INDEPENDENT 2024-03-15 01:04:05


Tower Hamlets mayor removes Palestinian flags after ‘no go zone’ row

The mayor of an inner London authority has announced the council will start removing Palestinian flags flying above its buildings after receiving hundreds of complaints from residents.

Lutfur Rahman said he has taken the “difficult decision” to remove the flags in Tower Hamlets, which he claimed “are being used to unfairly attack the people of the borough and further the Islamophobic narrative”.

The council had initially decided against removing the flags so as not to “destabilise community cohesion”.

The U-turn came after the council was threatened legal action by UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI), which said that many Jewish residents were left distressed by the “divisive” flags.

In a statement announcing the flags would be removed, Mr Rahman denied they were “symbols of division” but instead “symbols of solidarity and sympathy” with thousands being killed in Gaza.

“I understand that those who have erected these flags across the borough have done so in line with our strong tradition of solidarity and I reject that they are symbols of division,” he said.

“They are symbols of solidarity and sympathy for those enduring extreme suffering in Gaza. We must not forget that over 30,000 people have now been killed, 70 per cent of whom are women and children.

“The flags certainly had an impact and made residents’ views clear. Although these flags are an understandable expression of solidarity, I now feel they are being used to unfairly attack the people of the borough and further the Islamophobic narrative.”

The mayor stressed he was still calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

Mr Rahman was disqualified from holding office for five years in 2015 after the High Court found he won the 2014 election in the borough with the help of “corrupt” practices. He was re-elected as executive mayor in 2022.

According to the 2021 census, Tower Hamlets has the largest Muslim population of any local authority area in the UK at 39.9 per cent.

Responding to Mr Rahman’s announcement on Wednesday night, some claimed the mayor had “caved in” to pressure over the flag climbdown.

Human rights lawyer Mohammed Akunjee, who has worked with Shamima Begum, posted on X: “The Gov and the Labour Party are responsible for the most Islamophobic atmosphere I have ever known. Rushanara Ali the MP for Bethnal Green has remained silent whilst our borough has been targeted.”

The independent parliamentary candidate for Bethnal Green and Stepney added: “I call on all residents to display the Palestinian flag in their windows in solidarity.”

But Jonathan Turner, chief executive of UKLFI, said the mayor had spent months “ignoring” the concerns of Jewish and other residents in Tower Hamlets over the flags.

He said: “After months of ignoring the voice of a significant number of Jewish and other residents of Tower Hamlets, we are pleased that Lutfur Rahman has at last been forced, following our threat of a legal action, to remove the divisive and inflammatory flags.

“It is also regrettable that the police failed to enforce the criminal law.”

The council previously revealed that since October 2023, it had received nearly 300 complaints about flags, graffiti or stickers related to the Gaza conflict.

The move comes after Tory MP Paul Scully announced he is stepping down at the general election over comments he made about “no-go areas” in London and Birmingham. Mr Scully sparked outrage after he said that parts of Tower Hamlets and Birmingham Sparkhill were “no go” areas due to people “abusing” their own religion.

In October then home secretary Suella Braverman said waving a Palestinian flag on British streets “may not be legitimate” if it is deemed to be a show of support for acts of terrorism.

She had told police officers to use the “full force of the law” against any shows of support for Hamas or bids to intimidate the UK’s Jewish community in the wake of the attack on Israel.

It came as Shabana Mahmood, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for justice and one of the first Muslim women to be elected to the House of Commons, warned of an “explosion” in Islamophobia not being reported to police.

Campaign groups have also reported a 365 per cent surge in anti-Muslim hate incidents across the UK following Hamas’s attack on Israel in October last year.

Kate picture editing row deepens as Kensington Palace ‘no longer a trusted source’

Kensington Palace ‘can no longer be trusted’, claims a global news agency director, deepening the photo-editing crisis.

Phil Chetwynd, the global news director of Agence France-Press (AFP), hit out at the palace in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s The Media Show.

When asked if they were “a trusted source”, he responded: “No, absolutely not. Like with anything, when you’re let down by a source the bar is raised.”

It comes after controversy sparked by the revelation that Kate Middleton had edited a family photograph shared on behalf of the Cambridges on Mother’s Day leading to agencies pulling the shot and the Princess of Wales made a public apology.

Mr Chetwynd shared how agencies consulted together to decide how to react and requested the original photograph from the Palace, but he claimed they did not reply- so they killed the picture.

