Co-op cock-up

10 Mar

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Although you wouldn’t know from this picture, the second round of Newham Co-opertaive Party’s AGM was extremely well-attended. Indeed more people turned up than for the first part four weeks ago.

The empty seats were earlier occupied by councillors and others associated with Sir Robin’s faction on the council. They departed after a monumental failure of organisation left them without any candidates for the remaining positions on the local party committee. Even an excellent speech by Co-operative party general secretary Claire McCarthy could not persuade them to stay.

Perhaps it is for the best that Sir Robin himself did not attend. He would not have been amused.

Cllr Lester Hudson, who won election to be the party chair in February, was another notable absentee. He preferred the free food and drink on offer at the LGC Awards in London. So much for his commitment to an active Co-op Party in Newham.

The second meeting was called after the original AGM was unable to complete the full slate of elections. In order to ensure there was no repeat of the bad behaviour that marred part one, part two was overseen by national and London region party officers. The atmosphere was much improved.

Unlike at the first meeting, nominations and candidate statements were required in advance for each post. Candidates that had been previously been nominated had to re-submit. A fact that had evidently evaded the leadership faction, who found they had no candidates. Cllr Clive Furness did his best to challenge this on behalf of the absent Lakhmini Shah (who had stood for secretary) but his objection was briskly swatted away by the chair.

Cllr Aleen Alarice, Sir Robin’s candidate for treasurer in round one, was present but said nothing on her own behalf when her opponent Averil Donohoe was elected unopposed. John Gray (assistant secretary) and Alan Griffiths (membership officer) were also returned without a vote being required.

The only significant election was for secretary and Gill Hay won that comfortably over Neil Wilson. Cllr Wilson will have been consoled by his later election as social secretary.

There were no elections for delegates to the two constituency Labour parties, because of the investigation into the alleged attendance of unauthorised Co-op delegates at the recent East Ham AGM. The Co-op does not have any delegates in East Ham and the West Ham delegates only remain in place pro tem.

A significant source of power and influence within the Labour party in Newham has slipped from Sir Robin’s grasp due to an almighty cock-up. Further evidence, perhaps, that his regime is unravelling.

Wrath of Khan

10 Mar

Cllr Obaid Khan, who was handed a two year suspension from the Labour party last week, says that he has been the victim of a political witch hunt.

In a statement he says

“I believe that I am being victimised for having political differences with the local Labour leadership in Newham, as well as asking for processes to be democratic and transparent in the local Labour party.

“I continue to deny the charges and I am taking advise on what further action is available to me. I do not believe that I have been subject to a fair process by any reasonable standard of natural justice in the way the Labour Party has pursued the complaints made against me.”

Cllr Khan claims that although he was initially suspended in December 2015 on the basis of his “behaviour towards other party members at party meetings and in email correspondence” he did not receive specific details of the allegations until January this year – 14 months later.

He further says that the investigation report contained material that was irrelevant to the charges and “gratuitously negative commentary by the party investigators themselves” which was prejudicial to his defense.

Two of the three complainants did not attend the hearing and were therefore unable to be questioned by Cllr Khan or his representatives.

Mr Michael Sullivan, a local Labour Party member who helped Cllr Khan prepare his defence and who attended the hearing, said

“I have a lot of experience of representing trade union members at employer’s discipline hearings and of representing people at Employment and Welfare Benefit Tribunals. I also have a Masters Degree in Law that I undertook when I was a trade union officer responsible for members’ legal cases.

“I can say that the way the case against Councillor Khan was prepared and conducted including the material unrelated to the charges against him that was permitted to be included in the case papers would not be permitted in an employer’s discipline hearings or any Tribunal; and certainly not in any formal court.

“I believe that the conduct of this case reflects badly on the Labour Party, which has fairness and justice among it’s core values”.

Whatever the nature of the charges against Cllr Khan – which have not been made public – the conduct of the Labour party appears to be highly questionable.

And local members might ask why this case has been dealt with ahead of that of Cllr Ahmed Noor, who was the subject of a withering report to the council’s standards board. Cllr Noor’s party membership has been in ‘administrative suspension’ for close to two years.

