Councillors hit out at ‘lily-livered’ Labour in first press conference since quitting party

L-R: Cllrs Claudia Turbet-Delof, Penny Wrout, and Fliss Premru. Photograph: Hackney Citizen

“We believe that we can work more effectively outside the Labour party.”

Those are the subtly scathing words of Fliss Premru, one of three local councillors who announced this morning that they have quit Hackney Labour.

Premru spoke alongside Cllrs Claudia Turbet-Delof and Penny Wrout, with whom she has just formed the Hackney Independent Socialist Group.

The trio held their first press conference outside Hackney Town Hall at 11.30am, cheered on by pro-Palestinian protesters who have set up camp in the square.

To add to their fiery statement posted on social media earlier in the day, the councillors further explained their decision to onlookers.

Cllr Wrout kicked off proceedings, saying: “This morning, we met with the Mayor of Hackney [Caroline Woodley] to explain why we are leaving the Labour party.

“It’s for lots of reasons about the inadequacies of Labour’s national policies when it comes to dealing with the problems we have in this country at the moment.

“But it’s also, crucially, about Labour’s lily-livered stand, from the beginning, on Gaza.”

Cllr Wrout pointed to the shares Hackney Council’s pension fund holds in an Israeli arms company, adding: “There is a small window of opportunity for them to sell those shares before the Tory government makes it illegal for them to do so.

“They need to act now, before that legislation goes into the statute books, to make sure that Hackney is not investing in Israeli arms to devastating consequences.”

Cllr Turbet-Delof was next up, leading chants of ‘Viva, viva Palestina’ before addressing the crowd.

She said: “As you may know, I’m Bolivian. Latin America is standing strong with Palestine. We’ve always called for the liberation of Palestinians.

“I’m delighted to be here today to say that we’re going to lead with compassion.”

She continued: “It has been really difficult to see, here in Hackney and all over the country, Labour members being blocked, being expelled, and being indefinitely suspended, including our incredible Diane Abbott. So I’m really excited to work with all of you.

“We are not here to create a war with Labour. We are here to represent residents freely and without fear of suspension, and to bring all of the topics that we need to bring to the council chamber.”

All three of the newly independent councillors were suspended by Hackney Labour earlier this year for voting in favour of hearing a motion calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Premru was the last to take the microphone.

She said: “Yesterday, I was a Labour councillor for Clissold. Today, I’m really proud to come together with my fellow councillors from Victoria ward as a Hackney Independent Socialist.

“We’re going to work harder for residents and push the Labour party to do the things that we need for all of our communities.”

Taking aim at Labour, she added: “We’ve seen them ditch policies, we’ve seen them renege on things like trade union freedoms. They’ve been complicit in the genocide.

“Even as we’ve seen the horrors in Rafah, they’ve not changed. They will not help stop the flow of arms to Israel, and we’ve not been able to divest.”

Premru continued: “We do want a Labour government, but we want one that will fully fund public services and hasn’t abandoned municipal socialism, so we can protect all of our residents.

“They also need to free up trade unions, enable workers’ rights, and absolutely create a solid strategy for a green new deal that we need as we have very few years to deal with climate change.”

She finished with that withering remark: “We believe that we can work more effectively outside the Labour party.”

The speeches went down well with the pro-Palestinian protesters, who immediately launched into a chant of ‘Free, free Palestine’.

Update, 16:17 Friday 17 May 2024:

A Hackney Labour Group spokesperson said: “All Labour councillors are expected to accept collective responsibility and follow the whip.

“It is disappointing that three councillors – elected as Labour just two years ago – have chosen to ignore the democratic decisions made by their residents and set up their own group to oppose Hackney Labour and the progressive, positive manifesto on which they were elected.

“They should do the right thing, stand down and trigger by-elections in their respective seats to give local people the opportunity to decide who they wish to represent them.

“Hackney Labour continues to deliver for our borough, building 1,000 council homes for Hackney residents, reducing council tax for the most vulnerable, delivering a green new deal to tackle the climate emergency and creating safer, healthier streets for all.”