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THE Tottenham-10 Haringey Council Cabinet Member defends Whip team action against the 10 Labour Call-In Councillors:
Don't worry - I intend to stay well clear of Richard Burgon's weight (!). Apologies for the length of the reply but I thought it would be worth giving you a considered response. I haven't had any in-depth conversations with anyone from the Whips Office about this but here is my understanding of events.
It is critical to separate opinions on the HDV itself with whether appropriate processes have been followed by the Cabinet and the broader Labour Group.
All Cabinet decisions are taken with the support of the majority of the Labour Group. As Joe Goldberg mentioned at the last GC meeting, there are some decisions which are uncontroversial and therefore do not require a debate and/or vote at Group. However, that obviously doesn't apply to the HDV. After a long debate, a clear majority of the Labour Group voted in favour of progressing with the HDV process. The motion, proposed by Cllr Lorna Reith, incorporated commitments on right of return, tenant terms, consultation with residents, etc. - addressing many of the key concerns raised by the Housing Scrutiny Panel.
Haringey Labour Group works on the principle of collective responsibility. It's absolutely fine to have robust debate internally, but once a vote has been taken, all members of the Labour Group are expected to support the decision publicly. This is how Labour Groups work across the country. If this principle was not in place, there would be no point in having Labour Group votes on anything.
Given that there was a Labour Group vote on the HDV, the Labour Group's code of conduct would expect members to accept and respect the decision and not call-in a decision of the Cabinet based on official Group policy. Many of the councillors who are being investigated by the Whips Office had broken this principle in the past. Some had done it on at least two prior occasions and had been warned by the Whips that another call-in would lead to individual disciplinary action.
I have no idea whether any of the councillors will be suspended or not (I don't think it's appropriate for me to speculate), and agree - wholeheartedly - that we should all be trying to build party unity. However, the Whips Office have to follow Labour Party disciplinary procedures and from what I can see, they are following them appropriately.
In terms of the model emergency motion, I really don't think the ward can or should take it (Steve/Emma, can you help?). If the motion was agreed, it would require the Whips Office to ignore disciplinary procedures they are tasked with overseeing. It's also inappropriate for a branch or the GC to micro-manage the Whips Office in this way.
So all in all, a regrettable state of affairs, but the actions of the Whips, the Labour Group and GCs must support the Group to maintain collective responsibility once Group policy on an issue is clear.
[ Mr Allan's email to Cllr. Arthur is now removed; in it, he questioned the disciplinary action – whipping – in connection with the 10 Labour Councillors who Called-In the Cabinet Decision to go ahead with the HDV]
It seems highly probable that legally and under the Council's constitution, councillors can't and should not be "whipped" for their involvement in Scrutiny.
The 'Call-in' is clearly linked to the whole Scrutiny process which is very much still underway. In fact there's a further evidence gathering session this afternoon (3 April). Though, with the usual secrecy which Koberville adores, it will not be open to the public nor webcast. So a part of the Scrutiny into the largest, most risky property disposal / homes & business premises fire-sale and demolition scheme in the history of Haringey will be kept firmly away from residents' view.
But there's an even more important reason why elected Councillors should not be bullied and threatened and hauled into private meetings with Party whips for speaking-out. That's because it's a terrible way to run a democracy. In fact running a Council like that isn't any sort of democracy at all, but an authoritarian, dysfunctional, petty tyranny.
What's a better way?
I tend to divide problems into real and fake. A real problem is something like a hole in the roof, especially if it lets in the rain. An example of a fake problem is how to get round some arbitrary petty and mostly pointless rule. Imagine a rule which says something has to be written on lined green paper and handed in by 2pm on Wednesday.
There are real problems and risks with Claire Kober's Development Vehicle. It may not only let in the rain but far far worse.Like any such complex scheme there are questions which need asking and challenges to be made. These will change based on a flow of new information about whether or not it will work, and work well.
Punishing and gagging and threatening people for trying to look into, point out and warn about the real problems is the deepest stupidity. It is akin to threatening medical staff for telling the truth about hospitals; or pilots for pointing out design faults in planes; or oil company staff for warning about risks of spills and explosions.
Each of these areas are examples where the need for a culture of candour, and for truth-telling is vital to make things better and safer. Vital to save lives, prevent harm, and avoid organisations having to pay out huge sums in damages and compensation.
I was once commissioned to do a small piece of research about Public Inquiries into reports on institutions in which things went seriously wrong. Different sorts of institutions - including some hospitals; children's homes, homes for elderly people, disabled people etc.etc
I read the reports of every major inquiry. There was almost always a point when the Inquiry would ask: "Why did no one SAY something was deeply wrong?"
And a little later, the realisation: "Oh. Someone did say something". And often it turned out that lots of people had said something.
So the question changed to: "Why didn't someone with the authority to act DO something?"
Right now in Kober's diseased dysfunctional Haringey the people with authority to act are saying: "Sssh. Shut-up! Or we'll discipline and punish you".
In my view as well, as citizens we have a right to demand ethical behaviour from our representatives; that they speak truth to power. And themselves try hard to live-in truth.
Lying for your Party? No thanks.
Councillors who are ignorant of all or any of these issues need to fill the gaps in their knowledge and understanding as quickly as possible. Or leave public life.
They might want to start by reading the Laming Inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie.
Parroting phrases like "collective responsibility" shows a profound and worrying ignorance. There is no collective responsibility to support bad decisions, or stupid, risky and damaging decisions without question. Nor to wilfully choose to be ignorant, incurious and closed-minded.
Party Unity does not require its members to say that the roof is fine when it's not. Nor to pretend that the people sleeping upstairs - always someone else of course - really enjoy the occasional shower coming through their bedroom ceiling.
Declaration of Interest.
My wife Zena Brabazon is a Labour councillor for Harringay ward. Zena is a member of the Scrutiny Panel and signed the Call-in.
I am a member of Tottenham Labour Party and was a Labour councillor from 1998-2014.
I think the difficulty with "collective responsibility" is that it leaves no space for the whistle-blower. Once the powers-that-be have decided something: that's it.
A practical, fundamental objection to the death penalty is that it doesn't allow for the possibility that the prisoner may be innocent: that a mistake could be, or has been, made. Our decisions are infallible.
It's assumed that after due-process, a guilty verdict is 100% correct. Which is normally fine as long as there remains the possibility of correcting a mistake.
Or if new evidence comes to light – that seems to be happening every week with the HDV. This is likely to be the background of the Scrutiny Panel's wish to press the pause button.
With the HDV, we won't see what a huge mistake has been made until after those responsible have trumpeted what a success it is and have left the scene. Before the previous 50:50 joint venture disasters, discussion and argument like this one, were had. Only a few were prepared to stand up and say, think again, as have the Tottenham-10.
Also, I don't think the public appreciates to what extent the 'Leader' model of local government runs on, and depends on, fear and greed. Because the leader has much control over patronage, the fear is that valuable posts currently-held will be lost and at the same time, there is the desire to please the leader with hopes of being awarded those valuable positions.
My research has led me to establish that, the correlation between those Labour Group Members who voted in support of the HDV—and those who are in receipt of an (extra) SRA (special responsibility allowance) of £16,000 or more—is 1.0, i.e. a perfect correlation.
This is also known among some cognoscenti as, the Payroll Vote. Don't expect any comment from the Cabinet Member!
Alan, these are leaked branch committee emails that reveal absolutely nothing - publishing them is a gross invasion of privacy. Are all councillors' private emails fair game now? Are all mine?
Clive, these are private emails and publishing them is not in the public interest. You're a councillor for goodness sake, and this just makes you look grubby, unprincipled and desperate. Please take them down.
I think we'll have to agree to differ. I don't think you and I have ever met you but I gather you are the chair of Crouch End ward branch of the Labour Party. (A completely voluntary post, for people who don't know.)
Cllr Jason Arthur is a member of the Council's cabinet, elected by all the electors in Crouch End, and someone with a voice at the 'top table'. In other words at the centre of power in the Borough. What he thinks and - more importantly - how he thinks is a legitimate topic for public debate.
But let's take seriously the question you pose of whether or not the emails reveal "absolutely nothing" and aren't worth publishing.
What does your email tell me about you? First it shows you doing precisely what the chair or secretary of a ward branch should be doing: being a bridge between Labour Party members and our councillors and helping to make the latter accountable.
You tell Jason Arthur you've heard that 10 Haringey Labour councillors might be disciplined for "calling in" the decision on the HDV (Haringey Development Vehicle) allegedly "bringing the party into disrepute". This is both factually accurate and an entirely legitimate concern to raise with councillors.
You add: "if any of them are suspended then they won't be able to stand as Labour councillors next year". This is a perfectly reasonable question and refers to a very real possibility. At minimum it is a manipulation of the Labour Party's candidate selection process designed to have what in the U.S. is called a "chllling" effect. In other words aimed at curtailíng freedom of speech.
Further points about your email. You say you: "really want to understand the logic here". And you tell Jason Arthur you want to see unity in the Party, but that "this is only going to end badly". Again you're right. And a diplomatic way of putting things. In other words Charley, your email reveals that you've acted decently and openly as the chair of a ward branch trying to make sense of a difficult situation.
Is anything revealed by Cllr Jason Arthur's reply? In my view, there is indeed.
He shows himself to be ignorant about the role and function of Scrutiny. Ignorant of new ideas - especially about the necessity for a "Culture of Candour". (In Haringey of all boroughs this should be a priority.) He also seems to be ignorant about the need to have open and healthy public debate. What the Centre for Public Scrutiny calls "democratic vitality".
While I make no claim to be any sort of Labour Party historian, as a member for many decades it's clearly been a lively and disputatious bunch of people with a very wide range of views, passions and personalities. Lovely!
If I'd wanted democratic centralism (I absolutely don't) I could have joined some Trotskyist club. Other people can worship in the cult of the Dear Leader or the General Secretary for whom we must not stop clapping. But not me, thanks.
I don't know exactly when the Borg hive-mind started to take over Haringey Labour. Nor where in the basement of River Park House they take you to Room 101. But I've never been there. Anyway, this is what Jason Arthur should have replied to you.
Hi Charley, Thanks for emailing me. Look, this is a bit tricky but you deserve a frank honest answer so I'll do the best I can. I've marked it "Confidential" as Claire and her pals are a bunch of control freaks who aren't partial to anyone who challenges or disagrees with them.
In any case I can't tell you very much as the Whips team is currently down in Room 101 where the ten councillors will be brought-in one at a time in manacles for questioning. You may have heard that Cllr Lorna Reith (Ms Whiplash) told her own branch secretary that this just a "conversation". Well, frankly that's bollocks because it seems to be very much a formal disciplinary investigation. So the rules of Natural Justice require that we all keep quiet before the likely guilty verdicts are handed down.
I haven't actually spoken to the three whips. Though as you may know, the "Chief Whip" Adam Jogee isn't taking part in this pantomime. Because he's a lame duck. Actually a lame terrapin, following unhelpful tweets from Peter Bingle his boss at Terrapin Communications, the lobbying company which represents the successful bidders and runners-up in the Homes Demolition Vehicle. Peter is a lovely bloke. I had a nice lunch with him. As did Claire and Alan Strickland.
Personally I haven't a clue whether the HDV is going to work or not. The sensible thing of course would be for me to go to the various protest meetings taking place, read all I can, and sit-in at the Scrutiny Panel's hearings. They seem to have a range of experts raising all sorts of perfectly sensible concerns and advising the Council not to go ahead. Or at least be very very cautious; and not rush into signing-up in July. Rather like someone keen to claim the millions of dollars left for them in a bank account in Freedonia. (According to an unsolicited email.)
If I was really brave I'd arrange a secret informal meeting with some of the Terrible Ten, for coffee and biscuits and actually listen to what they say and think. It's possible that they or the various experts who, unlike me, actually know stuff, might be right or at least partly right.
But obviously I'm the Cabinet Member for finance appointed by the Dear Leader, and no doubt the future Baroness Kober. Her Supreme Personage has kindly taken a few moments out of her busy schedule to explain to me that collective responsibility means I can't do anything of the kind. But must shut my eyes, ears and mouth, and do what she and our senior officers tell us.
This is very very late Capitalism, Charley. Have you read Wolfgang Streek? He's very good.
I'm doing okay and hope you and everyone in Crouch End ward are too. I heard an old song on the radio the other day.
"The rich get richer and the poor get children. In the meantime, in between time, don't we have fun."
All the best,
Alan, just because something might be interesting to the public doesn’t mean that publishing it is in the public interest – that’s journalism 101. “What” and “how” a public figure thinks may or may not be a “legitimate topic for public debate” but these are private emails. Are you seriously suggesting that all councillors’ emails, texts and whatever can now be legitimately published without any consequences?
What about my emails – are they fair game too? As you say, I’m just a branch chair doing my bit – and seeing my private correspondence appear on a Lib Dem blog actually makes me feel slightly nauseous. Surely you can see what’s wrong with this blatant invasion of privacy – talk about a “chilling effect”!
Even if your interpretation of what these emails reveal is correct – and I strongly disagree with your analysis – then exposing a councillor’s “ignorance” from an email to fellow branch members is still not in the public interest. These emails reveal absolutely no wrongdoing or even the suggestion of wrongdoing, yet another councillor has slapped them online without any context or even attempt to establish their authenticity. He even published our private email addresses until he was told to redact them!
As I’ve already said, it’s grubby, unprincipled and reeks of desperation – and just damages a cause that I personally have sympathy for. Clive has shown his true colours by publishing this and refusing to take it down despite multiple requests to do so. We should all be careful about who our “comrades” really are in situations like this.
My apologies for the delay in replying to your posting, Charley.
As you might imagine I've given it some thought. But unfortunately have had two other urgent tasks.
You raise some incredibly important points. So I will try and get back to you tomorrow.
Many thanks Alan, I look forward to reading your response. Clive seems to think he's published some kind of smoking gun that justifies his invasion of our privacy, but he forgets that this is #HighgateNotWatergate
Apologies for the further delay, Charley Allan. New grandaughter arrived a week early so our weekend was taken up.
I don't agree with but can perhaps understand why you focus on the privacy issue. Though I don't see it as as key. As I tried to suggest - in maybe a too jokey style - your own involvement was at the periphery. And what you wrote was entirely appropriate, measured and an attempt to be helpful.
However I don't regard Cllr Jason's Arthur's reply in the same light. He is an elected politician and a member of the cabinet with a vital brief. What he says to fellow Labour Party members and residents is entirely relevant. In my view it is very much in the public interest that what he says and what he does about key public issues should be in the public domain.
First and foremost the issue is the Haringey Development Vehicle. What Jason Arthur wrote about this being separate from the Scrutiny is plain wrong. And also deeply flawed. It shows ignorance of the role and rules applying to Scrutiny.
If he thinks the issue is just correct process then maybe he needs to look at his own actions. He was completely out of order to give his opinion of the actions of the Ten councillors calling-in the decision. They are not only under investigation but some may still be unaware of the details of the actual complaints and the evidence.
Jason Arthur offered his views before the ten councillors met the whips. And before they had an opportunity to hear the case against them and to say what they have to say in rebuttal.
In his email above Jason Arthur wrote: "I don't think it's appropriate for me to speculate".
He immediately went on to speculate inappropriately, not about their innocence or guilt but about the punishment they will receive.
"I have no idea whether any of the councillors will be suspended or not".
Which is very big of him, is it not?
Surely a fair-minded person would have written along lines like: 'I have no idea whether any of the councillors will be found to have broken the Party rules. Hopefully they will not, because the Labour Party is a democratic party which welcomes and encourages debate and discussion'.
Plainly Jason Arthur is already clear about their guilt in having broken the rules. He assured you that many of them have done so in the past.
"Many of the councillors who are being investigated by the Whips Office had broken this principle in the past.
No names though. Just collective guilt by association. And guess what? Cllr Jason Arthur a man who disapproves of inappropriate speculation, goes on to speculate about a possible pattern. "Some had done it on at least two prior occasions".
Since he hasn't talked to the whips - Jason Arthur tells us he has not - plainly he has talked to someone else. And they have told him about the previous guilt of these councillors who commit the crime of thinking-for-themselves.
Some had done it on at least two prior occasions and had been warned by the Whips that another call-in would lead to individual disciplinary action."
So we have a gang with some unnamed recidivists. And Jason Arthur fair-minded chap we assume he is, slips into character assassination of all of them collectively.
Jason Arthur it would appear, is ignorant of the principles of Natural Justice when others are under disciplinary investigation. Instead Mr Justice Arthur, who has already reached a finding of guilt without knowing all the evidence, seems to have forgotten - or is perhaps ignorant of something rather important.
It's this: As a member of Haringey Labour Group if the whips find against one of more of the impudent and disobedient thinkers-for-themselves, Cllr Arthur will be called upon to receive the whips' report and vote on its recommendations. So Mr Justice Arthur will switch seats and become a member of the jury.
So now Charley I hope you see why having Jason Arthur's email in the public domain is very much in the public interest.
There's much more. But I will try to be a brief
I agree with most of Clive Carter' points above including his crucial point about new evidence. Jason Arthur's dismissal of this is frankly, illogical. Also deeply dysfunctional. He puts forward an absurd notion: that a vote in the Labour Group settles a matter and binds everyone in that group to silence and assent.
Though even the Labour Group rules aren't as deeply stupid as this. (Or at least they weren't when I was a councillor three years ago.) To prevent an endless and continuous debate on an issue, three months had to elapse before a Group member could reopen it. But it was and is is obvious that public policy in a London Borough is not a matter of issues being cut-and-dried and agreed once only. The world changes. "Events" said Harold MacMillan
I'm nearly finished.But before that I'd like invite you and anyone else interested to read what I wrote online a few years ago about after reading Cass Sunstein on deliberative democracy.
I came to Sunstein's work via several routes. But what drew me in particular was a longstanding interest in teamwork and how work teams learn together. And how that learning and experience of experts can be shared in dialogue with the wider public (Long ago in the last century I wrote my Doctoral Thesis party on this topic.)
Gagging people; punishing or putting the frighteners on those who speak up; closing down and "chilling" public debate with explicit or implicit threats; rewards for silence; silos and echo-chambers for the like-minded. None of these are in any way a recipe for good governance and healthy democracy - within political parties or elsewhere.
On the contrary they are symptoms of a diseased party, team or organisation. As indeed, I believe the Kober Regime to be diseased.
I get it that you are sore your own email was leaked. But what you wrote reflects well on you.
Please be content that the world of politics now knows a little more about Jason Arthur. Hopefully he will learn something from this and determine in future to try to do the right thing. Instead of playing follow-my-leader and the very poor example set in the current Council.
Hi Alan, many thanks for your reply – and congratulations on your new grandaughter!
You write: “In my view it is very much in the public interest that what he says and what he does about key public issues should be in the public domain.”
Really – everything he says, even in private? I fundamentally disagree, and believe that Cllr Carter has crossed a line by publishing these emails. We all have the right to private communications, and we don’t give that up by advancing “wrong”, “flawed” or “ignorant” arguments.
Just to be clear, I’m not concerned with how this makes me or Cllr Arthur look – I’m simply protecting the integrity of my branch. I wouldn’t dream of publishing another party’s private branch emails unless it exposed wrongdoing, but I guess that’s why I’m in Labour and not the Lib Dems! Best comradely wishes, Charley
I apologise for not immediately redacting the two email addresses from your exchange that I pasted. When I received a request to do so through official channels, I redacted them at the earliest opportunity. I was not asked to change anything else or to take down the post.
I have reviewed the emails and I cannot see anything else that could be described as personal-private. However, if you care to identify anything that you see as personal, I’d consider redacting that too.
I cannot agree that publishing them is not in the public interest. The reason I published them is because I see that as being much in the public interest. I was sent them by a Member of the Labour Party, presumably out of concern about what is happening and wishing that they be published (I understand the emails have been circulated within the local Labour Party).
(I was a little disappointed that you felt the need to engage in personal insults; presumably you thought that would assist your request to suppress the email exchange.)
I think you were right to draw the attention of your “comrades” to the threat to the Tottenham-10. As you may appreciate, they were motivated out of genuine concern about the HDV. For them, Party loyalty is less important than a deeper loyalty to their voters, to the public and to their consciences. In my opinion, they are to be applauded, but for Cabinet Members and the Whips Team (Chief Whip is Cllr. Adam Jogee), they are to be punished: unjustly.
This follows a recurrent pattern of bullying: you may recall the treatment meted out to Cllr. Bull for speaking in public about the proposed closure of Day Care centres. I think the charge was uncomradeliness, which is reminiscent of the Stalinist era.
In my view, the HDV proposal is so stupendously risky, foolish and dangerous and poses such a threat to the Borough’s finances, to Council Housing and to many hundreds of tenants, that it properly transcends party loyalties. Which is a reason why I talk about it with members of several political parties.
Even if you accept Cllr. Arthur's justification for the punishment of the Tottenham-10 and do not care about their courageous stand, I plead with you to inform yourself all you can about the HDV, before it is too late.