Sunday 9 August 2020

EXCLUSIVE: Councillor calls on colleagues to reject 'weak offer' on Labour Group democracy that reinforces Brent Council leader's power

Brent Council Leader is not always happy with councillors who are independent thinkers

In May 2020 Cllr Muhammed Butt had been leader of Brent Council for 8 years, having gained power at the 2012 AGM which saw Ann John ousted as Leader.

The Labour Group AGM this year has been delayed, possibly until September, depending on Covid restrictions, so a report on democracy in the Council appeared timely.

Cllr Butt has already had rule changes put in place, with the support of the Labour Group, which makes him no longer subject to annual re-election as Leader.

Decisions are made mainly by a 10 person Cabinet and most of them also serve on the General Purposes Committee with the addition of one Conservative representative. Much power resides in the Leader who allocates the various positions that attract additional allowances. It's unclear how much this is influenced by votes of the group rather than the Leader's  personal preferences.

It is no secret that many backbenchers are frustrated in their role. Without any additional position they feel they are no more than a conduit for residents' complaints about missed waste collections and potholes - just referring them on to officers in the various council departments.

There have been some happy exceptions to the rule in task groups set up by Scrutiny Committees but mostly backbenchers are kept out of policy making except for the ritual raising of hands at Full Council meetings. Some brave souls, who not want to vote for the cuts or other controversial matters, either absent themselves entirely or sneak out to the lavatory when the vote is taken.

Cllr Gill has written to Cllr Thomas Stephens and all members of the Labour Group giving his reasons for leaving. He is critical of  Stephens' chairing and questions his motives in producing what he calls a 'soft report.'

He points out that over the last 10 years the number of elections held within the group, over the 4 year period of an administration, has gone from 48 to 8.

 Gill claims that his call for more elections and term limits was answered by 'democracy causes arguments and disharmony' and that this sounded more like
more like a North Korean apparatchik than any kind of Democrat.

His email alleges that a loophole that would enable the Leader and Deputy leader to swap jobs after the 8 year terms was up, and thus continue for another year, was pointed out but that the loophole was not closed by the Chair.

Gill claimed that direct elections were rejected and an unspecified  selection procedure supported  instead that he said would allow the Leader to vet any people he did not like and keep them off the shortlist.

He concludes that this was a 'soft report'  and calls on his councillor colleagues to vote it down until they get a better offer.

The report is embedded below for readers to consider the arguments:

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