Friday 30 January 2015

Newham Mayor Guilty of Breaching Members Code of Conduct

Public accountability proceeds, it seems, at its own solemn pace. Newham council's constitution says a standards committee investigation into the conduct of an elected member should take no longer than three months. However, six months has passed since a complaint was made against Mayor Sir Robin Wales, and only now has the committee published its groundbreaking decision - that the Mayor "breached the members' Code of Conduct by failing to treat a member of the public with respect".

Some background: in July 2014, a video [above] emerged on YouTube showing the Mayor losing control of his temper at the presence of Focus E15 Mothers campaigners at an event in Central Park in East Ham. He was so angry that the footage shows a member of council staff physically restraining him. In the week that followed, a formal complaint was made about the Mayor's behaviour, alleging that Wales had breached the Members' Code of Conduct by failing to observe the statutory principle of “always treating people with respect, including the organisations and public engaged with and those worked alongside”.

I'd met the young activists from the Focus E15 campaign for the first time only the previous weekend, when volunteering as a legal observer for a march they had organised though the borough. Appalled by the Mayor's behaviour, I gave them some advice soon after the video began to circulate about how to make a official complaint. Eventually I decided to submit a complaint myself and so, ever since, I've had a ring-side seat as the formal 'complainant' to the glacial process that has followed.

The complaint was about the conduct shown in the video, which was essentially the only evidence. However, after a meeting of Newham's Standards Advisory Committee on 31 July recommended a formal inquiry, an independent investigator was appointed. In August she interviewed me and some of of the campaigners who appear in the footage. The committee did not meet again until early October and then decided set up a Hearing Sub-Committee to consider the investigator's findings and determine whether a breach of the code of conduct had taken place. It met on 21 October and asked the investigator to rewrite her report with new recommendations. A meeting planned for December was cancelled and the Hearing Sub-Committee did not make its final decision until 15 January – but was unable to announce it because the council's constitution insists it was first checked off by its appointed 'Independent Person' (a requirement under the Localism Act 2011).

The procedure for investigating a complaint is clearly convoluted, slow and in need of reform. I have no idea either how an investigation within three months is even imaginable if evidence is more complex than a short video. I must stress, however, that the independent chair of the Standards Advisory Committee seemed just as frustrated by it as everyone else and was always as helpful as circumstances allowed. What probably hasn't helped was Wales' refusal to cooperate with the formal investigation – to this day, he has not even bothered to deny the accusation against him.

It is, nevertheless, hard to understand why there was a delay in early October to excise references to “the Mayor’s failure to deny the allegation upon which he chose not to comment at all”, when this rather embarrassing detail appears in minutes released this month. This decision was in all likelihood the work of some of the Mayor's slavishly loyal lieutenants on the committee, but as the discussions were held in secret, it is impossible to know for certain.

Even before the committee's decision was made, the question of what sanction it might recommend was always, of course, largely irrelevant. It was never likely they would adopt my tongue-in-cheek suggestion of 'anger management classes' and anyway, apart from a letter to Wales with advice on his conduct, which the Hearing Sub-Committee has asked the council's Monitor Officer to write, there are always few options available when a complaint involves an elected Mayor. His unwillingness to engage with or even acknowledge the investigation suggests any advice will disappear straight into the waste basket.

Nevertheless, what is significant is the decision itself: one of London's most powerful and imperious Labour politicians has received his first slap on the wrist in recent memory. For years, Wales has cultivated the idea that he is completely unassailable and therefore someone whose displeasure people should fear. It has worked too, I've seen it for myself both internally and amongst those who have to deal with the council. Even recently, I've been told by sympathetic insiders of threats that are a variant on “you'll never work in this town again”.

The trouble is, the notion of Sir Robin Wales' impregnability has been successfully undermined: amongst the many impressive achievements of the wonderful Focus E15 Mothers, this is perhaps the most unlikely, but it's true. It may only represent a first step, but I hope it encourages others in future who believe they have been poorly treated by the Mayor or those surrounding him to feel that it is finally worthwhile making a complaint that someone will listen to.

