‘Dog whistle’ politics in Tower Hamlets

This is a guest post from Bob Pitt, who runs the important Islamophobia Watch site

Tower Hamlets demonstration against the EDLContrary to the right-wing myth that it is being transformed into ‘Britain’s Islamic Republic‘, the east London borough of Tower Hamlets is in reality a highly diverse place. Residents of Bangladeshi heritage comprise 32% of the total population according to the 2011 census, only slightly more than those describing themselves as “White British”, who make up 31.2% of the borough’s population, while those in the third largest category, “White Other”, account for a further 12.4%. Muslims are the largest religious group, but at 35% of the population they are heavily outnumbered by people of other faiths and none.

In a referendum three years ago the people of Tower Hamlets voted to adopt a system of local government based on a directly elected executive mayor, and Lutfur Rahman decisively won the ballot to select the Labour Party’s mayoral candidate. However, the party’s national executive then overturned the result on the basis of allegations of vote-rigging (later revealed to be without substance), and imposed one of Lutfur’s defeated rivals in his place. In a move that had obvious parallels with Ken Livingstone’s response to an earlier selection stitch-up back in 2000, Lutfur defied the party leadership and contested the October 2010 Tower Hamlets mayoral election as an independent, achieving an emphatic victory with 52% of the vote, in part on the back of public resentment at Labour’s contemptuous attitude to democracy. As a result, he was expelled from the Labour Party.

Progressive local administration

Since then, Tower Hamlets has served as a model of what a progressive local administration can achieve, even in the face of the disastrous austerity programme imposed by a Tory-led national government. Under Lutfur’s mayoralty the borough has implemented the London Living Wage, replaced the Education Maintenance Allowance after it was cancelled by the government, absorbed the government cut in council tax benefit, provided free care for the elderly and disabled, set up an energy co-op that saves residents an average of £120 a year on gas and electricity bills and built more new homes than any other local authority, while September will see the introduction of free school meals for the youngest primary pupils and bursaries for university students.

If the Labour Party leadership had any political sense, they would have restored Lutfur’s party membership and allowed him to stand as the official Labour candidate in the next mayoral election, to be held in May next year. But when Ken Livingstone put that proposal to a national executive sub-committee in January, the only vote it received was his own. A subsequent attempt to raise the issue on the national executive itself was blocked.

Lutfur will therefore have to stand as an independent again, facing rival candidates from the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green parties, and in all probability from UKIP too. His achievements in delivering for the people of Tower Hamlets will make it very difficult to attack him on the basis of his record in office. So, in view of the demographics of the borough and given that a low turnout can be expected (in 2010 it was only 25.6%), there is an obvious temptation for Lutfur’s opponents to try and stampede backward sections of Tower Hamlets’ white population into voting against him by falsely claiming that under his mayoralty non-Muslims are being discriminated against in favour of the Bangladeshi community. So far, there is no sign that his opponents have any intention of resisting that temptation.

As a taste of things to come, the Tower Hamlets Tories have recently been exploiting an application by a local Bangladeshi group to erect a small community centre on a disused plot of land at Island Gardens on the Isle of Dogs. A single-storey portakabin with brick cladding, the proposed building is intended to host a variety of educational and cultural activities, including youth and women’s groups, drugs awareness and mother tongue classes, as well as serving as a prayer hall. While the planning application states the centre will be primarily directed towards the needs of the local Bangladeshi population, it gives an assurance that the centre’s “facilities will be made available to the whole community irrespective of their religion or ethnic background”.

Predictable pattern

It’s a small-scale development that you might have thought would cause little controversy, and in normal circumstances the application would be dealt with by planning officers under delegated powers. But the Tories have spent the last few weeks whipping up hysteria over the proposal. They obviously intend to take it to the council’s development committee, where they can politicise the issue further.

“Anti-mosque” campaigns like this follow a predictable pattern. They are usually characterised by a two-faced approach whereby the incitement of hostility towards Muslims is combined with the contradictory assertion that hostility to Muslims is not the real motive behind the campaign. The main excuse given for objections to a new mosque or Islamic centre is typically concerns over traffic, parking and noise. Sure enough, these do form part of the opposition to the Island Gardens plan, but here the central justification presented is the supposedly disastrous impact the development will have on the character of this popular Thames-side park.

On 7 June the East London Advertiser took up the Tories’ campaign in a report that began: “Plans to build an Islamic community centre on a World Heritage site have been met with fury amid fears one of east London’s most famous waterfront views could be spoiled.” The Advertiser also helpfully informed its readers that “while the proposal purports to benefit ‘all sections of the community’ it makes clear that ‘peoples of the Muslim faith and ethnic minorities will be of primary focus’.” Worse still: “There will also be a separate entrance hall for women ‘who would usually shy away from the presence of men’.”

