Council bullying: Wannabe MPs pile in as whitewash feared

The aftermath of Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts’ bullying voicemail took a new twist over the weekend after hopefuls who want to be the next MP for Greenwich and Woolwich stepped in to demand a full investigation into the email.

Greenwich Council leader and bully Chris RobertsBut they only spoke up after a candidate for next year’s council elections said she felt “profoundly let down” by the affair, which saw Roberts threaten cabinet member John Fahy with the loss of his portfolio, instructing him to “get that through your fucking thick skull”.

Cherry Parker, who is standing in the marginal Blackheath Westcombe ward, wrote on her blog:

“It has become painfully clear that we aren’t doing enough to live up to our values.

“It is extraordinary that we have allowed things to get to a point where expletive-laden rows are splashed across the front of the local press.

“As a candidate in the borough’s most marginal ward, I feel profoundly let down. All of our work is now at risk. Next time our team is out on the doorstep, we will be asked to explain what is going in the Labour group and what we are doing to fix it. I don’t know what answer I can give, but I do know that silence is not an option for me, and it is no longer an option for my colleagues.”

After challenging those who want to be Labour’s candidate for the 2015 general election in Greenwich & Woolwich to speak up, a few used to Twitter to do just that. First up, Matt Pennycook:

There’s an obvious question here – why did it take the Greenwich West councillor three years to speak out against this form of behaviour? Nevertheless, his intervention is notable, and frankly, it’s important he’s said something.

Other wannabe MPs also spoke up, including Lewisham councillor Kevin Bonavia, who also fancies his chances.

As did David Prescott:

And “Woolwich girl” Kathy Peach:

Last night, I thought I’d ask Len Duvall:

What’s certainly clear is that Cherry Parker deserves great credit for bursting a taboo and making the way Greenwich Council is run is an issue when Labour picks its candidate. If she hadn’t spoken out, would anyone else have done so?

But will there be a thorough investigation? So far, the signs aren’t looking good. Last Monday, I reported that Labour’s chief whip, Ray Walker, had not acted on a complaint about the voicemail to Fahy. This prompted complaints to Lewisham East MP Heidi Alexander, which she passed onto the London Labour Party.

On Friday, the News Shopper reported that the issue had been passed from the London Labour Party to… Ray Walker at Greenwich. Essentially, Greenwich Labour is investigating Greenwich Labour.

Ray Walker is a close ally of Chris Roberts. It’s worth remembering his comments when Blackheath Westcombe councillor Alex Grant spoke of the bullying culture in Greenwich Labour. He told the News Shopper in March: “I’m not aware of any of those descriptions that he puts on the Labour Group or the council.

“I don’t know why he’s had that impression. That wouldn’t be a good culture to work in. We wouldn’t allow a bullying culture. There’s no bullying culture.”

It’s likely Walker will be assisted by fellow Roberts allies Janet Gillman, Radia Rabadia, Mohammed Iqbal and Labour group chair Christine May. Is Greenwich Labour fit to investigate itself? Many are fearing a whitewash.

Incidentally, it is possible for members of the public to trigger an investigation by the council’s own standards committee by getting in touch with the chief executive. The old Standards Board for England was shut down last year by the coalition government, meaning councils effectively govern themselves.

Who wants to be a Greenwich & Woolwich MP? 24 candidates have put themselves forward to be Labour’s candidate for the Greenwich & Woolwich seat.

This list will be whittled down over time, and local members will choose on 30 November.

Links in bold are to personal websites, others are to other scraps of info I’ve found:
Adebayo Alaba, Waltham Forest councillor Liaquat Ali, Lewisham councillor Kevin Bonavia, current Greenwich mayor Angela Cornforth, London Assembly member Len Duvall, Jane East, Anthony Ethapemi, Barking & Dagenham councillor Sukhninder Gill, Mohammed-Abbas Hanif, Ashiq Hussain, Keran Kerai, former Greenwich councillor Annie Keys, Nizam Mamode, Ian Mason, Southwark councillor Abdul Mohamed, Martin Morris, Kusum Parashar, James Parker, Kathy Peach, Matthew Pennycook, Lambeth councillor and ex-Lib Dem Sally Prentice, David Prescott, Colin Uju, Damien Welfare.

42 comments

  1. Regarding complaints, here are some extracts from the council’s code of conduct for members:

    3. (1) You must treat others with respect.

    3. (2) (b) You must not bully any person.

    3. (2) (d) You must not do anything which compromises or is likely to compromise the impartiality of those who work for, or on behalf of, the Royal Borough.

