Labour councillors demand free vote over Osland honour

Tony Newman, the Labour leader of Croydon Council, could face some angry party colleagues in the Town Hall chamber tonight if they are forced to vote through a borough honour for former councillor David Osland.

David Osland, right, in his time as a Coulsdon West councillor, alongside his long-time colleague, Gavin Barwell

David Osland, right, in his time as a Coulsdon West councillor, alongside his long-time colleague, Gavin Barwell

Osland, a Tory councillor for Coulsdon West for 20 years, was previously one of Scotland Yard’s most senior police officers. Osland’s role in the failed investigation of Stephen Lawrence’s brutal, racist murder in 1993 saw his evidence at an official inquiry characterised as “another example of institutional racism at work”.

Despite criticism from the McPherson Inquiry of his public remarks about the Lawrence family, Osland has never apologised publicly for his comments.

Tonight, at a special council meeting at the Town Hall, Osland is one of five former Tory councillors to be made an alderman of the borough, according to the formal council agenda, “in deserved recognition of long and valued public service”.

It seems likely that councillors will be presented with a fait accompli and be expected to vote in favour of the honours en bloc and by acclamation. Not even a show of hands.

But several Labour councillors spoken to by Inside Croydon since we revealed the honour intended for Osland last week have told us that they would like to have the opportunity of voting against handing such a public endorsement to the controversial former police chief.

“The honour’s not just for long service,” one said. “It’s supposed to be for valued public service, and there are significant questions arising about Osland’s public service.”

Tony Newman’s front bench team at the council includes several black or minority ethnic councillors who are among those uncomfortable or offended that a Labour-run council could even consider giving a civic honour to such a controversial and divisive figure.

Louisa Woodley: New Addington councillor who may be expected to vote to honour David Osland tonight

Louisa Woodley: New Addington councillor who may be expected to vote to honour David Osland tonight

“I have no intention of voting in favour of giving that man a borough honour,” one Labour councillor said, clearly annoyed that the situation has arisen.

“We’ve been put in an impossible position over this,” said another.

“Cabinet members and deputy cabinet members might be expected to vote with the party whip in favour of all the alderman appointments. If they vote against, they risk losing their cabinet appointment. But this is a matter of conscience, and of ethics. All councillors should be free to vote on Osland as their conscience dictates.”

A third Labour councillor was more cynical. “There’s no point in raising the matter,” they told Inside Croydon. “It won’t change anything.”

Alisa Flemming: cabinet member who will be expected to award borough honour to Osland

Alisa Flemming: another Labour cabinet member who will be expected to award borough honour to Osland

The decision to make Osland an alderman of the borough was taken in the secretive Part B section of a sub-committee meeting last month. Newman, as leader of the council, was slated to attend and chair the meeting, although he has informed Inside Croydon that he did neither. Of course, since the meeting was held in secret, that is not information that has been put into the public domain.

This is not the first time in the four months under Newman’s stewardship that a potentially controversial piece of council business has been pushed through “on the nod”, without any debate or open discussion.

Pegging councillors’ allowances to increases determined by London Councils went through without any discussion in the chamber by Labour or the Tories, and the appointment as council chief executive of Nathan Elvery, without the job ever being advertised or fulfilling the council’s own equality policies also went through without debate.

Of course, Newman may have one option available to him to demonstrate the open and transparent nature of the council’s business under Labour, and to underline his group’s more inclusive attitude to all the borough’s residents.

“Why can’t we be allowed to vote with our consciences tonight on each candidate in turn?” one Labour councillor suggested. “It could be that if the majority of councillors reject the aldermanship for Osland, we would send a very powerful message about the values that we really stand for.”


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4 Responses to Labour councillors demand free vote over Osland honour

  1. tomvoute says:

    The institution of “party whip” is a perversion of democracy. I have nothing but contempt for politicians, be it in Parliament, in local councils, or anywhere else, who are just dumb zombie lobby fodder and vote as they are told by “party whips”.

  2. davidcallam says:

    Not in my name, Mr Newman!
    The Metropolitan Police response to Steven Lawrence’s murder is a stain on its character that has yet to be cleaned away. Osland was part of that wholly inadequate response. Why on earth would any right-minded resident of Croydon want to recognise him?
    I expect the Tories to support him; I expect better of the Labour majority.

  3. arnorab says:

    I strongly agree with Tomvoute!
    Just look at Gavin ( Right Hon Member for the Whitgift foundation) Barwell’s recent circular to voters. It is just an undignified rehash of Tory Central election drivel. He had clearly been told to do it….perhaps by his co-whips….and, of course, just did what he was told.

    As far as Osland is concerned, let’s hope that good sense and a decent conscience prevail at the Council and that members are not forced to vote one way only by the party apparatus. That way it may become clear that what Osland did is not forgotten and that the Labour Party has more flexibility and is more liberal than the opposition. Until now that hasn’t, regretfully, been all that clear.

  4. Tim Bartell says:

    The new labour council are shaping up to as bad as the old Tory lot. I’m glad I voted for change

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