The report went on to quote from a letter of complaint sent to planning officers by Peter Golds, leader of the Tory group on Tower Hamlets Council: “The applicants, far from providing a facility for the whole community, are actually building religious premises in a public park, which has been available to all the public for over 170 years.”

While Golds was issuing dog whistles about Muslims seeking priority over the rest of the community, his Tory colleague, local councillor Gloria Thienel (described by the Advertiser as “among those leading the campaign to block the application”) insisted that her opposition to the development of the site was “not racial at all”. She told the paper: “It’s not ours to give away. The objection is to anything being built, whoever it’s for.” This was a point she repeated in a subsequent interview with the East London Lines website: “I don’t care who wants to build on it, we should be leaving this for the coming generations.”

‘Time to fight back’

An online petition titled “Stop threat of prefabricated portakabin being erected in Island Gardens” was launched, which at the time of writing has attracted just short of a thousand signatures. The petition claims that the proposed development “would degrade and diminish this site’s historic importance”. Furthermore, the planned centre “would incorporate a separate hall to allow the engagement of women and provide advice in ethnic languages, suggesting the centre would not benefit the local community as a whole”. The petition’s authors urge: “Please help us protect Island Gardens park as part of our heritage, ensuring it is preserved for future generations to enjoy.”

Some of the petition’s signatories make no attempt to hide their anti-Muslim views. The comments they have added include: “We’ve had enough of community centers that serve only one part of the community and wreck the British heritage”; “The proposals for the usage of the building are sectionalist, racist, sexist and religiously sectarian”; “Everyone knows that unless you are a Muslim then you will NOT see the inside of this place”. One signatory demands “no more mosques in the UK”, while another declares that it is “Time to fight back and stop the evil spread of Islamification in Britain”.

No doubt to the Tories’ pleasure, this being the unstated objective of their campaign after all, objectors are already holding Lutfur Rahman responsible for the plan: “it is today a quiet park to go and relax. it will be ruined if this goes ahead. i think its something the mayor of tower hamlets has come up with”; “Political manoeuvring and vandalism by a bigoted mayor and his cronies”; “If this is another of Rahmans questionable policies then he should be prepared to explain himself. We live in a democracy not in a third world corrupt political slum.” We also find that it isn’t only the Tories who are intent on making political capital out of the issue. One comment reads: “Tower Hamlets Green Party supports this petition to protect this important area from development.”

Unsurprisingly, given the way both the Advertiser and East London Lines have echoed Tory propaganda about the proposed centre, most of the comments stress the need to preserve the character of Island Gardens as an unspoiled public park. There is an endless succession of objections along the lines of “Leave our green spaces alone!”, “Please preserve this green space for all who can appreciate it”, “These pockets of green need to be cherished”, “London needs these ‘green lungs’ for the emotional health of its people” and “Stupid idea to put a portacabin on one of the few remaining green places on the Island”.

‘A Trojan Horse for a mosque’

 The Tories also fed their version of the story to Sunday Express and former Advertiser journalist Ted Jeory, who ran it on his Trial By Jeory blog on 3rd June. His post featured pictures of Island Gardens in all its leafy splendour, and of the unrestricted view it provides across the Thames, while repeating the Tories’ claim that these features of the park were now under threat. “This is a mosque in all but name”, wrote Jeory of the proposed community centre. “Or perhaps a Trojan Horse for a mosque. In a Grade II listed public park that was set aside by its founders for the benefit of everyone.” Jeory even phoned up Tower Hamlets planning department and pestered them with silly questions about whether he’d be allowed to “erect a community centre inside Victoria Park”.

When he arrived at Island Gardens, Jeory found to his surprise that the site isn’t even in the park. He reported: “It’s in a walled-off area where the council’s gardeners used to have a storage shed. It’s now not used for anything.”

The planning application confirms that this is indeed the case. It states clearly that the building has been designed so as “NOT to encroach on Island Gardens Park and surrounding amenities” and will instead “make positive use of an empty and tarmacked area adjacent to the Gardens/park”. A map with photos is provided to illustrate this point.

Yes, seriously, this is the priceless green space that the Tories and their supporters declare should be preserved unspoiled, as a legacy “for the coming generations” – a dingy, disused yard, surrounded by a rather ugly brick wall and covered in tarmac. At present it serves no useful function for anyone. Not only would the proposed centre put this vacant lot to good use, but it would be barely visible to most people using the park and would certainly be no more prominent than a building directly next door that contains a set of garages. Since it is at the far corner of the park away from the riverside, it would have no impact whatsoever on the view across the Thames.

