‘Why we quit Labour’

Community First councillors Derek Levy and Dinah Barry
Community First councillors Derek Levy and Dinah Barry

Two former Labour councillors have spoken out about their reasons for leaving the party, reports James Cracknell

Two councillors who quit Labour to become independent members have spoken to the Dispatch about their reasons for leaving the party – claiming they had been left unable to do their jobs properly.

Southgate councillor Derek Levy and Winchmore Hill ward member Dinah Barry left Labour earlier this year despite saying that they still believed in “Labour values” and wanted to fulfil the manifesto they were elected on in 2018. But they claim the leadership of Enfield Labour group had effectively frozen them out of discussions on policy.

Cllr Levy said: “I have made a positive decision to become independent – I am quite independent-minded anyway. I decided to leave Labour because it has become clearer than ever before that it has become impossible to serve the residents who elected me for Southgate and give them the service they require.

“We were being denied access to information and policies – we had been sidelined. Why would I be a member of a club that didn’t want me?”

Cllr Levy and Cllr Barry have now formed a new grouping on the council called ‘Community First’. Although only the two of them are in the group at present, they said other councillors who feel similarly are welcome to join.

Cllr Barry said: “If their intentions are to serve residents and not themselves, they are welcome to join us. It is an opportunity to talk ideas through.

“[In Labour] we couldn’t do the best job for our residents, we had become hamstrung. I had issues of conscience and couldn’t vote with the Labour group and I was told I couldn’t abstain. I couldn’t work like that.

“We explored all possible avenues before we resigned.”

The current divisions within the Labour group in Enfield date back to at least 2018, when former leader Doug Taylor was deposed by current leader Nesil Caliskan two weeks after Labour won an increased majority in that year’s local election. Cllr Levy and Cllr Barry both supported Cllr Taylor – saying he offered them “respect, inclusivity, recognition and open debate” – but say they had tried to work constructively with Cllr Caliskan before the relationship broke down. A complaint made by Cllr Levy against Cllr Caliskan led to the council leader being found in breach of the council’s code of conduct last year.

Cllr Levy said: “Even when we were in the group and wanted to speak, the ruling group managed the agenda in such a way that others weren’t allowed to speak or were too far down the pecking order.

“It became a party of exclusivity rather than inclusivity. We were expected to act like poodles. You are supposed to be able to contribute – we were letting down our residents, but it wasn’t our fault.”

Labour Party rules state that a councillor can’t quit a local group without also leaving the party, which forced the two councillors to resign even though they still supported Labour at a national level.

“It was the Enfield factor that drove it rather than the wider Labour Party,” added Cllr Levy. “The manifesto on which we were elected reflected the beliefs and values that I supported. We haven’t changed – the Labour Party in Enfield has changed.”

Cllr Caliskan was approached for comment.