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Consolidation and concentration

11 Nov

Newham’s Labour group of councillors met on Monday evening, as they do before every Council meeting, in private. This is one of the few arenas where political disagreements can be aired and the Mayor can be challenged. Decisions are taken at Group and then in the council meeting itself the Labour position is whipped, so the public sees a (theoretically) united front. Given every councillor is Labour and there is no formal opposition party, this has the potential to be a a powerful body.

But the reality can be somewhat different, due to the patronage powers held by the executive mayor. Appointments to the executive – cabinet members, deputy cabinet members, commissioners – are entirely within the mayor’s gift. Those who hold these positions, and those who aspire to in the future, are heavily incentivised to back the Mayor in any vote where they have a strongly held view.

Most Labour Groups on other councils have observers from the local party to report back to members, but that doesn’t happen in Newham. Both local constituency parties are suspended and there has been no functioning Newham-wide Labour Party body since before the end of the Robin Wales era. There is no accountability to local members.

Monday’s meeting was well-attended, at least according to the participants list on Zoom, although only a minority had their cameras on. A number of ‘attendees’ were simultaneously at a GLA party in city hall in Southwark hosted by Unmesh Desai AM. I understand a room was set aside to allow partygoers to vote.

The agenda included some items of business left over from the Group AGM earlier in the year, including proposed rule changes to improve the independence of Group from the executive.

The first proposal was put forward by the Labour Group secretary Susan Masters. The amendment suggested a limit on the number of group officers – chair, secretary, treasurer, women’s officer, equalities officer etc – who also serve on the Council executive. This would be a progressive step away from the practice of the previous mayor, where Group was chaired by a ‘mayoral adviser’, whose career and pay was in the hands of the Mayor. So Labour Group business was rushed through before any time for dissent.

Although proposed by Cllr Masters, this idea had been discussed through a working party and appeared to be uncontroversial; there were no speeches against. But when the votes were counted the proposal was defeated. So the officers can continue to be entirely drawn from councillors whose livelihood is in the hands of the Mayor. If the proposal was so objectionable, why couldn’t those opposed to it put forward a single speech to explain why?

Next, Cllr Daniel Blaney proposed that deputy cabinet members (appointed by the Mayor and given £19,242 per annum as a result) should not vote in group elections for the chairs of council scrutiny committees. These are meant to hold the Council executive to account and, obviously, need to be entirely independent. The mayor and cabinet members already do not vote on nominations for scrutiny chair and Blaney’s amendment would have extended this.

During the May 2021 governance referendum the campaign to keep the mayoral model insisted that scrutiny was a crucial function that ensured proper checks and balances in the system, so there was no need to change things. This is obviously undermined if in practice the executive chooses the who does the scrutiny. The previous regime elevated this practice to an art form! [link: https://forestgate.net/2016/05/13/visions-of-scrutiny/%5D

Cllr Blaney, alongside his ally Cllr John Whitworth, was a prominent campaigner for the committee system last May. That Cllr Whitworth recently lost his role as scrutiny chair in a vote, including those cast by deputy cabinet members, is no doubt a coincidence.

There were a number of speeches against the amendment arguing that deputy cabinet members had so little influence it would be nice if they could vote in the scrutiny elections! If that is indeed the case, what it is that they do that justifies their generous special responsibility allowance?

Blaney argued this was obviously problematic because of the inflated number of jobs being handed out by the mayor and the role of patronage. It was, he said, reminiscent of the Robin Wales era, and a far cry from the promise of a smaller executive she made in her 2018 manifesto. To be fair to the mayor, it isn’t correct to say she has as big a ‘payroll vote’ as Robin Wales. Not quite.

Sadly, Blaney’s amendment was lost.

Finally, there was a proposal to add a new role to the Labour Group officer team: a ‘deputy leader’. But who would the deputy leader be? The leader is the mayor, a role she holds ex-officio under Labour Party rules. Does this mean the deputy mayor (who is appointed by the mayor) must be the deputy leader? Neither the proposer, the mayor herself, nor the seconder, deputy Mayor Charlene McLean, could say.