It’s easy to take the piss out of the nonsense spouted by the Tories on this issue, but their irresponsible scaremongering has had the effect of stoking up racist sentiments towards the Bangladeshi community, not only within Tower Hamlets itself but also among violent extremists from outside the borough.

Intimidating political opponents

Among those far-right groups who have seized on the controversy is the English Defence League, who have proposed that a pig’s head should be buried at the site (which admittedly won’t be easy, as they’ll have to break through the tarmac first). The EDL-aligned Christian Defence League for its part has ‘welcomed‘ Peter Golds’ stand against the proposed development (“God bless and protect those who are fighting against Islamization of the UK and the west!!”). Another extremist organisation inspired by the Tower Hamlets Tories’ campaign is the South East Alliance, a particularly thuggish offshoot of the EDL who specialise in threatening and intimidating political opponents. They have warned that “we are backing the local people 100% on this so look forward to some fun and games very soon”.

You may say this is no more than we have come to expect from the Tories, but the Labour Party in Tower Hamlets hasn’t been innocent of dog whistle politics either. They recently accused Lutfur’s administration of prioritising wards that provide the mayor with his base of support on the council, when carrying out housing improvements under the Decent Homes Programme. This accusation has unpleasant echoes of the campaign waged by the British National Party in Burnley a decade ago, when the Labour Party was falsely accused of channelling funds to wards with large numbers of Labour-supporting Asian voters. In Tower Hamlets, as in Burnley, the real criterion according to which resources have been allocated has been need. This Labour campaign, too, has been taken up by the EDL (“Tower Hamlets Muslim Mayor Lutfur Rahman accused of prioritising supporters in housing works”), provoking understandable anger from the mayor and his supporters.

Here we see both Labour and the Tories trying to gain political advantage over Lutfur Rahman and undermine his prospects of re-election, without any concern for the damage they cause to community relations in Tower Hamlets or the inspiration they give to the far right. You would hope that Labour Party activists, and even the more civilised members of the Conservative Party for that matter, would draw the line at this sort of unprincipled politics and hold their leaders to account, ensuring that the forthcoming mayoral election contest is a clean fight. Unfortunately, the way things are going, you’ll probably be disappointed.

38 comments on “‘Dog whistle’ politics in Tower Hamlets

  1. Ted Jeory on said:

    Bob, I think you’ve let your prejudices get the better of you again. I wrote the article AFTER visiting the site. Read a little more carefully, eh.

    That’s why I wrote this:


    Not everything is as it first appears, is it…

    …And the same goes for the objections to this proposal. When I was first alerted to this row last week, the headline was about building over the park. But that’s not quite the case.

    The area where they want to put their community centre/mosque is, as I said above, in a small corner of the park.

    I had a look yesterday. It may well lie within the park boundaries, but it’s not exactly the park. It’s in a walled-off area where the council’s gardeners used to have a storage shed. It’s now not used for anything.

    Far from “parroting the Tory line” I was, by providing readers of photos of the site, showing people there was a little more to the story. Which is why I concluded:


    However, we should actually be grateful to the slightly disingenuous planning application from Mr A Hannan. It’s clear that something should be done with the site they want to use. And a small community centre isn’t too bad a thing. But let’s make it religion-free, shall we: there are plenty of other places to pray.

    And let’s encourage people to mix. What about a One O’Clock Club, a children’s activity centre, such as the one in Victoria Park?

    Sorry this latest rant doesn’t fit your narrative.

  2. Ted Jeory,

    Well apparently I made a mistake, Ted.

    I missed your article when was first posted on your blog, but my reading of it was that you published a report based on Tory lies, with all the stuff about a community centre being built “in a Grade II listed public park” and the view across the Thames being threatened and so on, and you added your own ten cents about how you’d phoned Tower Hamlets planning department and asked them if you could “erect a community centre inside Victoria Park”.

    And then, at the end of the article, you say that you visited the site of the proposed centre and found that it wasn’t actually inside the Island Gardens park at all and was just a disused yard adjacent to the park surrounded by a brick wall. As this made a nonsense of the earlier part of the article, I assumed it must have been added later.

    And now you seem to be saying that the whole article was published at the same time. If that’s so, it only makes things worse. Because it means you published the stuff about the threat to a Grade II listed site and the view across the Thames, and drew a parallel with building a community centre inside Victoria Park, knowing full well that it was a pile of crap.

    So I apologise. I misjudged you. You’re an even more dishonest journalist than I thought.