Removing photographs is “rare occurrence” and even rarer when it comes to removal on the basis of manipulation, Mr Chetwynd added.

He added: “The previous kills have been from the North Korean news agency or the Iranian news agency, just to give you some background and context.”

Prince William appears at Diana memorial event separately from Harry

The Prince of Wales has said his mother taught him that “everyone has the potential to give something back”, as he paid tribute to her at the Diana Legacy Award.

William attended the event at the Science Museum in London on Thursday night in person, where he gave a speech to mark the charity’s 25th anniversary.

His brother, the Duke of Sussex, is expected to join the ceremony via video link after William has left, fuelling further speculation of a rift between the two.

The pair have continued to distance themselves from each other in recent months and did not meet when Harry spent time with King Charles at Clarence House following news of his cancer diagnosis last month.

Prince William told the audience that he and his wife, the Princess of Wales, had sought to focus on Diana’s legacy through their work.

“This evening’s Legacy Award is particularly special as it marks the 25th anniversary year of The Diana Award, a charity set up to reflect my mother’s belief that young people can change the world,” he said.

“I know that she would have been honoured to see a charity in her name doing such inspirational work to uplift young people from all corners of the globe.”

He said that his mother taught him that that “everyone in need deserves a supporting hand in life”.

“She taught me that everyone has the potential to give something back; that everyone in need deserves a supporting hand in life,” he said.

“That legacy is something that both Catherine and I have sought to focus on through our work, as have the 50,000 young people who have received a Diana Award over the past 25 years.

“I am so proud to see this belief of my mother’s manifested in the amazing young people receiving the Legacy Award tonight.”

In an interview last month, Harry said “I love my family” and that he was “grateful” to be able to spend around 45 minutes with Charles when he flew back to the UK.

In Harry’s memoir Spare last year, he accused William of pushing him into a dog bowl in a row over the Duchess of Sussex.

It was also claimed William teased Harry about his panic attacks.

Further tensions between the royal brothers can be traced back to the early period of Harry’s relationship with Meghan, when his then-fiancee is reported to have had a falling out with the Princess of Wales in the run-up to their wedding.

The Diana Award was set up to promote the princess’s belief that young people have the power to change the world for the better. Both William and Harry presented the inaugural legacy awards at St James’ Palace in 2017.

Dr Tessy Ojo, chief executive of The Diana Award, told The Times: “It’s a privilege to have the support of both the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Sussex — particularly as we mark our 25th anniversary year.”

A spokesman for the award told The Telegraph that Harry would be a “key part” of the celebration.

“He is scheduled to speak with the award recipients, virtually, on the evening of the awards to celebrate their accomplishments,” he said.

Tories take extra £5m from donor Frank Hester amid racism row

The Conservative party are reported to have taken another hefty donation from disgraced business tycoon Frank Hester who is alleged to have made racist comments about Diane Abbott.

Rishi Sunak is facing fresh pressure over the Conservative party’s donations amid reports that the Tories have received an additional £5 million more than previously declared.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have called on the prime minister to pay back the sum, which would take Mr Hester’s total donations in the past year to £15 million.

Electoral Commission records only show the amount he gave the Tories up to the end of 2023, butTortoise Media has reported that the party was “sitting on” extra cash.

Mr Hester is alleged to have said that Ms Abbott – Britain’s first black female MP – made him “want to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”, in comments the prime minister described as “racist” after initially refusing to do so.

After the publication of the remarks, a statement from the healthcare technology firm the Phoenix Partnership (TPP), which Mr Hester runs, said he “accepts that he was rude about Diane Abbott in a private meeting several years ago but his criticism had nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”.

The statement added: “He rang Diane Abbott twice today to try to apologise directly for the hurt he has caused her, and is deeply sorry for his remarks. He wishes to make it clear that he regards racism as a poison, which has no place in public life.”

In a later post on Mr Hester’s personal social media site, the businessman said that people “should have the confidence to discuss our differences openly and even playfully without seeking to cause offence”.

The prime minister has defied calls to return the initial donation, though he acknowledged that Mr Hester’s alleged comments were “wrong”.

In parliament, Mr Sunak said Mr Hester had apologised and his “remorse should be accepted”.

Labour MP Marsha de Cordova asked Mr Sunak directly if he would return a donation.

He replied: “No. And I am pleased that the gentleman is supporting a party that represents one of the most diverse governments in this country’s history, led by this country’s first British Asian prime minister.”

But Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross urged the UK party to “carefully review” Mr Hester’s donations while Tory peer and former Marks & Spencer chief executive Stuart Rose said it should “probably” return the money.

Labour party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds said on Thursday: “Frank Hester’s remarks were clearly racist, misogynistic and have no place in our politics.”

She added: “Rishi Sunak needs to pay back every penny, cut ties with Frank Hester and apologise unequivocally to Diane Abbott.”

Lib Dem chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said: “The Conservative party must urgently confirm whether these reports are true and if so hand this tainted money back.”

Communities secretary Michael Gove earlier described the remarks as “horrific” but said he was exercising “Christian forgiveness” after the entrepreneur had “shown contrition”.

Asked whether the businessman’s apology was genuine if he did not acknowledge his remarks were racist, Mr Gove told Sky News: “I haven’t spoken to Mr Hester, but I think that when someone says that they are sorry, and I understand he’s deeply sorry for these remarks, then my natural inclination is to exercise Christian forgiveness.”

Ms Abbott, who has called Mr Hester’s comments “frightening”, accused the Conservatives and Labour of failing to tackle racism.

The Conservative party and Phoenix Partnership (TPP) have been approached for comment.

Island-hopping in the Ionian sea: a guide to Greece’s idyllic islands

Mamma Mia! It’s time to start thinking about a summer holiday, and there’s nowhere more picturesque and dreamy than a Greek island. With an estimated 1,600 isles, although not all are inhabited, there’s plenty to choose from that guarantee sparkling seas, golden sands, rugged nature, delicious food, and a warm welcome.

To help you find your ideal Greek island holiday this summer, travel experts Jet2holidays offer great-value breaks in more than 50 amazing destinations, including 21 in Greece. Hotspots and hidden gems, all boards and budgets, flexible stays and fab flight times – there’s something for everyone. With just a £60pp deposit*, 22kg baggage included and flexible monthly payments** to help spread the cost of your well-deserved holiday, it’s never been easier to get your next Greek getaway booked. 

What’s more, with the Jet2holidays sale now on, you can enjoy even better value on your break with up to £240 off† all holidays. Simply sign up for a myJet2 account, visit your independent travel agent or call the Jet2holidays contact centre. Book now and let the countdown to sunshine begin.

Here’s our pick of some of the best islands Greece has to offer…

Stunning beaches are a given in Greece, and in Corfu, the most beautiful include Agios Georgios, a long, horseshoe-shaped bay with a mix of sand and pebbles fringing calm, clear waters. Down the northwest coast is the pretty village of Palaiokastritsa which boasts six sheltered bays and offers boat trips to the fascinating Blue Caves. For a beach as romantic as its name, head to the Canal d’Amour, where a series of unique rock formations create intimate, narrow channels; legend has it that couples who swim between the sea walls together, stay together!

Explore the cobbled streets of Corfu Old Town, and take in pastel-coloured Venetian architecture while looking out for the new and old Fortresses which loom over the harbour. Base yourself at the swish Olivar Suites on the southeastern coast, a restful haven set in olive groves, away from the bustle.

Lefkas, also known as Lefkada, is an island connected to the Greek mainland by a causeway. Head to the beach at Porto Katsiki, located below a set of huge, looming cliffs which create a unique and dramatic landscape. Another gem is nearby Egremni, a classic, Caribbean-style stretch of white sand, fringing crystal-clear turquoise water, while if you fancy windsurfing, head to Vasiliki. On the east coast, check into the four-star, beachfront Porto Galini Sea Side Resort and Spa; handily, it’s just 15 minutes’ drive from Lefkada Town.

Also formerly under Venetian rule, landmarks including Church of the Pantokrator and the ruins of Agia Mavra Castle are worth a look. Escape to a pretty coastal village, such as Agios Nikitas or Nikiana, where you can take a table at a seafront taverna, and tuck into local speciality Englouvi lentils served with riganada (bread with olive oil, vinegar, and oregano). For a foray into nature, head to the spectacular waterfalls of Dimossari, near Nydri village.

Also known as Zakynthos, Zante is a popular island in the Ionian Sea, with a plethora of alluring beaches. The most famous is Navagio, which is surrounded by dramatic, honey-coloured cliffs and often called ‘Shipwreck Beach’ after the cargo boat which ran aground there in 1980, another must-visit is Agios Nikolaos, a serene pebbly stretch on Zante’s northern shore.

