Through the articles we have brought you over the past few years, we have tried to highlight how we feel Luton Borough Council has conducted itself in regard to planning applications related to Luton Airport. We also have tried to highlight how the controlling political group at the Council put party agendas above the residents’ best interests in Luton.
Recently a Councillor from that political group has been deselected from standing in this May’s elections. That Councillor, a barrister in working life, has published on her Facebook page an honest and brave letter as to why this has happened.
The following is said letter. We thank her on behalf of all residents of Luton, for her work since 2019, and her integrity in exposing the inexcusable practices of the controlling group.
I was disappointed not to be reselected as a councillor for Northwell ward in Luton. However, it was not a great surprise as the Labour Party NEC panel together with a regional observer held the selections and a report was provided by the Luton Labour Group. There were rumours of involvement from the town’s two Labour MPs and judging by the number of MPs’ staff and associates placed in safe Labour wards it appears there may be some truth in this rumour.
Luton North and Luton South CLPs were placed in special measures in July 2021, but the Labour Party has known about the alleged member stacking for years. I was Vice Chair of the Local Campaign Forum and Vice Chair of Luton North CLP before the selections in 2018 for the 2019 local council elections and we were aware of these allegations then. Either the Labour Party management is ineffectual or it’s convenient to remain in special measures for the NEC to select the councillors in February 2023 for the local council elections in May 2023 and not the local Labour Party members. I was fortunate to be one of the two Labour councillors in one of the safest Labour wards in the town and I’m quietly confident that my colleague and I would have been reselected if the Labour members could have voted. It would have been much harder to remove sitting councillors if the membership of the Labour party could vote. It is much easier to have an application form and a 10-minute interview over Teams conducted by the NEC.
Once I was aware that local Labour Party members were not voting in the selections, I was not surprised to be deselected given that I had resigned from the Labour Group in April 2021 and had permanently “blotted my copybook” with the ruling clique within our Luton Labour Group.
I resigned the Labour Whip for two reasons:
(i) Due to the incompetence and failure to follow rules and procedures which I observed on the planning committee. Unfortunately, independent thought is not encouraged in the Luton Labour Group. You are encouraged to stand up for your residents’ interests only if they align with the wishes of the councillors who control the Group. However, if your residents approach you and wish you to help them with something that is contrary to certain councillors’ views it is made clear to you that this is not the way things are done within the Labour Group. Firstly, there is a “quiet word in your ear” from a portfolio holder, then from the Whip, then a formal complaint to the Whip and then a formal complaint to Standards at the Council containing allegations completely lacking in merit, with 18 other staff (officers) and councillors copied into the email.
A very cavalier attitude was displayed by certain Labour councillors to following rules and procedures on the planning committee, and I often had to remind certain fellow Labour councillors of the need to adhere to the rules. The most egregious example included a discussion in an email chain with one senior member of the planning committee discussing with a portfolio holder how he was going to vote prior to a forthcoming full council meeting. This was blatantly ignoring the requirement for the members of the planning committee to base their decision on the representations made at the meeting and to not be pre-determined. This conversation followed the portfolio holder circulating documentation which was also contrary to the rules as this should be circulated through the officers.
We have a code of conduct that we should follow as councillors and that includes acting with integrity and not turning a blind eye when rules and procedures are being flouted. As a member of the planning committee, I believed that the residents deserved a fair hearing and both applicants and objectors deserved to be treated equally. For standing up and ensuring that this was the case I was reported to our Group Whip.
The complaint about me to Standards at the Council was made after I asked for a site visit at a planning meeting and this led to some Labour colleagues on the planning committee trying to ignore protocol and precedent and moving to a vote on a planning application in Northwell ward, when I wished to have a site visit to properly understand the application. We are meant to consider and scrutinise applications and not simply waive them through or rubber stamp them. It transpired that the application contained inaccurate information which was why I was having difficulty understanding the same. When I quite properly acted on behalf of my residents within the rules life on the planning committee was made increasingly difficult.
I made a formal complaint to the Whip copying in the Leader detailing the above and numerous other concerns including being shouted at on several occasions. I also complained that in planning meetings residents were shouted at and derogatory comments were made to certain residents if they opposed the officers’ recommendations.
You can probably guess where this is going, the Leader removed me from the planning committee in April 2021. As a consequence, I resigned the Labour Whip. This is before Luton was placed in special measures and when the residents still had a vote and when I was effectively giving up all chances of being a councillor in the next council election, as Independents tend not to be elected in Luton. I felt that it was pointless to remain in the Labour Group when you could not effectively represent your residents’ views.
The Whip and the Chair contacted me and asked if I really wanted to be an Independent. I replied that I was not making up the numbers in a Labour Group when the Leader was removing someone who was calling out the way protocols and rules were flouted and when I was actually doing the job for which I was elected, in effect I was a whistleblower. I was re-instated to the planning committee, and I decided to remain in the Labour Group as I felt I would have more of a positive effect changing things from within.