  3. Ted Jeory on said:

    ?
    It was the council which told me the site was within the park and listed!
    Hence the comparisons to Victoria Park.
    It was also the council which allowed the applicant to falsely state he owned the site.
    Spot a trend here?
    Have you been to the site, Bob?

  4. Ted Jeory,

    Yes, I’ve been to the site, Ted. I tend towards the view that it’s necessary to examine the evidence before presenting an analysis. The yard looks even worse in real life than it does in your photos. There’s a wrecked electricity power box in one corner with the door hanging off. I don’t think I’ve never seen anything that looks less like a green space.

  5. Alan Ji on said:

    This

    “Out of those 149 members no longer living at the address on the membership list, the report claims there is “no evidence that 75 of them were ever registered as an elector at the address where they claimed their Labour Party membership at the time of the selection.” ”

    from Jon Lansman’s item linked to above is no small matter.

  6. Dave on said:

    Bob Pitt,

    Two points

    1) A development such as this in or adjacent to a public park is highly unlikely to be granted planning permission under delgated powers as you suggest. This is of course rebuttable by concrete examples to the contrary. Any available Bob?

    2) Who constitute the “backward sections of Tower Hamlets white population”? Is it possible to have corresponding ‘backward sections’ in all ethnic groups or is this soley reserved for just whites? I have never come across this rather ghastly term before. May be I am one of these types so Ineed your help with definitions in order to put my mind at rest.

  7. Pingback: ‘Dog whistle’ politics in Tower Hamlets | Mayor Lutfur Rahman

  8. Bob,

    A bit of an exaggeration, Bob, but yes, it is concrete. However, it is part of the park. The groundsman used to have his equipment shed there. It also belongs to the council, not the applicant who claimed as such on his application form. Maybe he knows something we don’t.

    By the way, I notice you haven’t corrected your article about me visiting the site only after publishing.

    A responsible writer like you would surely want to correct his errors, no? (And surely the administrator of this site would also want that.)

  9. Ted Jeory,

    Good point Ted. Apologies if there is an error fact, will make an adjustment when have better internet access.

    With regard to the main thrust of Bob’s article, he does seem to have a point.

  10. Andy Newman,

    Thanks, Andy. But think you or Bob will need to do more than a mere “adjustment” as it appears he wrote that entire section of his piece (in which he questions my motives and methods) under a “misapprehension”…

    In fact, as I’ve pointed out in this comments thread, I recognised all was not as it had seemed and that the concreted part of the site needed to be put to better use.

    And as for the main thrust of Bob’s piece, I’m not quite sure what it is. The drift I catch is there are dog whistles in Tower Hamlets and that objecting to a segregated community centre/masjid on council owned land is somehow Islamophobic.

    Which is utter tosh, as many Bengali Muslims will tell you. Including the Bengali Muslim woman I photographed standing inside the plot – my wife.

    You see, I fear Bob Pitt hears dog whistles everywhere. As he “tend[s] towards the view that it’s necessary to examine the evidence before presenting an analysis”, I’d be interested to hear which Bengali voices he’s spoken to about this proposal.

    None seem to be quoted in his piece.

  11. Ted Jeory on said:

    I’ve just noticed one other thing, Bob and Andy.

    In trying to traduce my work and the research put in by other residents, he says:

    A glance at the planning application confirms that this is indeed the case. It states clearly that the building has been designed so as “NOT to encroach on Island Gardens Park and surrounding amenities” and will instead “make positive use of an empty and tarmacked area adjacent to the Gardens/park”. A map with photos is provided to illustrate this point.

    But if you follow the links provided by Bob to the council’s planning website, you’ll see that those photos AND the quote he uses to “clearly state” his argument are from documents submitted by the applicant on June 19. That’s 16 days after I wrote my piece, and they were submitted as a direct result of the weaknesses I and others exposed in the application.

    Not for the first time, Bob has jumped arse first into an issue he knows little about. His entire piece is a shambles.

    Can I suggest you ensure he does a little more research before being allowed to post anything about Tower Hamlets on this site again?

    I’d be quite happy to check it over for you.

  12. I apologise for not participating in this interesting discussion. I’ve been occupied with grandchild-minding duties all day and I’m now off to bed, knackered. I’ll try and get up early tomorrow and respond to Ted’s points.

  13. Ted Jeory: Thanks, Andy. But think you or Bob will need to do more than a mere “adjustment” as it appears he wrote that entire section of his piece (in which he questions my motives and methods) under a “misapprehension”…

    Ted – I have put a note in the original article that you dispute some of Bob’ account, and that people should read the comments below for context. I think on balance this addresses your concerns while still letting the substantive argument from Bob stand that there are more generally dog whistle politics surrounding this planning application.