The Chief Whip, Cllr Anamul Islam, suggested that the matter be deferred pending clarification. He wanted confirmation first that this would be a new post elected by the group. The alternative would further entrench mayoral patronage in the Labour Group, adding another payroll vote to the officer team. However Cllr John Gray, group chair, said it had been proposed legitimately and would be voted on. Unlike the earlier proposals which sought to limit the power of patronage, this was successful.

At the end of the meeting the chair noted a request that Labour Group start meeting again in person. He suggested this would be perverse while councillors are working on a rota basis to attend Full Council in person. I think this is the right call, but the case for continued remote or hybrid meetings is seriously undermined when a number of councillors attend a busy indoor party while logging remotely into a meeting on their phones.

We will have an executive mayor for the next ten years (at least). But it won’t always be Rokhsana Fiaz. Councillors who voted to consolidate the patronage powers of the the mayor within Group may regret their decision if the next mayor – be that in May 2022 or 2026 – is a less benign figure. There are certain figures in the local party with aspirations for office who would not hesitate to use these powers to their advantage.

How Newham voted (part 2)

26 May

A bit more on how Newham voted in the London mayoral election.

Turnout

Overall turnout was 38.6%, which is more or less par for local elections in the borough. The best turnout was among the 31,377 postal voters; 20,519 sent back their ballot (65.4%).

Highest on-the-day turnout was in Green Street East, with 41.2%. And the lowest was Beckon, where barely more than a quarter of voters (25.7%) took the trouble to cast a ballot.

First preferences

Labour took 50% or more of the vote in 11 out of 20 wards: Boleyn, East Ham Central, East Ham North, Forest Gate South, both Green Street wards, Little Ilford, Manor Park, Plaistow North, Stratford and Wall End. My own ward, Forest Gate North, fractionally missed the cut; Sadiq Khan scored 49.98% of first preferences

The Tories’ best result was in Custom House, where they actually “won” – 38.6% to 36.3%. They got 30% or more in five other wards: Beckton, both Canning Towns, East Ham South and Plaistow South.

The Greens best results were in Forest Gate North and Stratford & New Town wards, where they got 10.5%. They got 8.3% in Royal Docks.

Young YouTuber Niko Omilana came fourth across Newham with 4.2% of the vote. He scored especially well (6% or more) in East Ham North and the two Green Street wards.

The Liberal Democrats will probably be disappointed, coming fifth on first preferences with just 2.5%. They failed to hit 5% anywhere, including among postal voters. And, similar to the Greens, their best results were in Stratford & New Town and Royal Docks, where they got 4.6%. 

Second preferences

One explanation advanced for Sadiq Khan’s relatively poor showing, at least compared to the wider Labour vote, is that he was running against 19 opponents and the supplementary vote system allowed electors the option to register a protest vote or to vote for their genuinely preferred candidate, confident that their second preference would end up keeping the Tories out. And the data does support that, to some extent. 

Khan took 17,329 second preferences (25.4%), comfortably ahead of Sian Berry of the Greens (10,635, 15.6%) and Shaun Bailey (9,470, 13.9%). No-one else got above 8%.

11,972 voters gave no second preference.

Rejected votes

One of the more disappointing outcomes of this election was the high number of rejected votes, the vast majority of which were ‘over votes’ (voting for too many candidates) caused by really bad design of the ballot paper, There’s a great piece on this on the On London website.

Of the 87,189 votes cast in Newham a massive 5,533 were rejected because voters were confused by the ballot paper. 

Green Street East saw 11.5% of votes rejected for over-voting; Wall End and East Ham Central also had 10% or more of their votes discounted for the same reason. This is an absolute scandal.

London Elects – how Newham voted

24 May

The London Elects website has released results from the recent mayoral and London Assembly at ward level, which means we can see how Newham voted.

