Archive | July, 2016

A prayer for Owen Smith

26 Jul

Another day in the Labour leadership contest, another open letter.

This time it’s backing Owen Smith MP in his fight against Jeremy Corbyn. Eight Newham councillors have signed:

  • Cllr Andrew Baikie
  • Cllr David Christie
  • Cllr Ian Corbett
  • Cllr James Beckles
  • Cllr Jo Corbett
  • Cllr Mas Patel
  • Cllr Patricia Holland
  • Cllr Quintin Peppiatt

In addition, both Newham MPs, Lyn Brown and Stephen Timms, are among those who formally nominated Smith.

UPDATE (19 August 2016)

Councillors Salim Patel, Aleen Alarice and Alan Griffiths have now added their names to the list of signatories

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Co-op commotion

21 Jul

West Ham councillor John Gray has blogged about the re-run of the Newham Co-operative Party AGM earlier in the week.

The re-run was “due to ‘irregularities’ at the AGM in January.” I understand that these were far more serious than the ‘voter guidance’ I blogged about at the time and as a consequence the meeting was chaired by officials from party HQ.

Despite the apparent success of the meeting itself, Cllr Gray’s account ends on a sour note:

The evening was marred by the abusive and threatening behavior outside the meeting by one Co-op member towards another, which I will be bringing to the attention of Party officials. Such behaviours are not acceptable in the Co-op Party or any other progressive organisation. 

The perpetrator is not named, but his identity will be easily guessed by anyone who takes an interest in Newham politics. Thin-skinned, short-tempered and given to outbursts of foul-mouthed abuse towards those he thinks are plotting against him? 

Another clue, appropriately enough given the outcome of the meeting: surname rhymes with ‘fails’.

It’s a mans world

18 Jul

Details of the allowances paid to Newham councillors in the last financial year (to 31 March 2016) have been published in the Newham Mag.

As usual, every effort has been made to prevent residents doing anything useful with the information. The online version of the Mag is published in PDF and Word formats; and the Word version – from which the data could easily be cut-and-pasted into a spreadsheet – completely omits the allowances section!

The standalone version, which is a statutory requirement, has not yet been published on the council website, but when it is it will be a PDF.

Nonetheless, a few minutes work reveals that over the past year our elected representatives took a total of £1,241,206 in basic and ‘special responsibility’ allowances, plus an extra £2,456 in travel and telephone allowances.

Of course, these allowances were not evenly distributed. The mayor and his closest friends took the lion’s share. And ranking councillors by the total they received gives a very clear indication of the kind of people Sir Robin favours politically: men.

The top ten earners for 2015/16:

Name Total
R WALES £81,839
L HUDSON £48,577
I CORBETT £45,612
R CRAWFORD £44,982
F HUSSAIN £44,871
K CLARK £44,677
C FURNESS £44,637
A BAIKIE £44,577
U DESAI £44,577
A McALMONT £38,830

Clearly, you don’t just have be a dick to get on in Newham Labour politics, you have to have one too.

Forest Gate North results

15 Jul

SeyiAkiwowo 2016 Jul 15

Newly-elected Anamul Islam joins his fellow councillors

The results of yesterday’s by-election in Forest Gate North have been announced:

Candidate Party Votes Percent
Anamul Islam Labour Party 1150 52.5
Elisabeth Whitebread Green Party 681 31.1
John Oxley Conservatives 301 13.8
James Rumsby Liberal Democrats 57 2.6

 Turnout: 21.3%

So congratulations to Anam and commiserations to the other candidates.

To no-one’s great surprise, Labour held the seat comfortably with more than 50% of the vote. But their vote was down about 5% on the 2014 election. Interestingly, another by-election in Islington last night saw a similar decline. Perhaps even at the local level the negative consequences of the current party infighting are being felt.

Although they didn’t win, the Greens will be celebrating too. Second place and 31% of the vote is a terrific performance. They put a lot of energy into the campaign and benefited from having an excellent candidate. 

The Tories fractionally increased their vote, but remain (ha!) a very long way from being contenders in this part of the borough.

The Liberal Democrat candidate withdrew from the contest not long after nominations closed, so it was a surprise to see his name on the ballot paper yesterday. There was no advice at the polling station to let voters know either. In the end it didn’t matter much, but had his vote been greater than the gap between first and second it might have created an interesting challenge for the returning officer.

Leadership, what leadership?

11 Jul

As reported last week, 11 Newham councillors signed a letter stating they had no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party. One of the criticisms of Corbyn is that he failed to show leadership during the EU referendum campaign and he is therefore to blame for the disastrous result.

Whatever the merits of that argument might be, if those 11 councillors are really concerned about a lack of leadership in the referendum they should take a look closer to home.

Newham had the lowest turnout of any local authority area in England – and the second worst in the UK. Just 59% of voters bothered to register their preference.

Although Remain ‘won’, it was by an exceptionally narrow margin – a majority of 5,957.

Compare that to other inner London boroughs:

Borough Turnout Remain majority
Lambeth 67.4% 81,244
Wandsworth 71.9% 79,042
Hackney 65.1% 60,530
Southwark 66.2% 59,084
Haringey 70.6% 54,136
Islington 70.4% 51,240
Camden 65.5% 47,457
Tower Hamlets 64.6% 57,787

More people voted Remain in Lambeth than voted at all in Newham!

