Ex-councillors speak out after Labour Party rebuke

The new Enfield Council cabinet led by Nesil Caliskan (centre)
The new Enfield Council cabinet led by Nesil Caliskan (centre)

Six cabinet members stand down as party’s head office says it will oversee Enfield selection process prior to next election, reports James Cracknell

Concerns about a “corrosive influence” and “lack of integrity” within the Labour Party in Enfield have been raised by former councillors.

Three ex-councillors have spoken to the Dispatch following the outcome of an internal party investigation into “irregularities” in the selection process for last year’s council election – and Labour’s decision to ban local candidates from being involved in future.

Several councillors were deselected prior to the May 2018 vote, at which Labour increased its majority. Later that month Doug Taylor was ousted as leader in favour of Nesil Caliskan. Complaints were made to Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), including by serving cabinet members, amid claims the selection process was part of a co-ordinated effort to put Cllr Caliskan in power. She had been secretary of Labour’s local campaign forum for the 2018 election. Complaints were also made – including by Cllr Caliskan – relating to racism and sexism.

Now Labour’s NEC has decided to oversee the selections for the next election directly and told party officials to carry out membership checks at branch meetings. While it has not determined that rules were broken, allegations of rule-breaking still need to be examined by the party’s governance and legal unit.

A chief concern was that the Labour councillors elected last year were not sufficiently diverse, after several black councillors were deselected. Currently three out of 46 Labour councillors – 6.5% – are black, compared to around 20% of the Enfield population. A key finding from the Labour NEC investigation was that “a programme of outreach, community engagement and community organising should be developed” to help boost underrepresented ethnic groups.

Ozzie Uzoanya is a black former councillor for Enfield Lock, and while not one of those deselected, says he decided “to jump before I was pushed”. Ozzie told the Dispatch: “I could see what was on the horizon and decided to step aside. My decision was also influenced by family reasons. “There used to be nine black councillors [for Labour]. Numbers always go up and down but the impact has been felt within the black community. They don’t feel represented.

“Back in 2013 [before the 2014 local election] I received two phone calls saying I would be targeted for deselection. In the end I was reselected but I was absolutely fuming about what was brewing in the group. When candidates were being selected in 2017 I was contacted by two councillors concerned about losing their seats.

“There has been a process of divide and rule, playing one group off against another, in order for people in positions of influence to maintain their position. I was seen as a threat because I said it was dysfunctional – I’ve been working in local government for 25 years and this kind of behaviour is unhealthy for local politics.”

Asked whether the deselections were co-ordinated, Ozzie said: “It would appear they were. I think there has been a corrosive influence.”

Another former councillor, Ingrid Cranfield, was serving as Enfield’s deputy mayor when she was deselected from her seat in Lower Edmonton in 2014 and forced to fight an election in Southgate instead, where the party had little chance of winning. She ended up losing by 50 votes.

Ingrid told the Dispatch: “There are only 40 or 50 [Labour] members in each ward and not all of them go to meetings, so it only takes a few people to select a candidate. “In my ward there was a cabinet member, a party secretary, and myself a deputy mayor, who were the sitting councillors. We were all deselected – we were shocked.”

Alan Sitkin, a former cabinet member who stood down in 2018, has also spoken out. He told the Dispatch: “You have to ask how a newcomer with little political experience gets parachuted to the head of the group.

“There has been a lack of integrity. We have gone from an open democracy to a closed regime.”

Cllr Caliskan herself made complaints to Labour’s NEC regarding “intimidatory” behaviour within the local group and says she and others in her leadership team have been the victims of harassment.

Refuting the accusations made by former councillors, and explaining the challenges faced since becoming leader, she told the Dispatch: “The reality is that being a senior female politician of an ethnic minority background means that you face discrimination.

“The combination of racism and misogyny is acute and I am very aware of that. More worryingly, other ethnic minority councillors have experienced this in Enfield.

“The Labour Party has taken the right decision and made good recommendations around equality and diversity training, making it clear that allegations of sexual harassment will be taken seriously and be dealt with appropriately.”

At the annual meeting of the council on Wednesday (8th), it was confirmed that six members of the previous cabinet had decided not to continue their roles, with new councillors being chosen to run public health, housing, children’s services and licensing, as well as a new deputy leader, Ian Barnes.

Cllr Caliskan said: “I congratulate all the cabinet members and I look forward to working with our new, diverse and enthusiastic cabinet colleagues.”

The new Enfield Council cabinet is:
– Alev Cazimoglu (Health and Social Care)
– Mary Maguire (Finance and Procurement)
– Mahtab Uddin (Public Health)
– Nneka Keazor (Community Safety and Cohesion)
– Guney Dogan (Environment and Sustainability)
– Gina Needs (Social Housing)
– Rick Jewell (Children’s Services)
– George Savva (Licensing and Regulatory Services)