Maybe, too, if the Mayor ever decides to bang the table, shout down local people, issue threats or browbeat members of staff, he'll start to wonder whether his words have been secretly recorded, as evidence for a Standards Advisory Committee that has actually displayed some backbone.

The Investigation Report remains a (local) state secret, but you can see the Decision Notice here


Anonymous said...

It is interesting that sir Robin will not engage with the process almost as if he were un-able to continplate that he can do anything wrong. When you listen to the video he states several time that this is a family event. This is a defence statement based in some truth but forgets that the mums are also families and he had a statement on the Newham website were he boasted of being a single parent family.

Anonymous said...

I worked in Newham, supporting schools. It was very clear that Robin had his own agenda and was usually not up for persuasion.
Being made redundant was a release from the toxic, fawning ethos that he presides over. I'm appalled that Labour don't reign him in.

Southpawpunch said...

Robin Wales is a prime lowlife. He deserves exposure for these actions.

I have no sympathy with him at all. Indeed at one of 2013 'music in (East Ham) central park' events I had the very same flunky as in the video squaring up to me (although he kept a few pensioners between him and me) after I directed abuse to Wales as the Mayor went on his regal stroll (along with his flunkies) amongst the plebs, as he does at these events.

But I'm also think the process followed here was wrong. The Members Code of Conduct is imposed to try and prevent councillors both being rude (as here) but also expressing their views.

If a cllr, I would have no hesitation in telling Pickles or a BNP cllr to 'eff off' or indeed saying the same to senior council officers (whose job would include thwarting any radical plans by councillors).

Wales should be able to express his views - show his true colours and his contempt for the poor as he dreams of turning his borough into the new Islington or Hackney.

The Code of Conduct is an antidemocratic imposition - expose the charlatan but do not use reactionary measures to do so.

Birdman said...

Well done Kevin and all those who pushed this. As far as I can remember this is the first time the behaviour that Sir Robin is well known for has been publicly exposed.

Anonymous said...

"Wales should be able to express his views - show his true colours and his contempt for the poor as he dreams of turning his borough into the new Islington or Hackney."

I disagree, Sir Robin is not trying to turn Newham into Islington or Hackney. Why would he do that as that would invite possible Tory voters.

Sir Robin Wales is an expert in double thinking. He will make out that he is trying to regenerate Newham (e.g. Olympics), but at the same time they have policies which destabilise the area, through different policies.

As a classic example. He says Newham has a transient population, but then he goes on to sell off Carpenters Estate to replace them with students college / accommodation (students are transient population and often short of money).

He then makes a speech how the Torys are not building social housing (which wins support with Labour) and at the same time tearing down Carpenters Estate.

Sir Robin's game is simple. To be in control of Newham.

Anon 2 said...

Someone should file a complaint against Councillor Ken Clark.

Some may remember, Sir Robin Wales did not attend a hustings.


In 2014, Ken Clark was an election agent for Sir Robin Wales.

Sir Robin Wales did not attend the hustings. Newham Labour spokesman Ken Clark said "Newham Labour will not be at the meeting on Monday evening, organised by two self-appointed organisations that deliberately misrepresent the views of the Council and those elected to it."

Ken Clark tried to rubbish a local group which trying to fight expansion at London City Airport.
He ignored the plights of residents suffering from aircraft noise from London City Airport.


On 3rd February 2015, at Newham Council's Planning Committee, the council met to decide on further expansion of London City Airport.

Ken Clark sits at this Planning Meeting. Ken Clark made a declaration his daughter works at concessionaire at London City Airport.

Councillor Ken Clark did ask a few question about the airport pretending to be concerned construction noise, but was the first to propose they take a vote in favour of more expansion at the airport.

Random Blowe | Original articles licensed under a Creative Commons License.