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Really rotten boroughs – the case of Robin Wales

Newham's one party stateby Robin’s ‘Hood

Many of us have had concerns about the executive mayoral model, especially in unitary councils run as one party states with no effective opposition. Recent events in Newham, East London, illustrate what can go wrong. Three councillors (5% of the total) have currently been placed in administrative suspension by the national Labour Party, including one who is known as being a strong supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and who recently helped launch Momentum in Newham. Perhaps not a great career move if your local party leader was a well-known supporter of Liz Kendall!

It might turn out that the allegations against these Councillors are justified. However, it makes you wonder exactly what these three backbench Asian councillors have done when you consider that recent findings against leading Newham Labour political figures, who were not at any stage suspended by the party during investigations, resulted in no action being taken against them whatsoever by the group or the Labour Party – despite serious misconduct being established.

The Mayor himself and one of his senior full time mayoral advisors have been found “guilty” by the independent Newham standards board of aggressive and threatening behaviour to residents and staff respectively. Yet another Cabinet member is facing allegations of abusive and threatening behaviour against another councillor during this year’s mayoral show. Several other bullying allegations have also been made against Executive members to the General Secretary by members of Newham Labour group.

This situation is surely not unrelated to the powers of patronage held by an executive Mayor in a one-party local authority. Newham recently admitted that it had 11 full-time – and fully paid – councillors (including the Mayor) while next door Barking and Dagenham Council has one. There are in total an incredible 24 councillors on the Mayor’s payroll and 32 in all receiving special responsibility allowances. At the same time, the Labour group officers who are supposed to keep the Executive in check are controlled by full-time mayoral advisors whose jobs, mortgages and livelihoods lie entirely in the gift of the Mayor’s favour.

The party in the past has been quick to put in place measures for dysfunctional “loony left” councils, but so far not for those on the right. The problems in Rotherham resulting from autocratic control and bullying were well known within the Party, yet it did nothing. Scotland proves that that there is no such thing as safe Labour anything if local parties become dysfunctional and their policies are not scrutinised.

Hopefully, the London Labour Party will quickly and fairly investigate all complaints in Newham and elsewhere and take appropriate action. It is also to be hoped that the Labour NEC will now realise that their decision in the past to remove the 2 term maximum limit on Labour Executive Mayors was wrong and that a term limit will be reintroduced.


  1. Ric EUTENEUER says:

    “Hopefully, the London Labour Party will quickly and fairly investigate all complaints in Newham and elsewhere and take appropriate action”,

    Given the control of the party by the existing staff (who JC did not appoint), I wouldn’t hold your breath…

  2. John Penney says:

    In many ways the deeply embedded nature of a majority of neoliberal Blairite oriented Labour Councillors across the UK, is even more of a barrier to the long term shifting of the Labour Party Leftwards in line with the wishes of the newly radicalised post ” Corbyn Surge” membership composition, than the overwhelming neoliberal/Blairite composition of the PLP.

    At local level, Labour-led councils are not just bedevilled by the undemocratic, but still relatively few councils run under elected mayors. The main problem in most Labour-run (and similar “rotten borough” Tory ones too of course) is the now almost universally adopted , undemocratic, “Cabinet system” of governance, whereby a tiny grouping of councillors utterly dominate the council’s decision making – with most elected councillors effectively cut out of all real control of their council’s activities. This has reinforced the ability of the most class collaborationist right wing Labour cliques to mimic Tory Councils in all but superficial verbiage, in fully acting as the Tory Westminster government’s local Quisling implementers of the overall , “shrink the state” national austerity agenda.

    There will be a long, long struggle required at local Council level, every bit as much as at PLP level, by the newly empowered Labour (“Corbynite”) Left, if we are to break the currently overwhelming grip on Labour’s local council representation, by the often personally corrupt, nearly always politically corrupt, Labour collaborationist Right. The current enthusiasm by so many Northern Labour Councillors to participate fully in Osborne’s transparently cynical “Northern Powerhouse” con trick, increasing exponentially their active collaboration at local level in implementing the Austerity agenda under the smoke screen of “devolution of powers”, shows just how big a task we on the Left are facing in transforming the LP into a weapon of working class resistance.

  3. bob says:

    Exactly true John in my ward and borough in London. All dominated by right-wing of the labour party. The councillors seem indistinguishable from Tories. They seem little concerned with real change but rather tinkering with the status quo. As a democratic old labour socialist and Corbyn supporter I did defect to the Greens last election from frustration. I am bracing myself to rejoin but know its going to be one hell of a battle.

  4. Alan Ji says:

    Not so much a one-party state as Sweden on Thames.
    1) invented choice-based lettings for Council tenancies
    2) was sending the majority of its young people into higher education by age 21 when Tony Blair announced the aim to achieve that by age 31
    3) has the only Borough-wide licencing scheme for private tenancies in the UK
    4) Has closed dozens of brothels by Planning Enforcement in cases where Police have been unable to identify pimps for prosecution.
    5) contains two rather different CLPs!

  5. susan snelling says:

    Newham has a long history of expelling (mass expulsions of Militant) & otherwise driving out those of left inclination not by expulsion but due to decent, well mannered reasonable people getting totally fed up by the ethos, and unpleasant nature of so called ‘debate’. I personally witnessed one of the councillors recently found guilty of abusing a council employee assaulting a weedy militant guy at the general committee, vis grabbing him by the shirt and ripping it. The party wards dwindled and became defunct. I left before the Iraq war, & what a relief to never have to go to another party meeting. The party has been run by the same core clique, led by Wales, since the late 1980’s. The way these members reacted to the FocusE15 campaign with disgusting slurs in the evening standard, and threats of force (bailiffs, destroying utilities etc) is just typical. The council is totally labour and any cllr who raises an issue on behalf of their constitutents at council meetings in public is censored. Most are in any case spineless and powerless. That means no councillors will support local protests because they are whipped.

  6. Colin says:

    A number of Newham councillors have challenged the Mayor & paid executive: LOBOs; awarding themselves a rise in pension; un-necessarily closing children’s centres; the opening of the 6th form college without legal status; the £11m overspend on the East Ham campus development; the business model to support Red Door Ventures; and the use of Public Health funding to prop up the Mayor’s projects. But they have been beaten back by the imbalance of 32 paid Mayoral Advisors who are scared to loose their livelihood. We need support from the new members and London Regional to ensure democracy.

  7. Abdul Hai says:

    Also one of the Newham Labour Councilors is now running for the City and East London seat which {word deleted – Ed} Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs will be stepping down from.

    What do you know about him and his conduct in Newham? I have not been able to find out anything.

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