Mayor of London

Candidate Party Votes Percent
Sadiq KHAN Labour Party 39,732 49.4%
Shaun BAILEY Conservative Party 21,327 26.5%
Sian BERRY Green Party 4,455 5.5%
Niko OMILANA Independent 3,374 4.2%
Luisa PORRITT Liberal Democrats 2,043 2.5%
Brian ROSE London Real Party 1,752 2.2%
Richard HEWISON Rejoin EU 1,099 1.4%
Piers CORBYN Let London Live 1,037 1.3%
Laurence FOX The Reclaim Party 892 1.1%
Count BINFACE Count Binface for Mayor of London 634 0.8%
Farah LONDON Independent 632 0.8%
Vanessa HUDSON Animal Welfare Party 585 0.7%
Mandu REID Women’s Equality Party 485 0.6%
Peter GAMMONS UKIP 473 0.6%
Nims OBUNGE Independent 396 0.5%
Kam BALAYEV Renew 383 0.5%
Steve KELLEHER Social Democratic Party 325 0.4%
David KURTEN Heritage Party 292 0.4%
Max FOSH Independent 231 0.3%
Valerie BROWN The Burning Pink Party 226 0.3%

 

London Assembly – City & East

Candidate Party Votes Percent
Unmesh DESAI Labour Party 51,329 60.1%
Nick Vandyke Conservative Party 17,219 20.2%
Tim Kiely Green Party 8,666 10.1%
Richard Flowers Liberal Democrats 4,810 5.6%
David Bull Reform UK 3,417 4.0%

 

London Assembly – list

Party Votes Percent
Labour Party 47,142 55.8%
Conservatives 16,859 20.0%
Green Party 6,421 7.6%
Liberal Democrats 2,967 3.5%
Rejoin EU 1,927 2.3%
Christian Peoples Alliance 1,480 1.8%
Animal Welfare Party – People, Animals, Environment 1,361 1.6%
Vote Women’s Equality Party on orange 1,180 1.4%
London Real Party 1,018 1.2%
ReformUK – London Deserves Better 826 1.0%
Let London Live 750 0.9%
UKIP 723 0.9%
Communist Party of Britain 405 0.5%
Heritage Party – Free Speech and Liberty 347 0.4%
Trade Union and Socialist Coalition 327 0.4%
Social Democratic Party 293 0.3%
Londependence 274 0.3%
National Liberal Party – Self determination for all! 178 0.2%

 

There are three things that jump out from these results.

Firstly, that Sadiq Khan substantially under-performed compared to his party on both the London-wide list and City & East ballot. Unmesh Desai has the advantage of being local, but that alone doesn’t explain an almost 12,000 vote gap. The answer is the hugely unpopular Silvertown Tunnel. Khan took the decision to go ahead and build it and it has cost him. I know many local Labour activists who sat on their hands rather than knock doors or deliver leaflets for him. Some may not even have voted him (voting for another party is an expulsion-level offence in the party rulebook, so they likely stayed at home or filed a blank ballot).

Second, that the Conservatives over-performed compared to their usual Newham vote share, taking 20% in both Assembly elections and 26% in the mayoral contest. They took 12% against Rokhsana Fiaz in 2018 and around 15% across the two local seats in the 2019 general election. 

Thirdly, the Green Party is clearly the third party in Newham, getting double the votes of the Liberal Democrats.

I’ll post something on voting in each of the 20 local wards later in the week.

Labour holds East Ham Central

13 May

Farah Nazeer election leaflets

Labour easily held its seat in the East Ham Central by-election, with Farah Nazeer returning to the council after an absence of three years. Cllr Nazeer previously represented Little Ilford ward from 2010 to 2018.

The results:

Farah Nazeer – Labour & Co-op – 2,297 (53%)

SK Zakir Hossain – Conservative – 1,288 (30%)

Danny Keeling – Greens – 283 (7%)

Ed Comaromi –  Lib Dems – 239 (6%)

Paul M Jobson – Christian PA – 115 (3%)

Lois Austin – TUSC – 91 (2%)

Turnout: 42.6%

Although Labour’s vote was somewhat down from the 2018 election – despite a higher overall turnout and a wider choice of candidates on the ballot – the party still garnered more than 50% of the vote.

The Conservatives did very well, growing their vote from 509 to 1,288 – a whopping 150% increase. Perhaps the ‘yellow’ referendum campaign helped drive this? Their leaflets, which were distributed across large parts of East Ham, pushed policies on cars and parking charges which were indistinguishable from Shaun Bailey’s. And the local Tory candidate said he would suspend the MiPermit parking scheme. By playing to the grievances of a minority that feels it is not being listened to in the town hall, the ‘yellows’ may have pushed voters towards the party that shared the same outlook.

