Not meeting expectations

5 Dec

By Iain Aitch

Those attending Newham’s full council last night (4 December) may have been expecting fireworks, given that the loss of £52m of public funds in the London Stadium debacle had just been confirmed. But, in the end, any protest by councillors was limited to a whimper, rather than a bang.

In truth, it was all over bar the shouting by the time the meeting began. Only there was no shouting.

A cowed Labour group had, prior to full council, voted against instituting a judge-led inquiry by a margin of 34 to eight. And, with no elected opposition in the one-party borough, only a few Labour councillors dared to mutter any disquiet in public.

There had been whispers of calls for Mayor Sir Robin Wales’s resignation and even a #RobinWalesMustGo campaign on Twitter, backed by some councillors. Rumours abound that the Mayor was asked to step down at Labour group, but he ignored the question and moved on.

So the Mayor was able to read his prepared statement without so much as a heckle. One councillor even fed him an easy “Sir, sir, please, weren’t Tories to blame, sir?” question to calm his nerves and the room. The Tories were, of course, to blame, said the Mayor, as he waved away the losses with the casual air of someone who had just lost 50p each-way on a Grand National bet.

Judges cast aside, Wales announced a ‘forensic inquiry’. One imagines this is to be led by the Mayor and his close team, with the head of the inquiry appointed by the same. Expect the answer as to where blame lies to begin and end with everyone but the Mayor or Newham’s Labour administration.

The meeting was inexpertly chaired by Councillor Sathianesan, whose handling of the room made Theresa May’s conference speech look like an example of measured competence. Councillors at least felt brave enough to openly laugh at his endless cock-ups, but there was no air of rebellion or anger in the room about the London Stadium. It was palpably absent.

Whether the opposition to the Mayor had blown itself out in Labour group meeting is hard to say, but Councillors John Gray (who appeared visibly upset) and Rokhsana Fiaz did at least pose questions about the £52m loss and the competence of the council in matters financial.

Sadly, these questions were never incisive enough to rouse the spirit of rebellion whispered about earlier in the week. Wales batted away Gray’s questions with put-downs about his drafting abilities, while Fiaz was timed out by the Chair.

Wales consistently spoke about how well council tax-payers had done from the deal to lose £52m, citing housing wins, jobs and legacy. This raised some smiles from Wales loyalists, despite these figures not adding up. £52m could, after all, have built 250 council homes.

But most of the chamber stayed silent on the issue. Councillor Corbett seemed more concerned that a greener London initiative may allow middle class tree-huggers to stop the building of homes for the working classes. And they said irony was dead.

Many Newham council tax-payers will be angry that their elected representatives seemingly did nothing when they had the chance to speak up in public about their concerns over the loss of £52m in yet another failed investment (this one was a ‘sure thing’). They are, it seems, too cowed by the Mayor, too guarded of their salaried positions in the Mayor’s cabinet or too worn down by the dominance of the Wales and his loyalists.

Even MPs Lyn Brown and Stephen Timms have not spoken out about the Mayor’s £52m drop. Don’t expect that to change any time soon.

The Mayor wound up his proclamations on a bright note, promising ‘more to come in the week’ from his signing away the £52m investment. He couldn’t say what it was, but hinted at benefits for Newham residents.

Every Child A West Ham United Season Ticket Holder anyone?

Iain Aitch is an author and journalist who lives in Newham. He has written for the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Times and Financial Times.

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4 Responses to “Not meeting expectations”

  1. KEVIN MANSELL December 6, 2017 at 00:43 #

    The situation in Newham is closer to Fascism than Democracy

  2. FocusE15 December 6, 2017 at 10:57 #

    Reblogged this on Focus E15 Campaign.

  3. FocusE15 December 6, 2017 at 10:59 #

    Thank you for this illuminating article. What a pathetic bunch they are…

  4. Birdman December 6, 2017 at 14:26 #

    Worth remembering that there weren’t too many councillors opposed to the loan in the first place and by condemning Wales they condemn themselves. Many simply do not have the skills to understand the proposal and just accepted the recommendation. One councillor I can think of at the time was barely literate. Given the opposition to Wales from within the constituency branches they can at least make sure that they select different people to run at the next local elections. That is if they get the chance to. They also need to be careful to question closely the motives of some of the new faces as at least one councillor I can think of made great play of his opposition to Wales when first selected – now he is one of his biggest and well paid supporters! I am intrigued that selection has been delayed because of outstanding appeals. There has long been the feeling that (although the Labour Party says the process is open and fair) Wales effectively vetoes those on the list who will oppose him. The spurious reasons given in the past for rejecting experienced and hardworking members such as John Saunders might suggest there is some strength to the idea.

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