    5. You must not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or the Royal Borough into disrepute.

    Remember that Mr Fahy is not the only victim here – the constituents for whom he was trying to act are too, as are any other members who have to work under conditions of bullying.

  2. Dread Pirate Roberts? Is the surname coincidence or is the Council Leader an assassin – of character and careers if not real bloodshed?

  3. Oh and by the way, did anyone else notice that the issue that blew the Council Leader’s fuses was Run to the Beat? We are all told the Council has no power to refuse the road closures etc.So if this was true, why did Mr Fahy’s representations cause the blow up? A lot of people have asked a lot of questions about the event and the Leader’s reaction is interesting and thought provoking.

  4. Exactly, Andy – and we’ve established that Roberts claimed he wasn’t taking decisions on RTTB because of a conflict of interest with Greenwich Starting Blocks.

    This goes a lot deeper than a sweary, threatening voicemail.

  5. “King Nick was in the counting house,
    Counting out his money
    Maureen was claiming pavement tax
    From retailers of honey

    Four and twenty redbirds baked in a pie
    When Charlton House was opened the birds began to sing
    To be MP for Greenwich
    We will tweet anything”

  6. I have been on Greenwich Council Watch for years and I don’t like what I see on many occasions. This admirable blog and the News Shopper have pointed out various facts to me recently. Roberts runs the show. The council as a whole seems very keen to promote the interests of big business (no doubt to encourage trade and bring in jobs). Residents have been locked into an unwanted fuel deal for 25 years. There is a big problem about the effects of development on the Ecology Park. Ray Walker is seen as a pro-Roberts man. Does anyone know what committees he is on?

  7. I was really sad to see that it was Heidi Alexander who blew the whistle and NOT Nick Raynsford. Years ago I had a complicated problem to deal with for a disabled relative and Nick Raynsford took a lot of trouble to sort it out. Recently, the same problem arose again and this time NOTHING, not even a reply to several emails. Whether he isn’t interested because he is going and doesn’t need the votes, or whether it is because Alex Grant has left his job as assistant and the new one is useless I don’t know. But if he isn’t helping to represent his constituents (like me and my nephew) and he isn’t getting a grip on what the Labour Party is behaving in Greenwich, then what is he doing for his salary and pension?

  8. Chris Roberts plays the Big Man
    In dear old Greenwich Town.
    He frets and struts upon the stage
    And damn near wears a crown.
    He effs and swears at colleagues
    And utters threats galore
    And in the process has lost sight
    Of what a council’s for.
    His colleagues stand there trembling,
    It’s every year the same.
    They’re just obeying orders
    And they really are to blame.
    Has no one ever told them,
    Do they fail to understand
    What any child could tell them
    In the schools across our land?
    The way to cope with bullies
    Is always stand your ground.
    Don’t yield to threats and tantrums
    Just go in and fight YOUR round.
    And if you stand together
    And ignore every frown
    And stare him out at every point
    The bully WILL back down.

  9. So I believe that the Labour party rulebook requires complaints to be referred to the local party first and then referred upwards.

    We’ve seen recently that some local Labour politicians are keen on pointing out conflicts of interest where the rest of us find it very difficult to spot them. As this is as clear-cut a case of conflict of interest as you’ll see, I look forward to the complaint spending very little time with the local party before being referred upwards to the national party. It couldn’t be handled fairly otherwise, could it?

    (Normal disclaimer that I am not a member of any political party but would dearly love to vote Labour if only they could make the local party fit for purpose.)

  10. I apologise in advance for not having a song prepared…

    Interesting that Louise MacK mentions Alex Grant, the outgoing councillor at Blackheath Westcombe. Clearly he was/is well thought of and it seems he is the only Labour councillor – before sweary-voicemail-gate – to break the silence on the culture of bullying at the Council. Interesting again that Cherry Parker, whose blog post forced the prospective MP candidates to actual admit publicly that something untoward had occurred, is a close colleague of Alex Grants (he is endorsing her own stand as a prospective councillor in Blackheath Westcombe). Given Grants closeness to the action so to speak it is – finally – perhaps interesting that he has chosen to endorse Len Duvall for the MP selection. Or perhaps it isn’t interesting, who knows anymore.

