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Voting for change – online meeting

3 Mar

Newham Voting for Change logo

Newham Voting for Change, the campaign for a committee structure is hosting an online public meeting on Zoom on Tuesday 9 March from 7-8pm. All welcome – we will be discussing the campaign and the advantages of the committee structure.

I will be chairing the meeting and speakers will be local activists involved in the campaign.

Register here!

‘Tis Pity He’s a Hoar

25 Jan

Francis Hoar, barrister

Democracy Newham Limited, the company behind the so-called ‘People’s Petition’, has been crowdfunding the legal costs for their case for against Newham Council. So far they have raised a little over £10,000.

The principal expense is hiring a barrister. And man they have engaged is called Francis Hoar. 

An interesting choice for a campaign based out of the home of a Labour councillor and endorsed by leading figures in Newham Momentum.

According to Mr Hoar’s profile on his chambers’ website

He recently acted successfully for Craig Mackinlay MP (in a criminal prosecution) and Darren Grimes (in an appeal against the Electoral Commission) and acted for the petitioner in an election petition challenging the result of the by-election in Peterborough in 2019.

Mackinley is a Tory MP and Grimes a right-wing activist and Brexiter. Many of the people backing DNL went to Peterborough in 2019 to campaign for the winning Labour candidate. I wonder how they feel about now being represented by the man that tried to overturn their efforts?

Fair enough, you might say, everyone is entitled to be represented in court – even Tories and Brexiters.

However, Mr Hoar is also a noted lockdown sceptic, arguing on Twitter that the current restrictions are 

a gigantic social experiment encouraged by a Communist state

In May he led a challenge to the first lockdown, claiming they were unlawful and 

a disproportionate breach of fundamental freedoms protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.

Last week he asked of government scientist Chris Whitty

Who gave this fanatic the power to suspend and destroy our society in order to reduce the numbers of very old people dying – as old people do – of respiratory infections, whenever those deaths go above the norm?

Again, everyone has a right to an opinion but those who gave money to DNL might wonder why it is being spent on a barrister with views that, if implemented as policy, would result in a lot of people from Newham – their friends, family and neighbours – getting ill and dying from COVID; other lawyers are available.

A is for…

14 Jan

Cllr Nazir Ahmed campaigning in 2019

Cllr Nazir Ahmed (left) campaigning in the 2019 general election

The Deputy Chair of Newham Council, Cllr Nazir Ahmed of Little Ilford, has been suspended by the Labour Party pending an investigation into alleged antisemitism.

According to the Jewish News website Cllr Ahmed made a number of social media posts that contained antisemitic material, including one suggesting Israel should be relocated to the United States (“easy solution for Israel-Palestine conflict!”) and two repeating the untruth that Israel is tunnelling under the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem with the intention of causing it to collapse.

He also shared a video which asked whether “Israel have USA in the pocket..”, and another about a group of anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews saying “not all Jewish [sic] are the same. There are some very good Jewish.”

Given the recent Equalities and Human Rights Commission Investigation into the Labour Party and the row last autumn over the handling of antisemitic posts on the local party’s Facebook group, this is more than just an embarrassment.

Cllr Ahmed was elected in 2018 and all of the social media posts mentioned above pre-date his selection as a Labour candidate. The application form explicitly asks for links to blogs and social media sites (“this includes Facebook and Twitter”) that potential candidates have access to. Did nobody take a look? And, if they did, why did they not spot this stuff? Maybe they did and didn’t think it a problem.

A Labour spokesperson said the “party takes all complaints of antisemitism extremely seriously and they are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures, and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken.”

There is no comment currently on the council website and Cllr Ahmed is still listed as the deputy chair. 

Newham Voting for Change – launch event

3 Dec

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Newham Voting for Change, the campaign for the committee system in next May’s governance referendum, has announced its official launch event:

 

Join us on Zoom for a public online meeting to launch Newham Voting for Change – the campaign for a committee structure in Newham.

In May 2021 Newham will hold a referendum on how the local council is run. We are campaigning for the committee system, which is more

OPEN
REPRESENTATIVE
DEMOCRATIC
ACCOUNTABLE

We’ll be joined by:

  • Ruth Hubbard, Sheffield It’s Our City – Sheffield Council will also be holding a referendum on changing to a committee structure and Ruth will talk about the successes of the Sheffield campaign.
  • Cllr Ruth Dombey, Leader of Sutton Council (Lib Dems) – Ruth will talk about how Sutton Council works with the committee structure.
  • Cllr Andrew Ansell, Basildon Councillor (Labour) – Andrew will talk about how Basildon Council operates day to day with a committee system in place.
  • Speaker from the Tower Hamlets referendum campaign – TBC.

