Tag Archives: Clive Furness

Spin City

15 Mar

Mayoral ally and ‘full-time’ councillor Clive Furness has circulated his Councillor’s Report for March to local members in Canning Town North. The headline item is the recent expulsion/long-term suspension of Cllr Obaid Khan.

After rehashing the Labour group statement he has a pop at his former friend and colleague:

He has begun a disinformation campaign supported by several councillors and members in which he claims to be the victim. We should have been put on notice after the last council elections when he was arrested for fighting with opposition members at the polling station.

That’s not quite how things went down at the time, when Khan was treated as something of a hero.

Sir Robin personally bought him a new shirt to replace the one that got ripped in the fight, which he presented at the Labour victory party after Khan had been released from police cells. The mayor praised him mightily for his commitment to the cause.

And who was it, just a few weeks later, that held the mayor back during his infamous confrontation with the Focus E15 mums at the Newham Show, saving him from making a bad situation much worse? Cllr Obaid Khan.

Even by Newham Labour standards, this is an outrageous bit of spin.

Furness rounds out his section on councillor misconduct by stating with a completely straight face (link added):

Two councillors remain suspended, one pending the outcome of criminal proceedings and one awaiting action from the [National Constitutional Committee].

I wonder how he will attempt to distance himself and Sir Robin from these two when the time comes.

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The Tudor Court of Sir Robin

19 May

Guest post by Ken Taylor

I have just listened to a recording of Monday night’s Newham Labour Group meeting. This was the biannual meeting where standing order rule amendments and reports by Group officers are considered and, most importantly, elections by Labour councillors of group officers for the next 2 years.  

A long-serving retired Newham Councillor, in his autobiography, described the Council under the control of Sir Robin Wales, as resembling a 16th century Tudor Court. Last night’s Labour Group AGM certainly did nothing to counter that impression. 

Tammany Hall Politics

Firstly, there was a series of biased and clearly manipulated elections. Labour Party rules quite rightly state that the chair of a Labour Group cannot be a member of the Council cabinet. Group officers are supposed to be a brake on the power of the Executive, part of the necessary check and balances. In Newham there is no significant difference between Cabinet members and Executive advisors – some cabinet members are part-time, while some advisors are ‘full-time’ and receive substantially higher allowances. The current chair, Clive Furness, is paid £34,000 on top of his £10900 councillor earnings by the mayor as his advisor on Adults & Health. Obviously, he has to support the wishes of the mayor or he will be sacked. A majority of councillors are either on the Mayor’s pay roll, or want to be. It was little surprise that Cllr Furness was re-elected, although 23 out of 56 (41%) of Councillors voted for his opponent, John Gray, via secret ballot.  Always remember that Newham residents, who are some of the poorest in the country, pay for the Mayor’s financial favours for his supporters through their Council tax; it does not come out of Sir Robin’s own pocket.  

While it was good news that two independent-minded councillors were elected to chair individual Scrutiny commissions, it was not surprising that a former Mayoral advisor was elected as the chair of Overview and Scrutiny by the votes of other paid Mayor advisors. So the councillors who the Mayor decides to pay huge amounts of money to be his advisors decide who should scrutinise them? This is no-one’s idea of accountability.

Safely re-installed as chair, Clive Furness then went on to wreck a motion calling for paid Mayoral advisors not to be allowed to vote in future elections for his position by only allowing 2 speakers on the motion. He then insisted only the Mayor should have the final word and refused the proposer of the motion the right of reply to the Mayor’s venom. The Chair obviously earned his money that night. Well done!  

Bragfest

In his AGM report the Mayor went on his usual ego trip, bragging that Newham was so far ahead of all other Labour councils in the land, who he thinks are all useless, incompetent and badly led. Such a contrast to Newham under his leadership!

He attacked the motion on preventing his paid advisors controlling Labour group officers by claiming it was undemocratic and wrong for anyone to restrict the choice of who to vote for. It would lead to the destruction of the Party and the end of all civilised life as we know it. This is despite national Labour Party rules which restrict who can be cabinet members and vote in Scrutiny elections. He also seems to have forgotten that he agreed last year to a convention that East Ham Labour Party would exclude all councillors from being branch officers.  

What would be laughable, if it was not so serious, was Sir Robins boast to Group that he had introduced secret ballots for Group elections! This is of course a blatant untruth. You have to wonder why he makes such preposterous claims. Why the constant need to feed his ego? Who knows.