  14. Andy Newman,

    Thanks, Andy, but I don’t think that’s acceptable. It’s not a case of “disputing” his assertion I wrote the piece before visiting, it’s a fact. He’s plain wrong. And his false presumption led him to question my methods and integrity, which you have allowed to remain. And in trying further take a stab at me, he misleads you and your readers by providing “evidence” he implies I either ignored or failed to spot, when in fact it wasn’t even there.

    If I were Bob, I’d be wanting to apologise and rewrite that section of the article. And i know if it had been written on my blog, I’d be asking him to do just that, not just putting a one sentence health warning.

    And as you can see on my own post, apologise is exactly what I did when I realised I got something wrong.

  15. John Grimshaw on said:

    As a Tower Hamlets resident I am interested in what exactly is going on here so I wonder if either Bob or Ted would care to read my précis of the situation and then inform me as to whether I’ve understood correctly or not.
    1. There is a small patch of disused land within the park which contains a run down building that used to be a gardeners shed.
    2. The park is set aside for the general use of all the public.
    3. The man who made a planning application claimed the land belonged to him but it didn’t. So either he was being disingenuous (?) or he was confused. The council allowed him to “claim” the land belonged to him.
    4. He proposes to build a small community centre and prayer hall which by its nature would then tend to be used only by one section of the community, although he says the facilities would be available to all the community.
    5. The Tories have seized upon this issue for electoral reasons to do with the forthcoming mayoral election. The far right have then jumped on the band wagon because they are racists (well so are many Tories) to stir up trouble.

  16. Ted Jeory: Thanks, Andy, but I don’t think that’s acceptable.

    Ted, my understanding is that the original substantive post should also be read in the context of the attached comments. Bob makes an assertion that you had not visited the site, you convincingly argue in the comments here that you had visited it before hand.

    I apologise on behalf of the editorial team for any error of fact, and I believe that anyone reading the full exchange including the comments from you where you have had the opportunity to correct the facts and defend your reputation, would make an evaluation in the round.

    I have further strengthened the comment in the article to state that there is an error of fact that we regret. I have also struck out the offending sentances.

  17. Andy Newman,

    Thanks, Andy – appreciated. I await Bob’s apology.

    I also think this section needs to be clarified:

    A glance at the planning application confirms that this is indeed the case. It states clearly that the building has been designed so as “NOT to encroach on Island Gardens Park and surrounding amenities” and will instead “make positive use of an empty and tarmacked area adjacent to the Gardens/park”. A map with photos is provided to illustrate this point.

    He or you need to point out that this part of the planning application was added only after people started making a fuss. The council had actually put the original application out to official consultation in what it now accepts was a misleading and incomplete way. It was no wonder people were agitated.

    However, Bob, by using phrases like “a glance” and “clearly states”, gives the impression that those documents were always there. And he does so to impugn the integrity of the objectors, to portray them as all Islamaphobes.

  18. Ted Jeory: He or you need to point out that this part of the planning application was added only after people started making a fuss. The council had actually put the original application out to official consultation in what it now accepts was a misleading and incomplete way. It was no wonder people were agitated.
    However, Bob, by using phrases like “a glance” and “clearly states”, gives the impression that those documents were always there. And he does so to impugn the integrity of the objectors, to portray them as all Islamaphobes.

    I have re-read the article and I do not believe that the section you quote here could reasonably be interpreted in such a way as to question your journalistic integrity.

  19. John Grimshaw on said:

    Ted Jeory:
    John Grimshaw,

    Yes. And in the interests of objectivity, I’d also add that there are many racists in other political parties as well. Of all shades.

    Thanks for that Ted. Yes I accept that there are racists in other parties, but I think it would be fair to say that one is more likely to find more virulent forms of racism in the Tory party than say Labour or the Far Left. Of course, as I assume you know, but others won’t, the Isle of Dogs has become the Tories council bastion in Tower Hamlets largely because of the demographic shift since the redevelopment of the area.

    Some further points then.
    1. Are you suggesting that the applicant has/was allowed to “claim” he owned the land because of some “skulduggery” emanating from the mayors office, or was it just an attempt to speed through the development of an underutilised piece of land which would otherwise just remain empty, or was it simply a bureaucratic mistake?
    2. Are there any other proposals for the redevelopment of this patch of land? I assume that this applicant was offering to pay for the proposed building? I assume that the council itself has no proposals? Presumably because of “austerity cuts” etc.
    3. Is it the case that the proposed building would be small and in no way would ruin any view or cause offence (except to racists), and would at least be useful to some people living in our community? And wouldn’t affect the other park users? Bear in mind that I wouldn’t call the view of the Millennium Dome (or Canary Wharf) that nice.

