Less than a week since Assembly Members were elected to City Hall, a Labour party strop has left the London Assembly hobbled in its work of holding the capital’s devolved government to account, as the Greens and LibDems have forged an unholy alliance with Shaun Bailey and the Tories.
Labour suffered a setback in last week’s elections, when under the proportional representation London-wide list system, they lost one Assembly Member, the experienced Murad Qureshi (putting them down to 11 seats).
Meanwhile, the Tories (nine seats), Greens (three) and Liberal Democrats (two) each gained one seat on the 25-member London Assembly. It all seems to have clouded Labour’s judgement.
The new composition of began to bite yesterday, at the Assembly’s annual meeting, as a row emerged over the political horse-trading that has gone on about who is to chair the various committees at City Hall for the next three years. Labour emerged from the process furious, claiming that they had been excluded from discussions between the three other parties and presented with a fait accompli.
The Labour group at City Hall is now more left-leaning. Labour’s new candidates were all selected when Jeremy Corbyn was party leader, and they include some Momentum supporters.
Labour went into the committee-setting process trying to assert their will by refusing to let the Greens chair the transport committee.
The Greens have a particular interest in transport in the capital, and they oppose the £2billion Silvertown road tunnel scheme which has the support of Mayor Sadiq Khan (for the record, the Conservatives, too, backed the tunnel scheme during Bailey’s feeble campaign to become Mayor).
Labour overplayed their hand trying to dictate who got what committee. Labour members are now moping, refusing to chair any committees at City Hall after a last-minute walkout when they realised that they would not get their way.
“It is with sadness and regret that a four-party agreement has not been reached on the allocation of chairs of committees based on Assembly seats,” said LibDem Caroline Pidgeon.
“Up to the 11th hour every effort was made to reach such an agreement. I am only sorry that Labour have chosen not to join us.”
Leonie Cooper, the Labour AM for Merton and Wandsworth and, until last week the chair of the economy committee, disputed this version of events. “We weren’t invited in,” Cooper tweeted, “just presented with a ‘final offer’ by the Tories after they stitched it up with the Greens.
“After five years of working closely, I did not see the Green Tories coming.”
The new political reality at City Hall is that, with the disappearance of a fifth party with the evaporation of all support for what was the UKIP or Brexit groups, it made it easier for the three other parties to agree a deal. The Tories, LibDems and Greens, with 14 AMs between them, now hold the majority of seats.
Labour were naïve to think it would be otherwise.
The work of holding the Mayor to account will now be driven by the three other parties controlling all the chair and vice-chair positions on committees.
Furious, Labour took to social media, with a picture of the other three other parties talking and gesticulating, apparently triumphantly, in a glass-panelled room below the Assembly chamber.
Labour blasted the deal, with their Assembly leader, Len Duvall, saying, “What we essentially have here is a new coalition. It’s disappointing to see the LibDems and Greens backing the Tories this way – they had a choice and they’ve decided to go with those who want to weaken our public services.”
Which is a nonsense, as the Assembly is not a governing body but a glorified set of scrutiny committees. It is not, and never has been, about governing coalitions providing public services.
The concentration of chairs with just three parties will leave Labour with limited influence over the Assembly’s agenda. With 14 AMs to provide chairs and deputies for 11 committees, it will see some take on an unusually large workload.
It has also created serious conflicts of interest, such as the Conservative leader, Susan Hall, who is now appointed as chair of both the budget and the audit committees (while also holding positions on three other committees).
Caroline Russell, the leader of the Greens on the Assembly, hoped that Labour will recover their senses and rejoin the team. “City Hall Greens are strong believers in proportional representation and have worked hard to achieve a fair, and proportional, arrangement for our cross-party scrutiny work on behalf of Londoners,” she said.
“We hope Labour will come back to the table and fully participate in Assembly work to serve the interests of Londoners.”
Hall struck out at Labour’s petulant boycott. “It’s disappointing that Labour members on the London Assembly have abdicated their responsibility to hold the Mayor to account,” she said.
“Instead of agreeing to a fair deal on the Assembly’s committees, ensuring all Londoners’ views are represented, they’ve refused to chair a single one. It’s only been a week since the election, but they’ve already let Londoners down.”
The full set of elected appointments are as follows,
Audit Panel: Chair: Susan Hall (Conservative) Deputy: Peter Fortune (Conservative)
Budget and Performance: Chair: Susan Hall (Conservative) Deputy: Caroline Russell (Green)
Economy: Chair: Shaun Bailey (Conservative) Deputy: Hina Bokhari (Lib Dem)
Environment: Chair: Zack Polanski AM (Green) Deputy: Tony Devenish (Conservative)
Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning: Chair: Susan Hall (Conservative) Deputy: Nicholas Rogers (Conservative)
GLA Oversight: Chair: Caroline Pidgeon (Lib Dem) Deputy: Susan Hall (Conservative)
Health: Chair: Caroline Russell (Green) Deputy: Emma Best (Conservative)
Housing: Chair: Sian Berry (Green) Deputy: Tony Devenish (Conservative)
Planning and Regeneration: Chair: Andrew Boff (Conservative) Deputy: Sian Berry (Green)
Police and Crime: Chair: Shaun Bailey (Conservative) Deputy: Susan Hall (Conservative)
Transport: Chair: Caroline Pidgeon (Lib Dem) Deputy: Keith Prince (Conservative)
Read more: Garratt doubles victory margin as he takes City Hall seat
Read more: Conservatives’ anti-London policies have put Bailey in the dock
Read more: Tory Assembly candidate in racism row over stop and search
Read more: Davey, Pidgeon, Umunna all cave-in over Twitter smears
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