Stay at the luxury Domes Aulus Zante Autograph Collection, a laidback beachfront paradise on the south coast, near the quiet resort town of Kalamaki, where you can spot endangered loggerhead turtles. Zante has its own Blue Caves, a set of geological formations turned azure by the reflections of the sea, while its capital, Zakynthos Town, offers architecture influenced by its former Venetian, French and English rulers. Don’t miss the imposing Church of Agios Dionysios with its signature bell tower, and the ruins of the old Venetian Castle.

Sprinkled with Hollywood stardust, scenic Kefalonia was the location for the Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz movie, Captain Correlli’s Mandolin. Key scenes were shot in the harbour town of Sami, the stunning Antisamos beach and in the picturesque fishing village of Fiscardo. Kefalonia’s jagged coastline is made up of limestone cliffs, bays and strips of dazzling white sand, like Myrtos Beach in the north. Other standout beaches include Skala, bordered by thick trees and rocky outcrops, and the unusually named Xi beach, where white cliffs contrast with rare, rust-coloured sand.

Stay at the luxurious, contemporary, adults-only Thalassa Boutique Hotel Kefalonia on the southwest coast, a short drive from capital, Argostoli, where you can explore the Archaeological Museum, Municipal Theatre and historic castles and monasteries. For something more adventurous, explore the vast azure lake inside Melissani cave or hike Mount Ainos, the island’s highest peak, covered in pine forests and home to wild horses. Visit a winery such as Robola or Haritatos for a tasting.

Jet2holidays, the UK’s number one tour operator, offers package holidays you can trust where everything’s included. With you every step of the way, Jet2holidays has an incredible range of great-value, expert-rated getaways for all types of holidaymakers, across more than 50 stunning destinations. From the five-star luxury of Indulgent Escapes by Jet2holidays® to the compelling cities of Jet2CityBreaksVIBE by Jet2holidays for Insta-worthy stays that suit your style to family-friendly Jet2Villas, the boxes are ticked for every age, budget and interest. What’s more, with holidays secured for just £60pp deposit* and flexible payment options**, plus a host of perks like 22kg baggage and return transfers included††, it’s easy from start to finish. It’s all ABTA and ATOL-protected too, so you can enjoy sunshine with peace of mind. To find out more and book with the best, head here.

*On bookings made ten weeks or more before departure. **Terms and conditions apply. Please visit www.jet2holidays.com/part-payment for details. †Based on 4 people. On all holiday departures until 31 October 2025. . T&Cs apply. £60pp discount does not apply to Free Child Places. See http://Jet2holidays.com/promotions#60OFFMYJET2SALE ††Transfers are not included as standard on Jet2CityBreaks. Jet2Villas packages include car hire instead of transfers.

The initiative to tackle ‘extremism’ is little more than a distraction

Extremism” is something that (almost) everyone is against, it is impossible to define – and difficult to neutralise. Michael Gove, secretary of state for communities, has made a much-trailed attempt to solve the conundrum of extremism and, in large part, he has failed. To be fair, it is not entirely Mr Gove’s fault because all he has been trying to do is turn the curiously aimless speech Rishi Sunak made on the steps of 10 Downing Street after the Rochdale by-election into concrete policy.

The Rochdale contest was a fiasco, a veritable festival of extremism and the election of George Galloway a minor disaster, but there’s nothing in what Mr Gove proposes that would stop anything like that from happening again. Indeed, it is quite possible that the government’s new approach will do more harm than good: needlessly stigmatising Muslim groups, feeding the victim syndrome and paranoiac appeal of the far right, and generally dragging the kind of identitarian politics that ministers usually deprecate into the centre of political debate.

Mr Gove has issued a list of five groups that could be deemed unsuitable to receive public funds or for the government to “engage” with. He also said they would be investigated over extremism fears.

Abbott looks set to regain the Labour whip but others are out of luck

Hateful abuse from a major Tory donor, Frank Hester, directed at Diane Abbott has provided a timely reminder that she has been on the receiving end of racism and misogyny since she became Britain’s first female black MP, in 1987.

She is also now one of the longer-serving MPs of any party but, despite the recent wave of sympathy, her future parliamentary career remains in extreme jeopardy. She had the Labour whip removed last year after she wrote a letter to a newspaper that her party leadership considered carried antisemitic sentiments, was out under investigation, but there is no sign of a conclusion to that process or any indication if she will be allowed back into the parliamentary Labour party. Indeed, it seems that mystery often surrounds such disciplinary matters in the people’s party, despite it being led by a distinguished lawyer. Some interesting questions arise…