Ray Morgon’s cabinet has a lot to prove. None have had policy making positions and one’s only been on Council for two months. So how did they do?
Question Time was Ray’s cabinet’s first outing. Classy Conservative questions were a sharp improvement on the tedious HRA efforts we used to endure. There were two standout moments.
Dilip Patel asked about Development (@42 minutes)1. Graham Williamson casually remarked about developing the ‘Green Belt’ in the fullness of time. This is a dramatic policy shift. I wonder if his cabinet colleagues know about it? Osman Dervish (@53 minutes) asked Oscar Ford about free school meals during holiday periods. He said there won’t be any unless government financed them and then burbled about budget constraints. Ford was unmoved when it was pointed out this meant sacrificing vulnerable children during a catastrophic cost-of-living crisis.
Sue Ospreay (@1 hour10) was emotional about derelict land in Rainham. Morgon said it was a ‘Bad Thing’. They’ll still be wringing their hands in horror in ten years.
Opposing ULEZ2 in Havering (@1:38) was led by David Taylor. Keith Prince’s rant, (@1 hour50) and Judith Holt’s desire to join Essex (@1:52) convinced me some Conservatives are having a mental breakdown. Williamson (@1 hour:55) remarked that 7% of Havering’s death rate was due to air pollution. This is three deaths a week, every week, which is a good argument for ULEZ, I’d have thought.3
There were an unprecedented six Conservatives absent. They included Damian White who’ll be pleased to know his group gave a good show.
Every councillor has a legal obligation to fill out the Register of Interests. The government regard this as so important that if statements are false, it’s potentially a criminal act. Every councillor knows this.
The Register must be completed within 28 days of the election, which, this year, falls on the 2nd June 2022. Anyone not filling in the Register isn’t meeting their legal obligations.
Philip Ruck (HRA: Cranham) apparently hasn’t filled in his form, which is a significant failure. Philip’s a new councillor but Keith Prince (Con: Squirrels Heath) has a long and distinguished career behind him. He too hasn’t filled in his Register of Interests which makes me suspicious. Keith’s GLA entry is overflowing with detail. Can it be that they’ve filled in their forms and been let down by the Council? If not, then it’s a reprehensible failure.1
Sue Ospreay (Con: Rainham and Wennington)2 signed a blank form, which is legally binding. It can be tested under the true/false criteria. On the basis of the Register statement of Jacqueline McArdle (Con: same ward) Sue’s statement is false. Jacqueline received donations from the Conservative Party. It’s highly unlikely that Sue didn’t also receive a donation.
The Register of Interests3 is a vital part of democracy. The Councillors who apparently failed their legal obligation, without a reasonable explanation, should lose their allowances. Sue should be given the opportunity to revise her form if it’s deemed necessary.
Damian has defeated a challenge to his leadership by a single vote. He was challenged in a WhatsApp message from Robert Benham,1 who spoke of ‘in-fighting’. He and his supporters lost and the Conservative ‘pot-of-gold’ politics might inflict a punishment beating on Robert and his supporters. Who knows? Damian might be magnanimous and they’ll all live happily ever after.
The galling fact for Damian is that he leads the largest party but needs five more votes. Havering Residents’ Association (HRA) have 20 seats and are negotiating for Labour’s nine votes to create a Friendly Understanding. HRA have 29 votes in sight but that means taking responsibility. HRAlike permanent opposition. It’s painless and well-paid. All of which means that they might actually prefer a seductive offer from Damian.
In 2018 Damian mopped up HRA councillors. He’ll try again but this time it’s harder. Why? Sally Miller, John Mylod and Michael Deon Burton all lost. Their fate is a warning to renegades.2 Individual HRA councillors might take Damian’s offer. It is, after all, a few thousand pounds, for doing little else than agreeing with him.
Can Damian heal? The challenges will test his mettle. The nest of vipers that’s the Conservative group have had a very public split, which could result in flaky members drifting to HRA. Throwing gold around solves some problems but there are some Conservatives with ambitions. And they’re lean and hungry.
The excitement is building towards May 25th when a new Administration is brought into being.
1 Damian’s deputy in the Conservative group
2 The Harold Wood Three bucked the trend and prospered
Hornchurch and Upminster have no Conservative councillors at all. Emerson Park fell when Roger Ramsey retired. Labour won their first Romford seat for 20 years but the Havering Residents’ Association (HRA) will take power.
Havering’s politics is complex. The election result1 is a mish-mash. HRA20 seats, the Conservatives 23, Labour 9 and Renegade RAs three.2 Meanwhile in Rainham the count continued on Monday 9th May and the result was announced during an acrimonious recount. Four burly police officers were there, at huge expense, to protect the Chief Executive in case things got physical. Three Conservatives won leaving them short of a majority.
