The Independent London Newspaper
23rd May 2019

FORUM: After quitting Labour, an independent view of a council in action

    Dr Angela Pober

    Dr Angela Pober, an independent councillor for West Hampstead ward

    Published: 25 September, 2015

    IT is now one week after independence day and I thank all who have inundated me with supportive emails and calls regarding me resigning the Labour whip and becoming an independent councillor.

    I arrived at Wednesday’s council meeting in a tempest, and that, I reflected at the time, could be a prediction of things to come. As the torrential rain punched up from the puddles on the A40, my GPS’s estimated arrival time crept up as the traffic slowed down.

    Again I knew that my journey from the hospital, one that I have become used to over the last couple of months (of dry weather), would make me late for my first council meeting as an independent.  

    I would like to share three moments from the theatre of this council meeting. 

    • First, despite being absent from the notices where it was announced that I’d crossed the floor of the chamber, I settled in as the “Save the West Hampstead Library from Closure” deputation provided the first act; the petition was presented by the chairman of that ward’s Labour Party with his Labour Party member wife, and previously a Labour councillor candidate, sitting behind him as his supportive audience. Enough said.

    However, I am a fan of deputations and would want more of them with longer debating time at council meetings. 

    For example, West Hampstead currently has a genuine community-led campaign that should make a deputation at the next council meeting; it is “Stop the Blocks”. This real campaign has gathered momentum from the drive and passion of the residents who have managed to influence some aspects of the 156 West End Lane development – but design is just one part of their campaign. 

    In addition, they are challenging the Labour administration’s very sale of 156’s council-owned land and buildings and question why there has been no investigation or costings for a council-led project for solely social housing. Interestingly, during this council meeting the leader said “once you’ve sold it you cannot get it back” in reference to the sale of housing association stock. Her social housing principle seems to be selectively applied when remonstrating against the selling of HA stock but does not apply to selling off council-owned land to private developers. 

    I commend the “Stop the Blocks” campaign for their ideas, organisation and genuine protest for genuinely affordable homes for their West Hampstead community.

    • Secondly, the leader’s report referred to how the Labour administration was helping key workers with their housing needs in Camden. That’s great, I thought, but how? I was intrigued as during my tenure on the housing scrutiny committee, I had been out-voted by all the Labour members on the housing allocations review panel when I insisted that a clause be added to the new January 2016 Housing Allocation Policy to give key workers points for being just that. I asked the leader, how would this “help” manifest itself if the new policy made no mention of key workers? My question would not have been permitted were I still a Labour back-bencher as questions to the leader are screened and this one would have been kicked into touch. 

    The panicked look of Cllr Sarah Hayward’s glance over to the previous chair of housing scrutiny told me she did not know the answer and used the time constraint from having to give me an answer in chamber. I am still awaiting a response on the record.

    • Finally, the session where councillors have two minutes to highlight news from their ward was truncated so I threw my hand up to speak but, despite being no more than the third hand up, I was not selected to speak by the (Labour) chair; who later said to me “That’s the way it goes.” No matter, as you have already read my two-minuter on “Stop the Blocks” above.

    The last person to speak was Cllr Oliver Cooper with a personal plea for maintaining Camden’s mental health services. To hear this speech I would have willingly given up my slot for him should I have had the choice. If they had heard this applauded speech, I believe that my ward residents would have agreed.

    Now for week two.