Governance Referendum result and statement

10 May

RESULT OF THE REFERENDUM

For the directly elect mayor: 45,960 (56%)

For the committee system: 36,424 (44%)

CAMPAIGN STATEMENT

Newham Voting for Change is disappointed with the outcome of the governance referendum but the fact that 44% voted for the committee system shows that there is significant support for a more cooperative and collaborative politics.

Our campaign focused on democracy and inclusion and we must accept that the people of Newham have spoken. After twenty years of a directly elected mayor, they have opted to stick with that system for at least the next decade.

We would like to thank everyone involved in our campaign for their hard work over the past few months and congratulate those in the pro-mayoral ‘Right to Vote’ campaign for their part in helping residents understand the important issues at stake.

Newham Voting for Change also pays tribute to Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz for keeping her promise to hold a referendum and for ensuring that voters had a real choice on the ballot paper.

Chair of Newham Voting for Change, Josephine Grahl said, “although it is disappointing that we did not win it is encouraging to see local people engaging in the debate about how their council is run. While the directly elected mayor system will continue, we are encouraged by commitments made to wider participation through citizens’ assemblies and the proposed trialling of small-scale community councils where some powers are devolved to local areas. We hope the mayor recognises that Newham voters are enthusiastic about more open and transparent decision-making at all levels within the council.”

Pass Notes: the Newham Referendum

27 Apr

Newham Voting for Change leaflets

So what’s this referendum all about then?

This is it – the referendum promised by Rokhsana Fiaz when she was elected in 2018, on the future of Newham governance – basically, who has the power and who makes the decisions. The options on the ballot on 6 May 2021 will be the Directly Elected Mayor (what we have now) and the committee system (a different model).

Oh yes. I’ve seen the garish yellow leaflets. Is it true that if I vote for the committee structure, parking charges will be abolished, council tax will be cut, diamonds will rain from the sky, and every Newham resident will get a free pony?

Don’t count on it. The referendum is about governance structures – the way that the council works and decides things – not policy, which is decided by the majority party elected. Look out for Newham Voting for Change’s materials (see above), which take a less Nigel Farage-style approach.

So how do I get a free pony?

When the Free Pony Party gain a majority of seats on Newham council; so not any time soon, I’m afraid.

So if it’s not about parking charges what’s in it for me?

It’s about having a council where power is more diversified – at the moment the Mayor has full executive power in Newham Council, but with the committee system it would be shared between all 60 councillors.

How does that work?

Newham Council has published the plan for the initial set-up. There will be four committees covering Children and Education, Environment and Transport, Economy and Housing, and Adults and Health, plus a Policy and Resources committee which has general oversight – for the corporate plan and the council’s budget, for example.

So who would be in charge?

The council would still elect a leader, but they wouldn’t have the vast executive power of the current Mayor.

Sounds interesting. Do any other councils work like that?

An increasing number. And on 6 May Sheffield are also holding a referendum on moving to the committee structure. There’s more information on the website of Newham Voting for Change, the campaign for the committee structure. 

Do they make the yellow leaflets?

No – their leaflets are purple, and deal with the actual governance issues we’ll be voting on: who has the power, and how decisions are made.

Why are there multiple campaigns?

Newham Voting for Change was set up last year by residents and councillors who’ve supported a more open system for a long time. The ‘yellow leaflet’ campaign are less transparent about who’s involved, but seem to be connected to Newham Democracy, who earlier this year unsuccessfully sued the council to take the committee structure off the referendum ballot paper.

Wait – so they were against the committee structure then, but now they’re saying it will bring about an earthly paradise?

Welcome to Newham politics. They also seem to spend a lot of time on twitter arguing about which of their accounts is the official one.

And what about the other side in the campaign?

Newham Right to Vote are campaigning to keep the Mayoral system, arguing that residents need a right to vote for the person who’s in charge.

But under the committee structure the councillors would have more power, and we vote for them, right?

Exactly.

Do say:

The committee structure is a more open, representative, co-operative and accountable way of doing things. Vote for change on 6 May!

Don’t say:

£350 million a week for free parking.

We’re voting for change

21 Apr

Our Mayoral Referendum: Are we asking the right question?

20 Apr

The mayoral model

IMG 0675 copy

By Cllr Susan Masters

Okay, so I start this stressing that art was among my worst subjects at school – apologies for the diagrams. However, over the last few days I’ve started wondering whether, in common with a few recent referenda, we might not be asking the wrong questions in our vote on May 6th. I’m not talking about the vote for London Mayor or the East Ham Central by-election (if you live in East Ham Central – I don’t) but the decision we all have to make about the model of governance that decides how our council will be run politically.

