Tag Archives: FocusE15

Timing is everything

22 Dec


Cllr Lakmini Shah, Cabinet Member for Children’s Safeguarding, was among those who discussed the future of the Carpenters estate last week

Here’s a curious tale.

When the Focus E15 protesters turned up at East Ham Town Hall last Thursday to watch Sir Robin and his cabinet discuss plans for the future of the Carpenters Estate they found they couldn’t get into the public gallery because it was already full.

Frustrated, they ended up in a side room where they were unable to see what was going on, with only a dodgy audio feed of proceedings to listen to.

As they were leaving at the end of the meeting they saw a group of Asian women emerge from the public gallery. They weren’t Carpenters residents, as no-one from the estate recognised them.

Who were they and what agenda item had they come to watch being discussed?

It’s great that people are interested in watching democracy at work. But what an unfortunate coincidence that a group exactly large enough to fill the seats in the public gallery should turn up on the same day as the Focus E15 campaigners and prevent them getting in.

Show and tell

13 Jul

Newham Show 2015

Yet more shenanigans at “the Mayor’s” Newham Show.

Just as they did last year. the Focus E15 campaign decided to use a Sir Robin’s publicly funded propaganda fest to draw attention to his less-than-enlightened housing polices. As the event is paid for by residents and held in a public park they have every right to attend and talk to who they want to. But the council’s security people took a different view. Leaflets were confiscated and the campaigners were physically ejected from the site. 

As the picture above shows, things got a bit physical.

And there was no shortage of swearing either, though this year it wasn’t directed at the public.

Cabinet member for ‘building communities’  – and Sir Robin’s new best friend – councillor Ken Clark spotted Ahmed Noor wearing a Newham councillor teeshirt at the community tent. He demanded to know who gave “that bastard a fucking teeshirt.” Although Noor is currently suspended from the Labour party he is still a councillor, but this nicety was beyond our Ken. He then directed a volley of four-letter words at Noor and his friends, leaving no-one in any doubt that  the Plaistow councillor should depart post-haste. And anyone that’s a “fucking friend” of Noor is now Clark’s “fucking enemy”: he would “fucking get him.”

The whole extraordinary tirade was witnessed by members of public and several other Newham councillors. Given that Ken Clark is about twice the size Ahmed Noor – who is also fasting at the moment – they were for once sympathetic to Noor. 

Once again it seems that Sir Robin and his cabinet believe they have they have the right to scream at, abuse and threaten who they like, especially at the Newham Show.  

Who wants to be a millionaire?

17 Apr

Ayesha Chowdhury 

Beckon lead councillor Ayesha Chowdhury owns a property portfolio worth in excess of £4 million

On Monday Newham council officers and the police forcibly took back possession of a flat in Stratford that had been occupied by its former tenant and the Focus E15 housing campaign. Jasmin Stone, the most prominent of the campaigners was arrested and later bailed.

It is the latest in a long line of incidents that highlight the chronic shortage of social housing in the borough and the council’s complete lack of interest in those who need it most. When anyone dares to challenge the mayor’s priorities – “developers, developers, developers,” to borrow a phrase – he has no hesitation in sending in the heavies.

The ‘developers first’ policy means that the gleaming glass and steel towers going up in Canning Town, Royal Docks and Stratford contain few, if any, affordable units. Properties are openly marketed to overseas investors with the tagline ‘no social housing’.

With hundreds of council homes being deliberately left empty and new builds aimed squarely at the investment market, the thousands of families on the social housing waiting list have few options. Demand for private rented accommodation has rocketed and rents have soared – along with the housing benefit bill – transferring wealth upwards into the ever-expanding pockets of the rich.

Which is good news for the large number of Newham councillors who are private landlords.

Take Beckton’s Ayesha Chowdhury, for example. She has amassed a portfolio of Newham properties that – based on estimates from property website Zoopla.co.uk – is now worth more than £4 million. Zoopla also provides an estimate of her potential monthly rental income. If all Cllr Chowdhury’s properties are let out at these rates she’ll be pulling in close to £19,000 a month.

  Purchase Price Current Value Increase Monthly rental
82 Downings, E6 £105,000 £238,000 £133,000 £1,100
95 Lonsdale Avenue, E6 £55,000 £165,000 £110,000 £790
6 Truesdale Road, E6 £122,000 £260,000 £138,000 £1,200
100 Park Avenue, E6 £72,000 £185,000 £113,000 £890
199 Tollgate Road, E6 £65,000 £172,000 £107,000 £828
10 Harrier Way, E6 £249,000 £370,000 £121,000 £1,700
27 Trader Road, E6 £198,500 £295,000 £96,500 £1,365
5 Hogarth Close, E16 £185,000 £296,000 £111,000 £1,588
47 Plymouth Road, E16 £140,000 £219,000 £79,000 £868
205 Tollgate Road, E6 £57,500 £152,000 £94,500 £732
18 Eric Close E7 £189,000 £264,000 £75,000 £1,021
96a Plashet Grove E7 £160,000 £188,000 £28,000 £903
5 Chelmsford Close, E6 £225,000 £334,000 £109,000 £1,546
203 Tollgate Road, E6 £160,000 £197,000 £37,000 £950
5a Hogarth Close, E6* £75,000 £195,000 £120,000 £1,000
39 Albatross Close, E6 £191,600 £287,000 £95,400 £1,380
20 Viscount Drive, E6** £205,000 £210,000 £5,000 £1,011
TOTALS: £2,454,600 £4,027,000 £1,572,400 £18,872