They might further ask why Cllr Khan’s behaviour warranted his expulsion from the party when the mayor and his chum Cllr Ian Corbett remain members, despite being found guilty of breaching the council’s code of conduct due to their aggressive and bullying behaviour.

Unravelling

2 Mar

The Guardian’s Dave Hill, writing on his new blog, reports that another organisation has declared that its vote was improperly cast in last year’s mayoral trigger ballot:

A second organisation whose vote helped Newham mayor Sir Robin Wales go forward unopposed as Labour candidate for next year’s mayoral election in the borough has effectively substantiated a complaint by local party members about an aspect of the candidate selection process.

Inquiries by national officers of Bectu, the media and entertainment union, have concluded that a branch affiliated to Labour locally had not paid the required fee for 2016, the year the vote took place. In a letter to Labour’s governing National Executive Committee (NEC) sent in January, 47 Newham members had argued that the Bectu vote be declared void partly on those grounds.

Last month the national Fabian Society informed its Newham branch, which also voted “yes” to Sir Robin automatically becoming the candidate for 2018, had breached the society’s own rules for determining how votes in Labour affirmative nomination or “trigger ballots” should be cast.

The Bectu delegate that cast the vote in Sir Robin’s favour was Cllr Susan Masters, the secretary of the Labour Group of councillors. The signatory on the letter purportedly from Newham Fabians was Cllr Tahmina Rahman, mayoral advisor for New Media and Finance. Are we spotting a pattern?

Sir Robin “won” the trigger ballot by 20 votes to 17. Less these two it’s now 18-17, though arguably if the Fabians had held a proper members meeting they’d have voted No, making it 18-18. 

Whatever shaky mandate the mayor had to claim the nomination unopposed has now entirely vanished. Labour needs to cancel the result and run an open selection. It’s what members want and what they deserve.

Time for bed, sleepy head

1 Mar

Sleepy Aleen

Councillor Aleen Alarice pitched up at Newham Fabians last night, paid her £7 membership fee and promptly nodded off.

She’s ever hopeful of preferment and is Sir Robin’s candidate for treasurer of the local Co-operative party at the reconvened AGM next week.

I suggest she pays a bit more attention to what’s going on there.

Khan out

1 Mar

Statement from Newham Labour Group:

Councillor Obaid Khan has been found guilty of three charges of bullying, intimidation, and aggressive behaviour and his Labour Party membership has been cancelled with immediate effect.

This means Councillor Khan [a member for Boleyn ward] is no longer entitled to attend any Labour Party meetings or to be registered as a member of the Labour Group of councillors on the London Borough of Newham.

The decision was made by the Labour Party’s National Constitutional Committee following a two day hearing of three separate charges held on 25 and 26 February,

Labour’s chief whip Councillor Steve Bradshaw said:

“Following a long and detailed investigation by the Labour Party, the charges against Councillor Khan were deemed to be of sufficient gravity to be referred to the Party’s National Constitutional Committee.

“After a two day hearing Councillor Khan was found guilty of all three charges – two of which involved women members.

“We are pleased with the thoroughness of the investigation into Councillor Khan’s behaviour and the outcome of the NCC deliberations. Bullying and intimidation has no place in the Labour Party.”

NOTE:

Members of the National Constitutional Committee are elected by the Labour Party Annual Conference and are independent arbiters of internal Labour Party disciplinary matters. The decisions made by the NCC are final and not subject to appeal.

 

CORRECTION: this post originally said that the statement was from Newham Labour party. It is, in fact, from the Labour Group of councillors.

Sir Robin re-arranges the deck chairs

23 Feb

KenClark

Indisputably number two

In an email sent to all councillors this afternoon Sir Robin Wales has set out his plan to revamp the political leadership of the council and re-structure the executive responsibilities.

Aside from the predictable self-justifying bluster, including the mayor naming himself Lead Member for Business and Growth, the biggest news is the appointment of Councillor Ken Clark as the statutory deputy mayor. Lester Hudson retains his deputy mayoral title, but this is largely meaningless. Ken Clark is unquestionably Sir Robin’s number two.

