‘Bullying leaders and a sinking ship council’: Why I quit York Labour

Helen Douglas
14 Oct 2014 @ 12.27 pm
| Opinion, Politics

  Councillors ‘treated like children’

  Council officers ‘complained about poor treatment’

  Scrutiny work ‘largely ignored’

Clifton councillor Helen Douglas defected from the ruling Labour Group to the Tories last month. Here she explains why she had to go

Democracy is not a word York’s Labour administration understands – or achieves in their style of leadership.

If this administration were working in business they would have been sent written warnings and sacked long ago.

We have had reports of officers going sick due to their treatment by certain Cabinet members.

We have had complaints from officers about the behaviour of certain Cabinet members – for treating them badly, not respecting them and upsetting workflows by demanding they push their own agenda forward rather than working to the council’s plan.

As a Labour backbencher, I was presented with a done-deal on budget proposals. I received reports and spreadsheets detailing the costs, and what had to be cut and where.

Voting is done en bloc. I was not given the full implications of any cuts and how they would affect people I represent. So I couldn’t fully understand what I was voting for.

I felt sick at having to vote for certain cutbacks as part of a job lot. These included changes to Burton Stone Lane community centre funding and meal subsidies for people in homes like Marjorie Waite Court.

There was an opportunity to question the Cabinet – but if you objected too strongly or voted against you were labelled a troublemaker, shunned – and shouted down by certain Cabinet members and Labour group officers.

In other words if you don’t agree you are wrong.

Once you are identified as a troublemaker, along comes an email inviting you for a one-to-one with the Labour group leader. When you get there you can argue all you like but your concerns are ignored.

People who do go against the group are subjected to the whip and are forced to grovel to the Labour group and apologise for their behaviour.

Or they are threatened with whip withdrawal like they are a naughty child at school. This is bullying.

There is no real pastoral care for Labour councillors. If you are sick it is a case of “when will you be back?” rather than “what can we do to help you?”

Since the budget for training and development was cut, we were left with the good work of the democracy officers and nothing from Labour leaders – even though training and development is part of the deputy leader and the whips’ remit.

Transparency, consultation, free speech and listening are all necessary tools for democracy to work. As an ex-Labour party member of the ruling group in York, I do not feel that all those tools are used properly – and some not at all.

There are many more reasons why I chose to go, including:

  • the work of scrutiny is largely ignored
  • independent councillors don’t have the right to put a motion to full council
  • the Local Plan is destroying the Green Belt and overdeveloping York
  • the Lendal Bridge closure lacked strategy for dealing with the traffic hotspots, and the fines? Another story
  • the 20’s Plenty campaign is a manifesto pledge but lacks support from the police and our own highways officers
  • the relationship between key officers and key councillors is at an all-time low
  • City of York Council has been described as a “sinking ship” by some staff

Although I have changed parties, my commitment to the residents of Clifton ward remains. I presented two petitions on Thursday night (October 9) on behalf of residents at full council.

I am also aware that now Clifton has no Labour councillors.

I urge the Labour leadership to ask themselves one question: is their administration one they can say has been just, legal and democratic in all its dealings?

Labour group response

A Labour spokesperson said: “Only a matter of weeks ago Helen tried to be re-selected as a Labour candidate at the next local elections.

“It was only following the democratic vote of party members in her own branch to not re-select her that she decided to join the Tories and endorse their austerity programme.

“Helen also never raised any concern at Labour group meetings over the delivery of the manifesto she was elected to deliver.”