Ealing council leader Julian Bell has long faced unrest from many of his councillors, narrowly defeating a leadership challenge in May over his housing arrangements.
Arrangements for the selection of council election candidates under Bell’s watch have also been heavily criticised by Labour’s LCF (Local Campaign Forum) – arrangements that saw eighteen out of nineteen left-wing candidates rejected, a ‘coincidence’ calculated by a statistician to have a likelihood of just two in a billion.
And in the last few weeks, Bell and his political assistant Joseph Brown have been formally censured by the LCF for their actions in calling a hasty by-election following the death of a highly-respected Labour councillor.
Cllr Tej Ram Bagha died suddenly on 11 September. To the outrage of local councillors and officials, rather than allowing Cllr Bagha’s family time to mourn, Cllr Bell and Mr Brown personally called a by-election within days of his death, before Bllr Bagha’s funeral had taken place.
Electoral rules state that in order to trigger an election within 35 days, any two electors from anywhere in the local authority area have to send a ‘request for election’ to the Returning Officer. In Ealing, that could be any of the more than 245,000-strong electorate – but Bell and Brown themselves submitted the request. LCF officials say the pair did not inform the LCF of this move, but it was discovered when one LCF representative personally went to the town hall to inspect the request letters.
On receiving this news, the LCF met and censured the pair for what one official called ‘a desperate and unfeeling attempt to prevent left-wingers becoming councillors‘ – and the move was also condemned by various Ealing councillors at last week’s Labour Group meeting.
One councillor told the SKWAWKBOX:
We are very concerned about the increasingly autocratic and detached nature of Julian Bell’s leadership, and the lengths that he will go to to keep members from Labour’s left off the panel of candidates. We witnessed this ahead of the May local elections and now, again, in insensitively initiating this by-election so soon after the death of Cllr Bagha.
His actions bear the hallmark of someone desperately trying to shore up his weak and unpopular leadership, which was challenged by a significant number of Labour Group councillors at our AGM in May.
These unilateral decisions, which bypass the proper party units and processes, are a risk to the reputation of the Labour Party locally. By roping in his Political Assistant to help trigger this by-election, he is clearly misusing public resources. The actions, which appear to be more in his own interests than in those of residents and party members, have to stop.
The LCF Chair also sent a letter to all Ealing councillors – circulated as well to constituency Labour party secretaries – outlining the issues and the LCF’s objections:
I am writing on behalf of the Ealing Local Campaign Forum following its ordinary meeting held on October 4th 2018, at which the forthcoming by-election for Dormers Wells ward was a key item of business. As you may be aware, Councillor Tej Ram Bagha passed away on Friday, September 21st and his funeral was held on Tuesday October 2nd. Tej was a popular Councillor and a passionate champion of the Labour Party and his community. He will be greatly missed.
As agreed by the LCF, I am writing to inform you that the LCF passed censure motions against both Council Leader Cllr Julian Bell and Political Assistant Joseph Brown for their actions in precipitating a Dormers Wells by-election within 35 days. These actions were against the express wishes of the LCF, and, we believe showed gross insensitivity to the memory of Cllr Bagha, to the thoughts and feelings of his family, friends and Labour Party colleagues, and were against the best interests of Dormers Wells Labour Party members and the ward electorate.
For context, the Returning Officer for Ealing Council issued a ‘Notice of Vacancy’ for Dormers Wells ward on Monday, September 24th. The notice explains that “Upon receipt of requests to hold an election by two local government electors from within the local authority area, an election to fill the vacancy will be held within thirty-five days.”
It has since been drawn to the attention of the LCF that – of the 245,000-plus registered electors across Ealing that might have made the two required requests to hold an election – that these requests were, in fact, made by Julian Bell and Joseph Brown on Wednesday, September 27th. Those requests have been inspected, in person, by the LCF’s Vice Chair, who visited the Elections Office the day before the LCF’s meeting.
The LCF deplores, and disassociates itself from, the actions of senior Ealing Labour Party members Cllr Bell and Joseph Brown in this matter – the callous and unnecessary effect of which has been to force the Labour Party in Ealing into the selection of a candidate and an election campaign within 35 days, with the election date set by the Returning Officer for Thursday, November 8th.
At a time when his friends, Labour Party colleagues and Dormers Wells members should have been allowed space to honour his memory, even before Cllr Bagha’s funeral the LCF’s Executive Officers have instead had to write to potential candidates and Dormers Wells members informing them of the immediate selection process and of a selection meeting next Wednesday, October 10th. At the time of initiating this process, the LCF were unaware of the actions of Cllr Bell and Joseph Brown; despite having been in correspondence with me and in the political assistant’s case in conversation over the matter, neither of them saw fit to inform me that they themselves had triggered the by-election.
On Wednesday, September 27th I had written to Cllr Bell copying Joseph Brown, asserting the primacy of the LCF in running the selection process and requesting time to open up the panel of candidates for Dormers Wells. As the selection will be from an all-women shortlist, in accordance with Labour Party rules, it was the LCF Executive’s wish that Dormers Wells members be given an optimum panel of candidates and the time to properly shortlist and select their preferred candidates. On the same day, Cllr Bell’s and Joseph Brown’s requests for an election in Dormers Wells were received by the Returning Officer.
The LCF deems it important that you as members of the Labour Group are made aware of these actions so that you can consider if any action would be appropriate on your part. Please don’t hesitate to contact me should you have any queries.
As one of the recipients told the SKWAWKBOX: “Julian has claimed the by-election was called with the approval of Tej’s family. If so, the conversation must have gone along the lines of ‘So sorry to hear about his death – do you mind if we call a by-election?’”
Councillor Bell was contacted for comment yesterday but had not responded by the time of publication.
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