Dear Colleagues, 

Following my selection as the Labour Party’s candidate for Newham Mayor in 2018, I have reviewed our executive arrangements for the next few years. Our direction of travel has been clear for some time and my new arrangements will help support this. 

When deciding our objectives it must always be in the full knowledge that we face a crisis in our funding. The scale of the attack this Conservative government has made on local authorities, and Labour boroughs in particular, has been well documented. Our recognition in 2010 of the need to plan for a future which involved the complete elimination of government grant has been proven correct. 

Our Approach 

We recognise that government funding will not be re-instated. I am proud that throughout this difficult time, and unlike most other councils, we have managed to invest in the services our residents say matter most to them, protected our frontline services from cuts while continuing to freeze Council Tax. 

Supporting residents to develop resilience remains our strategic approach. None of us were elected to manage decline but rather to support all our residents to prosper and succeed. Our approach and decisions are driven by our shared Labour values of fairness, localism, reciprocity, solidarity and trust. 

With fifteen months to go to the local elections, we have delivered our shared Labour Party Local Government Manifesto from 2014. Our borough has moved from second most deprived local authority in the country in 2012 to 25th. Together we have achieved much for our residents and understand that there is much more to do.

Investment:

We currently have the capacity and ability to borrow at competitive rates of interest. We are using that power to invest in opportunities which will support our ambitions while always evaluating investments for levels of risk. Investments which further our social aims, such as buying and building homes, will have those benefits included in any assessment of risk versus return. 

Efficiency:

We have no alternative but to continue to drive our efficiency agenda forward. We have already saved considerable sums of money through our focus on efficiencies but there is more to be done. 

We have developed a new way of delivering services through a variety of small businesses based on co-operative principles. Wherever possible, these businesses will increase the participation of workers in the running and management of the company and receive a fair share of any profits arising from greater efficiency or increased business. This will help us deliver responsive and efficient local services in Newham and beyond which are fit for the future and is an effective alternative to privatisation.

Integral to this approach is to realise the benefits within the rest of the Council. We are creating a separate Commissioning Hub to identify exactly what we are buying. 

Finally, we have introduced a transformation programme to ensure we improve our customer services and maximise savings without reducing services in any way. 

Community Neighbourhoods:

A key part of our overall approach is the further development of our Community Neighbourhood programme. 

We realise that Labour Councillors – and the wider Party – should have strong roots in all our communities. The most effective way of ensuring this is to provide local councillors with real power to influence what happens in their local area.

Our individual Community Neighbourhoods are equivalent in population to medium sized towns. This devolution of power and responsibility is our strategic approach to ensure that residents benefit locally. 

A fit for purpose political organisation 

Essentially, therefore, the Council will: 

  • Focus on efficiencies to realise the savings which will protect front line services and a lower council tax
  • Drive operations through small business and our Community Neighbourhoods
  • Invest in areas which support our social objectives and deliver additional revenues. 

To support these I have decided to re-align our political responsibilities into four broad areas: 

  • Community Neighbourhoods will expand and, wherever appropriate, we will devolve operational issues to a more local level. To support this I will establish a team of Delivery Lead Councillors which will report as Mayoral Advisors to Councillor Ken Clark, who I appoint as my statutory Deputy Mayor.
  • To support this I have decided to establish a streamlined team of four Community Lead Councillors to oversee our Community Neighbourhood work. 
  • We will create a team of Resources Lead Councillors reporting to Councillor Lester Hudson, who will also act as a deputy mayor, but not in a statutory capacity. The primary task of this team will be to drive efficiencies and investments to ensure that we have the money to embark on our ambitious programme of service delivery and expansion.
  • There will also be a number of other Member posts, both at Cabinet and Mayoral Advisor level, with responsibility for relationships with schools, health partners, police, businesses and developers. 

The full details are enclosed as an attachment to this email. 

Future initiatives:

As a result of this ambitious realignment I anticipate that by 2020 we will be in a strong position with our budget and will, uniquely amongst councils, be able to invest increasing sums in better services to benefit our residents.  

To ensure we are ready to invest in services which make a difference to our residents I will be conducting a review of existing services and launching a debate within the Council, the local Labour Party and our wider community on what we want to achieve.

