The Last Straw
ENDLESS PRESSURES ARE BEING PLACED UPON LABOUR COUNCILLORS by the Conservative government’s vicious cuts and constantly increasing demands on local authorities. What response should be made? Battle lines are being drawn– and sometimes it leads to an individual councillor reaching the final straw.
So it was with Gideon Bull, a Labour councillor in Haringey for the last 15 years, with the proposed closure of The Haven, a day centre for the elderly and those with disabilities. Haven provides services for those suffering from dementia and the physically impaired and so provides crucial respite for their carers.
The centre is in his ward and he knows many of its users. He pursued all the democratic routes open to him to make the leaders in the Labour Group grasp the profound effects of this proposal and argued for alternatives to be sought - but to no avail. He asked to have the proposals trialled before closing the Centre to see if they proved beneficial.
When it came to the Cabinet meeting, following the Labour Group decision to support the closure, he felt obliged to speak out against the cut. “This will have a devastating impact on the most vulnerable in our society,” he told Cabinet members.
The leadership had a range of options - but chose to suspend him for three months. This was not only harsh but, being three months short of the London mayoral elections, was stupid as it would lead to bad press which we did not need. Immediately a petition against his suspension went online.
At the Tottenham GC the Council leader Clare Kober, widely thought to be the instigator of the suspension, came to give her leader’s report and was questioned on the disciplinary action against Gideon. She responded with the collective responsibility line. But a council is not the government and the Labour Group is not a Cabinet. I asked Clare to step aside as her position was now untenable. Of course she refused– but when I spoke it was telling that no one came to her support.
The saga continues but the online petition has gathered support from more than 70,000 and continues to climb. Gideon remains Vice Chair of Tottenham CLP and Secretary of the White Hart Lane branch.