in investigators and refer files to the police?” Pickles quickly threw the ball back into her court and said that he had “listened very carefully to the views of the two Members of Parliament in Tower Hamlets with regards to what was going on there.”

Former Socialist Workers firebrand (and subsequently the FBU’s damp squib) Jim Fitzpatrick also got in on the act. His question was: “Will the Secretary of State agree that between 1994 and 2010, Tower Hamlets has been an improving and in many ways is a well-run council? Can he confirm the period under inspection is from 2010, and therefore the concern of ministers and others is a relatively recent phenomenon?”

In other words, he was seeking reassurance that the audit would not include the period when Labour controlled what was often then derided as a dysfunctional authority.  He did not get it. Again, Pickles gave the game away, saying: “There have been some worries about the running of the council; the hon. Gentleman has raised them with me privately.”

In other words, the two Labour MPs have been lobbying for the Conservative Coalition Government to intervene in the borough. Why haven’t they made their dealings with Pickles public? If only we could send inspectors in to check their correspondence… But you can’t do that with MPs, can you? Their correspondence is sensitive and confidential (though the money they are paid with is as public as the money which runs the Council).

The auditors who are now here will surely notice that the Labour group controlled the audit committee which approved the budget for the grants to community groups and accepted the KPMG audits for the last three years. They could note that not once did the Labour Councillors query those audits or challenge the grants, let alone ask for a judicial review.

Pickles, in effect, distanced himself from the Tower Hamlets Labour/Tory coalition chorus by gently chiding,  “Now that the investigation has started, it has to be on the basis that everyone is innocent until the allegations are proved. Therefore, it is probably not sensible for me, or indeed for others, to speculate about the strength and nature of those claims until we receive the report at the end of June.”

The local Labour Party seems to have confused the concept of “investigation” with the concept of “guilt”, and is hinting broadly that the investigation is virtually tantamount to wrongdoing. This should perhaps be no surprise, as it is after all the basis on which Lutfur Rahman was stopped from being Labour’s candidate in the first place.

Having been chosen to stand as Labour’s candidate by local members, Rahman was then removed by Labour’s National Executive on the basis that allegations had been made against him although they had not been investigated (though the Party had had them for several days); although Rahman had not been given notice of them and a chance to defend himself (making the Executive’s decision contrary to natural justice) and had not been found guilty of anything (indeed, an investigation into part of the allegations found that there had been no membership fixing).

Labour should come clean about their role in setting up the Panorama programme: not just because MPs should be accountable to their communities (which means making the facts public) but also because of the timing. If Labour had serious evidence of wrongdoing (and their allegations appear to relate to events some weeks ago, at least): why did they not take appropriate action then?  If they felt there were problems with the awarding of grants, why did they sit on the problems until just before the elections?

Similarly with Pickles: had he seen the substance of Labour’s allegations before John Ware interviewed him and he admitted that he would consider sending in inspectors if the allegations were serious?  Did Pickles’s concerns begin when he read Labour’s dossier?  If not, why did he take no action about his earlier concerns until just before the election?

It is only reasonable to conclude that both the timing of the programme, in the run up to the election, and the delay in his announcement of the inquiry, were designed to influence the election by having allegations running through it but not the conclusions of the investigation. It’s as if Labour was giving material to John Ware in the hope of gaining electoral advantage.

Mayor Lutfur Rahman of course declares he has nothing to hide and has invited Pickles to visit the Borough. As Eric Pickles had the honestly to note, Rahman has welcomesd the audit.

The issue  about Tower Hamlets that upsets both Labour and Tories alike is that a Mayor they cannot control has been very successful in blunting the effect of the government cuts on the poor and disadvantaged. The record of Tower Hamlets on housing, on education, on libraries and street cleaning has gained worldwide recognition and awards.

It has done so legally, responsibly and within the budget, showing up neighbouring Labour councils and quietly defying the Government. One can understand why Conservative councillors are angry, but it is a sad sight when Labour MPs and councillors call down the wrath of Pickles on their own borough.