Uncooperative

17 Feb

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A forest of arms raising points of order (picture via James Beckles’ account of the meeting)

Last Monday (13th February) I attended the annual general meeting of Newham Co-operative Party. It’s the third AGM the party has had in the past year. The first one had to be re-run after serious concerns about the conduct of the meeting, which resulted in the second just seven months ago being conducted under the auspices of the national party.

Judging by what went on, it won’t be too long before there’s a fourth and the national party will almost certainly need to be involved again.

Things got off to a bad start, even before the meeting began. Cllr Patrick Murphy, mayoral advisor and the ‘procedures secretary’ of Newham Labour party who had overseen the trigger ballot process before Christmas, left after being informed he wasn’t actually a member of the Co-operative Party and therefore couldn’t speak or vote. He was invited by the chair to attend as a visitor and perhaps assist with the vote counting, but he refused.

Nonetheless there was a large turn out of councillors, most of them on the mayoral payroll or closely associated with his faction.

The chair, Gill Hay, took the opportunity to remind the meeting of the code of conduct and insist she needed no help from the floor in chairing the meeting. Nonetheless, ‘helpful’ suggestions abounded, mostly from councillors who took objection to her attempts to give everyone who wanted to the chance to participate, even if it meant the meeting starting slightly later than the advertised 7:30.

A 7:30 start means a 7:30 start, they said repeatedly. We have homes to go to, they said. I have a childminder booked but only until 8:30, another complained. And with each intervention the clock ticked slowly on. The tone became ever more hostile.

Things finally got underway at about 8:00. Cllr Neil Wilson, the party secretary announced there were 67 members present eligible to vote and a further four new members who could attend but not vote. The chair invited the new members (including me) to stand up and volunteer to be tellers for the elections. Cllrs Tahmina Rahman and Paul Sathianesan also stood.

As soon as we sat back down Cllr Rahman, who was sat four seats along from me, went into a quiet huddle with the mayor. He then walked across the room and took Cllr Sathianesan outside for a chat.

On a proposal from Cllr Clive Furness it was agreed to take the officers reports as read and move straight to the elections. Clearly, members finding out what the party had been doing for the past year was of no interest. The chair reported on a call she had had earlier in the day with regional office regarding the procedure for voting. This was at variance with the rule book and was queried. It was agreed to proceed, but with the ballot papers kept secure in case of any subsequent problems. A fortuitous proposal, as it turned out.

When the chair announced that John Saunders would supervise the tellers, Sir Robin leapt up to volunteer to assist in the process. This was met with gales of laughter, but he wasn’t joking. 

The first election was for chair. Gill Hay was re-nominated. Cllr Hanif Abdulmuhit proposed deputy mayor Cllr Lester ’Three Jobs’ Hudson, saying – with an entirely straight face – it was time the leadership of this organisation had a bit of diversity. Only in Newham can replacing an LGBT woman with a male Cambridge-educated accountant be seen as increasing diversity. In his brief speech Three Jobs claimed he wanted to see the Co-op Party meet more regularly and asserted the importance of its leadership reflecting the leadership of the Labour council.

Ballots were distributed, collected and counted. 69 votes in all. Two more than the number of people eligible to vote.

The rolls were re-checked and a 68th eligible voter found (they hadn’t signed the register). And a fifth new member was identified. Oops. But the votes still didn’t tally, so the election was re-run, with ballots handed out to individuals as the roll was called.

This time the right number came back and, by a two vote margin – 35 to 33 – Three Jobs Hudson became Four Jobs. 

On assuming his new position Cllr Hudson immediately proposed that all of the remaining elections be held at once, on a single ballot paper. To speed things along. This was rejected.

Next up were the two vice chairs. Buy-to-let queen Cllr Ayesha Chowdhury was nominated, along with sitting vice chair Jeanette Dye and Mehmood Mirza. Ms Dye topped the poll, with Cllr Chowdhury elected alongside her.

Things went completely and disastrously wrong with the election of the new secretary. The candidates were Gill Hay, the now ex-chair, and Cllr Lakhmini Shah. While voting was taking place for this position nominations were taken for Treasurer. This confused a number of people and when votes were collected a number of ballots had been cast for Cllr Aleen Alarice, who was nominated for treasurer. The vote was scrapped without being counted and fresh ballots issued.

When these were counted it was found a total of 70 votes had been cast – two more than the number of eligible voters. Again the vote was scrapped and fresh ballots issued by roll call.

This resulted in a 34 – 34 tie.

No-one seemed to know what to do next, so Cllr Hudson declared the meeting closed at 9:45. Everyone who held a position that wasn’t voted on would stay in post, he said, including the delegates to the upcoming CLP AGMs.

In a sign that his grip on power is weakening following the trigger ballot, Sir Robin was pulling out all the stops. He was clearly controlling his supporters in the room. And when he was in the kitchen area, where the votes were being counted, Cllr Ken Clark took to supervising. People showed their ballots to others to prove their loyalty, while others people were summoned for chats about what they had to do or say.