In particular, we will be reviewing 

  • Our local skills offer
  • How we deal with non-statutory vulnerability
  • Adult care – both residential and in the home
  • Health investment – particularly in primary care linked to Community Neighbourhoods
  • Our offer for people with mental health issues 

We have one of the most effective policy, research and public affairs teams in the country and we will use this resource to inform our debate within the Council. 

We can be rightly proud of our achievements as a Labour Council in recent years. Together with the plans we are putting in place to safeguard our financial independence for the coming years means we can drive a radical left agenda here in Newham. It is time for a fundamental change and I mean to drive it together with you as my Council and Party colleagues. 

Best wishes,

Robin

Newham’s political leadership – February 2017

Mayor and Lead Member for Business and Growth: Sir Robin Wales

Deputy Mayor (Statutory) – Strategic Delivery and Cabinet Member for Community Neighbourhoods, Regeneration and Planning and Public Affairs: Cllr Ken Clark

Deputy Mayor – Resources and Cabinet Member for Finance: Cllr Lester Hudson

Cabinet Member for Strategic Policy: Cllr David Christie

Cabinet Member for Financial Inclusion and Health Promotion: Cllr Frances Clarke

Cabinet Member for Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour, Sports and Leisure, and Deputy Cabinet Member for Community Neighbourhoods: Cllr Forhad Hussain

Cabinet Member for Children and Young People: Cllr Quintin Peppiatt

Cabinet Member for Work & Skills and Domestic Violence: Cllr Lakmini Shah

Cabinet Member for Transformation and the Small Business Programme (and Equalities): Cllr Rachel Tripp

Mayoral Advisor – Adults & Health – Cllr Clive Furness

Delivery Lead Councillors

Mayoral Advisor – Neighbourhoods Support – Cllr Ayesha Chowdhury

Mayoral Advisor – Neighbourhoods Support – Cllr Ann Easter

Mayoral Advisor – Environment – Cllr Pat Murphy

Mayoral Advisor – Housing – Cllr Terry Paul

Resources Lead Councillors

Mayoral Advisor – Place Commissioning – Cllr Andrew Baikie

Mayoral Advisor – Commercial Property – Cllr Ian Corbett

Mayoral Advisor – People Commissioning – Cllr Richard Crawford

Mayoral Advisor – New Media and Finance – Cllr Tahmina Rahman

Community Lead Councillors

Mayoral Advisor – Community Neighbourhoods Lead Councillor (and Adult Care) – Cllr Hanif Abdulmuhit

Mayoral Advisor – Community Neighbourhoods Lead Councillor (and Mental Health) – Cllr Idris Ibrahim

Mayoral Advisor – Community Neighbourhoods Lead Councillor (and Regeneration) – Cllr Mas Patel

Mayoral Advisor – Community Neighbourhoods Lead Councillor (and Children & Early Years) – Cllr Salim Patel

Civic

Chair of Council and Civic Lead – Cllr Joy Laguda

Uncooperative

17 Feb

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A forest of arms raising points of order (picture via James Beckles’ account of the meeting)

Last Monday (13th February) I attended the annual general meeting of Newham Co-operative Party. It’s the third AGM the party has had in the past year. The first one had to be re-run after serious concerns about the conduct of the meeting, which resulted in the second just seven months ago being conducted under the auspices of the national party.

Judging by what went on, it won’t be too long before there’s a fourth and the national party will almost certainly need to be involved again.

Things got off to a bad start, even before the meeting began. Cllr Patrick Murphy, mayoral advisor and the ‘procedures secretary’ of Newham Labour party who had overseen the trigger ballot process before Christmas, left after being informed he wasn’t actually a member of the Co-operative Party and therefore couldn’t speak or vote. He was invited by the chair to attend as a visitor and perhaps assist with the vote counting, but he refused.

Nonetheless there was a large turn out of councillors, most of them on the mayoral payroll or closely associated with his faction.

The chair, Gill Hay, took the opportunity to remind the meeting of the code of conduct and insist she needed no help from the floor in chairing the meeting. Nonetheless, ‘helpful’ suggestions abounded, mostly from councillors who took objection to her attempts to give everyone who wanted to the chance to participate, even if it meant the meeting starting slightly later than the advertised 7:30.