Neither the Greens nor Lib Dems stood in 2018 and both will probably be quite pleased with their results. The 13% they took between them might well have gone to Labour last time in the absence of any other progressive alternative. Results elsewhere last week will encourage both parties to think they have chances in 2022.

Bringing up the rear, TUSC and the Christians did about as poorly as expected.

East Ham Central is largely unaffected by the boundary changes that will be introduced next year, so Cllr Nazeer will likely be defending the same territory although the name will be a little shorter – just East Ham.

Governance Referendum result and statement

10 May

RESULT OF THE REFERENDUM

For the directly elect mayor: 45,960 (56%)

For the committee system: 36,424 (44%)

CAMPAIGN STATEMENT

Newham Voting for Change is disappointed with the outcome of the governance referendum but the fact that 44% voted for the committee system shows that there is significant support for a more cooperative and collaborative politics.

Our campaign focused on democracy and inclusion and we must accept that the people of Newham have spoken. After twenty years of a directly elected mayor, they have opted to stick with that system for at least the next decade.

We would like to thank everyone involved in our campaign for their hard work over the past few months and congratulate those in the pro-mayoral ‘Right to Vote’ campaign for their part in helping residents understand the important issues at stake.

Newham Voting for Change also pays tribute to Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz for keeping her promise to hold a referendum and for ensuring that voters had a real choice on the ballot paper.

Chair of Newham Voting for Change, Josephine Grahl said, “although it is disappointing that we did not win it is encouraging to see local people engaging in the debate about how their council is run. While the directly elected mayor system will continue, we are encouraged by commitments made to wider participation through citizens’ assemblies and the proposed trialling of small-scale community councils where some powers are devolved to local areas. We hope the mayor recognises that Newham voters are enthusiastic about more open and transparent decision-making at all levels within the council.”

Pass Notes: the Newham Referendum

27 Apr

Newham Voting for Change leaflets

So what’s this referendum all about then?

This is it – the referendum promised by Rokhsana Fiaz when she was elected in 2018, on the future of Newham governance – basically, who has the power and who makes the decisions. The options on the ballot on 6 May 2021 will be the Directly Elected Mayor (what we have now) and the committee system (a different model).

Oh yes. I’ve seen the garish yellow leaflets. Is it true that if I vote for the committee structure, parking charges will be abolished, council tax will be cut, diamonds will rain from the sky, and every Newham resident will get a free pony?

Don’t count on it. The referendum is about governance structures – the way that the council works and decides things – not policy, which is decided by the majority party elected. Look out for Newham Voting for Change’s materials (see above), which take a less Nigel Farage-style approach.

So how do I get a free pony?

When the Free Pony Party gain a majority of seats on Newham council; so not any time soon, I’m afraid.

So if it’s not about parking charges what’s in it for me?

It’s about having a council where power is more diversified – at the moment the Mayor has full executive power in Newham Council, but with the committee system it would be shared between all 60 councillors.

How does that work?

Newham Council has published the plan for the initial set-up. There will be four committees covering Children and Education, Environment and Transport, Economy and Housing, and Adults and Health, plus a Policy and Resources committee which has general oversight – for the corporate plan and the council’s budget, for example.

So who would be in charge?

The council would still elect a leader, but they wouldn’t have the vast executive power of the current Mayor.

Sounds interesting. Do any other councils work like that?

An increasing number. And on 6 May Sheffield are also holding a referendum on moving to the committee structure. There’s more information on the website of Newham Voting for Change, the campaign for the committee structure. 

Do they make the yellow leaflets?

No – their leaflets are purple, and deal with the actual governance issues we’ll be voting on: who has the power, and how decisions are made.

Why are there multiple campaigns?

Newham Voting for Change was set up last year by residents and councillors who’ve supported a more open system for a long time. The ‘yellow leaflet’ campaign are less transparent about who’s involved, but seem to be connected to Newham Democracy, who earlier this year unsuccessfully sued the council to take the committee structure off the referendum ballot paper.

Wait – so they were against the committee structure then, but now they’re saying it will bring about an earthly paradise?

Welcome to Newham politics. They also seem to spend a lot of time on twitter arguing about which of their accounts is the official one.

And what about the other side in the campaign?