* New build – estimated construction cost

** My estimate – actual sale price not yet available

This might be portrayed by some as a story of hard work and a reward for enterprise. But until 2011 Cllr Chowdhury lived in social housing, paying a subsidised social rent while building her private fortune. She only moved into one of her own properties when the story appeared in the national press.

Despite this she was reselected as a Labour candidate for last year’s council election and rewarded by Sir Robin with an extra £6,679 a year as mayoral advisor and lead community councillor.

As the old saying has it, money goes to money.


19 Feb

Mayoral Protection Squad

Councillors Whitworth, Wilson, Gray, Chowdhury, Paul, Fiaz, Furness & Collier – the Mayoral Protection Squad on weekend manoeuvres 

Next time angry residents approach Sir Robin armed with a megaphone and loud opinions about social housing, a crack team of councillors will be ready!


3 Feb

 Angry Robin

Sir Robin being restrained by councillor Obaid Khan

I was going to blog about the Standards Committee’s verdict on Sir Robin’s conduct at the Newham Show back in July, but I can’t improve on this excellent account in the Evening Standard, other than to point out that Sir Robin was not restrained by a member of the council’s staff but by a Labour councillor, Obaid Khan. 

Nor could I give more insight into what happened than Kevin Blowe, who made the formal complaint.

Not titling his post Sir Robin Wales, My Part in His Downfall was definitely a missed opportunity.

Heroes and villains

6 Jan

E15 com photo

In the Guardian Aditya Chakrabortty named the Focus E15 mothers as his ‘Heroes of 2014′

Jasmin Stone has the body language of a shy person. Meeting people for the first time she tends to look down. Her speech at an anti-cuts rally this summer kept dissolving into giggles. Yet as a leader of the Focus E15 Mothers, Stone has kept her family and 28 others from being moved out of their east London neighbourhood. She and her group have faced down an intransigent council – and done more than perhaps any other campaign group this year to force social housing up the political agenda. She is not yet 21. Last year, Stone and 28 other single mothers faced being moved out of their hostel, in Newham, to Birmingham and Hastings. They fought – and all are still in Newham. In September Focus E15 took over a flat in an otherwise empty council estate which the borough had long ago cleared for a (failed) land deal. Despite court action and the water being cut off, they left of their own accord – and wrested both apology and concessions from the mayor of Newham, Robin Wales. Focus E15 is still fighting evictions and for social housing. Sometimes it takes a crisis to turn a shy soul into an accomplished radical, but that’s what Stone and her crew now are.

By contrast, the Morning Star nominated Sir Robin Wales to its list of ‘Villains of the year’

The Labour Mayor of Newham was investigated for misconduct after storming off when mothers from the Focus E15 campaign confronted him about their housing plight.

A YouTube video of his tantrum was shared extensively when the women used the London borough’s family day to highlight his support for social cleansing. Their banner at a later protest summed it up perfectly: “Sheriff of Newham — Robin the poor!”

Both nominations are richly deserved.

A litany of complaints

4 Nov

The Guardian gets an earful 

Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government, published today PwC’s report of its ‘Best value’ inspection of Tower Hamlets council.

One of the things the inspectors looked at was the authority’s publicity budget: 

The value of publicity expenditure relative to the overall Authority budget is modest, however it is by definition a high profile area of expenditure and potentially controversial in terms of the demarcation between that which is genuinely for the benefit of the Authority and that which is of a party political nature pertaining to the Mayor or other elected Members as politicians.

That line of demarcation is – at best – blurry here in Newham.

As well as the Newham Mag, soon to return to fortnightly publication despite the threat of legal action from Mr Pickles, and the raft of non-news stories fed to the ever-compliant Recorder there is also a concerted effort to crack down on any whiff of bad publicity.

The Guardian alone has received over 100 complaints from the Newham officials in the past couple of months over its coverage of the Focus E15 mums. 

Obviously it’s in the job description of any modern media manager to hassle journalists if they think it will have a positive impact on coverage of their employer, especially if you think they’ve been misrepresented. But the sheer volume of complaints launched at the Guardian in such a short space of time suggests that this is more than just making the authority’s case or correcting a few facts; this looks like an organised campaign.

