Lord Ahmed accused of blaming Jewish media owners for his prison sentence

Labour suspends peer after he is alleged to have blamed Jews "who own newspapers and TV channels" for his conviction for dangerous driving.

 

Update 2: Ed Miliband has now responded to the story. Interviewed by ITV News, he said: "The comments reported by Lord Ahmed are disgraceful comments, there's no place for anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and frankly anybody who makes those kind of comments cannot be a Labour lord or a Labour member of parliament." 

That last point ("a Labour member of parliament") could be read as a reference to the Lib Dems' handling of David Ward. Ward accused "the Jews" of "inflicting atrocities on Palestinians … on a daily basis" but was not suspended from the party. 

Update: Labour has now suspended Ahmed pending an investigation. A party spokesman said: "The Labour Party deplores and does not tolerate any sort of racism or anti-semitism. Following reports in the Times today we are suspending Lord Ahmed pending an investigation."

At the time of writing, Lord Ahmed is still a Labour peer but, if today's reports are accurate, it is hard to see him remaining one. The Times writes that Ahmed blamed his prison sentence for dangerous driving on pressure placed on the courts by Jews "who own newspapers and TV channels". He said: 

My case became more critical because I went to Gaza to support Palestinians. My Jewish friends who own newspapers and TV channels opposed this. 

Ahmed is also accused of claiming that the judge who jailed him for 12 weeks was appointed to the High Court after helping a "Jewish colleague" of Tony Blair's during an "important case". The quotes are taken from an Urdu-language TV interview Ahmed gave in Pakistan in April last year. The peer, who was ennobled by Blair in 1998, has said that he has "no recollection" of giving the interview. "I've done a lot of interviews. If you're saying that you have seen this footage then it may be so but I need to see the footage and I need to consult with my solicitors before I make any comments in relation to this

Labour has responded to the story by stating that it "deplores and does not tolerate any sort of racism or anti-Semitism" and that "it will be seeking to clarify these remarks as soon as possible". It previously suspended Ahmed from the party after he was alleged to have offered a £10m bounty for the capture of Barack Obama and George Bush. It later revoked the suspension after the peer's actual comments emerged. He said: "Even if I have to beg I am willing to raise and offer £10m so that George W Bush and Tony Blair can be brought to the International Court of Justice on war crimes charges".

It is notable that Ahmed has denied the latest allegations less vociferously than on that occasion. In response to the "bounty" claims, he said that he was "shocked and horrified that this whole story could be just made up of lies". With Ed Miliband already under pressure to withdraw the whip from Ahmed, the party is likely to act swiftly to establish the facts. 

 

Labour peer Lord Ahmed, who became Britain's first male Muslim peer when he was ennobled by Tony Blair in 1998.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The private renting sector enables racist landlords like Fergus Wilson

A Kent landlord tried to ban "coloured people" from his properties. 

Fergus Wilson, a landlord in Kent, has made headlines after The Sun published his email to a letting agent which included the line: "No coloured people because of the curry smell at the end of the tenancy."

When confronted, the 70-year-old property owner only responded with the claim "we're getting overloaded with coloured people". The letting agents said they would not carry out his orders, which were illegal. 

The combination of blatant racism, a tired stereotype and the outdated language may make Wilson seem suspiciously like a Time Landlord who has somehow slipped in from 1974. But unfortunately he is more modern than he seems.

Back in 2013, a BBC undercover investigation found 10 letting agent firms willing to discriminate against black tenants at the landlord's request. One manager was filmed saying: "99% of my landlords don't want Afro-Caribbeans."

Under the Equality Act 2010, this is illegal. But the conditions of the private renting sector allow discrimination to flourish like mould on a damp wall. 

First, discrimination is common in flat shares. While housemates or live-in landlords cannot turn away a prospective tenant because of their race, they can express preferences of gender and ethnicity. There can be logical reasons for this - but it also provides useful cover for bigots. When one flat hunter in London protested about being asked "where do your parents come from?", the landlord claimed he just wanted to know whether she was Christian.

Second, the private rental sector is about as transparent as a landlord's tax arrangements. A friend of mine, a young professional Indian immigrant, enthusiastically replied to house share ads in the hope of meeting people from other cultures. After a month of responding to three or four room ads a day, he'd had just six responses. He ended up sharing with other Indian immigrants.

My friend suspected he'd been discriminated against, but he had no way of proving it. There is no centrally held data on who flatshares with who (the closest proxy is SpareRoom, but its data is limited to room ads). 

Third, the current private renting trends suggest discrimination will increase, rather than decrease. Landlords hiked rents by 2.1 per cent in the 12 months to February 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics, an indication of high demand. SpareRoom has recorded as many as 22 flat hunters chasing a single room. In this frenzy, it only becomes harder for prospective tenants to question the assertion "it's already taken". 

Alongside this demand, the government has introduced legislation which requires landlords to check that tenants can legitimately stay in the UK. A report this year by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants found that half of landlords were less likely to rent to foreign nationals as a result of the scheme. This also provides handy cover for the BTL bigot - when a black British tenant without a passport asked about a room, 58 per cent of landlords ignored the request or turned it down

Of course, plenty of landlords are open-minded, unbiased and unlikely to make a tabloid headline anytime soon. They most likely outnumber the Fergus Wilsons of this world. But without any way of monitoring discrimination in the private rental sector, it's impossible to know for sure. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.