Chair: Josephine Grahl, Newham Voting for Change

All welcome | Tuesday 8th December | 7-8pm

Register for the meeting on Zoom

 

Talking to the Fabians about committees

23 Nov

On Saturday Newham Fabians held an online meeting to talk about local democracy and participation. I was invited to talk about the committee model and why I think it’s the best option for Newham.

This is what I said…

Since 2002 Newham has been run by a directly elected executive mayor – for the first 16 years that was Sir Robin Wales; the current mayor Rokhsana Fiaz has served for 2 ½ years.

The referendum in May will be the first time in close to 20 years that residents have the chance to debate and determine how our borough is run. The choice will be between the current arrangements and a modern committee system.

Newham Voting for Change, the campaign for a committee system, is delighted that there will be a clear choice between a council run by a Mayor and a small executive they appoint and a more participatory, inclusive and open system in which every councillor can play a role. We’re looking forward to campaigning for the committee system in the referendum and having the chance to make the arguments about how Newham council should make decisions and agree policy.

So, what is the committee model?

This is the flatter, less hierarchical and more collaborative alternative to having the executive – or strong leader – arrangements we have now.

Under this model, full Council holds all the decision-making powers. It is full Council’s decision whether to exercise those powers directly or to delegate them to committees or to officers. Council can decide for itself how to organise the committees and adapt them over time to meet changing needs.

While there is no set model of committees, historically they have been based on major functional areas, such as housing, finance, education and resources; along with regulatory committees such as planning and licensing; governance committees such as audit and standards; and statutory scrutiny committees, such as health.

The London Borough of Sutton, for example, has four main committees that are responsible for the Council’s principal functions. These are:

  • Strategy and Resources Committee
  • Environment and Neighbourhood Committee
  • Housing, Economy and Business Committee
  • People Committee

Full Council appoints a leader, but without executive powers and, of course, they can be replaced by full Council – not an option that exists under our current arrangements.

The council leader provides political and strategic leadership, proposing new policy, strategy, budget and service standards, as well as acting as spokesperson for the authority.

They represent the Council in the community and in discussions with regional, national and international organisations.

Although this is not an issue in our present one-party state, all committees and sub-committees must be politically balanced, where possible.

Research shows that in councils that moved back to a committee system, the role of full council has been enhanced, with more councillors involved in decision-making. Which is a key reason for moving away from a mayor or leader-and-cabinet system.

Why do we believe this the best option for Newham?

Good governance is about more than structures and processes. Political and organisational cultures, attitudes and behaviours are what make systems successful.

We have seen that the concentration of power and patronage in the hands a single individual, and their hand-picked ‘executive team’, has led to groupthink, poor decision-making and a toxic political culture. Although Rokhsana Fiaz has handed back many of her powers to cabinet there is nothing to prevent a future mayor reclaiming them for themselves.

In a modern Committee system, all 66 councillors will have the power to represent their areas and do the job voters believe they are electing them to do.

Decisions will be made by committees of councillors (from all parties, should an opposition ever manage to get itself elected) working together. All of our councillors will have a voice to represent the communities they serve – not just the mayor and their chosen few.

Power and resources for decision-making in local communities can also be built into a committee system. This means more decisions can be taken closer to the people affected.

We believe that the committee system is:

OPEN – there is more opportunity for citizens, experts and communities to have their say and influence decisions

REPRESENTATIVE – all council members have input into decisions, not just the Mayor and Cabinet

CO-OPERATIVE – councillors have to work together to make decisions

ACCOUNTABLE – every councillor takes a role in making policy and seeing decisions enacted

And a properly designed committee system will be just as swift for decision-making as the mayor-and-cabinet system.

The socialist case for committees

Socialists know that supporting open, democratic and accountable government is crucial. Our party was established to open up government to working people who had gone unrepresented — so that democracy might be used to improve the lives of the many, not just the few.

I hope the referendum debate can be a starting point for a wider discussion on how to renew our democracy in Newham. As Fabians and socialists, we have questions to answer.

