Archive | October, 2015

Wind turbine

27 Oct

via Instagram

The cost of one-party councils

20 Oct

Councillor John Gray has blogged about his response to the Electoral Reform Society’s report “The Cost of One-Party Councils: Lack of Electoral Accountability and public procurement corruption”. While he takes issue with one or two of the claims made by the ERS, he is a clear supporter of electoral reform for local authorities.

Most interesting is the final paragraph. This, I think, reflects his experiences over the past five years as a backbench member of the most one-party council of them all:

Finally, I think just as important as electoral reform, local government needs structural and legislative reform. Such as making the role of scrutiny committees much more robust and truly independent of the Executive; beefing up Standard Boards; time limits on Council leaders; stopping backbench Councillors being refused information by Chief officers for no substantiated reasons; being open and transparent and stop restricting information to the public or press unless absolutely necessary; making officers’ hospitality register a public document; better guidance from national political organisations on the role of elected members as being champions of their constituents and holding the Executive to account. Finally, we should reintroduce powers to surcharge individual Councillors who act without due care or legal authority with public money. 

Good stuff.

Super diversity in Plaistow

14 Oct

Diversity and cohesion in Britain’s most mixed community – John McDermott writing in the Financial Times about Plaistow

“If London is the most diverse city in the world, and Plaistow is the most diverse part of the city, Plaistow might be the most diverse place in the world,” says Forhad Hussain, a local councillor. When Hussain came to the area in 1983 with his Bangladeshi-born parents, this part of the city was mostly white and working-class, home to dockers and their families who had stayed put as Plaistow was rebuilt after the devastation wrought by the Blitz.

A few St George’s crosses can still be spotted in the windows of terraced houses or tower blocks, but the English-born population is on the wane. As late as 2001, 62.2 per cent of Plaistow residents were born in England, according to census data provided by Newham council. A decade later, that share had fallen to 47.3 per cent. 

Well worth a read.

The fix is in

14 Oct

Someone has kindly forwarded me an email sent this morning to East Ham MP Stephen Timms by the chair of Boleyn ward Labour party. It concerns ‘unusual activity’ by the mayor and leading councillors in the ward over the weekend, following the death of councillor Charity Fiberesima.

Dear Stephen Timms

I hope you are well.

Boleyn ward held a condolence meeting for Cllr Charity Fiberesima at 8pm on Sunday 11th October who sadly died on Tuesday 06 October 2015.
At the meeting, Boleyn ward members observed a minute silence followed by a few words dedicated to Cllr Charity’s life and her hard work as the ward Councillor. The ward members present also donated money to buy a card and a wreath. Members are extremely upset and in shock and say that Charity was a very kind, always smiling and a friendly person.

Now I am writing to you that members present also discussed an unusual activity that occurred within just few days of Cllr Charity’s death.

On the Sunday morning of 11th October 2015, just five days after the death of Cllr Charity, the Mayor and a number of other ward Councillors mostly Cabinet members and or Mayoral advisors from West Ham and East Ham CLPs were walking up and down the streets of Boleyn ward questioning Labour party members some very uncomfortable and personal questions such as what were the reasons for joining the Labour party, what did they do for living, what did they think of the new Labour leadership Jeremy Corbyn, do they regularly attend party meetings, are their parents active party members (the member replied, I am sorry but they are old now and couldn’t be active but they still contribute to the Labour party, whether they knew the Labour party values? 

I, the Chair of Boleyn ward, condemn this very unprofessional act. The ward officers, ward Councillors and the members believe that they were kept in dark of this secret mission. No ward will allow other ward Councillors to come so secretly on a Sunday morning and ask these kinds of personal questions without even engaging the ward officers or the ward Councillors and so will therefore not the Boleyn ward either. Members are finding it hard to understand that why was it kept so secret and why was it so necessary for it to happen just within a few days of Cllr Charity’s death?

The Labour party ward members of Boleyn are absolutely outraged about this matter and believe the Cllrs involved showed no respect to Cllr Charity and her family and did not even wait for the funeral but flagged up their true emotions all of a sudden. They found this extremely rude and disrespectful as she had just recently passed away, her blood is still hot, her children are still in great pain of their loss, however the senior Labour members did not have any courtesy and had already thought of starting the by-election process. Members feel that the whole ward is being undermined.

Let us remind ourselves that Boleyn ward is a fully functional ward with a very diverse and committed group of dedicated ward officers where the very enthusiastic and passionate members meet regularly promoting Labour party values as well as discussing important and vital concerning issues within the ward and the borough. It is also important to understand that only the Boleyn ward members have the right and are capable to select their own Labour party candidate for the by-election following the death of Cllr Charity and no one else. Undermining Boleyn ward members in selecting their own candidate will not be acceptable and will not be in the wider interest of the ward.

Therefore, on behalf of the Boleyn ward Labour party members, I demand the Labour Party, Labour London region, East Ham and West Ham MPs Stephen Timms and Lyn Brown and the CLP officers to investigate the matter and ask those involved (we know which Councillors/people were involved) as to who sent out the email to only a few selected Councillors to carry out this very unusual, disrespectful and secret activity and who prepared the questionnaire. Was this decision approved by the East Ham CLP’s EC and GC members or even the East Ham MP Stephen Timms? Why the unprofessional behaviour? Is this the manner at which our local Labour party’s run and is this how democracy should/is being promoted within the Labour party?

I look forward to an urgent action taking place.

I have absolutely no doubt that Sir Robin and his trusty sidekicks, councillors Clark and Desai, were on the case almost the moment they heard the news. They will have paused barely long enough to issue their brief tributes before putting the fix in. 

Back in 2013 Boleyn members were prevented from taking part in the main candidate selection process for the local elections because of ‘concerns’ (real or imagined) about the viability of the ward party. So it’s notable that the email refers to Boleyn being ‘fully functional’. Whatever the truth of that claim may be, it won’t stop Sir Robin finding a seat on the green leather benches at East Ham town hall for a compliant and trusty supporter.

Double bubble

12 Oct

Unmesh Desai and friends

Unmesh Desai and ‘Team Newham’ celebrate

Back in September, overshadowed by the results of the leadership election and Sadiq Khan’s selection as the party’s candidate for mayor of London, Labour also announced the successful candidates for seats on the London Assembly – the body that scrutinises the activities of the mayor.

And it was good news for Newham’s Unmesh Desai, who won a six-way, almost all-male contest for the City & East nomination (just one woman made it to the shortlist – and she came last). Fittingly, he received exactly 666 first preference votes, and then enough second and third preferences to ensure he ultimately prevailed.

Barring an electoral earthquake Desai will take his seat at City Hall next May, where he will pick up an annual salary of £55,161 – a substantial rise on his current Newham pay of £43,711.

But happily for Councillor Unmesh – as he likes to be known – that is not the end of the good news. There is the enticing prospect of double-bubble.

There is no legal or party requirement for him to resign his council seat, so he will continue to collect at least the basic £10,937 allowance every year on top of his GLA salary. Should Sir Robin decide he cannot live without his friend’s sage advice on crime and disorder he can shovel yet more cash into the Desai bank account in the form of a ‘special responsibility allowance’.

This will then justify thousands of pounds more in pension contributions under Newham’s recently established (and legally dubious) ‘executive members’ scheme. London Assembly members are barred – like local councillors – from joining the Local Government Pension Scheme, so the timing of this new scheme is a happy coincidence.

Public service can be very rewarding, can’t it?

CORRECTION: The original version of this post stated that the City & East shortlist was all-male. Someone kindly pointed out that Hackney councillor Feryal Demirci is a woman – my sincere apologies to her for the mistake.