This is a guest post by Jonathan Hoffman
On Thursday 3 January The Guardian CIF published an Open Letter endorsing Ken Livingstone for a third term as Mayor of London.
The 63 signatories declared:
“[W]e the undersigned believe that it is in the best interest of the Muslim communities of London, and indeed all Londoners, to back Mr Livingstone in this year’s mayoral elections”.
The Open Letter generated quite a bit of controversy among the Guardianistas – to say the least. Normally CIF threads stay open for three days. But CIF Editor Georgina Henry had to close this one after less than 12 hours (and 250 comments):
“due to the continual breaches of the talk policy. Our moderators have had to take down almost 40 offensive comments, and banned 16 people. It’s incredibly depressing that so many pieces on this site written by or about Muslims degenerate into racist/sectarian abuse”.
One commenter “MiskatonicUniversity” pointed out that many of the 60+ organisations mentioned represent the same small ‘Maudidist clique’ of Muslims who are unrepresentative of the wider community. S/he points out that even the Muslim Council of Britain is missing from the signatory list: and that even if it had signed, only 6% of UK Muslims consider that it represents their views (see page 80).
Another commenter – “LondonDave1” spotted that some of the organisations to which the 63 are affiliated are registered charities and therefore precluded from endorsing individual candidates in an election.
LondonDave1 is absolutely right. Sixteen of the signatories have signed in the name of registered Charities (see list below). At least five of those sixteen are Trustees or Correspondents of the Charities. There are strict rules about political activities of Charities. These are helpfully set out in a Charity Commission publication.
Look at paragraph 48 on page 17 of that document:
“A charity must not support a political party or candidate”.
It’s fine to identify one aspect of a candidate or party’s platform and endorse that, but endorsing a candidate or party implies support for all their policies and that clearly compromises the independence of the charity and makes it impossible for the Charity Commissioners to be sure that it is acting in the ‘public benefit’.
If the Charities Commission investigates, the 16 signatories below may claim that they signed ‘in a personal capacity’ and that their endorsement of Livingstone should not be construed as reflecting the Charities in whose name they have signed. Well that’s not good enough. Nowhere in the letter does the phrase ‘in a personal capacity’ appear. And if they are not committing their Charities, why mention them at all? Did the other Trustees agree to the political endorsement?
One of the Charities – the Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre – even numbers two Conservative Councillors among its Trustees. How do they (and Boris Johnson and David Cameron) view the endorsement of Livingstone by the Charity on whose Trustee Board they sit? Did Dr Abdul Kareem Khaleel even consult them before signing the Charity up?
Over to you, Charity Commission. After all, you told us that the new Charities Act (2006) has teeth.
But with the election only five months away you maybe need to move a bit faster than on the S8 Inquiry into Interpal. This began formally (following a three month review) nearly 13 months ago (December 2006).
The 16 correspondents, Trustees and other representatives who committed their Charities to Livingstone’s re-election:
Abdulmonem Haresha, Muslim Welfare House
Abdul Shaheed, North London Central Mosque
Dr Abdul Fattah Sa’ad, Al Muntada Al Islami Trust [Trustee]
Dr Abdul Kareem Khaleel, Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre [Correspondent]. Two of the Trustees are Councillors: David Campion and Nicholas Paget-Brown. Campion is a Conservative who represents Pembridge Ward in Kensington and Chelsea; Paget-Brown is also a Conservative who represents Hans Town Ward in the same Borough.
Dr Hashim Charif, Amal Trust [Trustee]
Hassan Muinudeen, Dawatul Islam [Trustee and Correspondent]
Imran Hamid, Muslim Health Network [“No valid trustee details held for this charity”]
Luqman Ali, Khayaal Theatre Company [Correspondent]
Mohammad Habib ur Rahman, President Islamic Forum Europe [Trustee]
Mohamad Mounir Rai, Hounslow Jamia & Islamic Centre [Trustee]
Mohamed Mumtaz, Crescent Relief [?Trustee]
Munier Hagus, The Eritrean Muslim Community Association [?Trustee]
Mustafa al Mansur, MOSAIC Foundation
Professor Tariq Ramadan, Lokahi Foundation
Ruhul Trafader, 1990 Trust
Sheikh Sulaiman Ghani, Tooting Mosque