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Phil Briscoe: Labour and Respect are fostering social division in Tower Hamlets

Protest Phil Briscoe, a councillor in Tower Hamlets and the GLA candidate for City and East, launched a petition yesterday (pictured right alongside Duncan Crossey, Tim Archer and Douglas Murray) against the stocking of Islamist literature in Tower Hamlets' libraries.

The debate about freedom of information and censorship is coming to a controversial head in Tower Hamlets. Following the publication of the "Hate on the State" report by the Centre for Social Cohesion, all eyes have been focused on the lending catalogue of Tower Hamlets libraries, where the works of radical Islamists sit alongside the texts of convicted merchants of terror. These publications are not tempered with a balanced critique, but are provided in free format and in multiple copies.

Last week we, Conservative councillors in Tower Hamlets, tabled an emergency question at a full council meeting to demand an explanation and action on this issue. On the 6th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, every single Labour and Respect councillor in the chamber voted to exclude this question from the business of the meeting, and no further debate was held on the subject. This is a shameful response from those elected to the serve the borough, and the disgust of local people is evident by the letters and emails that have been provoked by this action.

The Labour leaders of Tower Hamlets council have had their chance to act, but have so far defended the right to stock these publications on the grounds of freedom, but what about the freedom of the groups of people who are suggested as targets for violence in these books? Women, Jews, non-Muslims, and even traditional Muslims are all singled out for attack in these publications.  A response from the council to the BBC indicated that they will only remove books from library stock if they have been declared illegal. This form of lending-liberalism is dangerous in itself if it is applied evenly - will they now be stocking a wide selection of legal pornographic material, or will there be a new BNP section in the library? Local libraries have a duty to entertain and to educate, not to foster hatred and incite violence.

The Conservative campaign will continue in Tower Hamlets to rid our local libraries of these publications - we will be collecting a petition, collecting further evidence, and taking appropriate action to ensure this issue is tackled head-on. We will also engage directly with the wider Muslim community, the vast majority of whom also wish to see this vile literature removed from the local reading list. If we are to create a truly diverse and tolerant community, then we need to work together to root out the publications, the people, and the organisations that peddle the hate.

In the same week, the Labour leaders of Tower Hamlets Council established an appointments group to look at recruiting more Bangladeshi employees to the council workforce. The membership of this group has excluded all non-Bangladeshi councillors, so once again Labour fosters division, segmentation of the community and their own brand of institutionalised racism. The Bangladeshi population of Tower Hamlets is 36.4%, but 61% of councillors are Bangladeshi. Interestingly, just four of the Bangladeshi councillors are women and the Labour group has the smallest percentage of women councillors anywhere in London.

Boroughs like Tower Hamlets bring together many backgrounds, religions and languages, but we will only prosper when we communicate with eachother and work together. Labour and Respect politicians can either join us in constructive progress, or continue to be the very architects of social mistrust and division.


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