The recent local elections saw Labour return 57 Councillors out of 63, with a single remaining Conservative and the Greens becoming the official opposition with 5 Councillors. After a four year term of improving services and widening opportunities in the face of unprecedented budget cuts from the Conservative Government, my colleagues and I are rightly pleased with this vote of confidence from the people of Lambeth.
And moving from one lone Green Councillor to a whole group could mean an interesting shift. Could there potentially be a progressive alliance which various commentators have speculated on? Could they bring fresh perspectives and approaches from which we can all learn?
Sadly if Lambeth Green Leader (and also Green Co-Leader nationally) Cllr Jonathan Bartley’s first forays into councillor life are anything to go by, I’m afraid the people of Lambeth will be very disappointed.
They promised to be different but their first month has been marked by some pretty depressing gesture politics, bordering on downright hypocrisy.
At last week’s Full Council Annual General Meeting (where all Councillors are sworn in and the Mayor is appointed), Cllr Bartley began to attack the Labour administration on councillors’ allowances, claiming Lambeth Councillors had awarded themselves £472,335, in “ADDITIONAL allowances”.
At this point it may be worth doing a quick fact check. Have allowances risen by the eye-watering £472,000 that he suggests? Unsurprisingly, the answer is no. Each councillor receives a standard allowance of £10,597 – and the Labour administration has frozen it at this level since 2008. There are additional responsibility allowances – which have also fallen since last year. Lambeth’s allowances are actually below the official and independent guidelines from London Councils.
Anyone who spends even a second thinking about it would realise that it is utterly ludicrous to suggest that councillors would give themselves a pay rise on this scale - £472,000 in one year(!). But Cllr Bartley went ahead anyway, choosing to whip up his Twitter followers regardless of the facts.
In fact, the only allowance that has actually increased is for the opposition leader….Councillor Jonathan Bartley. This reflects the fact that as opposition leader of a bigger group than the previous Tory opposition, Cllr Bartley is entitled to receive an increased allowance of £16,207. This is in line with the official and independent guidance mentioned earlier. Cllr Bartley was advised of this after an independent assessment by councillor officers.
To understand the contortions Lambeth Greens have got themselves in over this issue, it's helpful to note that days before the Full Council meeting, Cllr Ainslie, who is the Green party “whip” on Lambeth council and Cllr Bartley’s colleague, sent an email to officers and Labour councillors requesting an additional increase in allowances for Green councillors. I’ve included a copy of the email below:
This would have meant an additional £38,000 for the Greens, based on their own calculations.
Quite rightly, this was rejected as an unnecessary and disproportionate increase for a group of just five councillors.
As a result of their claim for extra allowances being turned down in private, Cllr Bartley has behaved extraordinarily in public: accusing the Labour administration of deliberately increasing his pay to embarrass him (good luck getting your head around that one), claiming to support a cut in allowances (he wanted an increase) and claiming Labour has increased allowances (they’ve fallen).
And he’s continued to push these extraordinary claims on social media and to media outlets.
It’s a staggering tale of politicians saying one thing in private, and the exact opposite in public. In private, Green councillors asked for money, yet in public Cllr Bartley is decrying other councillors being paid for doing their jobs.
Given his public pronouncements on the topic I fully expect to see Cllr Bartley giving his full allowance away. But let’s see if his private actions match his public pronouncements.
For a party that made such a play of being whiter than white, it’s been a puzzling start and it may take them a while to shift the cloud of hypocrisy that has engulfed Lambeth’s Greens.
Cllr Jack Hopkins