Anam Islam and Josephine Grahl from Newham Voting for Change appeared on The Tuesday Show to talk to Jenny Fisher about the Newham Referendum and the advantage of the committee system.
Anam: “In a committee structure… people in the community can attend meetings, have their say, and they can make their contributions when we are making that decision, when we are taking that vote. That’s more inclusive and it won’t only empower those backbench councillors but it will also empower communities… It will be an enhanced version of what is already happening in Newham.”
Josephine: “An advantage of the committee structure in boroughs like Newham where the Labour Group is completely dominant and of course Labour Group meeting do take place behind closed doors and are confidential, whereas committee meetings take place in public and are open to the public. And that gives the councillors greater accountability.”
John Gray appeared on the Politics Show on Relaks Radio talking to Councillor Puru Miah and Councillor Andrew Wood from Tower Hamlets about the referendum:
“Your local councillors should be key to not only representing you but representing your borough. Unfortunately under the executive Mayoral model and also the leader and cabinet model, the power of councillors is very very limited. It’s still an important role, but power is concentrated in the hands of a very few.”
May 6th is the date, not only for the election of the London Mayor and Greater London Assembly Member, but also for the important Newham Governance Referendum. This comes 20 years after this borough voted to have one of the country’s first Directly-Elected Mayors in a referendum which was perhaps not widely nor fully understood. Newham was one of only 11 authorities which voted to adopt the Mayor model and there are currently just 15, with many more referendums proposing a Mayor being lost than won. Since 2002, the voters of Stoke-on-Trent, Hartlepool and Torbay have opted to abandon the Mayor model they had previously adopted, two for the Leader and Cabinet and one for the Committee model.
Sir Robin Wales, elected Mayor of Newham in 2002, remained in office until he was defeated by Cllr Rokhsana Fiaz in the selection for the Labour Party’s Mayoral candidate in 2018. Of those who believed this model would work better with Cllr Fiaz in the post, many also felt that the DEM model was in any case flawed. She expressed the view that this model had not worked well for Newham and pledged, if elected, to hold a referendum on its future by May 2021.
How the full powers of the Mayor are used depends greatly on the incumbent’s character but, according to the Local Government Act 2000, the Mayor – elected separately from the councillors and therefore of higher status – appoints and dismisses Cabinet members. Stemming from this authority, the Mayor is able to ensure the Cabinet’s assent and exercise considerable influence over the councillors belonging to the dominant party.
In contrast, under the Committee model the Council delegates decision-making powers to committees corresponding to Council directorates, such as Adults & Health and Inclusive Economy & Housing. Full Council elects the chairs of these committees and the Council Leader, and has direct responsibility for the overall policy framework and the budget.
The campaign group, Newham Voting for Change, believes that the Committee system is more democratic, equal and inclusive than the DEM system because all councillors participate in making policy. Working in committees encourages co-operation rather than division, talent is nurtured and expertise developed more productively, and all councillors are more accessible and accountable for the Council’s actions.
Residents will hopefully participate in the referendum in large numbers to play a role in shaping Newham’s future.
The article originally appeared in Newham Voices, a new independent community newspaper distributed around the borough.
On 9 March 2021 Newham Voting for Change held a public online meeting to discuss the reasons for the campaign and the advantages of the committee structure.
Chaired by Martin Warne with speakers from Newham Voting for Change and supporters of the campaign, we had a great discussion about the background to the referendum and some of the ways we want to campaign for change in Newham.
Many thanks to all who attended and to Martin for chairing so well.
If you would like to support the campaign, please donate to our crowdfunder where we are raising funds to make a promotional video to explain the referendum and promote our campaign.
Newham Voting for Change activist Josephine Grahl was interviewed today on community radio station Revive FM.
She talked to Simon Rush about the reasons for the referendum, the advantages of the committee structure, and the way the council will work if Newham voters opt for the committee structure in May’s referendum.
The court case against Newham Council has concluded, with the judge upholding Newham’s decision to hold a referendum giving voters a choice between the committee structure and the current Directly Elected Mayoral system.
Newham Voting for Change are delighted that the referendum on the 6 May 2021 will offer a real choice and a chance for change in Newham.
Councillor John Whitworth, who has been a long term champion of the committee model, said:
“The committee structure is a genuine alternative to the Mayoral system, and we think Newham voters will be enthusiastic about having a real say in how their council is run. We look forward to making the arguments for the committee system and we encourage everyone with an interest in local government to get involved in our campaign.”
we will be supporting what is officially called Committee Model, but is actually decision making by groups of elected Newham councillors. This system will ensure elected councillors will also have a say on decisions made by the council, ensuring differing opinions and voices are heard from across the borough.
Lib Dem leader of Sutton Council Ruth Dombey made a strong case for the committee structure at our meeting in December and we’re glad to see the local Liberal Democrat party agree with her.
Newham’s Labour Group of councillors have voted to allow a free vote of councillors in next year’s referendum on local governance. This means that Labour councillors will be free to campaign for either side in the referendum and can take full part in the campaign for the committee structure (or indeed the campaign to preserve the mayoralty, if one is set up).
In the last referendum in 2002 a lot of pressure was put on councillors to support the campaign for a directly elected mayor, so this is good news.
On behalf of Newham Voting for Change, Martin Warne spoke at the Newham Fabians debate on the referendum on Saturday 21st November, making the socialist case for the committee structure:
Socialists know that supporting open, democratic and accountable government is crucial. Our party was established to open up government to working people who had gone unrepresented — so that democracy might be used to improve the lives of the many, not just the few.
I hope the referendum debate can be a starting point for a wider discussion on how to renew our democracy in Newham. As Fabians and socialists, we have questions to answer.
How do we create a political culture based on cooperation and solidarity? How do we rebuild trust in our politics and in our public institutions? How do we build support for and fund high quality, universal public services? How do we become carbon neutral within the next decade, to avert climate catastrophe?
The scale of the task confronting us means that the public needs to be at the heart of deciding how to proceed.
I will finish by quoting Olivia Blake, MP for Sheffield Hallam and a supporter for the campaign for a committee system in her city: “Labour councils should be innovative, pioneering new democratic processes with greater citizen participation and deliberation. And we need to start now. The people are ready for change, and we should listen.”