“Let me be clear to you, if you do not want to take decisions in the remainder of this administration, I expect you to resign from the cabinet.
“I’m not having you playing these games. I will remove your portfolio, you will have no portfolio, and you can be doing nothing.
“But we are not deferring decisions. Get that through your fucking thick skull, John.”
Listening to Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts verbally abuse cabinet member John Fahy by voicemail, it’s less the swearing that shocks – it’s the threat to terminate a colleague’s career.
The existence of the voicemail was revealed on this website on Monday, but now the News Shopper has published the voicemail and and identified its recipient as being the cabinet member for health, and sometime leadership rival to Roberts. (Clip from the News Shopper via Audioboo – contains industrial language.)
Plaudits to senior reporter Mark Chandler for getting hold of the concrete proof of the unacceptable way that Roberts treats his fellow councillors.
Indeed, this week’s print version of the News Shopper had already called on the Labour leader to resign after detailing how Roberts demanded Fahy be airbrushed out of a Greenwich Time story in May 2012 – something highlighted on this website at the time (see pictures above).
“It was just the normal spite that’s part of the bullying culture that was prevailing at the time and no doubt still is,” Greenwich Time assistant editor Peter Cordwell, sacked by Roberts last month, told the Shopper.
Greenwich Council denies Cordwell – given the boot for writing to local papers about the Lewisham Hospital campaign, which Greenwich Council conspicuously failed to back – was a member of staff. But this website understands Cordwell, who is taking his case to an industrial tribunal, was given holiday and sick pay, as well as annual leave and a council mobile phone.
Roberts’ temper may well have cost the council dear – and not for the first time.
What happens next? Will Chris Roberts go? Will he hang on? Your guess is as good as mine. But one thing’s clear – the bullying problem at Greenwich Council does not stop with Chris Roberts.
A bully can’t act alone – and there will be other people who will have facilitated his behaviour, even passively by turning a blind eye to his actions. And it may well be that the local Labour party may feel under attack and could close ranks.
But it’s striking that it was Lewisham East MP Heidi Alexander who blew the whistle by referring allegations to the London Labour Party. Where were the MPs which represent Greenwich borough? What did they know, and if they did know things, why didn’t they act? And where were our councillors?
Voters in Greenwich borough owe Heidi Alexander thanks for her actions. She acted where our own MPs and councillors didn’t. They have a lot of questions to answer.
This comes at a wretched time for the local Labour party – with selections ongoing for the Greenwich & Woolwich parliamentary candidacy, and May 2014’s council election on the horizon.
But brushing the legacy of Chris Roberts’ bullying under the carpet will do nobody any good. Labour figures need to be brave and mount a proper investigation.
Nationally, leader Ed Miliband is rightly being widely praised for his dignified yet determined stance against the harrassment he and his family has faced from the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday. Now the party should really be practising what it preaches and investigating the harrassment faced by councillors and others in Greenwich Council’s Labour group. To quote its own campaign, it needs speak up for decency in local politics.
If it doesn’t, there are more stories waiting to come out. Many have been knocking around the council for years. And with proof of Roberts’ actions now in the public domain, they may appear in far more prominent places than this website, or a local paper.
Labour should have dealt with the bullying in Greenwich Council long ago. At least something’s happening now.
But if it doesn’t act to properly deal with a rotten culture, and the individuals who perpetuate, tolerate or condone it, it risks suffering further humiliation further down the line.