They represent us.

Posted: February 19, 2011 by lambethsaveourservices in Labour Party
Tags: , , , , , ,

We have let ourselves down. In the 14th Century, Ambrogio Lorenzetti painted a series of impressive frescoes on the walls of the Palazzo Pubblico of Siena. They acted as a reminder to all who viewed them; that ‘good government’ had a duty to act in a way which served the people best. Seemingly contrary to contemporary practice, the people too had a duty in this ‘good government’ – to keep a watchful eye on their representatives.

In order to grasp the gravity of the current situation in the Town Hall, Lambeth SOS have decided to give a brief, potted history of Lambeth’s Labour Councillors.

Background

  • In October 2009, Betty Evans-Jacas defected from Labour to the Tories. In direct retaliation, Lambeth Council’s leader Steve Reed posted messages on both his blog and Twitter account revealing confidential details about Ms Evans-Jacas’ failure to pay council tax and trying to claim extra expenses. It was later revealed that Ms Evans-Jacas was unable to pay council tax due to an illness and was entitled to these expenses after being made a fire authority “liaison member”. Despite being found in breach of the code of conduct, on Wednesday 16th February 2011, Councillor Reed was let off without any punishment whatsoever.
  • On Tuesday 8th February 2011, Councillor Jenny Braithwaite made a formal complaint about the conduct of Kingsley Abrams, a Councillor representing the Vassall Ward in Lambeth. Among other things, Abrams was accused of “disassociating himself from the decisions of Labour group and calling on cabinet members to resign… revealing internal discussions of Labour group… calling a cabinet member a liar and… and heckling cabinet members as they spoke.” The complaint was made after the heated Cabinet meeting on February 7th 2011, during which, Abrams was the only Labour Councillor to oppose the cuts in public spending.
  • Councillor Abrams has been the subject of Lambeth Labour scrutiny before. A high-ranking Lambeth Labour party member ordered council staff to hack into the Councillor’s email account, in order to assess whether information was being leaked to the South London Press. An enquiry later revealed the ‘high ranking official’ to be none other than the council leader, Steve Reed. In May 2010, Abrams was asked to resign. After refusing to step down, Abrams was given a four month suspension during the summer of 2010.

A few questions for the Lambeth voters

Cllr Braithwaites’ complaint is based on the belief that “confidentiality is pivotal for the effective operation of Labour group.” (This quote comes directly from the complaint, which has been handed over to Lambeth SOS.)

Is this how you want your Big Society (under the guise of the ‘Lambeth Co-op’) to behave? A quote like this doesn’t paint an entirely open and transparent picture of Lambeth Town hall and doesn’t exactly fill us with confidence. Nor does the need to covertly hack into representative’s email accounts in the hopes of setting a trap. How can we hope to do our duty and ‘keep a watchful eye on our representatives’, with practices such as these.

Should we not expect our representatives to stand up for their beliefs, even if they contradict the party line? What use are our Councillors if a) they remain quiet despite directly opposing an idea and b) they are removed from their seat if they do choose to speak out?

And why is one rule being applied to Abrams and not to Reed. Again, the Braithwaite complaint goes on “Clause 2Diii provides that….”Through their council duties and activities in the community, members of the Labour group should seek to promote the Labour Party policies,……and act in a way that does not bring the party into disrepute”. By taking cheap shots at defector Betty Evans-Jacas, by using confidential information, hasn’t Councillor Reed done exactly that?

Perhaps this in-house feud point to something more sinister? Councillor Abrams not only has the backing of the Vassall Ward, he is also supported by Kate Hoey, M.P. for Vauxhall. She went so far as to call his suspension in 2010 “shoddy”, claiming it was politically motivated; Abrams was on course to win to Vassall Ward so timing was crucial for Steve Reed’s leak allegations to ensure Labour won the seat. By attempting to remove Abrams, thus weakening Hoey, will Reed finally have a shot at the big time?

Lambeth SOS will be meeting outside the Town Hall on February 23rd at 6:00 p.m. ahead of the Full Cabinet Meeting – we have a duty to remind them that they represent us.

Appendix

In order for us to fulfil our duty to an open and transparent democracy, the full complaint submitted by Councillor Braithwaite after the Cabinet meeting on February 7th 2011 can be seen below in its entirety.

