The Casual Vacancy

20 Mar

Charlene McLean

There is going to be a council by-election in Stratford & New Town ward.

Charlene McLean has been removed from office under section 85 of the Local Government Act 1972: 

if a member of a local authority fails throughout a period of six consecutive months from the date of his last attendance to attend any meeting of the authority, he shall, unless the failure was due to some reason approved by the authority before the expiry of that period, cease to be a member of the authority. [emphasis added]

The circumstances in which the by-election has been triggered and the timing – so close to the general election – reflect very badly on the leadership of Newham Labour party, which has done nothing to support a young mother in exceptionally difficult circumstances.

As (now ex) councillor McLean explained in a letter sent to all ward members last week, before her removal was confirmed:

Last August, I gave birth to my baby daughter Esme two months prematurely. Prior to that I had to go on sick leave due to serious pregnancy complications, which risked both my life and that of my baby. Following her birth, I spent over three months monitoring her care at the specialist neonatal intensive care unit at the Royal London Hospital, and then at Newham General. Once she was allowed home, I had to provide specialist care for her, which required my full and uninterrupted focus. 

That is why I believe that what has happened to me warrants a full and urgent discussion among Council Members concerning the Council’s maternity leave policy for expectant Members, and those who have become new parents. 

As you can imagine to now have to deal with this situation is agonising, but with the support of Ward Members, my fellow Councillor colleagues, Terry and Richard, and the wider Newham Labour Party; I am hoping that I can come through this. 

I am in the process of discussing next steps with the national Labour Party and London Region, as well as the Chief Whip of Group, if a by-election has to be called because of the mistakes made by the Council. As such, I do intend to seek selection as the Labour Party Candidate for Stratford and New Town ward if such a situation arises. 

Charlene McLean was led to believe she was on approved leave – as the Local Government Act allows – but she wasn’t. And no-one bothered to tell her.

Although she points the finger at poor advice from unelected officers, the real culprits are her own comrades. The mayor, the Labour group chair, the chief whip and other leading councillors knew what was going on and did nothing. 

I am old enough to remember a time when Labour whips in parliament carried dying MPs through the lobbies on stretchers to ensure the government survived. This lot couldn’t be bothered to organise a babysitter and a taxi.

Backbench councillors and ordinary members need to ask why not. If Labour chief whip Steve Brayshaw doesn’t offer his resignation, councillors should demand it. Others within the leadership group need to take a long hard look at themselves too.

A borough as diverse as Newham needs a council made up of people from a wide range of backgrounds and at different stages in their lives, not just middle-aged men. The council has a moral responsibility to ensure that people are not excluded from taking part just because they are starting a family.

But as it is led by a mayor who thinks it’s okay for his Equalities lead to do her work unpaid that is not a priority in Newham.

Members in Stratford ward passed a motion last week calling for Charlene McLean to be immediately reselected as their candidate.

Last night, on direct instruction from Labour’s London regional office, the Newham local campaign forum voted unanimously to do just that. It is overwhelmingly likely she will be back on the council before the end of April.

Nonetheless, local Labour party members are furious. Or as one person put it to me, they are “going fucking mental.” They’ll have to spend time and resources fighting a council by-election when they should be out campaigning for the general election. Nearby Ilford North is a key Tory-held marginal. If Ed Miliband wants to be prime minister it’s a seat Labour must win.

They also know how embarrassing this is. Residents are being asked to go to the polls two weeks before the general election to re-elect a councillor they only voted into office 10 months ago. All because the overwhelmingly white and exclusively male cabal at the top of Newham Labour party failed to support a young working class black woman facing immense personal difficulties.

It would be harsh on Charlene McLean but if voters decided to punish Newham Labour for this, who could blame them?

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2 Responses to “The Casual Vacancy”

  1. Birdman March 20, 2015 at 16:05 #

    Martin your post says it all. What a waste of public money. Officers should have alerted Brayshaw to the situation, and approval for absence given. Indeed, I can’t understand it, as Cllr McLean would have given apologies for non attendance and these would have been accepted by the Council, thus showing approval. Is there something going on we haven’t been told about? Has she upset the cabal you mention? The lack of talent and ability is staggering, and new Councillors like John Whitworth and Ann Easter should be stepping in to demand an enquiry and action. The rest of the sheep will no doubt continue to bleat silently. Councillors such as John Gray who is a very active Unison official should also be demanding answers. What a shambles!

    • Martin Warne March 20, 2015 at 16:09 #

      As an anonymous party members puts it in the Standard today, “she’s not seen as a leadership loyalist.”

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