Andy Newman is a former National Council member of RESPECT. He has now been permitted to join the Labour Party, but nevertheless continues to act as a mouthpiece for RESPECT.
Over the last few days, I’ve been hearing absolute horror stories about homophobic abuse of council members, both Labour and Tory, emanating from supporters of the RESPECT-aligned mayor, Lutfur Rahman. Gilligan has the full details.
Since the election in October, councillors say, the public gallery at meetings has been regularly filled with a group Tower Hamlets is starting to know as “Lutfur’s crew” or “Lutfur’s army” – and they appear to specialise in a particular form of abuse towards the Mayor’s opponents.
“It has started really since the mayoral election,” Cllr Peter Golds, the leader of the opposition, told me. “Beforehand there may have been the odd comment, but never anything like this.”
“This” is the homophobic abuse to which Mr Golds, several other gay councillors and even a member of the public asking a question have been subjected in the council chamber. “It is horrible, absolutely bloody awful,” Golds says.
Mr Golds confirms that he was repeatedly subjected to homophobic abuse from the public gallery at the council’s abortive budget-setting meeting on February 23. “A prominent supporter of Lutfur Rahman with a very distinctive voice kept calling out ‘Mrs Golds! Mrs Golds!’ when I spoke,” he said. Another Rahman supporter called Mr Golds a “poofter.” A councillor, Anna Lynch, has made an official complaint about the abuse.
At the previous meeting, on February 2, Mr Golds says, Lutfur Rahman supporters in the public gallery heckled Labour’s deputy leader, Josh Peck, who is also openly gay, with the shout of “Unnatural acts! Unnatural acts!” At the same meeting, a member of the public who asked a question about bringing a (gay) Pride march to East London was greeted with “animal noises” from the public gallery, Mr Golds says.
On LabourList this week, Labour’s chief whip on Tower Hamlets, Cllr Rachael Saunders, who was also present, described the 23 February meeting:
“Part way through the meeting Cllr Anna Lynch told the Chair that she had heard someone shout “poofter” when Peter Golds, Conservative leader, who is openly gay, was speaking. Some people had already been evicted from the meeting for disruption by the chair of council, Motin Uz-Zaman. Motin tried to evict the person who had made this comment. An adjournment was called. Anna and Motin were both then threatened by members of the public in the gallery, with shouts that they would “get them”. Some of those involved in the fracas were amongst the Independent Mayor’s most prominent supporters.”
Ms Saunders says, surely correctly: “None of us came to the meeting on Wednesday wanting to talk about homophobia, or about the intimidation and bigotry that too often surrounds Tower Hamlets politics, but when someone shouts “poofter” as a part of a barrage of abuse directed at a gay individual, we have no choice. Labour members there to watch the meeting have since reported clear homophobic abuse from other parts of the public gallery.”
Mr Golds says: “Since Lutfur became mayor the spectator section has had these groups of people in. They are Lutfur’s crew and their behaviour is horrible.”
So, what is the response of RESPECT?
According to RESPECT, if a gay man complains about homophobic abuse – it is an “anti Muslim slur”. That’s right. It is the victim who is to blame, not the perpetrator.
Andy Newman, a Labour party member, lines right up behind this homophobic bullying campaign.
If it is true that Councillor Lynch has made false allegations, then she is playing a dangerous game in seeking to stoke up antagonisms in the borough. Homophobia is far too serious an issue to be used as a political football.
To campaign against Respect is to campaign against homophobia.