  11. I have always been inconvenienced by RTTB. 2013 is the first year the borough has been offered any money so I always wondered what council tax payers actually got out of it. If I have understood this discussion properly it is the leader’s charity that has got benefit from it. If he declares a conflict of interest then this is all I can think it is about. Quite rightly, he SAYS he should not be involved in the decision making. What is coming out in this discussion is that he is making the decision by the back door, apparently by putting pressure on his colleagues

  12. We were promised a review of Run to the Beat but I have heard nothing about its progress. Has anyone else got information on this? But what I have heard is that the Deputy Leader is doing it. I am not sure of his allegiances, but I know that I am anticipating an outcome on the lines of how much we all love the event and the marvels it is doing and that there were never any complaints or moans at all. . So RTTB will get the go ahead forever and stuff the public.

  13. Joan You have got it spot on! He says he doesn’t want to hear fellow Councillors’ constituents’ complaints as he has a conflect of interest, but makes the decision anyway.

  14. If you think there’s a conflict of interest, then it could/should be reported to the council’s standards panel. Seems pretty clear there is one from the audio evidence.

  15. So john fahy emailed members to suggest that they don’t take any decisions until after the election and Chris Roberts swore at him? Maybe he should stand down. No good being on the council taking the money if he’s not going to do anything until after next may

  16. Considering how desperate Matt Pennycook was for Chris Roberts’ endorsement and to do deals with him to get endorsements in Woolwich, the attempts to distance himself from the past smack a bit hollow.

  17. I am sorry to read Louise MacK’s comments (sorry I don’t know your full name). I did work in Nick Raynsford’s Westminster office until a year ago, with hard-working colleagues who ensure that all the hundreds of emails, phone calls and letters that Nick receives each week are responded to promptly. Please let Nick know what help your relative needs by emailing him at nick.raynsford.mp@parliament.uk. I know Nick and his staff will chase it up and also find out whether an earlier email was overlooked or not received. If you, or your relative, are a resident of Blackheath Westcombe ward you can also email me at alex.grant@royalgreenwich.gov.uk

    Turning to the subject in hand, I believe that as in any organisation, allegations of bullying at Greenwich Council need to be investigated thoroughly and objectively. Whenever bullying has taken taken place, appropriate action needs to be taken ensure that incidents are not repeated: a view shared by all other Greenwich Labour politicians who have commented on these latest allegations of bullying. Nothing earth-shattering about that.

  18. Forgive another excursion in verse, but if anyone thinks the present era will go next May I think they should think again
    Run to the Beat, that annual hash,
    Gives Councillor Roberts a whole heap of cash
    To fund his pet project and help it along,
    So maybe in time it will earn him a gong.
    But I always think it’s a shame and a sin
    That every September they kettle us in.
    We’ve moaned to the council until we are blue
    And now they have promised a thorough review.
    But do I believe this will really take place
    Or are forever just stuck with this race?
    I’ve looked in the paper. He’s rushed in to write
    A defence of his actions, much riddled with spite.
    The spots on this leopard are destined to stay,
    He’s a wily campaigner and that is his way.
    And if he steps down from that lofty high seat,
    Don’t ever once think this will mean his defeat.
    He’ll stay on the council, and there from the wings
    Will find many new ways of pulling the strings.

  19. Paddy whack –

    John Fahy didn’t email councillors suggesting “that they don’t take ANY decisions until after the election”. As Darryl wrote, Fahy suggested that “any decision over the 2014 Run to the Bellying-cabinet-member to whoever was in power after May’s elections.” http://bit.ly/1fm3o1x

    It seems pretty clear Fahy suggested the next Council deal with this issue because he knows that Roberts plans to push it through for September 2014 before he steps down in May, despite strong local opposition, because it’s now funding one of his pet projects.

  20. Eh? Sorry, that quote came out garbled, trying again:

    “The cabinet member suggested in an email to Labour councillors that any decision over the 2014 Run to the Beat event would be left to whoever was in power after May’s elections.”

  21. No franklin JF was trying to stall decision making and he’s taking a huge allowance. As for his complaint, when I worked there a he was known as Bruiser Fahy. For him to object to swearing is hypocrisy old the highest order.

  22. Paddy whack, that is a ridiculous conclusion to reach. Decision about events should be taken at the appropriate time, because conditions change. You may as well say ‘why don’t JF and the council just approve RTTB for the next 5 years today, WHAT ARE THEY WAITING FOR!’

    And personally I have yet to hear JF complain about anything at all. I assume he is unhappy with the voicemail or it would have remained private, but – as had been said several times already by others – it is not the swearing that appals in that voicemail, it is the threat to effectively sack a council member if they don’t toe the line. A line that Roberts is supposed to have nothing to do with.