After three years on planning, I moved to Children’s Scrutiny to try to see whether Luton could obtain funding for Pause. Children’s Services is trying to secure £300,000.00 in funding as a result of my intervention. My family law Facebook friends will be aware of how essential this resource is. To my non legal Facebook friends this programme works with women who have previously had children removed from their care and provides support to hopefully ensure that any future children they may have can grow up in their birth family. This work to secure funding is continuing as I leave my role as a councillor. I pointed this out to the NEC and how important it was for some residents in Luton, but they were uninterested.
(ii) I have continually called out the bullying and misogyny which is endemic in the Luton Labour Group and is carried out by certain male councillors and activists. The Leader did organise an away day in June 2021 specifically to deal with bullying when someone close to her detailed her experiences, and it transpired that several female councillors had been subjected to the same. However unfortunately this had little effect, the bullying and misogyny continues because there is no leadership shown in dealing with this and fellow councillors are aware that you get nowhere if you speak out.
Last year I got involved in a WhatsApp spat with an activist, when I was singled out for different treatment in a group of over 80 people (which included councillors/ activists and at least one of our MPs). I called out this activist’s unacceptable comments towards me but as he worked for one of our MPs and as the rumours were rife regarding the MPs’ involvement in the selection process, not one councillor in our Labour Group said anything. It is clear that some are more equal than others in the Luton Labour Party.
Another female councillor came to me with an allegation of misogynistic behaviour regarding this activist, she had been to our Leader who had done nothing, and she came to me. She did not want to be named as she was worried about the consequences, but she was happy for me to tell the Group about her allegation. This is our Luton Labour Group where we are meant to support each other. However, the Labour NEC selections had been left hanging over councillors’ heads for months and no one wanted to make waves. When I said in an email to the Group that it was a collective failure of our Group if one of our own did not feel she could publicly raise her concerns or discuss her allegation, yet again there was absolutely no public support. A couple of councillors approached me privately, but no one would speak out.
There are some lovely councillors in the Labour Group, but the problem is that there is absolutely no leadership when it matters and if the ruling clique control everything people will say nothing. This is because the idea that you may not get that portfolio/ committee Chair or worst of all not be reselected as a councillor is unthinkable. The manoeuvring and machinations employed to regularly try to oust the Leader together with when the Leader decides which portfolio holders are losing their positions and which ones are now going to be in favour has often left me feeling that if as much effort went into looking after our residents, they would be much better served by our Group. Too few councillors realise we are there to serve the residents, it is not about status and not just about running round with our lanyards calling ourselves Councillor X and posing for endless photo opportunities.
I never put myself forward for a portfolio, I simply did not have the time and I’m proud to say that despite the increasingly frantic and disproportionate attempts of some councillors to shut me up their attempts to bring pressure to bear on me to stop what I was doing did not work. I continued to stand up for the residents when their issues were certainly not aligned with those of the Leadership, and this is continuing to this day. I work as a family law barrister, and I represent some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society and I am not going to be bullied into submission by a few councillors who like the status quo and do not want anyone trying to fight for the residents if it does not accord with their views on a particular issue.
Our Labour Group will not do anything that may involve a risk to a councillor’s position in the Group. Instead, the Group engages in gesture politics, including wearing something red to a Group meal in aid of Women’s Aid but then saying absolutely nothing about female councillors within their own group who are being subjected to misogynistic behaviour.
Recently the Group had a Corporate Parenting training session where we talked about how we should care for the children in our town who have been removed from their parents’ care, (which is of course immensely important, and these children deserve to be looked after well). In this meeting certain Labour councillors were very animated about what we could do for these children, we must be aspirational and show leadership and we should be mentors and role models. These same councillors were aware that bullying and misogyny was continuing within our Group and yet they would do nothing to try and address this. I believe that it is also incumbent upon us to put our own house in order.
My main concern is that in our Labour Group there are attempts to actively prevent you from advancing the causes and issues the residents come to you for help with. You don’t choose which issues the residents will raise with you, but you do choose whether you will fight their corner without fear or favour, or whether you will just make enough of an effort to look as if you have tried to promote their cause.
I tried to change things and I was prepared to stay for another four years as you cannot change things from the outside. I stood up for the residents, I didn’t turn my head when I saw their rights being flouted and I didn’t tolerate what I knew was wrong.
Indeed, I believe that if you are in a position such as a councillor and you know things are being done that are not appropriate by other Labour councillors whether on your planning committee or in the Group regarding bullying and misogyny it’s your duty to speak out and call it out and to try and change it.
I’ve read on the BBC website that I am standing as an Independent, that’s not true, I’m sitting as an Independent councillor, but I will not be standing as an Independent in the May council elections.
My head is held high, I stood up for the residents and my conscience is clear. When I was elected in May 2019 I promised to promote and safeguard their interests and I have done this. For every negative there is a positive and I will not have to read any more emails starting “Dear Comrade” and ending “In Solidarity” from certain people who could not display more uncomradely behaviour if they tried. I did my best and now I no longer must be part of the Orwellian dystopia which is the Luton Labour Group.