How do we create a political culture based on cooperation and solidarity? How do we rebuild trust in our politics and in our public institutions? How do we build support for and fund high quality, universal public services? How do we become carbon neutral within the next decade, to avert climate catastrophe?

The scale of the task confronting us means that the public needs to be at the heart of deciding how to proceed.

I will finish by quoting Olivia Blake, MP for Sheffield Hallam and a supporter for the campaign for a committee system in her city: “Labour councils should be innovative, pioneering new democratic processes with greater citizen participation and deliberation. And we need to start now. The people are ready for change, and we should listen.”

Newham Fabian Society is the local branch of the Fabian Society, a left-leaning think tank dedicated to new public policy and political ideas that is affiliated to the Labour Party. If you’re interested in finding out more, email the secretary.

By-election. But not yet.

26 Aug

Julainanne Marriott

Julianne Marriott (left) in her role as education lead

Julianne Marriott has resigned as a councillor for East Ham Central ward. She had announced at a meeting of the Council July that she was standing down as Cabinet member for Education and is now leaving the council altogether.

If a by-election is called to replace her it won’t take place until 6th May 2021, in accordance with the current Coronavirus regulations. So there’s plenty of time for Newham’s political parties to pick their candidates!

Ms Marriott was first elected in 2014 and was re-elected 2018. She will now be devoting herself to a new full-time job. My understanding is that her new role is not politically restricted, so there was no legal requirement for her to resign. She could have sat quietly on the back benches until the next election, collecting the £11,000 a year allowance. That she chose not to is entirely to her credit.

In a farewell note to colleagues she said (emphasis added)

Representing the people of East Ham Central and being part of Newham Council for six years has been an amazing experience and one that I’ve learned so much from. I will forever be a cheerleader for Newham and the role of local government. I can only hope that this Tory Government learns to feel the same way.

The Tories have systematically underfunded and undermined local government over the last 10 years and has now left us with an over £33m bill for supporting our most vulnerable residents through Covid-19. I can only sign off with the exhortation that there is a real enemy out there – and it’s one we need to focus our energy on fighting.

i look forward to seeing you on the doorstep as part of our journey to getting the Labour government Newham’s residents need.

Notice of a casual vacancy has been posted on the council website.

One man, four parties

16 Apr

Albdul Karim Sheikh

Former councillor Abdul Karim Sheikh

Tributes were paid this week to Abdul Karim Sheikh, former councillor and ceremonial mayor of Newham, who has sadly passed away at the age of 82 having contracted Covid-19.

On Twitter Newham Jack (who he?) asked ‘Is he the only person to have stood for election in Newham representing four different political parties?’

While I don’t know the answer to that I can confirm his political career did indeed span standing for four very different parties.

He first stood for the council in Plashet ward in 1986 for the Independent Newham Broad Alliance. He finished in last place with 401 votes.

By 1990 he had joined Labour and was selected to contest Kensington ward, where he romped home with a majority of 1,300. He switched to St Stephens ward in 1994, winning re-election easily. In 1998 he was selected for Upton ward; as no other party put up a candidate the Labour slate was returned unopposed.

2002 saw him stand for the last time on the Labour ticket, this time in Green Street West. He defected to Respect in 2005. 

In an interview with Socialist Worker he explained

The new system of a directly elected mayor, brought in four years ago, has changed the council into a dictatorship. The mayor, Robin Wales, was originally against the mayor plan, but changed his mind after the referendum.

I left the Labour Party and joined Respect last year, partly because I felt councillors were no longer listened to.

The system takes power away from even elected members of the council. That’s why Respect is talking about trying to reverse this system.

Cllr Sheikh was narrowly re-elected in Green Street West for his new party in 2006 alongside Hanif Abdulmuhit, who has since returned to the Labour Party.

He left the council in 2010 after Respect were heavily defeated.

2014 saw him try again in Green Street West. This time for the Conservatives. He was unsuccessful, trailing the winning Labour candidates by more than 1,500 votes. He contested the 2018 election for the Tories again and, completing the circle started 32 years before, he came last.

One man, four parties. Perhaps a unique contribution to local politics.

Suspended?