The irony is that the mayor was so desperate to salvage some semblance of authority he ended up reinforcing how much he’s lost it. I am told that Sir Robin’s conduct at previous meetings has caused significant concern to the Co-op Party, to the point that he risks disciplinary action.

He’s walking a tightrope.

Fabian update

1 Feb

The following statement has been issued by the national Fabian Society regarding the recent mayoral trigger ballot (my emphasis added):

Since early December the national Fabian Society has received a number of complaints from members regarding the process followed by Newham Fabian Society in the re-selection of the Labour Party candidate for mayor of Newham. The society has concluded that the process followed did not comply with the national society’s bye-laws governing local Fabian societies. All but one of the people involved in the decision are no longer in office, following an AGM held on 11th January.

Upon receiving the complaints, the national society contacted the (former) officers of Newham Fabians and they responded helpfully to our inquiry, providing information and justification for their actions. They told us that the nomination had been made by the society’s officers and by its delegate to East Ham Constituency Labour Party, using the same procedure used in 2013. They also said that their interpretation of the society’s bye-laws was that no process for a mayoral re-selection ‘trigger ballot’ was specified. 

A committee of the national society’s executive met on 24th January to consider the complaints. It accepted the statement from the officers that they acted in good faith. Nevertheless, the committee determined that the national society’s bye-laws require a vote of members in the re-selection of a mayoral candidate and therefore concluded that the Newham Fabians nomination had breached the society’s rules. 

The national Fabian Society has instructed the new officers of Newham Fabians to write to their members to inform them of these conclusions and offer apologies on behalf of Newham Fabian Society. It will also provide support and supervision to the new officers in their future administration of the society. 

The Labour Party has been informed of the outcome of the society’s review. Any further inquiries about the Newham trigger ballot should be directed to the party.

So the rules were broken in order to deliver a vital extra vote to Sir Robin.

The officers in question were councillors Tahmina Rahman and Unmesh Desai. But who is (or was?) the Fabian’s delegate to East Ham CLP? And, given Newham Fabians hadn’t met for four years prior to last month’s re-launch AGM, who nominated them?

Silvertown tunnel

25 Jan

Councillor James Beckles (Plaistow North) on his blog today:

Monday 23rd January it was our first Newham Labour Group after the Christmas break. On the agenda was a motion calling for the rejection of plans for the Silvertown Tunnel.

The arguments for the motion were compelling, arguments about the health consequences for people living in the surrounding area.
It was put to Labour Group that the motion be amended effectively taking out the strength and force from the motion.

This was put to a vote. I voted against the amendment, however the amendment was passed. The amended motion was then put to a vote and was passed. I voted against the amended motion on the grounds that it was watered down and the substance of the motion was lost.

I support the regeneration opportunities happening in our area and the potential these have to uplift people and place. However this should not be at the cost [of] residents’ health.

To understand exactly what happened you need to read the motion that was originally put by Cllrs Conor McAuley (Custom House) and Ann Easter (Canning Town North), and what the wrecking amendment moved by Cllr Ken Clark (cabinet member for Building Communities, Public Affairs, Planning and Regeneration) took out.

The full text is below, and the red section (also in square brackets) is what got taken out:

Newham Labour Group notes that:

  1. TfL have consulted on building a 4 lane tunnel at Silvertown next to, and in addition to, The Blackwall Tunnel, which the former Mayor Johnson said will double road capacity across the Thames at this point and help ease congestion. 
  2. It is widely acknowledged that you cannot build your way out of congestion and that a more appropriate strategy would be to improve conditions for walking and cycling as well as make public transport more affordable. 
  3. The additional road capacity would lead to a significant increase in motor traffic in Newham (particularly in Canning Town) and significantly worsen air quality in this borough. 
  4. [Newham and London already suffer from poor air quality and building this tunnel is totally incompatible with Newham and London meeting their air quality targets.

Therefore Newham Labour Group calls upon Newham Council to reverse its position on the Silvertown Tunnel and call upon Mayor Sadiq Khan to cancel the project. 

Further,] Newham Labour Group urges Newham Council and the Mayor of London to investigate alternatives such as continuing the A406 south beyond the A13 and across the Thames east of the Woolwich Ferry.  

The motion was amended and passed. So Labour group declines to note the poor air quality in Newham and won’t be calling for the cancellation of the Silvertown Tunnel project.

As one councillor tartly put it later, ‘Every child a breather’ is clearly not one of the Mayor’s priorities.

Timing is everything

22 Dec

Image

Cllr Lakmini Shah, Cabinet Member for Children’s Safeguarding, was among those who discussed the future of the Carpenters estate last week

Here’s a curious tale.

When the Focus E15 protesters turned up at East Ham Town Hall last Thursday to watch Sir Robin and his cabinet discuss plans for the future of the Carpenters Estate they found they couldn’t get into the public gallery because it was already full.

Frustrated, they ended up in a side room where they were unable to see what was going on, with only a dodgy audio feed of proceedings to listen to.

As they were leaving at the end of the meeting they saw a group of Asian women emerge from the public gallery. They weren’t Carpenters residents, as no-one from the estate recognised them.

Who were they and what agenda item had they come to watch being discussed?