That question is set: We are being asked to decide between a Mayoral and Committee model of leadership. And yet, the more I think about it, the more I have realised that whichever model we opt for, that is just the start point – that both systems should have us asking a load more questions. In drawing out both systems to try and make the differences clearer, I am clear that even as someone who has served as a councillor for the last 7 years, I might have got some details wrong and am happy for this to be corrected as much as being a start point for debate but here are the questions I feel need to be asked – some equally round both systems, some just for one or the other.

And before I start – I am (just about) a supporter of change alias the committee model – though I now feel a very modified Mayoral system giving more power to cabinet members but, equally, stronger powers to scrutiny and Newham residents as a whole could be equally empowering. I should also stress that In both models officers will run the council day-to-day, from top to bottom, and provide data and reports under the direction of the political leadership but here are the issues that I feel beg questions

  1. Starting at the bottom line – the selection process. What kind of councillor do you want to represent you? Is it about a level of professional competence, personal experience or a relationship with a geographical or other community? Are those voices making it through? If not, what are the barriers? How can those be changed?
  2. The Mayoral model has been celebrated as a chance for the residents of Newham to select the person who leads them and the manifesto they are elected to take forward. But given that power is exercised only once, before a term has begun, where is the power to intervene when you feel that choice has gone awry? Should there be ways in which residents can track the extent to which a manifesto has been brought forward and perhaps have an input to renegotiate their mandate?
  3. Scrutiny. Under the Mayoral system scrutiny is the check and balance on the executive (the Mayor, her cabinet and commissioners/deputy cabinet members), where the other councillors (those not in cabinet, deputy cabinet members or commissioners) can review or explore, writing reports and passing recommendations to those leading. As the system stands, though, they have no power to force change – even when the desire to row back is huge. Does this, in itself, need to change? It should also be stressed that non-cabinet councillors do have other key roles serving on a series of statutory committees governing planning, licensing, audit, pensions and standards.
  4. But what of the residents? We have already discussed their lack of input within the four year terms to call the Mayor to account, but what can they currently do to participate in their council – well, they can bring petitions; attend council as a deputation to query policy and make alternative suggestions; attend public meetings; have access to reports and papers that our committees base their deliberations on; suggest projects to improve our borough through their citizens’ assemblies and raise matters with the Mayor or their local councillors. Though again, is that enough? How could that be improved and should it? Or should those residents, many of whom who have fought long and difficult paths to be councillors, exercise their own electoral mandate, unlimited?
  5. As my poor drawing of the Mayoral model shows, the Mayor has enormous power to appoint and sack cabinet members (as full-time roles with enhanced payments attached), decide how much responsibility and which issues are delegated to them to decide, appoint or lead external bodies and partnership boards. The Mayor also appoints deputy cabinet members and commissioners (part-time roles, but also with boosted allowances attached and who are answerable to the Mayor). Is that too much power/responsibility for one person or about clarity and ownership? Again, if we do stick with the Mayoral model is it time to look at this and ask whether cabinet leads deserve more responsibility to lead their portfolios and manage deputy members and should those who lead those portfolios equally need to be called to account for performance?
  6. What of the role of council in the Mayoral model? At the moment, it decides the budget, key strategies, key governance changes and motions brought by members among other policies. Should more power come back to it from cabinet?

So those are the questions I feel are begged by our present Mayoral model. Moving on to the Committee model, this is a system I haven’t experienced so there are queries galore and bits I might have got wrong. I hope any debate will allow for correction as much as deliberation.

Councillor selection raises the same questions but with the Mayoral model gone, the electorate just have the choice of 3 ward councillors to go forward to the full council. Council then elects chairs and members to a number of committees. As with the mayoral model, officers run the council day-to-day, collect data and supply reports and for councillors there are still the statutory committees that deal with licensing, planning, accounts, audit, pensions and standards, but the key policy decisions will be taken by a policy and strategy committee not a Mayor with or without cabinet – so…

Question 7: I would ask how the membership of that is decided and who is on it (and in what balance) as that will dictate the council’s direction. You also have to ask what other committees should exist to ensure effective political leadership. Apparently most committee model councils have 4-8 of these – what areas should they govern? Also, should there still be a full compliment of scrutiny committees? A Health scrutiny committee is required but what of our current other areas of scrutiny (crime and anti-social behaviour, regeneration and housing and children and young people)? Would a committee system allow for such checks and balances to go on within those committees or are additional checks required?

This leads into question 8, the processes by which that Committee model council chooses chairs, members and elects a leader as well as deciding how much power to keep and how much to delegate to its committees.