    The stunt about Victoria Park is fair enough. However in a way we already have “community facilities” in Victoria Park (I live nearby) which exclude sections of the community sometimes. We have a “Chinese pagoda” which can be hired and used for private weddings etc. And we have the refurbished caff by the boating lake which has become ridiculously expensive and is mostly used by “yummy mummies” and creative and media types from South Hackney and boats that cost £10.50/hour.

  20. Andy Newman,

    Oh come now, Andy, he deliberately included that sentence in the same paragraph that you have now agreed needed striking out. He put it there precisely to back up his false premise. Without you or he pointing out that the application was amended, it remains misleading.

  21. John Grimshaw,

    1. Are you suggesting that the applicant has/was allowed to “claim” he owned the land because of some “skulduggery” emanating from the mayors office, or was it just an attempt to speed through the development of an underutilised piece of land which would otherwise just remain empty, or was it simply a bureaucratic mistake?
    2. Are there any other proposals for the redevelopment of this patch of land? I assume that this applicant was offering to pay for the proposed building? I assume that the council itself has no proposals? Presumably because of “austerity cuts” etc.
    3. Is it the case that the proposed building would be small and in no way would ruin any view or cause offence (except to racists), and would at least be useful to some people living in our community? And wouldn’t affect the other park users? Bear in mind that I wouldn’t call the view of the Millennium Dome (or Canary Wharf) that nice.

    1. I don’t know. Those questions are being investigated by councillors.
    2. I don’t know. I suggested in my piece a kids’ One o’Clock Club, which would be for the use of all parts of our community. In terms of any land purchase, I don’t know….but if that council-land was up for sale, it would have to be done through an open tender/process. And that certainly hasn’t been done. I’d also be interested to see whether the council can actually sell off park land.
    3. Aesthetically, if I were living next to it, I’d object to a portable cabin in the park. And as for causing offence, it is not at all racist to object to public land being given for a “community centre” that caters for just one section of the community (how is that One Tower Hamlets?). It’s arguable the racism lies elsewhere.

    And as for Victoria Park, as far as I’m aware, all of the community facilities are open and designed to be open for all sections of the community. And all sections of the community use them well.

    One further point. Calders Wharf Community Centre lies just 200 metres from this plot, right behind the entrance to the foot tunnel. There is currently a live planning application from Telford Homes to demolish this and build a new five-storey tower that would also include a new community centre on the ground floor. The applicant’s design centre is here.

  22. Sorry to have gone AWOL but I now have the grandchild happy watching Batman and have a few spare moments.

    The main point, I think, is that the Tower Hamlets Tories have presented the public with an entirely misleading picture of the proposed development at Island Gardens. They have led everyone to believe that what is being planned is the erection of a community centre inside the park itself.

    A local Tory councillor has insisted that nothing at all should be built on the site of the proposed centre because it is a priceless resource for the community. “I don’t care who wants to build on it,” she stated, “we should be leaving this for the coming generations.”

    Understandably, this misleading propaganda had led to outrage among people who have swallowed it. In my article I quote some of the comments on the Save Island Gardens petition: “Leave our green spaces alone!”, “Please preserve this green space for all who can appreciate it”, “These pockets of green need to be cherished”, “London needs these ‘green lungs’ for the emotional health of its people” and “Stupid idea to put a portacabin on one of the few remaining green places on the Island”.

    I have to admit that I bought this story myself, initially. I saw the 7 June East London Advertiser report and thought of running something on it at Islamophobia Watch. There was obviously an Islamophobic element to the objections (there always is, whenever there’s a proposal to erect a Muslim-run centre that can be depicted as a mosque) but I could well understand how Isle of Dogs residents might be outraged by a plan to plonk a building in a public park. So I decided not to cover the story.

    As for Ted, he was sold a bum steer by the “anti-mosque” campaigners too. He posted a report on his blog which, as I’ve pointed out, “featured pictures of Island Gardens in all its leafy splendour, and of the unrestricted view it provides across the Thames, while parroting the Tories’ claim that these features of the park were now under threat”. He even phoned up the Tower Hamlets planning department and asked them whether he would be allowed to “erect a community centre inside Victoria Park”. You can read Ted’s article here.

    Now, it’s obvious that Ted wrote this article before he’d actually been to the site of the proposed centre to check out the story. However, he did subsequently visit the site and added a postscript to the article stating that “Not everything is as it first appears, is it……And the same goes for the objections to this proposal. When I was first alerted to this row last week, the headline was about building over the park. But that’s not quite the case.”

