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New Year message from Abjol Miah

December 30, 2009

The role of an effective opposition is to criticise where necessary, to present a plausible alternative and to seek to change the policies of the council for the better. In this regard I am confident that the Respect group of councillors that I lead has performed well over the last year despite our small numbers. We have no doubt been assisted by the fact that elections are approaching and Labour fears electoral annihilation if it does not show some acknowledgement that its policies have been deeply unpopular. We intend to keep up the pressure over the next few months and we are very optimistic that the general and council elections in May will see a dramatic change for the better in Tower Hamlets.

Despite 40% of all London construction happening in Tower Hamlets, the housing crisis – the most important priority for any serious party – continues to worsen. The most dramatic figure is that 15,500 families are living in overcrowded conditions, half in private and half in social housing. Under pressure from Respect, the lead housing member has said that he wants to see 50% of new housing to be “affordable” or social. The council has even applied to build the first council housing here for many years.

The problem is that in general only 30% or less of new housing is social or “affordable”. That means most new housing is for rich yuppies coming into Tower Hamlets to work in Canary Wharf or the City at the expense of those living in unacceptable conditions here. The concessions we have won from the council are too little too late. We will continue to press for a major programme of council home building.

This is the only way we will resolve our housing crisis and boost an economy where unemployment will reach three million in 2010.

I am pleased the council eased parking restrictions around our historic markets after we protested on behalf of market businesses and shoppers. But the draconian parking policies of the council and the private housing associations Labour has imposed on us continue to be a source of grievance and injustice.

This is also true of the so-called “car free” zones which three quarters of all new housing has been subject to. This policy which denies residents the right to a Tower Hamlets residents parking permit discriminates against those who need cars to transport their families and shopping easily and cheaply and to those who need their cars for their work like minicab drivers. It is also clear some residents have been deceived into accepting “car free” homes and that housing associations are imposing extortionate estate parking charges which only the rich residents can afford.

As a result of Respect’s indictment of these injustices, the council is considering allowing future residents who have previously held residents parking permits to take them to their new homes, even though they are supposed to be “car free”. This is a welcome climb down but does not go nearly far enough.

Leaseholders have continued to suffer from very high service charges.

We supported wholeheartedly the campaign by the Tower Hamlets Leaseholders Association for an independent audit of charges which again the council was forced to concede. We have also given our wholehearted support to the development of borough-wide leaseholders associations to deal with the unaccountable and irresponsible housing associations such as East End Homes. Leaseholders need a new deal which must include the capping of major works charges which invariably include a sizeable cost for previous neglect.

The greatest achievement over the last year has been forcing the council to hold a referendum on our future form of government in Tower Hamlets – what we have now or a directly elected and accountable mayor. The petition to force the referendum was bitterly opposed by the New Labour establishment and the Conservatives. The only party to support the petition was Respect and we were proud to work alongside community leaders to secure the support of thousands for democracy.

Labour have delayed the referendum until May out of spite but this gives us all the more time to campaign for a mayor.

The case for a mayor is overwhelming. The current system is being manipulated by Labour’s regional officials who do not live in Tower Hamlets and who no-one voted for in Tower Hamlets. If they have their way, the next leader for four years in Tower Hamlets will be Josh Peck or, even worse, Michael Keith. We have got to stop this happening by voting for the directly elected mayor. A directly elected mayor will be chosen by the voters on a fairer voting system than is used for the council and will be directly accountable to the voters and responsive to the needs of the community. But a directly elected mayor will also be able to provide the strong leadership we need to deal with the huge problems we have in Tower Hamlets and stand up to what is likely to be a Conservative government in six months time.

Respect has also been in the forefront of raising the enormous danger posed by climate change both here in Tower Hamlets, in Bangladesh and globally. There is no greater threat to humanity than man-made climate change from global warming. Experts say rising sea levels will displace 20 million people in Bangladesh. In Tower Hamlets there needs to be an urgent programme to insulate every property both public and private to cut use and reduce fuel poverty at the same time.

I was also proud to visit Bangladesh recently with George Galloway MP, Respect councillors and supporters and highlight the dangers posed to Sylhet by the Tipaimukh dam project in India. This threatens to deprive Sylhet of vital water and to bring devastating floods if the dam, being built on an earthquake fault-line, breaks. This is a matter for the council as so many Tower Hamlets residents originate from Sylhet and have family and property there. We will continue to campaign for the council to take a firm position against the dam.

It is my hope that Tower Hamlets will turn out in force in 2012 to welcome the Bangladeshi Olympic team to our neighbourhoods. This will be an exciting time – but also one that we can use to share experiences, to introduce Bangladesh to the rest of Britain and to explain the threat posed to Bangladesh by climate change to everyone.

The Olympic Games in 2012 offers us much more than sport. The huge construction works on our doorstep, the development of the local service sector and the influx of people from all over the world into East London provide opportunities for employment, regeneration and prosperity. Reports that only 3% of Olympic jobs are going to Tower Hamlets residents have led me to demand of the council and the government that everyone in our Borough benefits from the Olympics.

This will be an ongoing priority for me as we seek to reverse crippling levels of unemployment in Tower Hamlets, especially amongst young people.

27 December marked the first anniversary of the 22 day assault by Israel in the Gaza strip, an action which cost the lives of over 1400 people and left thousands injured and homeless. I was proud of the response from Tower Hamlets. Together we united to call for an end to the bloodshed. As I write, the Viva Palestina aid convoy currently making its way to Gaza, led by our Bethnal Green and Bow MP George Galloway, I am sure has the backing of us all. Likewise, public support for an immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan is growing. More of us than ever see that there is no case for British troops there. Respect has been a leading component of the movement to end the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and campaign for a just foreign policy, and we will continue to ensure the views of Tower Hamlets residents are heard loud and clear in this debate.

This is Respect’s record and vision in Tower Hamlets: rooted in the community, acting decisively to improve the lives of ordinary people and deliver a better deal for all, challenging injustice and promoting peace and equality. I am proud of what we have accomplished and what we are yet to do in 2010 and beyond.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. simon webbe permalink
    January 4, 2010 7:39 pm

    also read the inspirational latest account from respect students in gaza:
    http://www.studentrespect.org.uk/2010/01/students-viva-palestina-new-year-palestinian-refugee-camps/

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