Leader Knows Best

27 Aug

by Rachel Collinson

“I know how this vote is going to go. If the motion was ‘the earth is flat’ councillors Rokhsana, Seyi, Kay and Susan would vote 4-2 for it,” thunders Lester Hudson, as he eyes the Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting.
I’m so offended and shocked by this that I can’t help snorting, despite being in the public gallery.

Hudson continues as though nothing has happened. “If the motion was ‘Geoffrey Boycott is useless at cricket’ they would vote 4-2 for it.” Nobody’s laughing this time. His tirade continues: “I sincerely hope this time, common sense will prevail, but I doubt it.”

There is general uproar, and the female councillors who have been the subject of these personal attacks are rightly livid. (Later on I realise that John Gray – also a member of the rebellion against the Robin Wales regime – is spared the vitriol. Could it be that the Y chromosome is a safeguard?)

A chap to my left passes me a sheet of lined A4 notepaper, with “Attendance Sheet” scrawled at the top. There is a name and one signature on it so far. I pass it on without signing.

A few minutes later, an unnamed lady shouts “Has everybody signed the attendance sheet?”

“I’ve never been asked this before as a member of the public in a council meeting,” I say, annoyed. “It doesn’t say on it how the data will be used, so I didn’t.”

“I just need to know who is here,” she replies.

Well, that much is obvious.

This meeting has been called because Newham Council’s Cabinet have seemingly approved a dubious investment proposal without oversight of the Investment and Accounts Committee. Councillors heard about it in passing and were horrified. They have decided to ask the Mayor to reconsider spending £500,000 without due process.

Council Officers will not let members of the public (or even certain councillors) see more details of what’s proposed. All we know so far is that the Cabinet are attempting to reduce payments to the council’s pension fund –  which already has a £238 million deficit – using a ‘Special Purpose Vehicle’. We understand that the council is using some of their buildings as security on a risky investment. How do we know it’s risky? Because their financial advisors are warning them against it.

It seems common sense to me that if the proposal were common sense, then the Cabinet would not resort to bending the rules to avoid scrutiny.

What I am seeing in action here is the Labour belief that Leader Knows Best, and democracy is merely a frustrating blot on the master plan. The belief that the people ought to shut up and take their medicine. The belief that is shown up at its worst in the Executive Mayoral system.

This is further confirmed when a member of the public stands up and questions whether the chair should be asking loaded questions of his own committee. The offender, Anthony McAlmont, says that members of the public are not allowed to speak, despite having allowed an earlier question. For some reason this breach of meeting protocol goes unnoticed by the Legal advisor present.

I hear the words ‘p&%$-up’ and ‘brewery’ emanate loudly from elsewhere in the public gallery.

With dogged persistence, the female councillors draft a resolution that no more money should be spent until the investment and accounts committee has had a chance to review the proposal in more detail. In the end, the meeting vote is 5-1 for this motion.

Hudson warns this is a waste of time. What does he know that we don’t?

During this fiasco, I am reminded of the botched Labour leadership elections. You can vote for anything, as long as it’s the right choice.

As if to reinforce this, the Mayor rejects the motion day after.

It would be easy to despair right now. But I’m seeing a new movement emerging amongst the people of Newham. I see it in the snowballing, hopeful tweets about Jeremy Corbyn. I see it in the growing bravery of left-wing councillors against their bullying leaders. I see it in the swelling numbers of Newham Green Party.

And it’s almost reassuring to observe some councillors in utter denial of this growing trend. It means we will win, and soon.

If you’re interested in helping the Green Party challenge Labour’s one party state in Newham, do sign up here. (NB: We have a No Purge Promise™)

Rachel Collinson is acting membership secretary for Newham Green Party, and a former General Election candidate. 

5 Responses to “Leader Knows Best”

  1. Birdman August 27, 2015 at 18:19 #

    The sad thing is that the councillors putting up the fight are not at all left wing and would struggle to explain the socialist aims of the Labour Party. They seem left wing because Wales and his sycophantic allowance grabbing cabinet have been doing the work of the Tories for years. Shame on them and shame on the councillors who have refused to stand up and be counted.

  2. Gill August 28, 2015 at 08:13 #

    This reminds me of the days of the late 70’s and early 80’s when there was a group of only 6 Labour Councillors in Newham who were initially ignored by the majority Labour Group, and who then resorted to openly voting against them on many issues for similar reasons to these (including, I recall, on the ill-thought out decision to build 10-person flats in Clays Lane, a major headache thereafter and subsequently demolished). Bullying and belittling seems to be the common theme in Newham, though in those days there was no gender dimension to the hate speech, given almost all of the Labour Group were men. It is a shame that so little has been learnt, so little has been achieved, and so little will be done to manage the havoc and destitution being poured onto this borough by the Conservative government. The legacy of this administration in the borough will not be something anyone will be proud of. Sure, a few people will have made a significant amount of money from its gentrification, but many will have suffered avoidable ill-health, poor care, destitution, homelessness and early deaths.

    • Birdman August 28, 2015 at 11:35 #

      If I remember rightly, and I was involved with Newtown Branch at the time, two of the Councillors were Pat Olley and Ernie Stanton. The borough was ruled in those days by what we saw as a freemasonry clique and it took some years to shift them. Unfortunately the current ruling clique is far more secretive than any band of Freemasons have ever been. Ernie Stanton was one of the hardest working and most principled councillors I have ever known along with Stan Hopwood, neither, sadly, with us any longer. None of the current batch of self serving muppets could hold a candle to them and the idea of serving the local community in an honest and principled fashion seems to be so out of vogue it seems like a philosophy from ancient times.

  3. Hugh Barnard August 28, 2015 at 09:01 #

    Yes, as an ex-inhabitant of Tower Hamlets, this is is another episode in the [shortly to appear] reality series, ‘When East End Democracy Goes Bad’.

    The actual issue, immediately reminds me of the South Sea Bubble company, circa 1720: ‘a company for carrying out an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know what it is’. At least that was a choice, for the investors! There’s a serious point here, in that the LOBO debt is around £560m, this is £268m, I’ve no doubt that there’s other lesser debt lurking in Dockside corners. Meanwhile, for example, every piece of obvious [pavements, signage, for example] public realm is decaying.

    So, ‘we’ have chosen a third world or old style East European model, decay, bullying, tight control, state propaganda, contempt for dissidents, especially female dissidents.
    We haven’t reached the level of Tower Hamlets chamber yet, but we seem to be getting there.

    I’m glad this isn’t being framed as a left/right thing, it isn’t. Hey. it’s a dysfunction thing.

  4. terry ball August 29, 2015 at 20:01 #

    stan hopwood and co were real people representing their constituents ,this lot could not hold a candle to them ,someone should report this bunch to the labour party ,I am sure they would not like what they are doing to the labour party reputation .

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