    Ted found that the site wasn’t actually inside the park at all: “It’s in a walled-off area where the council’s gardeners used to have a storage shed. It’s now not used for anything.”

    Indeed, as I point out in the article, the site is “a dingy, disused yard, surrounded by a rather ugly brick wall and covered in tarmac”. There’s even a wrecked electricity junction box in one corner with the door hanging off. It would be difficult to find anything less like a green space.

    As for the supposed threat to the view from the park, I point out that the proposed one-storey building “would be barely visible to most people using the park and would certainly be no more prominent than a building directly next door that contains a set of garages. Since it is at the far corner of the park away from the riverside, it would have no impact whatsoever on the view across the Thames.”

    My assumption was that Ted had added his postscript after publishing the main article on his blog. But he seems to be saying that he published the whole thing, the main article and postscript, at the same time. If he can confirm that this is the case, I’ll be happy (with Andy and Tony’s agreement) to amend my article accordingly.

    However, I hardly think this improves Ted’s reputation as a journalist. It would mean that he went ahead and posted a misleading report after he’d visited the site and knew that the original report was misleading.

  23. Bob,

    Andy, are you really allowing this last comment by Bob? I’ve repeatedly stated I wrote the entire piece AFTER visiting the park and you have agreed with me on that, which is why you have struck out part of his piece. The only “postscript” to my article was the amendment in italics and in brackets apologising for an error I made when trying to identify the applicant.

    You see, I think the headline I gave to my article, ‘The Art of Planning..’, was perhaps too subtle for Bob. I introduced it by presenting the Canaletto view, showing the park in all its leafy splendour….and then, continuing the arty theme, I said:

    Not everything is as it first appears, is it…

    …And the same goes for the objections to this proposal. When I was first alerted to this row last week, the headline was about building over the park. But that’s not quite the case.
    The area where they want to put their community centre/mosque is, as I said above, in a small corner of the park.
    I had a look yesterday. It may well lie within the park boundaries, but it’s not exactly the park. It’s in a walled-off area where the council’s gardeners used to have a storage shed. It’s now not used for anything.

    Most people understood the trick. Bob, too blinkered, didn’t – and he still can’t get it.

    Has he not followed any of what you concede are “convincing arguments” in this comments thread. Or is he just being obtuse?

  24. Ted Jeory,

    Well, as I say Ted, I’m more than happy to change my article to take account of your assurance that you didn’t amend your report after publishing it.

    I thought I was taking the charitable view, in supposing that you made a genuine mistake when you published that stuff about the proposed centre being “in a Grade II listed public park that was set aside by its founders for the benefit of everyone” and suggesting that it was a threat to the view, along with phoning up the planning department to ask if you could build a community centre “inside Victoria Park”.

    I thought that you subsequently found out that your report was misleading, following a visit to the site, and that you amended the article accordingly. I couldn’t see anything dishonest about that. But you insist that you wrote the entire article after finding out that the site isn’t inside the park at all and poses no threat whatsoever to the view. If you think that presents you in a better light, I can only disagree.

  25. Vanya on said:

    Surely by now anyone reading this who has followed it will be clear about what Bob is saying about Ted and what Ted is saying about what he is saying.

    Personally I’d rather read something from someone else who is familiar with the issue, because threads that are almost entirely a dialogue, particularly about one individual contributor’s motivation and integrity and another’s ability to understand something rapidly become stale and uninteresting.

    Btw what is the origin of the term “dog whistle” in this kind of context and what does it actually mean?

  26. Bob,

    Well, I’d be more careful in how you make those amendments, Bob (and I hope Andy will, too). Because it seems you still haven’t grasped what happened, Bob. Try reading things with a more open mind.

    I was told about the controversy. I went to have a look. I called the council asking for confirmation the park was listed. They confirmed that. Owen Whalley, the council’s head of planning, confirmed the plot was within the park’s boundaries. I wrote the article on June 3 and said not everything is as it seems. There was then a fuss. People complained to the council. The council investigated. They then discovered that while the plot was in the park boundaries, the plot itself was not listed. I then reported that on June 8 in the comments section of the post (where I thought it would be better read, given the traffic the article was attracting), where I published a letter from the council and where I wrote:

    You’ll see that the plot of land is part of the park, but not in the listed section. It is therefore not protected. However, the council as landlord does state the rather important point that it has to give permission for any building to take place (regardless of planning permission).

    All this was there for you to see and digest before writing your piece.

    Was it too difficult for you?

    Are you saying I should have known the council was wrong in what it was telling people about the listed nature of the plot? It was only because we were asking that that information came to light?

