Strange bedfellows

16 Feb

The lion lies down with the lamb, owls hoot at noon, up is down – and left is right.

Observers of Newham’s political scene may have noticed some strange shifting of alliances over the last few years, but perhaps none stranger than the recent amity between the left-wingers now departing the Labour party in a flurry of online resignation letters, and the last men standing (yes, they are all men) from Sir Robin Wales’s cabinet.

This improbable friendship had its genesis in the infamous ‘dirty thirty’ letter, when a number of councillors wrote an open letter to the Newham Recorder to express dismay at the mayor’s plans to address the borough’s terrible air quality with an emissions-based scale of charges for resident parking. The letter was widely celebrated by most of Mayor Fiaz’s political antagonists, who felt that in the face of the worst air quality in London, the policy of Newham Council should be to… continue providing free car parking to every resident, a policy not offered by any other borough in inner London.

Newham’s Twitterati will have cleaned their glasses and wiped their screens when the resignation of the Labour whip by Cllr Quintin Peppiatt (East Ham South) prompted admiring remarks about his integrity and principles from anonymous accounts Newham Resists and Newham Socialist Labour. As lead member for education under Robin Wales, Cllr Peppiatt oversaw and encouraged the academisation of many of Newham’s schools as part of Wales’s ‘resilience’ programme – something the tweeters behind both Newham Resists and Newham Socialist Labour claim complete opposition towards . 

Cllr Patrick Murphy (Royal Docks) beat Cllr Peppiatt to the punch, resigning the Labour whip the day after Fiaz’s reselection was announced and claiming that the Labour party had “ignored” or “condoned” unspecified criticisms of her leadership. Long-standing readers of this blog will remember Cllr Murphy’s role as the Procedures Secretary who oversaw the ill-fated first trigger ballot for Newham Labour’s Mayoral candidate selection in 2016 – in which he saw no conflict of interest with his position as a ‘community lead councillor’, appointed at Sir Robin’s pleasure and with a special responsibility allowance of over £6,000 a year. 

Despite their closeness to the mayor knighted by Tony Blair, Cllrs Murphy and Peppiatt found an unlikely champion in left-wing scandal-blog Skwawkbox, which expressed outrage that Cllrs Murphy and Peppiatt were not able to resign the Labour whip without also having their Labour party membership withdrawn. Clearly, Skwawkbox has more confidence in Cllr Murphy’s ability correctly to interpret the Labour rulebook than most party members in Newham would share.

Meanwhile, Open Newham, a recent local addition to the scandal-blogging scene, has taken a break from nudge-nudge, wink-wink Islamophobia and personal attacks on the borough’s women of colour to express their solidarity with that persistent irritant of the Fiaz administration, Mehmood Mirza. The site, of which the only named contributor is former Wales ally Clive Furness, has experienced a change of heart towards Mirza, taking up his case after he was blocked by Newham Council on Twitter following a years-long campaign of obsessively replying to every post by the Council with a stream of photos of fly-tipping sites. “You don’t have to like his politics,” Open Newham coyly opens “to know that Mehmood Mirza has been the most consistent and energetic campaigner against fly-tipping and rubbish in the borough”. How touching to see them offer support to a man whom, three years ago, they were not-so-implicitly accusing of antisemitism.

Chairs of West Ham and East Ham CLPs, Carel Buxton and Tahir Mirza, plus a couple of branch chairs, recently resigned from the Labour party announcing their intention to stand candidates again Labour in the local government elections in May, under the flag of ‘Newham Socialist Labour’.

Are the last of Sir Robin’s lieutenants intending to stand – or fall – with them?

One Response to “Strange bedfellows”

  1. Birdman February 16, 2022 at 11:12 #

    Such infighting and machinations are nothing new in Newham, or anywhere else. My own membership of the Labour Party started in 1975 in Newham NW. Arthur Lewis was the MP and not liked by the left, who also didn’t like the ruling councillors who, it was claimed, were all Freemasons. Change occurred but with that change came conflict within various left wingers in the Party and as a young man starting out in politics and a career, I was astounded to see the often violent attacks on people with differing opinions. Little surprises me now and part of the problem is the abject failure of the regional Labour Party to properly investigate even the most serious complaints and allow the selection of candidates who simply should not even be members of the Labour Party, let alone councillors. The way in which SRW was allowed to ignore local voices was a scandal and would ultimately lead me to leave the Labour Party. I was unsurprised by the number of sycophants on the pay roll vote who remained and supported him until he was no longer there to support. They then quickly shifted their allegiance so as not to lose out on allowances.

    Newham, as a one party Borough, has always had Labour Party Councillors whose views would be far more acceptable if they were Tories or other right wing organisations. I now live in a part of the UK where the Tory Party is the dominant local party and they have a similar wide range of opinions with the ruling alt-right faction publicly labelling dissenting colleagues as lefties.

    There are a number of answers from far better vetting of candidates to the introduction of PR. However, history teaches us that whatever system exists, many will ‘game’ the system to acquire power and these days, generous allowances. Newham is not unique in that sense and it will take a few more years to change the culture. Incidentally, if I still lived in Newham I would understand the need for car parking charges but only if they were selective to stop the streets being used as a car park for out of borough commuters. That was tried and morphed into charging for reasons of controlling emissions. I’m not sure that argument was ever put in the local manifesto.

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