“As group secretary, it is with great regret that I submit this complaint against Councillor Kingsley Abrams who, by his conduct during the Cabinet meeting on 7th February breached Labour Party Rules and has brought the Party into disrepute.

During the meeting he showed himself to be disloyal, divisive and abusive to his fellow members.

Confidentiality of Labour Group breached Chapter 13 Clause II 1.Bi on the conduct of Labour Group meetings reads that “the content of internal discussion is not for communication outside the party, and internal disputes that are aired in the public domain will be subject to disciplinary action”

By publically disclosing the manner in which members voted at the Labour Group meeting held on 17th January and repeatedly alleging (falsely) that at that meeting members had “cried for [their] allowance” Councillor Abrams breached the confidentiality rule.

Confidentiality is pivotal for the effective operation of Labour group. Councillor Abrams’ decision to publically reveal the actions of group now make it impossible for us to operate openly and unencumbered, knowing that what we discuss and how we vote might become public knowledge.

Intimidation of members

Under Clause II Ci “Harassment or intimidation of members for any reason……is unacceptable conduct and subject to disciplinary action”. Councillor Abrams’ behaviour in swearing at Councillor Donatus Anyawu (I am advised that he told Councillor Anyawu to “piss off”) and his physically antagonistic conduct towards Councillor Anyawu amounts to intimidation. As does his promise to make Florence Nosegbe’s life difficult.

Bringing the Party into disrepute

Clause 2Diii provides that….”Through their council duties and activities in the community, members of the Labour group should seek to promote the Labour Party policies,……and act in a way that does not bring the party into disrepute”. By publically:

  • disassociating himself from the decisions of Labour group and calling
  • on cabinet members to resign,
  • instructing cabinet members to “get yourself real jobs”,
  • singling out a particular cabinet member by promising to make her life
  • difficult,
  • telling one member to “piss of” and behaving in a physically threatening
  • manner towards that member,
  • revealing internal discussions of Labour group,
  • calling a cabinet member a liar and
  • heckling cabinet members as they spoke,

Councillor Abrams has brought the Labour Party into disrepute and has undermined the office of local councillor.

Having recently had the whip withdrawn and only rejoining group less than two months ago, I had hoped that Councillor Abrams, would in future, act in a measured and comradely fashion. Unfortunately his conduct at Monday’s meeting shows that he has no intention of abiding by the Party’s rules. I am of the opinion that his behaviour, being so excessive, cannot be overlooked. In the circumstances I am left with no option but to ask that this complaint is formally investigated and that the appropriate sanction (if any) imposed.

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Comments
  1. BREAKING: Abrams has Labour Whip removed. Naughty seat for 6 months!! Read the email here – http://tinyurl.com/6jhqbrq

  2. cllrsteve says:

    I honestly believe this debate will be more sensible if it’s based on fact rather than fiction, so please allow me to correct some of the inaccuracies you’ve made:

    Evans-Jacas was unable to pay council tax due to an illness’
    Ms Evans-Jacas failure to pay council tax occurred two years after she had been ill, and related to a property she owned that was not her main home. The non-payment was not a one-off mistake, it persisted for 18 months.

    Evans-Jacas was ‘entitled to these expenses after being made a fire authority liaison member’
    These weren’t the expenses in question. She came to me to ask for a new role to be created for her with allowances attached, I refused because roles with allowances should be subject to open election and not simply created on demand. Shortly after this she defected to the Conservative party

    ‘Abrams was the only Labour Councillor to oppose the cuts in public spending’
    All Labour councillors oppose cuts in public spending, Cllr Abrams appears to differ in the tactics we use to protect services.

    ‘A high-ranking Lambeth Labour party member ordered council staff to hack into the Councillor’s email account, in order to assess whether information was being leaked to the South London Press. An enquiry later revealed the ‘high ranking official’ to be none other than the council leader, Steve Reed’
    The investigation was conducted by a panel of three Labour councillors, I was not one of them and took no part in the investigation because I was the complainant. It was the Panel that asked for emails to be checked because there had been a leak of confidential information. Council emails are the property of the council not the individual who sends them and they are allowed to be checked if there is a leak. The check uncovered evidence in the form of the email in which the leak was made. The decision to suspend was upheld at appeal by the London Regional Labour Party who saw all the evidence.

