Nesil Caliskan speaks out after recently departed deputy leader said working with her was “intolerable”, reports James Cracknell
The leader of Enfield Council has dismissed criticism by her former deputy as “sour grapes” following a tumultuous week in the local Labour Party.
Nesil Caliskan says Labour councillors in Enfield are “very united” despite half the previous cabinet deciding not to stand for re-election at the group’s annual general meeting (AGM) and 14 councillors since claiming that party procedures had not been followed.
In a scathing attack on his former boss, former deputy leader Daniel Anderson said working with Cllr Caliskan for the past year was “intolerable” and that he had been “systematically undermined”.
Speaking to the Dispatch, the council leader dismissed this criticism and said: “This wouldn’t be a democracy if we all agreed with each other. Daniel Anderson put his name forward to challenge me but at the last moment before we went to a vote he withdrew.
“We are a very united group. The previous cabinet achieved a lot. It is only a handful of the old guard [being critical] – the rest of our councillors are getting on with the job.”
At last week’s AGM councillors Ahmet Oykener, Dino Lemonides, Achilleas Georgiou and Yasemin Brett all stood down as cabinet members, in addition to Cllr Anderson. Elected in their place were Rick Jewell, the new cabinet member for children’s services; Gina Needs, now in charge of social housing; Mahtab Uddin, boss of public health; and Ian Barnes, the new deputy leader. Two previous associate cabinet members have also been replaced by Mustafa Cetinkaya and Claire Stewart.
Cllr Caliskan described the new cabinet as “very talented” and dismissed accusations that they were inexperienced. She said: “No-one is entitled to a position in the council, you have to win support from other Labour councillors. It is unfortunate that some people are sore losers but that is the nature of things. We are talking about sour grapes.”
Cllr Anderson had earlier spoken out about what it had been like to work in the cabinet for the past year, fiercely criticising the way the council has been run since Cllr Caliskan became leader in May 2018. He told the Dispatch: “We sought to try to work with her, to run a big organisation with a £1billion budget. We are all professionals with experience and we did our best, but we have been systematically undermined for the whole year.
“My role as deputy leader was in name only. I was not kept informed and my advice wasn’t sought – if I did give advice it was ignored.
“I could have resigned at any point in the year but I was trying to get the administration to address these issues by being inside rather than outside. You have to work with what you can, but it became intolerable.”
Cllr Anderson was one of several councillors who made complaints to Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) relating to “irregularities” in the selection process for candidates leading up to the 2018 local election. Following a six-month investigation, the NEC issued a rebuke to the Labour group in Enfield, banning them from running the next selection process and requiring membership checks to be made at branch meetings. Allegations of rule breaking are still to be examined by Labour’s governance unit.
The joint statement signed last week by Labour councillors Achilleas Georgiou, Ahmet Oykener, Vicki Pite, Derek Levy, Ayfer Orhan, Charith Gunawardena, Dinah Barry, Tolga Aramaz, Anne Brown, Dino Lemonides, Daniel Anderson, Yasemin Brett, Bernie Lappage, plus former leader Doug Taylor, said: “Half the members on Enfield Council’s cabinet withdrew at the Labour group AGM. They took a decision not to serve for the forthcoming municipal year. They were joined by other Labour councillors, almost half of the Labour group, who also decided not to serve on the ruling executive.
“Collectively, they supported the view taken by local constituency Labour parties, including the borough’s local campaign forum, that the correct procedures for local party member involvement had not been followed in the run-up to the Labour group AGM.”
Cllr Caliskan denies that procedures were not followed. Asked about her working relationship with Cllr Anderson over the past year, she said: “I don’t want to get into a slanging match.”