Month: December 2011

LABOUR COUNCILLORS CHALLENGE CODE OF CONDUCT DECISION

‘Absolution’ of conduct by Leader and Deputy Leader is indefensible

Labour councillors Judith Blakeman and Emma Dent Coad are seeking a review of the Borough Standards Committee’s decision to exonerate Council Leader Sir Merrick Cockell and his Deputy Cllr. Nick Paget-Brown over their handling of the resignation of former councillor Andrew Lamont. Lamont, who is to be tried in March for allegedly possessing child pornography, was permitted to remain as a non-functioning councillor for eleven months before standing down from the Council.
Councillors Blakeman and Dent Coad, Leader and Deputy Leader of the Opposition Labour Group, had asked the Standards Committee to investigate concerns that the Council had been brought into disrepute by not immediately requesting Lamont’s resignation when the police investigation was first reported in October 2010. They argued that Councillors Cockell and Paget-Brown did not act in compliance with the Member’s Code of Conduct nor with the Council’s Constitution and that this had damaged the public’s perception of the Council.
The Standards Sub-Committee met in November and decided that there was nothing the Council’s leadership could have done to require Mr. Lamont to resign and that their behaviour was entirely consistent with both the Member’s Code of Conduct and the Council’s Constitution. However, the two Labour councillors claim that this decision is riddled with faulty reasoning and inconsistencies.
Cllr. Blakeman disputes the Standards view that agreeing that former councillor Lamont could forgo his allowance and not attend meetings during the police investigation was purely a matter for the Council’s leadership. She said: “This was pre-eminently a matter for the residents of Norland ward, whom Cllr. Lamont was elected to represent. During the by-election to replace him we met a number of people who had asked him for assistance and got no reply. Leaving vulnerable residents in limbo like this is unacceptable. At the very least the Council should have put a message on Cllr. Lamont’s e-mail referring residents to the other two ward councillors.”
The fact that the matter took eleven months to resolve without any intervention by the Council’s leadership was also unacceptable.
Cllr. Dent Coad was baffled by the Standard’s Committee view that how a councillor chooses to represent his constituents is “up to him” and legally only requires that he attend one meeting every six months. She said: “all political parties have clear policies governing the way they expect their councillors to carry out their duties; the Member’s Code of Conduct similarly expects a high commitment from all councillors. Without surgeries, casework, support on planning or housing or schooling or police issues, whatever are councillors for? Former Cllr. Lamont clearly fell far short of these expectations, yet his Chief Whip appeared content to allow this to continue over a very long period of time.”
Both Labour councillors are particularly concerned at a statement in the Standards decision that their complaints could have “given rise to what some might construe as a politically-motivated complaint.” Both complaints were deliberately withheld until after the by-election precisely to avoid this allegation. Once the by-election was over, however, it was entirely proper for the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Labour Group formally to ask the Standards Committee to investigate objections raised by many residents about the way the Council’s Conservative Leadership had handled the matter. Cllr. Blakeman said: “sadly, if the Sub-Committee’s logic is followed, it is difficult to imagine any circumstance under which a councillor could turn to the Standards Committee when a councillor from another political party is felt to have violated the Member’s Code of Conduct”.
The Standards Committee now has three months to answer the request to review its original decision.

It’s a Mayoral Election not a Beauty Contest

As Labour’s GLA candidate for the West Central constituency (which includes Hammersmith and Fulham, Westminster and my home borough of K&C), I am keen to run a campaign that focuses on issues that matter to the people of West Central. Between now and May’s election, I will be listening to the residents of West Central to find out about their priorities. I will also be promoting the issues high on my list, such as freezing public transport fares, promoting construction of more social and affordable housing in West Central, fighting Tory cuts to the number of police on our streets and promoting the London Living Wage.
Election outcomes matter. The choice that we make next year as Londoners will have a huge impact on public services in our city, and on the success of the Tory-led government in radically reducing the role of government. With Ken Livingstone, we can protect our public services and the number of police on our streets, freeze transport fares and promote the construction of more social and affordable housing. With Boris Johnson, we can protect the interests of the rich, cut public services and the number of police on our streets, pay higher transport fares and continue to see social housing in West Central disappear.
Like many thousands of Londoners, I’m an immigrant (I grew up in the United States). The last presidential election that took place while I was resident in the United States was the Bush-Gore contest of 2000. Though it seems hard to imagine now, many people said in 2000 that it didn’t matter whether Bush or Gore won because there was “no difference” between the two. Some people said that they were going to vote for Bush because he would be “more fun to have a beer with” than Gore. I think that history has proven that George Bush turned out to be a very different sort of President than Al Gore would have been. Bush’s disastrous administration demonstrates that the decisions that elected leaders make can have a profound impact on our lives. Likewise, many people are finding out that there is a great deal of difference between the Conservative and Labour administrations. If you want to find out whether elections outcomes matter, ask the students who have lost the support of Education Maintenance Allowances and are facing impossible university tuition; people who depend upon public services that are being cut; and people who are struggling to pay higher public transport fares.
And I’ve got news for anyone who plans on voting for Boris because they think he is the more likeable candidate: the chances of your ever spending time with Boris Johnson in a social setting are very small. If you think he is a fun guy, then maybe you should invite him to your next barbecue, but that doesn’t mean that he is the better choice for Mayor of London. Frankly, I find Boris’s Bullingdon Club background repulsive and I doubt I would have much in common with him one on one, but that is beside the point. I’m voting for Ken Livingstone because he has the policies, as well as the experience, that London needs in troubled times.
Todd Foreman is a Councillor for Notting Barns Ward in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and Labour’s candidate for the West Central GLA constituency in 2012.