Question 9: Where do partnership bodies fit into all of this? These are the committees that bring together key local services largely round issues such as adult safeguarding, corporate parenting or health to ensure all those services work together smoothly.

And finally, question 10. What of residents? Where is their voice and how will our first steps into participatory democracy fare in a committee system?

These are just some of the questions I feel both systems need to answer. Others might have additional ones. I look forward to a lively debate.

Susan Masters has represented East Ham South on Newham Council since 2014. This post originally appeared on her Facebook page and is reproduced here, with permission, for the benefit of those who either cannot or do not wish to access that website.

Cross-party consensus

19 Apr

Newham Voting for Change leaflets

All four major political parties in the borough are supporting the committee structure in the forthcoming governance referendum.

In January, Newham Liberal Democrats voted to campaign for the committee system, saying “[we] are against concentration of power in a single person… this
concentration of power means that different perspectives and the whole range of views the citizens of Newham have gone unheard.”  

In February, West Ham Constituency Labour Party passed a resolution calling on members to campaign and vote for the Committee Model in the Newham Governance Referendum, stating that “the Committee Model ensures that there is greater equality between council members, with less of a hierarchy, as the council leader and committee chairs are elected by full council and all councillors belong to a decision-making committee.”

Last month, East Ham Conservatives agreed to support the committee system. “The Mayoral system is not working for Newham. We have seen too much power in one office leading to decisions being taken without proper public consultation or concerns taken into account… on 6th May 2021, Newham, we ask you to vote with us for the Committee system.”

Announcing their candidacy for East Ham Central last week, Newham Green Party convenor Danny Keeling said, “We have a real opportunity to inject democracy here in Newham… vote for the committee option in the Local Governance Referendum.”

Politics in Newham is often fractious and partisan, so it is good to see that on this key question of local democracy and governance there is consensus across all the parties that we need change.

A day to shape Newham’s future

23 Mar

Newham Voices  May 6th by John Whitworth

West Ham councillor John Whitworth on why residents should vote for the committee model in the upcoming governance referendum:

May 6th is the date, not only for the election of the London Mayor and Greater London Assembly Member, but also for the important Newham Governance Referendum. This comes 20 years after this borough voted to have one of the country’s first Directly-Elected Mayors in a referendum which was perhaps not widely nor fully understood. Newham was one of only 11 authorities which voted to adopt the Mayor model and there are currently just 15, with many more referendums proposing a Mayor being lost than won. Since 2002, the voters of Stoke-on-Trent, Hartlepool and Torbay have opted to abandon the Mayor model they had previously adopted, two for the Leader and Cabinet and one for the Committee model.

Sir Robin Wales, elected Mayor of Newham in 2002, remained in office until he was defeated by Cllr Rokhsana Fiaz in the selection for the Labour Party’s Mayoral candidate in 2018. Of those who believed this model would work better with Cllr Fiaz in the post, many also felt that the DEM model was in any case flawed. She expressed the view that this model had not worked well for Newham and pledged, if elected, to hold a referendum on its future by May 2021.

How the full powers of the Mayor are used depends greatly on the incumbent’s character but, according to the Local Government Act 2000, the Mayor – elected separately from the councillors and therefore of higher status – appoints and dismisses Cabinet members. Stemming from this authority, the Mayor is able to ensure the Cabinet’s assent and exercise considerable influence over the councillors belonging to the dominant party.

In contrast, under the Committee model the Council delegates decision-making powers to committees corresponding to Council directorates, such as Adults & Health and Inclusive Economy & Housing. Full Council elects the chairs of these committees and the Council Leader, and has direct responsibility for the overall policy framework and the budget.

The campaign group, Newham Voting for Change, believes that the Committee system is more democratic, equal and inclusive than the DEM system because all councillors participate in making policy. Working in committees encourages co-operation rather than division, talent is nurtured and expertise developed more productively, and all councillors are more accessible and accountable for the Council’s actions.

Residents will hopefully participate in the referendum in large numbers to play a role in shaping Newham’s future.

The article originally appeared in Newham Voices, a new independent community newspaper distributed around the borough.

For more information about the campaign for a committee system, check out the website at https://newhamforchange.org/ or ‘like’ the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/newhamvotingforchange.

The campaign is also raising funds and you can donate at https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/newham-for-change

Voting for change – online meeting

3 Mar

Newham Voting for Change logo

Newham Voting for Change, the campaign for a committee structure is hosting an online public meeting on Zoom on Tuesday 9 March from 7-8pm. All welcome – we will be discussing the campaign and the advantages of the committee structure.