    Steve Reed revealed ‘confidential details about Ms Evans-Jacas’ failure to pay council tax’
    This information was officially ‘disclosable’ – to the extent that Ms Evans-Jacas was required to disclose it if she turned up to vote at a meeting. Which makes it hard to claim it’s ‘confidential’, a point the investigation reflected in their decision to impose no sanction. All Ms Evans-Jacas’ other complaints were rejected.

    I genuinely believe we have a better chance of protecting local services if we all stand together – Labour councillors, trade unions, service users – rather than fight each other. Infighting is what the Government wants because it lets them off the hook. The Council will not set an illegal budget because that would be disastrous for the people who rely on our services. We know that because it was tried before in the 1980s and it failed. In fact the law has now changed so if we tried to do that the Government would simply send in administrators to cut services far more deeply which would be catastrophic for local people. We will continue to do everything we can within the law to protect local services and defeat this Government at the ballot box.
    Steve Reed

    • Jeremy Drinkall says:

      What rubbish! Labour leader of the council Steve Reed thinks he can fool people with smoke and mirrors trickery.

      Reed: “All Labour councillors oppose cuts in public spending, Cllr Abrams appears to differ in the tactics we use to protect services.”

      So making one in four council workers redundant, passing £78 million of cuts and destroying vital services at a time when people are poorer and more destitute than ever is one way of opposing cuts, is it? Only in Mr Reed’s parallel universe! For the vulnerable people at the sharp end of these cuts, Reed is in fact proposing cuts, not opposing them.

      Reed: “I genuinely believe we have a better chance of protecting local services if we all stand together – Labour councillors, trade unions, service users – rather than fight each other. Infighting is what the Government wants because it lets them off the hook.”

      Isn’t this the same false argument that Cameron, Clegg and Osborne use, only they include the government? “We’re all in this together, so don’t oppose the cuts, just tighten your belts.” Sorry, service users, trade unionists and the one Labour councillor who seems to know how the labour movement was built, have to defend ourselves and each other or we will lose our jobs, then our homes, then we will be told to go and live somewhere else because we can’t afford to live in Lambeth. Trade unions cannot pick and choose which members’ jobs they defend and which they don’t. We can’t say, “Thanks for 20 years of dues, but we can’t defend you for fear of infighting.” It is Mr Reed and his cronies who started the infighting anyway, when they voted to destroy communities and attack their own voting base. They are also letting the government off the hook by doing the one thing Eric Pickles and co. want them to do: pass on the cuts!

      Reed: “We will continue to do everything we can within the law to protect local services and defeat this Government at the ballot box.”

      Well that’s a lie. Why not use the reserves, sack the consultants and slow down repayments of the pensions deficit? All lawful. Even more useful would be to break the law to protect the poor. The law is anti-democratic because it says the people cannot elect a council that will put public services before the bankers. Only a coward would hide behind this law. A real working class politician would take the fight to central government and defend communities. Of course, if we’re going to dig up examples of what worked and didn’t work in the 1980s, Neil Kinnock proposed that Labour councils made cuts rather than set illegal budgets. Did he ever win an election? No – because he depressed the hell out of his natural voting base, working women and men.

      Finally, to be frank Steve, I couldn’t give a toss who sent what email to who. It just doesn’t matter in the big picture. If Kingsley lost his rag and uncharacteristically had a go at someone who was towing your rotten line of “Cut jobs and services in order to defend jobs and services”, then good on him.

      Jeremy Drinkall

  3. billj says:

    There does seem to be an issue with basic English here. If one opposes the cuts but then passes the cuts that one “opposes” one might be accused of playing a simple linguistic trick. The proof of the pudding is after all in the eating. If one makes a “delicious” pudding that is laced with arsenic then the person killed by the chef might have take issue with the description.
    The people who die – some certainly will – as a result of Labour’s passing on Tory cuts – may be unable to accuse Steve Reed of hypocrisy, of playing with words, but the rest of us still alive will certainly be able to do so, and will so do.