Newham Right to Vote are campaigning to keep the Mayoral system, arguing that residents need a right to vote for the person who’s in charge.

But under the committee structure the councillors would have more power, and we vote for them, right?

Exactly.

Do say:

The committee structure is a more open, representative, co-operative and accountable way of doing things. Vote for change on 6 May!

Don’t say:

£350 million a week for free parking.

Our Mayoral Referendum: Are we asking the right question?

20 Apr

The mayoral model

IMG 0675 copy

By Cllr Susan Masters

Okay, so I start this stressing that art was among my worst subjects at school – apologies for the diagrams. However, over the last few days I’ve started wondering whether, in common with a few recent referenda, we might not be asking the wrong questions in our vote on May 6th. I’m not talking about the vote for London Mayor or the East Ham Central by-election (if you live in East Ham Central – I don’t) but the decision we all have to make about the model of governance that decides how our council will be run politically.

That question is set: We are being asked to decide between a Mayoral and Committee model of leadership. And yet, the more I think about it, the more I have realised that whichever model we opt for, that is just the start point – that both systems should have us asking a load more questions. In drawing out both systems to try and make the differences clearer, I am clear that even as someone who has served as a councillor for the last 7 years, I might have got some details wrong and am happy for this to be corrected as much as being a start point for debate but here are the questions I feel need to be asked – some equally round both systems, some just for one or the other.

And before I start – I am (just about) a supporter of change alias the committee model – though I now feel a very modified Mayoral system giving more power to cabinet members but, equally, stronger powers to scrutiny and Newham residents as a whole could be equally empowering. I should also stress that In both models officers will run the council day-to-day, from top to bottom, and provide data and reports under the direction of the political leadership but here are the issues that I feel beg questions

  1. Starting at the bottom line – the selection process. What kind of councillor do you want to represent you? Is it about a level of professional competence, personal experience or a relationship with a geographical or other community? Are those voices making it through? If not, what are the barriers? How can those be changed?
  2. The Mayoral model has been celebrated as a chance for the residents of Newham to select the person who leads them and the manifesto they are elected to take forward. But given that power is exercised only once, before a term has begun, where is the power to intervene when you feel that choice has gone awry? Should there be ways in which residents can track the extent to which a manifesto has been brought forward and perhaps have an input to renegotiate their mandate?
  3. Scrutiny. Under the Mayoral system scrutiny is the check and balance on the executive (the Mayor, her cabinet and commissioners/deputy cabinet members), where the other councillors (those not in cabinet, deputy cabinet members or commissioners) can review or explore, writing reports and passing recommendations to those leading. As the system stands, though, they have no power to force change – even when the desire to row back is huge. Does this, in itself, need to change? It should also be stressed that non-cabinet councillors do have other key roles serving on a series of statutory committees governing planning, licensing, audit, pensions and standards.
  4. But what of the residents? We have already discussed their lack of input within the four year terms to call the Mayor to account, but what can they currently do to participate in their council – well, they can bring petitions; attend council as a deputation to query policy and make alternative suggestions; attend public meetings; have access to reports and papers that our committees base their deliberations on; suggest projects to improve our borough through their citizens’ assemblies and raise matters with the Mayor or their local councillors. Though again, is that enough? How could that be improved and should it? Or should those residents, many of whom who have fought long and difficult paths to be councillors, exercise their own electoral mandate, unlimited?
  5. As my poor drawing of the Mayoral model shows, the Mayor has enormous power to appoint and sack cabinet members (as full-time roles with enhanced payments attached), decide how much responsibility and which issues are delegated to them to decide, appoint or lead external bodies and partnership boards. The Mayor also appoints deputy cabinet members and commissioners (part-time roles, but also with boosted allowances attached and who are answerable to the Mayor). Is that too much power/responsibility for one person or about clarity and ownership? Again, if we do stick with the Mayoral model is it time to look at this and ask whether cabinet leads deserve more responsibility to lead their portfolios and manage deputy members and should those who lead those portfolios equally need to be called to account for performance?
  6. What of the role of council in the Mayoral model? At the moment, it decides the budget, key strategies, key governance changes and motions brought by members among other policies. Should more power come back to it from cabinet?

