Complaints that mayor denied an opposition councillor their chance to speak, reports James Cracknell
The Labour administration in Enfield has defeated a ‘no confidence’ motion tabled by opposition councillors in an extraordinary council meeting.
After a year in which eight Labour councillors had either defected away from the party or quit the council altogether, last night’s meeting at Enfield Grammar School began with a ninth departure, as Ponders End councillor Ayfer Orhan stood up to announce she had resigned from the Labour Party.
The swelled ranks of the opposition, including a Conservative group bolstered by a by-election win in Chase ward earlier this month, were unable to oust the current leadership at Enfield Council as Labour councillors rallied behind leader Nesil Caliskan and whooped with delight when the ‘no confidence’ motion was defeated in a vote.
The Labour group’s victory has been overshadowed, however, by a row over the conduct of the mayor of Enfield, Sabri Ozaydin, in his role as chair of the meeting. During the debate, Community First councillor Dino Lemonides was denied his right to speak for three minutes on the ‘no confidence’ motion – instead being given less than one minute before the mayor claimed his time had elapsed.
Cllr Lemonides, a former Labour councillor, had been attempting to raise the issue of “irregularities” in the Labour group’s selection process leading up the 2018 local election – a process that was investigated by the party’s head office and led to a decision that future selections would need to be “overseen” by Labour’s national executive committee.
Numerous points of order had been raised by Labour councillors, claiming the issues Cllr Lemonides tried to address were “irrelevant” to the motion under discussion, but monitoring officer Jeremy Chambers told the meeting the Community First councillor should be given his chance to speak.
Instead, he was drowned out by noise from the Labour aisles, and then told by Cllr Ozaydin that his time had elapsed. A video recording of the meeting shows that Cllr Lemonides spoke for 51 seconds.
Cllr Ozaydin was re-elected for a second term as mayor earlier this week after Cllr Caliskan said he had been “unable to fulfil the role in the way that he had envisaged” during his first year, because of the pandemic. Some Conservative councillors have now called on him to resign.
The council, as well as the mayor’s office, have been contacted for comment.
Another controversy was the time given to other motions on the agenda. The ‘no confidence’ motion had been the trigger for the meeting being arranged and was listed first on the agenda, but a Labour procedural motion agreed at the start of the meeting led to it being bumped down and debated last.
Mike Rye, the former Conservative council leader, said: “They clearly don’t want to debate it. It is a disgraceful display and any reasonable member of the public would expect the motion of ‘no confidence’ to be taken first on the agenda.
“If they have nothing to worry about, take it now and then move on.”
Monitoring officer Jeremy Chambers described Labour’s procedural motion as “appropriate” and “in accordance with the constitution”.
The other motions debated first included one on the proposed pay rise for NHS staff, and another calling for more protection from violence for women and girls in the wake of the death of Sarah Everard. Both were passed. A third motion, calling for the reopening of Whitewebbs Park Golf Course, was rejected.
Once these motions were concluded, the meeting had been running for two-and-a-half hours, with around 45 minutes remaining on the schedule to debate the ‘no confidence’ motion.
The Conservatives had twice attempted to end the discussion on NHS pay and move to the next motion. At this point Cllr Caliskan accused opposition councillors of “trying to filibuster” to avoid discussing the government’s proposed 1% pay offer for health workers.
Tory group leader Joanne Laban responded: “The only group trying to filibuster this evening is the party opposite.”
During the ‘no confidence’ debate, Cllr Laban explained why the Conservatives felt the need to table the motion, highlighting the swing from Labour to the Tories in all three by-elections held on 6th May. She said: “The people of Chase ward have no confidence in this administration – and nor does this opposition.
“Why? The Labour administration simply does not listen. It did not listen to the results of the consultation over fortnightly [bin] collections. The result is the council is not in control of street cleaning. Fly-tipping is out of control.
“With Whitewebbs, you have failed to listen to the 3,300 people who signed a petition presented to council. You didn’t listen or consult the Friends of Whitewebbs Park on closing the golf course.
“Then there’s LTNs [low-traffic neighbourhoods]. Instead of listening to the community when the backlash started, this administration dug its heels in and created a division among residents the likes of which we have never seen before.”
In response, several Labour councillors spoke up in defence of Cllr Caliskan and her leadership, highlighting that many decisions, including on bin collections and Whitewebbs, were made to save some of the money lost following the Conservative government’s cumulative cuts to Enfield Council’s annual grant of £95m since 2010, as well as further financial pressures caused by the pandemic.
Mary Maguire, cabinet member for finance, said: “The government grant used to be £191.2million – we now get £95.7m. That is the reason why we have all these cuts.”
Alev Cazimoglu, cabinet member for health and social care, described the ‘no confidence’ motion as a “political gimmick” and added: “We seek to use the democratic mandate given to us to deliver change and stand up for our residents.
“We have made difficult decisions so that we can continue to provide safe, good quality services for our most vulnerable residents, despite austerity.
“Enfield residents know the Tories have nothing to offer them.”
Cllr Cazimoglu also described the former Labour councillors who had left the party to Community First as “failed politicians”.
When it came to the vote, Conservative and Community First councillors voted in favour of the ‘no confidence’ motion, as well as Cllr Orhan after her earlier resignation from Labour, but Labour’s 13-seat majority enabled the administration to remain in place.