It’s great that people are interested in watching democracy at work. But what an unfortunate coincidence that a group exactly large enough to fill the seats in the public gallery should turn up on the same day as the Focus E15 campaigners and prevent them getting in.

No Mandate

9 Dec

The Newham Labour party Trigger Democracy campaign has sent out a powerful email to local party members, telling them that Sir Robin has no mandate to continue as the mayoral candidate without a proper, open selection.

On Monday, you’ll have heard media reports about the Labour Party Newham Trigger Ballot result in which the current Mayor is claiming victory. What you won’t know is that his ‘victory’ is on the back of shady affiliate organisation votes. While 11 out of 9 Labour Party branches voted decisively for NO, the vote of those Newham Labour Party members don’t count because the Mayor has ‘gamed’ the process through 11 secretive (including some very small) affiliate organisations. 

So the Mayor can only claim a false victory. He has lost the confidence of Newham Labour Party members and has #NoMandate.

#NoMandate Charge Sheet

Charge #1: Newham Fabians co-chaired by GLA Member Cllr Unmesh Desai and Mayoral Advisor Cllr Tahmina Rahman, didn’t hold a meeting with all its eligible members and in line with the Fabian Society’s  constitution. It is unclear if they are even a paid up affiliate of East Ham Constituency Labour Party! The Fabian Society’s General Secretary is now investigating this breach of their rules and voting irregularity. 

Charge #2: The Christians on the Left affiliate organisation didn’t even hold a formal vote at their meeting. They thought a discussion chaired by Mayoral Advisor Cllr Clive Furness  to ‘canvass opinion’ was sufficient . 

Charge #3: The BECTU affiliate organisation made up of one (that’s right, ONE) member unilaterally voted to reselect the sitting Mayor. That one vote cancelled out the votes of the entire East Ham Central Labour Party branch where 59 members voted. @BECTU HQ is also investigating, as they weren’t aware of the vote either. 

Charge #4: A GMB representative with no connection to Newham signed all four of the Newham GMB affiliate votes while no meetings were held with local Newham GMB members. So while the current General Secretary was happy to endorse the Mayor openly and the GMB is campaigning against LIDL for not respecting the voice of its workers – they clearly can’t be bothered to respect the voice and votes of local Newham GMB members. 

Charge #5: The national TSSA Trade Union have no record of an eligible TSSA branch affiliate in Newham and are currently investigating where this mysterious TSSA vote for the Mayor has actually come from. 

Charge #6: The Procedures Secretary, Cllr Pat Murphy  who oversaw the rigged Trigger Ballot process is a paid Mayoral Advisor, depends on the mayor’s goodwill for his livelihood and highlights a fundamental conflict of interest. He’s the one that’s tried to stop Labour members in Green Street East branch from even holding a trigger ballot meeting. 

Charge #7: The vast majority of Newham Labour Party members who took part in the Trigger Ballot process voted for an open selection not the automatic reselection of the Mayor. But because of the dirty tricks by some of the Mayor’s supporters and fraudulent actions of some dubious affiliates, their vote has been disregarded.

So how can Sir Robin Wales claim ‘victory’ when he clearly has #NoMandate. 

Campaigners are asking party members to email Sir Robin, asking him to respect the votes of members and agree to an open selection, and to sign a petition calling on the Labour party to do the same.

Xmas cancelled – again

6 Dec

The relaunch of the long-dormant Newham Fabian Society has been postponed.

Dear Friends,

Due to venue and logistical reasons, we are having to postpone our Fabian Xmas Social. We are sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.

Best wishes,

Tahmina

Perhaps the venue was too small to hold the very large number of people who want to ask Cllr Tahmina Rahman how come she signed a letter saying the Fabians were voting in favour of Sir Robin in the trigger ballot when the local society hasn’t met for years.

Or perhaps the guest speaker feared his talk on “Political development and future of Newham” would be met with howls of cynical laughter.

What is it with the mayor and Christmas socials? It’s all eerily familiar.

Party says no

5 Dec

After the final set of trigger ballot meetings, the score stands at eleven wards to nine in favour of an open selection for Labour’s 2018 mayoral candidate.

The detailed results are: 

Ward Yes No
Beckton 16 3
Boleyn 3 36
Canning Town North 17 21
Canning Town South 6 8
Custom House 7 6
East Ham Central 29 31
East Ham North 20 23
East Ham South 26 8
Forest Gate North 13 30
Forest Gate South 34 21
Green Street East 5 32
Green Street West 36 32
Little Ilford 23 36
Manor Park* 29 28
Plaistow North 27 17
Plaistow South 12 19
Royal Docks 11 1
Stratford & New Town 11 34
Wall End 20 18
West Ham 8 20
Totals: 353 424

* Second ballot. The first ballot tied at 30:30

In addition to the wards two affiliates, the Co-operative Party and the West Ham Women’s Forum, voted No; Christians on the Left did not vote but the chair determined the consensus was for Yes.

Whatever happens with the remaining affiliates (but I think we can all guess…) it is absolutely clear that ordinary party members want an open selection.

It would be a travesty if Sir Robin denied them one.