    I trust that you and Andy can see this before you republish your piece.

  27. Can I point out that Ted Jeory’s reputation as a journalist is not the main issue here; and there seems to be a rather pointless dispute over when he visited the site and when he wrote or amended his blog post.

    I was satisfied that the main article, as amended by striking out the sentances in dispute, does not call into question Ted Jeory’s reputation, and by referring to the comments from Ted Jeory in the thread below, readers can make up their own minds.

    I have now deleted the struck out sentances entirely.

    Thank you for bringing the correction of facts to our attention, and on behalf of the SU editorial team I am happy to apologise for the inaccuracy, and I am pleased that we have had the opportunity to correct it.

    With regard to the further dispute between you and Bob in the comments here, it seems that you have given as good as you have got.

  28. Andy Newman,

    Thanks, Andy, although I wouldn’t say it was pointless – because Bob specialises in attributing sinister Islamophobic motives where they often do not exist. It’s important that these errors are exposed and batted away, in the same way that you quite rightly try to highlight racism where it does exist.

  29. Vanya on said:

    #30 If I have the time. I get enough gyp from my wife (absolutely understandably) about the ammount of time I spend on this blog without spreading to other ones. I have plenty of friends and aquaintances (not just political activists) in that part of East London so I’ll look into it through chatting with them in the real world :)

  30. defender of the faith on said:

    I don’t understand why Andy changed the blog after bullying from Ted.

    A thin-skinned journalist. hahaha!!! Surely the ‘Whitehall editor’ of the Express is far too big to spend his whole days checking and replying to posts on this blog.

    Ted writes stuff about Lutfur Rahman that isn’t true all the time. Noone bullies him into removing it.

    And why the surprise that Bob Pitt and Ted have clashed? Bob runs ‘Islamophobia Watch’ and Ted’s blog is full of … islamophobia!! It’s like wondering why police spend so much time with criminals, or doctors with ill people.

  31. Ted Jeory: because Bob specialises in attributing sinister Islamophobic motives where they often do not exist.

    Ted, please don’t make accusations like this. You don’t like it when people do it to you, so don’t come on here doing it to other people. It’s almost as if you believe that a writer for a large media organisation with loads of lawyers is somehow allowed to get away with saying more things than someone who writes for free for a blog that doesn’t even carry adverts and makes no money at all.

  32. Tony Collins,

    It’s almost as if you believe that a writer for a large media organisation with loads of lawyers is somehow allowed to get away with saying more things than someone who writes for free for a blog that doesn’t even carry adverts and makes no money at all.

    ??

    “Almost”, but not quite. I write my blog — the one Bob attacked — for free. And as far as I’m aware, it carries no adverts. I only came on here because Bob was misleading you and other SU readers. I’m glad Andy has thanked me for that; I hope you’re also glad.

    And with that done, I’ll sign off.

  33. Carl on said:

    Ted Jeory: By the way, I notice you haven’t corrected your article about me visiting the site only after publishing.

    A responsible writer like you would surely want to correct his errors, no? (And surely the administrator of this site would also want that.)

    careful now Ted, I would not make such statements specially when YOU are of foul play too and guess what Ted there is photographic evidence of such a nature…so stop acting like the victim and playing a saint as you always do, people know your dirty tricks so watch this space ;)

  34. John Grimshaw on said:

    FYI. The East London Advertiser reports that a meeting of over 100 people took place at Poplar Rowing Club led by the Friends of Island Gardens. The meeting followed the submission of 2,100 letters to the Town Hall calling on them to reject plans to have a “mosque” in the park. The Very Reverend Tom Pyle, who spoke at the meeting, Dean of Christchurch and St. Luke’s, said that as Muslims have to pray a lot, especially in winter (sic) there would be no space for the rest of the community to use the proposed “community” centre and in reality it would be a “mosque”. He called on the persons supporting the application to come clean. The meeting was also addressed by the Isle of Dogs Tory councillors who said that nobody should be allowed to build in the park and that they “…will fight tooth and nail to stop it.” It was said in the article that the park was used in the 18th century by Canaletto to create his “classic view of Greenwich Royal Palace” and that it was a World Heritage Site. Evidentially, there maybe covenants which protect the park’s useage since 1840.

    I have reported this extremely carefully so that people can interpret how they wish.

  35. John Grimshaw on said:

    John Grimshaw,

    The following is from Wikipedia. “It is almost certain that the view from this location is the one that the Canaletto painting ‘Greenwich Hospital from the North Bank of the Thames’ is taken from, though whether Canaletto himself actually visited the site is in doubt.