Tower Hamlets’ dismantled democracy – where the majority is the opposition

Posted on | Saturday, 25 February 2012 | No Comments

Events that unfolded during the Council’s 2012/13 Budget review, on Wednesday 22 February 2012, revealed the blatant misuse of power and the depths we have blindly allowed ourselves to sink to in accepting a dysfunctional democratic process.

Midway through the proceedings, shortly after the leader of the Conservatives, Peter Gold raised an issue of probity which challenged the council’s adherence to the Nolan principles of transparency, a surprise request for an ‘Emergency Amendment’ was tabled by the Independent member Cllr Alibor Choudhury  (Cabinet Member for Resources).  It proposed cutting the Special Responsibility Allowance (SRA) provided to Peter Gold, by some £5,000 pa. A paltry amount you may think, when the council was deliberating a £1.3billion budget.

Below is a copy of the Motion, with my notes added in italics. It refers repeatedly to the ‘Report from the Independent Panel on the Remuneration of Councillors in London’, published October 2006.

Motion – Independent Amendment: Additional savings and income opportunities
Proposer: Cllr Alibor Choudhury
Seconder: Cllr Aminur Khan

This Council Notes:

1. On SRA’s:
a) There are currently two levels of SRA’s for the leaders of groups with over 6 Councillors: The leader of a group with 6 members receives £5,531 pa, whilst the leader of a group with 7 or more councillors receives £10,174 pa (These arrangements do not include the leader of the majority group, who receives an SRA at the same level as a Cabinet Member).
         
Choudhury, or his boy adviser Landin, has the facts wrong from the start. The two levels are not for groups with over 6 Councillors, the first level is for groups, ‘up to 6 Councillors’. A minor point but they need to get their facts right.

b) Currently there is only 1 group in Council with over 6 Councillors.

Technically wrong again, as there are 2, Labour (with 32) and the Conservatives (with7); whether Labour is a majority or not, it’s a group in terms of the Motion. Now this is interesting, as they do not consider the Independent Councillors a group, and are accordingly referring in b) to the Conservatives only.

c) That the leader of this group’s SRA is £10,174 over and above the basic allowance of £10,065.

Referring to the SRA being ‘over and above the basic allowance’ is provocative as all SRA’s are payments made in excess of the basic allowance.

d) This is higher than the recommended level by the Independent panel on the remuneration of Councillors in London or £2,368 to £8,852

Indeed it is, and the Council approved and adopted the higher payments through the Members’ Allowances Scheme less than a year ago - on 13 April, 2011 – 5 years after the panel’s recommendations were published. This established the following SRA’s:
·         Leader of the Majority Group on the Council: £12,658 (i.e Labour)
·         Leader of any other Group with over 6 Councillors:  £10,174 (i.e., Conservatives)
·         Leader of any Group with up to 6 Councillors (subject to having at least 10% of the Council):   £5,531

For reference, the Independent panel recommended 5 Bands and the figures given by Cllr Choudhury  are taken from Band 1 (Leader of second or smaller opposition group).

e) This is far higher than in comparative boroughs Lewisham and Newham, where the SRA is £5,275 and £3,621

Entirely irrelevant, as any comparative analysis would need to take into account a far more complex sampling.

This Council Believes:

1. On SRAs:

a. The two tiered system is unnecessary and not supported by the Independent Panel’s recommendation.

The Council applied the two tiered system on 13 April, 2011 as part of the Members’ Allowances Scheme in full knowledge of the Independent Panel’s earlier recommendations.

This Council Resolves:

1. On SRAs:

a. To bring the SRA of the leader of any group other than the majority group inline with the recommendations of the Independent Panel and other comparative Councils.
b. That this level of SRA should be the same level as for a Committee Chair, at £5,531. This would create a saving of £4,643.

Cllr Choudhury has cherry picked from the Independent Panel’s recommendations. Should the Council have applied all the Panel’s recommendations, the leader of the Conservatives, Peter Gold should receive an SRA of between £14,418 and £26,609, i.e., under Band 2 as the leader of the Principle Opposition Group. And here is the crux issue that this slimy motion has revealed. In a constitutional sense (parliamentary constitutional conventions) a party/group cannot be both in a majority and at the same time in opposition. The Council has already accepted that the Labour Party is the Majority Group in Council (63%); it cannot therefore be the Principle Opposition Group at the same time. As the Conservatives are the next largest party/group after Labour, they logically and constitutionally become the Principle Opposition Group. Hence warranting a Band 2 SRA leader’s allowance.

The cunning Cllr Choudhury has been hoisted by his own petard and in so doing has highlighted a serious constitutional crisis at Tower Hamlets’ government. This has been the installation of an autocratic Executive Mayor with the authority to overrule an elected council chamber, including his own Cabinet, (see here). It is Mayor Lutfur Rahman who has turned a majority party/group into the opposition. Tower Hamlets’ Government, if we can call it that, is where the majority party is in opposition to just one man – Lutfur Rahman. Aren’t these the politics of a third world dictatorship?

A further example of the misuse of power was demonstrated by Lutfur Rahman in his ridicule of the Conservative’s amendments to the 2012/13 Budget. After spending time explaining his reasons for agreeing to Labour’s amendments, he picked up the Conservative’s amendments, dramatically motioned as if throwing it away, and said simply non of their amendments were accepted. It’s worth noting that of the 17 Councillors who attended the earlier 8 February 2012 Cabinet meeting to discuss the 2012/13 Budget, non were Conservative.

In my humble view Lutfur Rahman and his ‘Independent’ followers must expect to suffer the very serious consequences of undermining the integrity and process of our constitutional system. It won’t be enough for central Government to intervene and restore a democratic Cabinet, and remove Rahman’s executive powers. Lutfur Rahman must also be removed from ever taking public office for his blatant misuse of power in dismantling the democratic process; power unwisely entrusted to him by the people of this borough. 

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