There was recently a “Moving Forward Together” conference put on by Hammersmith and Fulham Council with the former Housing Minister Keith Hill and other Labour politicians to promote Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s proposal to privatise the entire council housing stock in the borough. (Mr Hill is being paid £12,000 to push the message.)
The partisan nature of the Conference was made explicit by Labour councillors and the Labour MP attending while Conservative elected representatives were turned away. Council tenants and Council leaseholders who were suspected of being critics of the proposals were also banned.
One abuse is that this was another example of Council resources being used to promote the Labour Party. That has become routine – although no less scandalous for that.
But another aspect was the attendance of the Mayor of Hammersmith and Fulham, Cllr Mercy Umeh, wearing her chains of office. Of course she has an obligation to be political impartial. Therefore she was extremely badly advised to attend a partisan event.
When I raised concerns about this, Tasnim Shawkat the Council’s Director of Law replied:
“I am aware that there is a requirement for the Mayor to be non party political. I have seen the photograph that you have sent of the Mayor attending the Moving Forward Together Conference. However, there was no party political aspect to this event.
The conference was organised by the Council’s tenants with the support of officers in HRD and sponsored by contractors who work for the Council. Cllr Umeh was invited to the Tenants Conference in her capacity as the Mayor. Further, I have checked with HRD and I understand that the conference organisers managed the guest list. I understand that the MP was not invited. Only a few administration Members were invited who are involved in their official capacity in housing matters.
“On receipt of the invitation the Mayor’s office advised the Mayor that this was an appropriate mayoral event for her to attend. The Mayor carried out her role as the first citizen of the borough as she normally does. Therefore I do not have any evidence to suggest the Mayor’s attendance at this event calls into question her impartiality in her role as the Mayor.”
The suggestion that this wasn’t a Council event is nonsense. But that is not really the point so far as the Mayor’s status is concerned. The point is the prohibition on her involvement in party politics.
So the defence is that Mr Slaughter was not invited. Perhaps not. But he attended. If the event was non party political why was he let in while the Conservative councillors were turned away? I am not suggesting that Mr Slaughter will win any votes by backing this particular cause. he is extremely foolish to do so. Again that is not the point.
It seems obvious that there was a party political aspect to this event – and that it was a mistake for the Mayor to attend.
The refusal to provide an apology – or even an acknowledgement of error – makes this more serious. That is because it indicates that rather than an oversight the protocol is being treated with complete contempt.
I assume the proposal to privatise the entire council housing stock is simply to put it beyond democratic local control in the (very likely) event of a future return to power by the Conservatives in LBHF. As such the proposed extension of the right-to-buy scheme to housing association properties seems like an excellent idea. It is odd that Andy Slaughter is so opposed to schools being taken out of local authority control (free schools) but is an active supporter of local housing being similarly transferred out of council control. Maybe he is a hypocrite, who knows ?
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