HRA + Labour reach the magic 28 seats but will they do a deal? Havering’s politics depend on deals. There’s no political ‘purity’. This is the fifth time in six elections with No Overall Control. In the previous four, Conservatives have done deals with RAs. Now it’s the RAs turn to do a deal or not.
That’s the Thrill. Now the Spill.
Damian White had an innovative way of awarding allowances. Consequently, every Conservative councillor is facing a pay-cut. Damian loses about £55,000 a year. This might explain his anger on Election Night as he saw it dribbling away.
Local government has national organizations. There are many committees which demand representation. There’s nothing quite like an awayday at someone else’s expense and Conservative councillors are going to miss them.
There’s also the glory of summoning Chief Officers and strutting round the Town Hall. Demotion to backbench voting fodder is cruel but is the result of depending on a niche electorate.
Havering’s election on May 5th gives voters a choice of 199 candidates.1 They’ve been working hard on the issues that they think matter to the people of Havering. At the time of writing (30th April), postal voting means that about a third of the votes have been cast. How many potential voters will make the effort of voting in person?
Previous experience says ‘Abstentions’ will win on the 5th May. A significant majority of voters won’t vote.
Upminster’s Linda Hawthorn trounced the opposition in 2018 but failed to get a majority of the electorate. That ward held the largest turnout in 2018 with 45.5%, (a 54.5% Abstention rate).2 Does it matter? In her case no but it feels wrong. Conservatives have ruled Havering for 20 years with 16 years in coalition. Thus, Conservatives have been in control with a minority of seats and a minority of votes for 20 years.3
Local democracy needs reform but is highly unlikely to get it.
Addendum: Mayoral election for Manchester, 2021
In Greater Manchester Andy Burnham won an outright majority without preference votes. Abstentions amounted to 67.3% of the electorate and the remaining 34.7% was divided between nine candidates. Andy received 67.3% of 34.7% or, 23% of the total electorate.4
3 Robert Benham is a cabinet member and had a thumping majority in Brooklands ward. But! The turnout in 2018 was 32.5%. So, before opposition votes were counted he’d been passively or actively rejected by 67.5% of the electorate.
Since February Facebook has published ‘David Taylor’s adverts. They don’t mention his fellow Conservative candidates: Councillor Joshua Chapman, cabinet member, and Councillor Nisha Patel. Conservatives always promote themselves as ‘Action Teams’.1David doesn’t understand ‘Team’.
So, what’s going on?
St. Edward’s ward has been changed by the Boundary Commission and Judith Holt2has been ousted. David looks like an outsider who’s muscled her out.
David’s Facebook page has a ‘Team’ photo in which he says:
I’m very lucky to be standing with a great team in Councillors Nisha Patel and Joshua Chapman.
There’s a lot I can learn from them. I think smiling is one of them! 14th March 2022
This is sarcasm dressed as praise.
The advert above3 is a straight-forward attack on the failings of current Conservative councillors. Joshua and Nisha obviously don’t keep constituents informed about the council. Facebook politicians don’t have loyalty in their kitbag of ambitions.
David’s wrong about St. Edward’s. It isn’t as safe for Conservatives as he, and everyone else, assumes. Is David part of the Romford Conservative’s internecine war that’s going on? Roll on the 5th of May!
In the good-old-days voters knew where they stood. Conservatives were heartless; Labour were warm-hearted; Resident Associations (RA) loved pavements. Happy days!
Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, set Havering’s Council Tax at 3%. He imposed the principal budget item, Adult Social Care, without funding it. This budget is demand led so no-one knows how much it will eventually cost. Councillors do know Havering has the oldest population in London and dozens of Care Homes. Central government has imposed Stealth Taxes on Havering for 12 years.
A £150 million budget1 was nodded through with passionate debate about £70,000 ‘savings’ from Councillors Allowances. This would be allocated to street cleaning. An RA policy!
The 3% Council Tax increase is inadequate. Inflation is 7% rising to 10% by December. The in-coming Administration will have to make some grim decisions in October.
Council officers wrote an analysis of ‘risk’ factors for the budget.2 Item C4 refers to business rates losses, “it is hoped that the Government will fully recognise this in future settlements”. Interest rates have increased twice in three months. C8 says, “An increase in interest rates will have a direct impact on the Council’s treasury strategy.” Each 1% increase equals £1 million of additional expenditure. C19 notes a potential loss of “several million pounds” and C22 says government alteration in charging for ‘Green Waste’ will cost £800,000.
The Administration’s 400 job losses will save £7 million.3 They are, “Staffing Reductions Through Efficiency”. Achieved by removing, “activities that do not benefit residents.” Technology [has] “moved on significantly… [and] efficiencies through modernising work processes and improving service offers to our customers and partners.” A budget based on a ‘wish and prayer’.
