LABOUR LOYALIST John Biggs, Executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets, is facing accusations of hypocrisy after adding his name to a letter in the Sunday Times headed “Labour Executive wrong to meddle”.
In the letter, Labour Council Leaders declared independence from the Labour Party National Executive Committee (NEC) – which is Labour’s ruling body and responsible for all aspects of running the Labour Party.
The Leaders are cross because the NEC has told Labour Councillors in Haringey to change their development strategy – on the grounds that it gives too much by way of public assets and local control over to the private sector.
Haringey’s strategy is controversial – and many voters will welcome the NEC’s decision. How many more “Carillions” must we have before Haringey’s policy is abandoned? But the Leaders have declared that their Groups of Councillors are sovereign and are not bound by Labour Party rules.
The letter in the Sunday Times gives no authority for the Leaders’ assertion that Labour’s rules do not apply to them. And Labour’s 2017 Rule Book includes the following clause, which suggests that Labour Councillors are as much bound by Labour’s rules as any other party body:
“Due account must be taken [by Labour Groups and Labour councillors] of […] the guidance approved by the NEC and of such advice as may be issued from time to time by the NEC.”
Chapter 13, Clause XVII, Para 2
Biggs is opening himself up to allegations of hypocrisy because he has previously supported NEC decisions – even when the NEC was meddling in local Labour Party matters.
•When Tower Hamlets Labour Party members selected Cllr Lutfur Rahman to be their candidate for mayor, the NEC meddled and quashed their decision – imposing their own choice of candidate (Cllr Helal Abbas) instead. Did John Biggs AM speak up for local members’ rights? No.
•Tower Hamlets party members selected John Biggs as their candidate for the 2014 mayoral elections – from a short shortlist drawn up by the NEC. In 2015, when there was a by-election for mayor, the NEC decided that John Biggs would be the candidate. Did he ask them to stop meddling and let party members choose their own candidate? No.
There is also a strange inconsistency in the Leaders’ bid for independence – because it is not politically neutral. If the Leaders had just written any old letter to the papers saying by the way, our Councillors are independent of our Party – you could say well, they were just raising a debate, even if it was an odd way to do it.
But the Labour Leaders have chosen to moan about the NEC just after it has spoken out on Haringey: their objection, and their letter, are clearly politically motivated. They are accusing the NEC of interfering in the sovereign Haringey Labour Group… by siding with that Labour Group and, thus, interfering in its decisions – rather than respecting its independence.
While John Biggs, Executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets, has signed the Leaders’ letter, it is remarkable that Sir Robin Wales, Executive Mayor of Newham, has not signed. He is about to face another membership vote on whether he should be the Labour candidate for the mayoral election in May. Other East London signatories include Cllr Darren Rodwel (Leader of Barking & Dagenham) and Cllr Jas Athwal (Leader of Redbridge).
The public have now found where the last bastion of Blair and Brown remains. How this will play out in the May elections remains to be seen. In terms of Tower Hamlets, there is a rather large dollop of irony in the Executive Mayor who stood on the Labour ticket after the previous Labour candidate was removed by the NEC and was elected as an Independent… insisting that he is an Independent Mayor, not one bound by national Labour rules.
•We have emailed Executive Mayor John Biggs and asked him for a comment on the Leaders’ statement. We have had an automated reply stating that he will respond “as soon as possible. Given the very large number of emails the mayor receives every day this can take a little time”.