    If you have a personal, or historical council-based, grudge against JF why don’t you come out and say it. Interesting that you are one of the few commenters hear not using your real name. Unless it is your real name in which case I am sorry, on every level.

  23. Thanks to Alex Grant for his offer of help, but after a lot of hard work I have sorted the problem (but have no holiday to take over Christmas).
    Alex Grant’s loyalty to his old boss and colleagues is to his credit, and the help offered was probably all he says when he was working there. But he isn’t there now. On my recent experience something seems wrong in that office now.
    It is quite likely a single email or letter can get lost or mislaid, but a series of them is unlikely. If my MP cant get his office running properly then what can I trust him for?
    And at the heart of the issue can anyone tell me what public statements Nick Raynsford has made on council bullying and what he said?

  24. Paddy, all politicians are bruisers. It’s how they do the job. The point isn’t who is whiter than white. The point is that there is a council leader who seems to think the rules like good manners don’t apply to him. And as Paul says, he seems to take decisions that he shouldn’t be getting involved with. Ever wondered hoe he talks to staff and members of the public?

    He is on the record refusing to talk to Gilligan. He is on the record saying he is talking to Gilligan’s boss but doesn’t give a name. Who is Gilligan’s boss then?

    As for RTTB. Whatever you think of it every year it gets people stirred up on bith sides of the fence. There will be changes to the council next year and all these new faces will have to take responsibility for what happens on their watch. Why should they take the heat for decisions reached by the crop we have now? If RTTB is decided now, it could be very long term and far reaching. I can see good reasons for waiting.
    Franklin is correct that CR is planning to stand down but he will still be on the council and my guess still a powerful figure when decisions are made but not was big a noise as he is now.

  25. Sorry I have offended. I can be flip at times. But in plain prose if anyone thinks it will be the dawn of a new age next May I think there will be disappointment. Darryl is always highlighting how many allies the Leader has and who knows who will be the new person in post?

  26. Just received in the post (although I was unable to run this year) A running top and a card reading “Running is our sport. Running is our passion. There were bumps along the way, but thank you for conquering Run to the Beat powered by Nike +. Based on your feedback the next run will be better. We look forward to running with you again” Hmmmm I wonder if this next run is already agreed for Greenwich 2014? Perhaps someone can confirm.

  27. Disappointment is bad enough as it is without predicting it and, in effect, welcoming it. Much better to be positive about things and try our best to make sure good things happen. If we do, in one way or another they will. I was lucky enough to be involved in the seven-year campaign to get Charlton Athletic back to The Valley (against Greenwich Council’s wishes, funnily enough) and sure enough there were enough groaners and moaners along the way saying it would never happen – but of course it did. What’s needed in this country as a whole as well as in Greenwich in particular is people of goodwill right across the spectrum – left, right, centre or with no party political beliefs – to decide to act in the best way they can to make this a better place against those whose god is greed or power, or both. I wrote a thing about the great George Orwell that has proved quite popular. Someone called him the Saint of Common Decency. Let’s go for decency – and justice and integrity – and refuse to be held up by both the bullies and the defeatists.

  28. Not a defeatist Peter, and have been campaigning in a small way of my own for a better run council, and hope all your wishes come to pass, but consider the facts.

    The Council Leaders gets some kind of funding from RTTB for a pet cause of his.
    The Council Leader wants the review over and a decision made before the elections in May.
    RTTB is confident enough of going on to send out its promotional material now.

    I know what I think even though I hope it will all be different and work for that.

  29. Like I said, we all hope for better and some of us lobby our councillors directly and write letters and generally try to make a difference and don’t just go on blogs and moan. There are some successes but realistically there are some things we cannot quite manage. Our guns dont have the fire power. Will elections do the trick?

  30. You could always contact the independent chair of Greenwich’s standards committee, Susan Blackall (email sblackall[at]btinternet.com) and point out the conflict of interest.

  31. I thought Steve another of your commenters was doing that. And of course I do what I do but will not go into details here.

  32. Very true.But I am never going to discuss what I have done or the actions I will take in a forum such as this. I guess many others take the same line. No one ever seems to say exactly what they have done and I am sure lots of people do act directly.

  33. Just to explain that I was trying to bolster Maggy May’s morale (not that she really needs it, I’m sure!), not comment on RTTB as such. I’m sure all those with views on RTTB are getting them across perfectly well in their own ways and that RTTB are also shrewd enough to create their profile for 2014, controversies to come or not.

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