Jeff Tucker declared he hadn’t read the budget before speaking for 25 minutes. But it was Rishi Sunak’s Stealth Taxes which needed discussing and he wasn’t present.4 So perhaps Jeff got it right.
Keith is a Conservative superstar1 and fancies himself. He was re-elected a GLA Member in May, 2021 but it was a joyless victory. Sadiq Khan’s London Labour are tightening their grip and that’s the kiss of death for Keith who wants to be a mover-and-shaker. Keith now has his sights on Havering. The Havering Conservative Leadership election, 2022, could be blood-thirsty.
Political ironies pile up. Damian is vacating his seat in Squirrels Heath and moving to Havering-Atte-Bower. And who steps into Squirrels Heath ward? Keith!
Damian shouldn’t be underestimated. He’s politically adroit and built a coalition in 2018 out of nothing. For four years he’s used Special Responsibility Allowances2for the only electorate that matters: Conservative councillors. But that was then. What can Keith offer?
It takes a very brave Leader to re-jig allowances when it’s going to cost councillors money. Neither are going to do that. So the election depends on other things. And what might they be?
Damian has amiable contempt for his colleagues, which he conceals badly. The Bob Perry revelations about possible gerrymandering showed Damian’s unpleasant side. He’s also keen on councillors pulling their weight when it comes to campaigning. This is unpopular with elderly Conservatives who want a quiet life. Perhaps Keith will be more understanding?
This is predicated on the Conservatives forming an administration in 2022, which is far from certain. Keith could find himself rejected by Squirrels Heath’s voters and nursing even more thwarted ambitions.
1 Keith was a Havering councillor 1990-5; a Redbridge councillor 2003-18 (Leader 2009-14); GLA member 2016-present. He was re-elected in 2021 with a majority of 15,327. On 9th May 2022 Damian survived a leadership challenge by one vote but not by Keith but by stalking horse Robert Benham.
Timothy isn’t a well known councillor but is Damian White’s crony. He may be talentless but he’s grateful for crumbs that come his way. So when an embarrassing job needed to be done, Timothy agreed immediately.
Damian’s policy is to use council allowances to cement his position as Leader. In Timothy’s case this means being vice chair of the Strategic Planning Committee. For this Timothy gets £150 a week. He probably appreciates this when we look at his Register of Members’ Interests statement.*
So what favour did Damian request? Earlier this year, 2020, Damian boasted about his control of the Chief Executive and the borough’s boundary submission on reconfigured wards. Damian thought he was amongst friends. He was mistaken. A recording was taken which went viral. This in turn led to an external adjudicator declaring Damian had a case to answer.
A committee was formed to hear evidence.** Timothy and Conservative councillor Matt Sutton sat alongside councillor Linda van den Hende. Timothy announced, at the beginning of the meeting, that he’d excuse himself as he’d been a participant when Damian was boasting. Obviously Damian planned this. They both knew Timothy was unable to serve on the committee. Although quorate, the chair, Matt Sutton, postponed the meeting. Exactly to plan.
Damian’s ploy wasted time and money but Timothy felt he’d done well. Like all Zoom meetings, it’s interesting to see participants’ composure when provoked. Timothy’s action pleased him, pleased Damian and hacked everyone else off. I hope Damian’s boasting isn’t subsequently white-washed.
Damian White’s cronies are undermining democracy in Havering.
This constituency is a safe Conservative parliamentary seat. But it’s also a no-go area for them in local politics. Indeed Conservative candidates have to brand themselves as Resident Association (RAs)to have any chance of success in council elections. The RAs are splintered and don’t have critical mass when it comes to power and influence. As a consequence, the minority Conservative administration has an easy time of it.
Veteran RA councillor, John Mylod, ‘became’ a Conservative prior to the 2018 election after a spat with fellow councillors in St Andrews ward. This ward is an RA stronghold but he still won with a personal vote. Or, maybe, voters didn’t appreciate he’d jumped ship. Harold Wood’s three RA councillors created a working majority for the Conservatives. They were always crypto-Conservatives but being offered lucrative allowances helped them make the crucial decision.
Two wards return Labour councillors. In their heartlands they won five of six seats. The sixth seat went to an Independent novice. The only reliable Conservative ward is Emerson Park, which isn’t rock solid. They lost a seat in 2014 to a UKIP candidate. Then post-2018, Bob Perry found Romford’s councillors too arrogant and he’s now an Independent.
So Julia Lopez MP has a majority of 23,000 in a constituency with only three Conservative councillors. Her seat may not be as solid as it looks. Local politics shows there is dissatisfaction with the Conservatives. Local elections demonstrate that voters are quite prepared to abandon them.