THE BLOG
15/10/2013 13:26 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Tory Press Plays Islamophobic 'Dog Whistle'

Recently the Cross Government Group on Anti Muslim Hatred reported a growing and disturbing trend of hostility towards British Muslims. One statistic stood out in particular - namely that a quarter of young people apparently "do not trust Muslims". I was not surprised in the slightest by the group's further findings.

It said that constant negative media coverage on Islam is clearly shaping people's views. A report submitted to the Leveson Inquiry into press standards last year concluded there was "a serious and systemic problem of racist, anti-Muslim reporting within sections of the British media".

Here in Tower Hamlets in the heart of London's East End, we have a very rich cultural history. Traditionally home to successive waves of refugees fleeing persecution, our borough has been home to the Hugenots, Jews, Bengalis, Somalis and people from across the world. That rich history is reflected in the good relations that exist across our borough. But that rich history has in the past infuriated Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirt thugs, just as it has more recently the National Front and now the English Defence League. The fascists and the racists hate the fact that Tower Hamlets is a multi racial borough, but then on each and every occasion they have tried to march through Tower Hamlets, our communities have successfully come together to stop them, with that time honoured slogan "They shall not pass!"

We can deal with them, but what we do find difficult to deal with is the pernicious role played by sections of the media identified by the Cross Government Group. I have watched for instance as the London Evening Standard and the Daily Telegraph played the race card in the run up to the GLA elections, exaggerating, inventing and never apologising for stories seemingly aimed at frightening the white outer-suburbs into voting for Boris Johnson. They wanted and want to inculcate an idea that somehow this part of London is run by a bunch of incompetent, corrupt Muslims who plan to introduce Sharia Law. I have no doubt that these same newspapers - with the enthusiastic support of those such as Lynton Crosby and Andrew Gilligan - will try to do the same in the run up to the General Election. Ed Miliband beware!

These two newspapers, I believe, must shoulder a particular responsibility for "systemic, racist and anti Muslim reporting".

I am very much a local boy, who grew up and was educated in Tower Hamlets. My family originally came from Bangladesh and I am a Muslim, who is proud to have Jewish, Christian and secular friends. My own problems with sections of the media began when some of my local opponents on the Right wing of the Labour Party did not like the fact that I had won the party's nomination to be the first candidate for Executive Mayor. Their lurid claims that I was "extremist linked" were taken to the Labour Party National Executive Committee, and my candidature was blocked, re-instated and blocked again. The promised NEC investigation into my so called "extremist links" never took place. At least the aggrieved parties in Falkirk had the semblance of a Labour Party investigation. But I have no doubt that this latter day McCarthyism gave the green light to sections of the media to do its worst.

What is particularly disturbing is the way in which claims from the local Labour Party that for instance the Mayor "targets Decent Homes Funding to his supporters", or from local GLA Assembly member, John Biggs that "the primary purpose of his policy making has been the concerns of the Bangladeshi community", have been picked up and amplified by the English Defence League, and of course other parts of the local and national media.

I am proud of the fact that we have built more homes than any other authority - 4000 and counting. I am proud of the fact that we have re-introduced school meals for infants and re-instated the Educational Maintenance Allowance abolished by the Tories. It is also a fact that we are the only authority still to provide home help for the elderly and made headlines recently as the first authority to ban contracts with companies that black-list trades unionists.

When the Labour right wing and sections of the media knowingly make these hugely divisive and race tinged allegations they wilfully ignore the fact that in one of the poorest boroughs in Britain, ethnic minorities make up a disproportionate number of those in poverty.

Helping people in poverty - whatever their colour or creed - is my number one priority. I will not be deflected by those who play 'dog whistle' politics, and whose stupidity and irresponsibility plays to the Islamophobes and racists. Of course there are many in the Labour Party nationally and in the trade unions, who can see what is going on and have spoken out.

But it is also up to the Labour Party nationally, in the shape of Ed Miliband, to get a grip of the situation locally and to stop our borough being used as a punch-bowl and exploited by sections of the media.

Lutfur Rahman is Executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets