Wednesday 2 May 2018

Will it be 'One man' Brent on top of 'One party'?

The 2014 Brent Council result
Muhammed Butt, currently Leader of Brent Labour group and Brent Council, has made no secret of the fact that he wants to sweep the board in tomorrow's election and defeat the Tories in Kenton and Brondesbury Park and the independent seat in Mapesbury.  On the one hand 'that's democracy' as Labour in Islington has argued, as they pour resources into defeating the lone Green councillor Caroline Russell.

On the other hand what does it say about respect for democracy in that they are wanting to wipe out all opposition? Does it betray a belief that all wisdom only exists in only one party and that any opposition is by its very nature an irritant or even a betrayal?

The situation is made worse by the adoption of a Cabinet system where all decisions are made by a group of 8 people.  Hitherto in Brent the only say backbench Labour Group councillors have had in that selection is to elect Cabinet members and the leader  then distributes the portfolios.

I understand that Muhammed Butt is hoping to change things at the Annual General Meeting, which is being held almost immediately after the election on Saturday.  I am reliably informed that he wants to make the leadership position a  four year term, rather than the present two years, which he successfully changed from an annual election. He is also said to want to make Cabinet positions two year, rather than the present one year,

Exploiting an ambiguity in the Labour Group's Standing Orders it is suggested that he wants to appoint Cabinet members himself rather than have the Labour Group select from their number. Sources are unclear about whether this would also extend to Chairs of the Scrutiny Committees and Chair of the Planning Committee.  The latter is statutorily supposed to be independent and it is to the advantage of democracy, as the late Dan Filson showed,  if scrutiny chairs are also robustly independent.  If they owe their position to the patronage of the leader that clearly reduces their independence - especially if that leader has a controlling personality.

It is unclear whether there will be any challenge to Butt's leadership and the closeness of the AGM to the election means that there will be little time to muster supporters by any challenger. As I understand it there is no plan at the moment to delay the AGM because of the postponed Willesden Green poll, which raises an additional issue over the posiiton of Tom Miller, a Willesden Green candidiate and currently a Cabinet member. Will he be eligible for a Cabinet position?

These are all good reasons for moving  to a Committee system rather than a Cabinet system . A Committee system, means decisions are made by a broader group of councillors - even if they are all of one party. Personally I feel that Brent is the poorer for not having an Education Committee and that some of the recent controversies over academisation would have been better dealt with if it had.

A wider question arising from the 'that's democracy' statement is, 'Is it democracy?' How are the thousands of people who voted other than Labour to be represented? This is the proportion of the vote for each party in the 2014 election. About half of those who voted, voted for a party other than Labour.  A proportional voting system would give the combined opposition sufficient seats to contribute to decision making and hold the majority group to account. Regardless of party label this would allow a wider range of people with skills and experience to contribute to the running of the Council to the advantage of the people of Brent. 


Anonymous said...

I hear that Cllr Duffy's image has already been photoshopped out of old group photographs of the council and that Brent council is shortly to issue every household with a copy of 'Butt Thought on Socialism with Brent Characteristics for a New Era".
Future dustbin collections will be conditional on householders being able to achieve over 95% correct answers in the new Butt Thought Test to be rolled out in the autumn.

Mike Hine

Anonymous said...

Lets hope that on Saturday Labour decide that "the Butt stops here"!!!