Something is stirring in the ranks of the Hackney Labour group.
First came the news that six Labour councillors had signed a strongly-worded letter calling on the Town Hall to lead the charge against government-enforced cuts.
The signatories demanded the council refuse to set a cuts budget and instead set a ‘needs budget’ to show what should be funded.
“The bankers’ greed caused the crisis,” they argued. “They and their rich friends should pay for it through targeted taxes and a crackdown on the tax loopholes…”
One of the signatories was Leabridge councillor Linda Kelly, who soon after defected to the Conservatives and was pictured alongside Eric Pickles, the Communities and Local Government Secretary.
Cue triumphalism from the Tories, but it is easy to spot the contradictions in Cllr Kelly’s logic that the best place from which to represent the desires of her constituents is from the blue benches. Given the miniscule Tory vote in Leabridge, no true democrat could argue against Labour’s call for Cllr Kelly to now resign her seat and fight a by-election.
Surely it would have been more ideologically consistent of her to switch to the Greens or go it alone as an independent.
But despite such contradictions, her defection raises serious questions for the Labour group, which – Cllr Kelly convincingly argues – has been zealous in stifling opposition.
Councillors are meant to represent their constituents, yet those in the Labour group are apparently being forced to go begging to their chief whip if their residents wish to bring a deputation to the council.
Why must all letters Labour backbenchers write to the local press be signed off – and no doubt rendered anodyne – by their superiors? What happens if the interests of residents in one Labour-controlled ward run counter to the will of the Labour group as a whole? What happens when difficult questions must be asked?
Healthy debate is key to democracy. Backbenchers should not be prevented from speaking their minds, and both the anti-cuts letter and Cllr Kelly’s defection indicate a growing disdain for the submissive consensus which for so long has characterised the Hackney Labour group.
Desire for unity seems an odd preoccupation given the unassailable majority the party enjoys in the borough.
Luckily for Labour, it is easy to pick holes in Cllr Kelly’s ideological narrative. The next show of disloyalty may prove harder to mock.