22 Feb

Mehmood Mirza with Peter Willsman

Mehmood Mirza (right) with Peter Willsman in September 2018

Alternative ‘news’ site The Skwawkbox is reporting that West Ham CLP membership officer Mehmood Mirza has been suspended from the Labour Party after a compliant about his conduct. Mirza is currently running for a seat on the party’s national executive committee as the BAME representative.

According to The Swawkbox

Mehmood Mirza, who received 75 nominations from local parties, would be unable to publicise the nature of the complaint because of Labour’s confidentiality requirements. However, while the precise nature of the complaint is unknown, a Labour source has told the SKWAWKBOX that parts relate to Mirza applauding a speaker’s comments at a Labour Party meeting and walking around a meeting after members were asked to remain seated.

The SKWAWKBOX also understands that Mirza’s supporters allege that the complaint was lodged by a figure on the left of the party.

Two hours before Mirza received notification from the party, he received a call from the right-wing Telegraph newspaper asking him to comment on the complaint.

The story has indeed reached the Telegraph, although it is less certain about his suspension

Mehmood Mirza, the frontrunner to become the next BAME representative on Labour’s ruling body, was reported for posting an allegedly anti-Semitic cartoon on Facebook.

The member of public who reported Mr Mirza, the vice chair of the West Ham Labour party, has not heard back from the party despite the complaints being initially made in October last year.

The cartoon in question, which Mr Mirza shared on his Facebook page, depicted a sticker with the words “anti-Semitism” being placed across the mouth of a man who has a “free Palestine” band around his head.

The cartoon was created by Carlos Latuff, a Brazillian artist who has previously been accused of creating anti-Semitic content by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, the human rights organisation.

… Mr Mirza still appears as a candidate on the party’s official website, though The Telegraph understands he may have been suspended.

Whatever the outcome, this will be an embarrassment to those who have endorsed him.

West Ham CLP’s general committee meets on Thursday. If Mirza has been suspended he won’t be able to attend.

Election 2019 Results

16 Dec

Stephen Timms, Rokhsana Fiaz and Lyn Brown

No surprises in Newham, as Labour easily held both of the borough’s Parliamentary seats. The party’s share of the vote declined slightly, but neither Stephen Timms nor Lyn Brown will be losing any sleep over that.

East Ham

Stephen Timms (Labour) – 41,703

Scott Pattenden (Conservative) – 8,527

Michael Fox (Liberal Democrat) – 2,158

Alka Sehgal Cuthbert (Brexit Party) – 1,107

Mike Spracklin (Green Party) – 883

Kamran Malik (Communities United Party) – 250

Labour majority of 33,147

 

West Ham

Lyn Brown (Labour) – 42,181

Sara Kumar (Conservative) – 9,793

Eimear O’Casey (Liberal Democrat) – 4,161

Danny Keeling (Green Party) – 1,780

Emma Jane Stockdale (Brexit Party) – 1,679,

Paul Jobson (Christian People’s Alliance) – 463

Humera Kamran (Communities United Party) – 143

Labour majority of 32,388

Maryland Point

30 Oct

Map of proposed Maryland ward

The Local Government Boundary Commission for England has published its draft proposal for re-warding Newham and it represents a major victory for local campaigners in Maryland. They argued that their community deserved direct representation on the council and the Commission agreed.

When I wrote about the council’s own proposals I expected them to be accepted. I was mostly right – but also quite wrong.

The Boundary Commission has adopted the majority of Newham’s recommendations, but re-drawn the map in the north of the borough to accommodate a new Maryland ward, which extends from Leyton Road in the west to Field Road in the east and takes in the roads around UEL’s Stratford campus in the south. If adopted, it will elect three councillors.

As a result three other wards have significant changes. The proposed Stratford East Village ward is now smaller and renamed Olympic East Village; it will have two councillors. Forest Gate North is also smaller, having lost almost all of the streets off Forest Lane west of the community school. But it gains the parts of the Woodgrange Estate that currently sit in Forest Gate South. The redrawn FGN will elect two councillors. Forest Gate South, shorn of the Woodgrange Estate, the area around the UEL and streets west of Water Lane, is also reduced to two councillors.

Stratford Olympic Park ward will simply be known as Stratford.

For what it’s worth, I think the boundary between the proposed new ward and Forest Gate North is absurd. Even if you accept that Maryland is a distinct community (I am personally unconvinced) there is no way it extends almost the entire length of Forest Lane. A more sensible boundary would be the western edge of Forest Lane Park and the cemetery.