A 7:30 start means a 7:30 start, they said repeatedly. We have homes to go to, they said. I have a childminder booked but only until 8:30, another complained. And with each intervention the clock ticked slowly on. The tone became ever more hostile.

Things finally got underway at about 8:00. Cllr Neil Wilson, the party secretary announced there were 67 members present eligible to vote and a further four new members who could attend but not vote. The chair invited the new members (including me) to stand up and volunteer to be tellers for the elections. Cllrs Tahmina Rahman and Paul Sathianesan also stood.

As soon as we sat back down Cllr Rahman, who was sat four seats along from me, went into a quiet huddle with the mayor. He then walked across the room and took Cllr Sathianesan outside for a chat.

On a proposal from Cllr Clive Furness it was agreed to take the officers reports as read and move straight to the elections. Clearly, members finding out what the party had been doing for the past year was of no interest. The chair reported on a call she had had earlier in the day with regional office regarding the procedure for voting. This was at variance with the rule book and was queried. It was agreed to proceed, but with the ballot papers kept secure in case of any subsequent problems. A fortuitous proposal, as it turned out.

When the chair announced that John Saunders would supervise the tellers, Sir Robin leapt up to volunteer to assist in the process. This was met with gales of laughter, but he wasn’t joking. 

The first election was for chair. Gill Hay was re-nominated. Cllr Hanif Abdulmuhit proposed deputy mayor Cllr Lester ’Three Jobs’ Hudson, saying – with an entirely straight face – it was time the leadership of this organisation had a bit of diversity. Only in Newham can replacing an LGBT woman with a male Cambridge-educated accountant be seen as increasing diversity. In his brief speech Three Jobs claimed he wanted to see the Co-op Party meet more regularly and asserted the importance of its leadership reflecting the leadership of the Labour council.

Ballots were distributed, collected and counted. 69 votes in all. Two more than the number of people eligible to vote.

The rolls were re-checked and a 68th eligible voter found (they hadn’t signed the register). And a fifth new member was identified. Oops. But the votes still didn’t tally, so the election was re-run, with ballots handed out to individuals as the roll was called.

This time the right number came back and, by a two vote margin – 35 to 33 – Three Jobs Hudson became Four Jobs. 

On assuming his new position Cllr Hudson immediately proposed that all of the remaining elections be held at once, on a single ballot paper. To speed things along. This was rejected.

Next up were the two vice chairs. Buy-to-let queen Cllr Ayesha Chowdhury was nominated, along with sitting vice chair Jeanette Dye and Mehmood Mirza. Ms Dye topped the poll, with Cllr Chowdhury elected alongside her.

Things went completely and disastrously wrong with the election of the new secretary. The candidates were Gill Hay, the now ex-chair, and Cllr Lakhmini Shah. While voting was taking place for this position nominations were taken for Treasurer. This confused a number of people and when votes were collected a number of ballots had been cast for Cllr Aleen Alarice, who was nominated for treasurer. The vote was scrapped without being counted and fresh ballots issued.

When these were counted it was found a total of 70 votes had been cast – two more than the number of eligible voters. Again the vote was scrapped and fresh ballots issued by roll call.

This resulted in a 34 – 34 tie.

No-one seemed to know what to do next, so Cllr Hudson declared the meeting closed at 9:45. Everyone who held a position that wasn’t voted on would stay in post, he said, including the delegates to the upcoming CLP AGMs.

In a sign that his grip on power is weakening following the trigger ballot, Sir Robin was pulling out all the stops. He was clearly controlling his supporters in the room. And when he was in the kitchen area, where the votes were being counted, Cllr Ken Clark took to supervising. People showed their ballots to others to prove their loyalty, while others people were summoned for chats about what they had to do or say.

The irony is that the mayor was so desperate to salvage some semblance of authority he ended up reinforcing how much he’s lost it. I am told that Sir Robin’s conduct at previous meetings has caused significant concern to the Co-op Party, to the point that he risks disciplinary action.

He’s walking a tightrope.