Trigger Ballot

In the next 12 months or so there must be a “trigger ballot” of Labour Party members and affiliates in Newham on whether the current Mayor is automatically the Labour candidate for Mayor in 2018. If you think that, regardless of the many talents (and faces) of Sir Robin Wales, after more than 20 years of his rule we need a choice in Newham, then you will vote for an open and transparent election process. It may turn out that Sir Robin is the best candidate, but members should surely take the chance to consider alternatives. I hope members will vote to give themselves a real choice.

OMG. I have been invited as a guest to the formal Newham Council AGM tonight (Thursday). The mayor promised at the Group meeting that there will be even more bragging about himself. I must bring earplugs – and a large hip flask.

Whose chair is it anyway?

16 May

One of the more important elections at this week’s Labour group AGM is for the position of chair. Labour group is the one meeting where backbench councillors can challenge the executive. The chair has huge influence in controlling the debate.

The incumbent, Clive Furness (Canning Town North), is also the Mayoral Advisor for Adults & Health – a ‘full-time’ position for which he is paid £33,735 a year on top of his £10,974 basic allowance. The post is entirely in the gift of the mayor. 

In his election statement Cllr Furness portrays himself as a modest and genial fellow, who is so keen for everyone to have their say that sometimes other items have to be left until a later meeting (not that this is in any way ever abused to ensure awkward questions don’t get asked. Oh no).

This is my second stretch in the role as Chair and I believe that I chair Group meetings effectively and courteously. Rarely are members denied a chance to speak  and then it is solely to move on the business of Group to ensure that an agenda is  completed. My fault, if it is such, is to allow discussion to continue too long meaning  that occasionally matters are deferred to a future meeting.

In terms of the specific skills that I believe I bring, I would suggest that I am  inclusive in my chairing style, I run the meetings in a business-like manner but also  with humour and an allowance for members who might struggle to get across their  points.

In terms of the unseen work I believe that I have demonstrated an ability to  marshal people together with different personalities and priorities in order to  ensure that Group Officers act in a cohesive manner. 

… In terms of my priorities in the role as Chair it will be to ensure that there is  opportunity for full debate amongst members and ensure that members are  reminded that they are part of a Group and Party that makes decisions and acts  collectively. 

Of course Furness doesn’t mention that he was subject to a motion of no confidence two years ago, when he ruled a motion to enforce equal representation for women among group officers and mayoral advisors out of order.

He is being challenged by John Gray (West Ham). Cllr Gray was Labour group secretary from 2010 – 15 and is, along with John Whitworth and Rokhsana Fiaz, one of the few councillors openly questioning the use of LOBO loans.

I believe we need to change the way we do things in Labour Group. We have to understand that we have an Executive model which gives the Mayor great power and influence. One of the roles of the Group Chair is to help hold the Executive to account and to champion the role and contribution of all Group Members.

We need sufficient checks and balances. We need to have a chair that is independent of the Executive and not dependent on the Mayor for his or her livelihood. This is not meant as a slight on past Chairs but there is a clear conflict of interest. The Chair must be seen as independent on the Executive and should not hold any advisor position. Things need to be done properly but they also need to be seen to be done properly.

The main challenge facing the Council is Tory Government Austerity cuts. While we need to challenge and oppose these cuts we also need to encourage argument and debate on how to do this. Group members must feel listened to and their views respected. We need an independent Chair to unite us in the difficult times ahead.

So the question before councillors is whether they want group meetings chaired by someone who is a member of the mayor’s executive team, or someone who is independent of it.

The answer, sadly, is that most of them don’t care enough to think about the consequences. They will simply do what they are told.

Co-opting the Co-op

21 Jan

Coop Party nominations

The somewhat delayed annual meeting of the Newham Co-operative Party took place earlier this week.

This almost completely dormant body is significant because it is able to appoint delegates to the General Committee and Executive Committee of both constituency Labour parties in the borough.

It gives Sir Robin Wales and his cronies a clear route to controlling the constituency parties without the need to pay any attention to the party affiliate that nominated them or local members. 

With signs of growing resistance within the previously ultra-loyal East Ham Labour party and West Ham showing an alarming capacity for independent thought – they nominated Jeremy Corbyn for leader, for heaven’s sake! – this is proving to be a safer route for the mayor as he seeks to maintain his grip on power.

Cllr Clive Furness helpfully turned up on the night with a printed slate of candidates – shown above – in case the hard-of-thinking couldn’t remember who they were supposed to be voting for. 

There were 44 “co-operators” present and in the contested elections the Walesite candidates all achieved a remarkably similar 27 votes!