Ninth councillor to leave Labour group explains why she quit

Ayfer Orhan had been in a legal dispute with the Labour Party, reports James Cracknell

Ponders End councillor Ayfer Orhan, who represents Community First
Ponders End councillor Ayfer Orhan, who now represents Community First

An ex-Labour councillor who dramatically quit the party in front of her colleagues has explained her reasons for doing so.

Ponders End ward councillor Ayfer Orhan stood up at the start of last week’s extraordinary council meeting to announce she had resigned from Labour after four decades in the party, but did not get a chance to explain why, amid numerous heated exchanges throughout the night.

Cllr Orhan, a councillor for 19 years, later explained in a press statement that her decision came after a two-year internal investigation into a social media post had exonerated her, but left her feeling “harassed” by the Labour group’s leadership in Enfield.

In March 2019, Cllr Orhan shared a tweet, originally posted by someone else, that claimed Israel had supported terrorist groups in a bid to secure control of a disputed territory. Following the tweet, council leader Nesil Caliskan issued a statement claiming the tweet was anti-semitic and saying Cllr Orhan was suspended.

Two years later, Cllr Orhan took Labour to court alleging the party’s long delays to resolving disciplinary cases was unlawful. Before the case could reach court, however, she was told by Labour head office that her conduct had not breached party rules.

She said: “In response to a benign tweet I posted in 2019, right-wing Labour councillors attempted to push me out of Enfield politics. Cllr Caliskan issued a public statement containing a number of falsehoods, which have still not been corrected.

“Those events triggered a needless investigation against me by the Labour Party, which I believe was a grotesque intimidatory exercise. The attacks on me by Labour councillors have led to me receiving an avalanche of abuse, both online and offline. I’ve been living with terrible stress and fears for my safety.”

Cllr Orhan, a backer of Jeremy Corbyn, also cited the leadership of Keir Starmer as a reason for her decision to quit. She will now be joining six of her former Labour colleagues in the opposition group, Community First.

Dinah Barry, group leader, said: “Her determination to achieve justice after the outrageous way she was traduced and bullied speaks of her integrity and shows why she has been such a fine councillor.”

Cllr Orhan added: “There is a culture of bullying and harassment within the Labour group. That’s partly why so many have felt compelled to resign.”

Cllr Caliskan said: “Cllr Orhan’s tweets caused distress to Jewish residents who contacted me with their concerns. It is usual for suspensions to be in place during investigations.

“While myself and other Labour councillors are focusing on the residents of Enfield, Cllr Orhan has kept her focus on internal politics and resorted to innuendo and unfounded accusations.

“She has been repeating these accusations since 2018, when herself and other councillors failed to accept changes that came through legitimate democratic processes.”