While local activists door-knocked and leafleted the borough, Sir Robin was almost entirely invisible. Search among the ‘doorstep selfies’ posted on social media and you’ll struggle to find one featuring the mayor’s grinning mug. There were no rallies, no public meetings.

Stephen Timms spoke at debates and used his Recorder column to urge residents to vote Remain. Lyn Brown also wrote about why she was voting to stay. Both MPs went door-to-door in the final few days.

But Sir Robin said not a word.

Brexit will hit the poorest hardest, and that means Newham residents will among those that suffer most. 

Will our supine Labour councillors hold Sir Robin to account? Unlikely. But the trigger ballots for deciding if he should be the nominee for the 2018 election are coming up and maybe – just maybe – the membership might.

Whose home is it anyway?

8 Jul

Back in 2014 the council announced NewShare – an “exciting new Shared Equity scheme that offers potential home owners, who are currently frozen out of the London housing market, a helping hand onto the property ladder.”

The plan was to offer 1,220 homes for sale, in three categories: “new homes built by the council, street properties acquired by the council and empty council properties.”

According to the marketing guff

All homes available have undergone a comprehensive and high standard refurbishment to ensure that they are ready to move in to. The refurbishment includes refitted kitchens, with brand new appliances, refitted bathrooms, new carpets and redecoration in a neutral colour scheme throughout.

Despite the obvious objection that selling off council houses was a strange way to deal with a shortage of affordable homes in the borough, Labour councillors voted the scheme through.

They believed Sir Robin when he said that helping residents into home ownership would “…encourage them to settle in the borough and really get involved in the life of the community.”

Now that the scheme has launched a number of them are surprised to find that the earnings ceiling has been set at a whopping £90,000 per annum. That’s more than three times the average household income for the borough. Even with house prices at their current ludicrous levels it’s hard to describe anyone earning that much as “frozen out of the market.” 

So, two years on, how’s it going?

According to a recent Freedom of Information request a total of 70 homes have been sold through the scheme so far.

And one of them was sold to a member of the council.

The councillor was not named in the FOI response, but a quick check on the register of interests reveals the lucky man to be Cllr Forhad Hussain, cabinet member for Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour and Deputy Cabinet Member for Building Communities. One of the mayor’s most trusted lieutenants.

He ran for council in 2006 on the Respect ticket and was elected for Labour in 2010. He’s been in the cabinet since 2012. So you’d think he was already pretty well settled in the borough and “involved in the life of the community.” And being the recipient of close to £45,000 a year in allowances should be encouragement enough to stay.

The comprehensively refurbished home Cllr Hussain now owns was previously an empty Council property. 

A national disgrace

7 Jul

West Ham MP Lyn Brown spoke yesterday in the debate on the future of EU nationals living in the UK:

The Government’s refusal to guarantee the status of our EU residents is, quite frankly, an utter disgrace.

Last weekend, I spoke to an Italian woman who has lived and worked in Britain for 30 years. She has made Britain her home. She has raised her family here. Her children were born here and they are working here. She was in tears when she told me of her worry that she and her family were about to be deported. It absolutely broke my heart.

There are 3 million EU nationals living in the UK. Just like my constituent, they have jobs and homes, and are concerned about the future for their families. These are families who have entered the UK legally, made their homes here, paid their taxes, and have made a wonderful contribution to our country. The very least these families deserve is to have certainty about their future.

The Home Secretary has said that these people’s lives will be a “factor” in the forthcoming negotiations over our exit from the EU. She has implied that the rights of EU citizens living here cannot be guaranteed because the Government need to seek guarantees about the rights of UK citizens living on the continent. It is appalling; people’s lives should not be treated as a bargaining chip. The Government’s strategy is not only heartless—it is inept. We do not want the other 27 member states to threaten the rights of the 1.2 million British nationals living on the continent, so why are we starting negotiations by threatening the rights of EU nationals living here?

I can only presume that the Home Secretary’s focus is not really on negotiations with the EU. Her tub-thumping, I presume, is designed to court the votes of the right-wing Tory membership—an olive branch after, and I say this gently, her low-profile support for the remain campaign. Using people as bargaining chips in EU negotiations is one level of insult; using them as pawns in a Tory “Game of Thrones” is quite another. A Prime Minister with any sense of responsibility could have stopped this happening. By resigning from office before settling the most basic questions about leaving the EU, this Prime Minister has left our exit strategy to the vagaries of a Tory leadership contest. The rights of EU nationals, the speed of our exit, and our future relationship with the EU are all factors in the Tory leadership campaign. This leaves 150,000 Tory party members in a position of disproportionate influence.

The failure to make a commitment to EU nationals comes with grave consequences. Racists and xenophobes are feeling emboldened and are spreading poison within our constituencies. I am ashamed to say that, in my constituency, a residential block was sprayed with a swastika and the word “out” in large, bold letters. I know that Members across the country have had to deal with similarly vile incidents. There has been a 57% increase in hate crime since the referendum. A straightforward and clear message that EU residents are valued and welcome to stay for as long as they like would put racists back in their place. The destructive idea that there may be forced deportations would be rubbished in an instant.

If the Home Secretary is too busy to act, the Prime Minister should do so. I know he wants to run away from the responsibility for our leaving the European Union, but it was his referendum. He should have made sure that plans were in place for the immediate aftermath, no matter what the result. By abdicating his responsibility, the Prime Minister has left us all at the mercy of a Tory leadership campaign that is making us lurch to the right. It is our neighbours and friends from elsewhere in the EU who are suffering the most.

It is a national disgrace.