Gagging order

12 Nov

At the last council meeting, in late September, two backbench councillors – John Gray and Rokshana Fiaz – took the opportunity to ask the mayor questions about the Focus E15 mothers’ campaign and the future of the Carpenters Estate. These followed on from his statement and half-hearted apology. They were doing no more than their constituents would expect of them.

In any other local authority, councillors asking questions at a council meeting, in public, would have been unremarkable. It is what should happen. But in Newham it was exceptional.

And Sir Robin has, predictably, taken exception to it.

This email was sent yesterday to all Newham councillors by the Labour chief whip, Cllr Stephen Brayshaw (via the group secretary Cllr Susan Masters): 

From: Susan Masters [mailto:xxxxxxxxxx@xxxxxxxx.com] 

Sent: 11 November 2014 15:02

Subject: Message from our whip  

A MESSAGE FROM OUR LABOUR GROUP WHIP TO LABOUR GROUP MEMBERS 

Dear Comrades,

Concern has been expressed among group officers relating to the growing appearance of cracks within group and the use of Council meetings rather than Labour Group as a platform for airing disagreements and debate. 

When arguments are played out in public there are only losers: The Labour Party and our constituents. 

The officers agreed that we should draw a line now and move forwards towards a more cohesive group. Disagreements, questions and motions should be put to group and discussed at group. We are one Labour Party and we should show respect for the group and our colleagues. It is polite and proper that this should be the case. 

Moving forwards; where people break the rules or behave in a way that could embarrass the group, executive, party and leadership in a public forum we feel at such a key time that we have no option but to push  for the highest sanctions possible within the rules. 

Let’s move forwards and ensure that we are working for our constituents, our party and our group. 

Best

Steve Brayshaw

It is a clear and unambiguous attempt to muzzle councillors and stop them publicly raising serious questions at Council meetings. Debate can only happen in private, behind closed doors.

The “highest sanctions possible within the rules” means expulsion from Labour Group and – if the councillor were not later reinstated – automatic deselection at the next election.

Ironically, this threat is itself a breach of Labour Party rules

Labour recognises that individual members, to fulfill their representative duties, may without consultation speak and ask questions in meetings of the council on behalf of their constituents or other community interests. (chapter 13, clause XI, sub-clause 1)

Any councillor expelled from Newham’s Labour Group on these grounds would be entitled to appeal: they’d have an unanswerable case for immediate reinstatement.

But the more important point for ordinary Newham residents is that Sir Robin and his cronies are using heavy-handed threats to stop councillors doing the one job we elected them to do: publicly scrutinise the executive mayor and hold him to account for the decisions he makes. It is undemocratic and unacceptable.

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7 Responses to “Gagging order”

  1. Birdman November 12, 2014 at 11:35 #

    This has been the case for so long, and councillors who have become a problem in private have found themselves deselected. It is amazing that this letter says that public debate does not help constituents. What arrogance. However, the fact that Gray and Fiaz have already asked questions in public, and someone has leaked this letter, hopefully means that cracks are appearing in the rigid central control of the Wales administration.

    • law27 November 13, 2014 at 07:05 #

      However, it will no doubt be suppressed and we’ll hear no more about it.

    • max December 8, 2014 at 09:15 #

      The Wales administration? Sorry, I thought this article was referring to Newham Council? Newham is not in Wales and never has been!

      • Martin Warne December 8, 2014 at 09:17 #

        Very droll.

      • max December 8, 2014 at 09:19 #

        Birdman referred to “cracks are appearing in the rigid central control of the Wales administration”.
        So what your “very droll” actually means nothing.
        If you want to make a point, go ahead….

      • Martin Warne December 8, 2014 at 09:24 #

        I assumed you were making a joke. Newham council is led by an executive mayor. His name is Sir Robin Wales. His administration can therefore reasonably be called the Wales administration. Neither he nor Newham has anything to do with the country of the same name.

  2. Sean November 14, 2014 at 22:35 #

    Wow this should be ubelievable. But sadly not.

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