And in the context of PwC’s findings in neighbouring Tower Hamlets, it is worth asking on whose behalf this campaign was being waged – residents, the local authority, or the mayor personally and his reputation in the Labour party

Council houses not councillors’ houses

7 Oct

Campaigners leaving the Carpenters Estate

Campaigners leave the Carpenters Estate with their heads held high (pic via @hackofalltrades)

Under increasing pressure from a flood of bad press and a Standards Committee investigation that won’t go away, Sir Robin has re-tooled his half-hearted apology to the Focus E15 mums into a column for the Guardian

After a bit of grandstanding about his ‘victory’ in winning back possession of the four perfectly habitable flats he’d left empty for years, the mayor turns his attention to the causes of the housing crisis:

The lack of housing supply, the Conservative government’s barbaric benefit bashing and the private rented sector’s spiralling rents and declining standards are a triple whammy.

Of course, he doesn’t mention his own personal contributions: NewShare, his partnership with Countrywide PLC that will flog off council homes in a ‘shared equity’ scheme; Red Doors Ventures, a council-owned development company that will build 3,500 home for private rent – the majority of them at full market rates; the repeated failure of planners to require developers to deliver social housing; the consistent commuting of section 106 obligations into cash payments that vanish into the general budget instead of being spent on housing; the intentional running down of the Carpenters Estate, leaving hundreds of serviceable homes sitting empty. This list goes on and on.

The mayor also glosses over the contribution of many of his Labour colleagues on council who are active in the private rented sector as landlords. They are getting fat from those spiralling market rents and ever-ballooning London property values.

Ayesha Chowdhury, community lead councillor for Beckton, has a portfolio of 18 properties in Newham, 17 of which are rented out. Ahmed Noor (Plaistow S) lists 6 properties in the register of interests; Unmesh Desai, Cabinet Member for Crime and Anti Social Behaviour, owns 5 properties; Mukesh Patel (Green St E) also has 5, as does Anthony McAlmont, chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee; Rohima Rahman, Forest Gate’s lead councillor, scrapes by with a mere 3 – two she owns and one leased from the council. There are many others who have a couple of properties listed.

As social housing is shut down or sold off and the private sector booms these rentier capitalists are quids in.

Poor Sir Robin: with just one home to his name, must feel a bit left out.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

4 Oct

Pro-social housing demonstrators outside the town hall on Monday (picture via South London RCG)

Last Monday night the world almost stopped turning on its axis. Pigs were seen flying over the Town Hall and dogs stood on their hind legs, walking like men.

For the first time anyone can remember, Sir Robin Wales said sorry.

It is clear to me that the issue of the moving on of residents from the Foyer – specifically in relation to the family groups who had their Supporting People funding removed – was initially handled badly – both by East Thames Housing as their landlord and by Newham Council1who accepted overall responsibility for almost every one of the family groups.

I am frustrated and disappointed that both organisations initially failed to put a tailored process in place for each family to sit down with them, explain the issues and provide them with support as they considered their options for the future. I believe both East Thames Housing and Newham Council should apologise to the former residents of the mother and baby unit for that collective failure and I make that apology this evening.

Of course, this being the mayor, the tone of contrition didn’t last long. He was soon back to blaming everyone else for the appalling mess he and his cronies have created. First, the Tories:

We are under attack from this Tory government. And that means we have to make difficult decisions.

Then the Focus E15 mums:

I am disappointed that the Group has deliberately misled residents, the media and others on the facts of the situation.

And their tactics:

On at least three occasions, the Group turned up at … coffee mornings with the clear intention of disrupting them to make a staged protest, to the detriment of other residents.

Wisely, as it’s the subject of a Standards Committee investigation, he didn’t mention the incident at the Newham Show.

Finally, he turned on those campaigning for more social housing:

The Group has undertaken a number of other direct actions, often with the support of hardened political activists.

Their decision to force the closure of our Housing Options office at Bridge House – our main centre for dealing with homeless residents and others in very vulnerable positions – by occupying the front office was despicable and inexcusable.

But the fact he prefaced this bluster with an apology, however half-hearted, is extraordinary. Something is going on.

First of all, there have been changes to the Labour Group on council. While the majority of councillors are still gutless, unprincipled creeps and money-grubbing careerists, there is now a group of councillors who are prepared to challenge Sir Robin. Perhaps not openly and in public – the façade of party unity must be preserved – but in one-to-one meetings and within Group questions are being asked. Hands are being raised to vote against Sir Robin’s latest wheeze. The strong-arm tactics to shut people up are no longer guaranteed to work. Sometimes Sir Robin will need to bend a little.

The more important factor though is his own political ambition. Newham is not enough: Sir Robin wants to be Mayor of London in 2016. And to be mayor he must first be Labour’s candidate.

The past few weeks have been deeply damaging to the carefully-cultivated Wales brand. Never mind the social media shitstorm the Focus E15 campaign has stirred up, it’s led to critical articles in the Guardian and the Independent – just the sorts of newspapers the London Labour ‘selectorate’ is likely to read. What they want is a candidate who will wage war on homelessness and poverty, not on the homeless and the poor. Right now, Sir Robin is being shown up as exactly what they don’t want: an arrogant, out-of-touch, middle-aged white man who’s more interested in what wealthy developers want than what ordinary Londoners need. And someone who’s happy to bully anyone that dares get in their way.

It might not come naturally to him, but Sir Robin might have to get used to saying sorry!