I will be chairing the meeting and speakers will be local activists involved in the campaign.

Register here!

‘Tis Pity He’s a Hoar

25 Jan

Francis Hoar, barrister

Democracy Newham Limited, the company behind the so-called ‘People’s Petition’, has been crowdfunding the legal costs for their case for against Newham Council. So far they have raised a little over £10,000.

The principal expense is hiring a barrister. And man they have engaged is called Francis Hoar. 

An interesting choice for a campaign based out of the home of a Labour councillor and endorsed by leading figures in Newham Momentum.

According to Mr Hoar’s profile on his chambers’ website

He recently acted successfully for Craig Mackinlay MP (in a criminal prosecution) and Darren Grimes (in an appeal against the Electoral Commission) and acted for the petitioner in an election petition challenging the result of the by-election in Peterborough in 2019.

Mackinley is a Tory MP and Grimes a right-wing activist and Brexiter. Many of the people backing DNL went to Peterborough in 2019 to campaign for the winning Labour candidate. I wonder how they feel about now being represented by the man that tried to overturn their efforts?

Fair enough, you might say, everyone is entitled to be represented in court – even Tories and Brexiters.

However, Mr Hoar is also a noted lockdown sceptic, arguing on Twitter that the current restrictions are 

a gigantic social experiment encouraged by a Communist state

In May he led a challenge to the first lockdown, claiming they were unlawful and 

a disproportionate breach of fundamental freedoms protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.

Last week he asked of government scientist Chris Whitty

Who gave this fanatic the power to suspend and destroy our society in order to reduce the numbers of very old people dying – as old people do – of respiratory infections, whenever those deaths go above the norm?

Again, everyone has a right to an opinion but those who gave money to DNL might wonder why it is being spent on a barrister with views that, if implemented as policy, would result in a lot of people from Newham – their friends, family and neighbours – getting ill and dying from COVID; other lawyers are available.

A is for…

14 Jan

Cllr Nazir Ahmed campaigning in 2019

Cllr Nazir Ahmed (left) campaigning in the 2019 general election

The Deputy Chair of Newham Council, Cllr Nazir Ahmed of Little Ilford, has been suspended by the Labour Party pending an investigation into alleged antisemitism.

According to the Jewish News website Cllr Ahmed made a number of social media posts that contained antisemitic material, including one suggesting Israel should be relocated to the United States (“easy solution for Israel-Palestine conflict!”) and two repeating the untruth that Israel is tunnelling under the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem with the intention of causing it to collapse.

He also shared a video which asked whether “Israel have USA in the pocket..”, and another about a group of anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews saying “not all Jewish [sic] are the same. There are some very good Jewish.”

Given the recent Equalities and Human Rights Commission Investigation into the Labour Party and the row last autumn over the handling of antisemitic posts on the local party’s Facebook group, this is more than just an embarrassment.

Cllr Ahmed was elected in 2018 and all of the social media posts mentioned above pre-date his selection as a Labour candidate. The application form explicitly asks for links to blogs and social media sites (“this includes Facebook and Twitter”) that potential candidates have access to. Did nobody take a look? And, if they did, why did they not spot this stuff? Maybe they did and didn’t think it a problem.

A Labour spokesperson said the “party takes all complaints of antisemitism extremely seriously and they are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures, and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken.”

There is no comment currently on the council website and Cllr Ahmed is still listed as the deputy chair. 

Newham Voting for Change – launch event

3 Dec

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Newham Voting for Change, the campaign for the committee system in next May’s governance referendum, has announced its official launch event:

 

Join us on Zoom for a public online meeting to launch Newham Voting for Change – the campaign for a committee structure in Newham.

In May 2021 Newham will hold a referendum on how the local council is run. We are campaigning for the committee system, which is more

OPEN
REPRESENTATIVE
DEMOCRATIC
ACCOUNTABLE

We’ll be joined by:

  • Ruth Hubbard, Sheffield It’s Our City – Sheffield Council will also be holding a referendum on changing to a committee structure and Ruth will talk about the successes of the Sheffield campaign.
  • Cllr Ruth Dombey, Leader of Sutton Council (Lib Dems) – Ruth will talk about how Sutton Council works with the committee structure.
  • Cllr Andrew Ansell, Basildon Councillor (Labour) – Andrew will talk about how Basildon Council operates day to day with a committee system in place.
  • Speaker from the Tower Hamlets referendum campaign – TBC.

Chair: Josephine Grahl, Newham Voting for Change

All welcome | Tuesday 8th December | 7-8pm

Register for the meeting on Zoom