So those are the questions I feel are begged by our present Mayoral model. Moving on to the Committee model, this is a system I haven’t experienced so there are queries galore and bits I might have got wrong. I hope any debate will allow for correction as much as deliberation.

Councillor selection raises the same questions but with the Mayoral model gone, the electorate just have the choice of 3 ward councillors to go forward to the full council. Council then elects chairs and members to a number of committees. As with the mayoral model, officers run the council day-to-day, collect data and supply reports and for councillors there are still the statutory committees that deal with licensing, planning, accounts, audit, pensions and standards, but the key policy decisions will be taken by a policy and strategy committee not a Mayor with or without cabinet – so…

Question 7: I would ask how the membership of that is decided and who is on it (and in what balance) as that will dictate the council’s direction. You also have to ask what other committees should exist to ensure effective political leadership. Apparently most committee model councils have 4-8 of these – what areas should they govern? Also, should there still be a full compliment of scrutiny committees? A Health scrutiny committee is required but what of our current other areas of scrutiny (crime and anti-social behaviour, regeneration and housing and children and young people)? Would a committee system allow for such checks and balances to go on within those committees or are additional checks required?

This leads into question 8, the processes by which that Committee model council chooses chairs, members and elects a leader as well as deciding how much power to keep and how much to delegate to its committees.

Question 9: Where do partnership bodies fit into all of this? These are the committees that bring together key local services largely round issues such as adult safeguarding, corporate parenting or health to ensure all those services work together smoothly.

And finally, question 10. What of residents? Where is their voice and how will our first steps into participatory democracy fare in a committee system?

These are just some of the questions I feel both systems need to answer. Others might have additional ones. I look forward to a lively debate.

Susan Masters has represented East Ham South on Newham Council since 2014. This post originally appeared on her Facebook page and is reproduced here, with permission, for the benefit of those who either cannot or do not wish to access that website.

A day to shape Newham’s future

23 Mar

Newham Voices  May 6th by John Whitworth

West Ham councillor John Whitworth on why residents should vote for the committee model in the upcoming governance referendum:

May 6th is the date, not only for the election of the London Mayor and Greater London Assembly Member, but also for the important Newham Governance Referendum. This comes 20 years after this borough voted to have one of the country’s first Directly-Elected Mayors in a referendum which was perhaps not widely nor fully understood. Newham was one of only 11 authorities which voted to adopt the Mayor model and there are currently just 15, with many more referendums proposing a Mayor being lost than won. Since 2002, the voters of Stoke-on-Trent, Hartlepool and Torbay have opted to abandon the Mayor model they had previously adopted, two for the Leader and Cabinet and one for the Committee model.

Sir Robin Wales, elected Mayor of Newham in 2002, remained in office until he was defeated by Cllr Rokhsana Fiaz in the selection for the Labour Party’s Mayoral candidate in 2018. Of those who believed this model would work better with Cllr Fiaz in the post, many also felt that the DEM model was in any case flawed. She expressed the view that this model had not worked well for Newham and pledged, if elected, to hold a referendum on its future by May 2021.

How the full powers of the Mayor are used depends greatly on the incumbent’s character but, according to the Local Government Act 2000, the Mayor – elected separately from the councillors and therefore of higher status – appoints and dismisses Cabinet members. Stemming from this authority, the Mayor is able to ensure the Cabinet’s assent and exercise considerable influence over the councillors belonging to the dominant party.

In contrast, under the Committee model the Council delegates decision-making powers to committees corresponding to Council directorates, such as Adults & Health and Inclusive Economy & Housing. Full Council elects the chairs of these committees and the Council Leader, and has direct responsibility for the overall policy framework and the budget.

The campaign group, Newham Voting for Change, believes that the Committee system is more democratic, equal and inclusive than the DEM system because all councillors participate in making policy. Working in committees encourages co-operation rather than division, talent is nurtured and expertise developed more productively, and all councillors are more accessible and accountable for the Council’s actions.

Residents will hopefully participate in the referendum in large numbers to play a role in shaping Newham’s future.

The article originally appeared in Newham Voices, a new independent community newspaper distributed around the borough.

For more information about the campaign for a committee system, check out the website at https://newhamforchange.org/ or ‘like’ the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/newhamvotingforchange.

The campaign is also raising funds and you can donate at https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/newham-for-change

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.