Letter to Editor: Hypocrisy of Labour over local elections

Your Say / Mon 6th Nov 2023 at 09:31am

Dear Editor,

HAVING watched YourHarlow’s excellent video of yesterday’s (2 Nov) special council meeting on local election voting reform, I’m stunned by the hypocrisy of the key argument put forward by Labour.

Labour’s key argument, and one echoed by Green Party leader Yasmin Gregory in YourHarlow’s news item on November 1, is that the 467 consultation responses who correctly identified that they lived in Harlow only achieved 0.73% of the eligible voting electorate of 64,158 (as of May 2023) and that the 364 responding in favour of change was only 0.57%.

Finance and Governance portfolio holder councillor James Leppard at last night’s meeting demolished this argument. He observed that the two highest voting majority wards in this year’s local election were Church Langley for the Conservatives and Little Parndon & Hare Street for Labour. In both cases the winning candidate didn’t even achieve 16 percent of the eligible vote (In fact 15.7% and 15.4% respectively).

Councillor Leppard went further, highlighting the fact that the other winning councillors in last May’s election only achieved between 11 and 14 percent of the eligible vote. If Labour’s logic was followed through, Leppard argued, then perhaps all those winning councillors should resign on principle?

The key point is that the consultation returned a majority of 74% in favour of elections every 4 years (taking into account all 491 responses). This majority is significant. In many trade unions they have Rules Revision conferences, typically every four years, and in the conferences I attended a two-thirds majority (66.66%) was required for a change. 

We live in a partipatory democracy without any form of coercion or pecuniary incentive to vote. People choose to participate in elections or consultations as they see fit. What is objectionable to me is the opposition parties using feable justifications for their rejection of the public’s point of view in this consultation.

I wish I had a pound for how many times YourHarlow’s commentators and opposition parties have complained that the results of consultations get ignored by the ruling party. In this case the ruling Conservative party has accepted the result, whereas the Labour opposition reject it. Is a democratic vote a moveable feast for Labour?

Is a popular show of opposition also to be ignored by Labour, just as it was by Tony Blair’s New Labour government over the Iraq war when a million people demonstrated on the streets of London?

It appears to me that Labour are running scared of a four year election cycle, given that the electorate hasn’t forgotten their incompetent management of the council prior to May 2021.


David Forman

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14 Comments for Letter to Editor: Hypocrisy of Labour over local elections:

David Forman
2023-11-06 10:23:37

Harlow Labour councillors like to ignore the viewpoint of the public, whether it is how we conduct local elections or the desire to reduce civilian loss of life in Gaza.

James Leppard
2023-11-06 10:47:52

It is unfortunate that Labour did not address the issue and spoke of matters completely irrelevant to the subject. Furthermore, for reasons best known to themselves, they chose to make this a party political matter when it clearly wasn't. We know for a fact that several Labour councillors supported the change to 4 year elections but were coerced to tow the Leader's dictate. This should have been a free vote. The author's comments regarding the status of consultations in a free voting system are absolutely correct. It is sad that Harlow Labour opted to ignore it.

2023-11-06 10:52:21

Democracy in the UK is a strange thing. Over recent years we have had it in 3 forms-first past the post, Proportional Representation and the win or lose EU referendum. Very rarely are the govt and councils actually supported by a majority of those voting. The tory's took us out of the EU with the direct support of only about 40% of the electorate at the time of the referendum. They took Scotland and Northern Ireland out despite those countries voting to stay. If they go by the opinion polls they should recognise they are not representing many people at all, currently, so should call a general election-surely opinion polls and protests are the same. I have a high regard for councillors, not because I always agree with them but because they have to commit so much time and effort. Less so for Mr Halfon, not because he doesn't work had but because of the amount of claptrap he spouts like reducing taxes when they were increasing. Tell it is it is, don't spin! Politics is the negative side. Why must Labour always be opposed to the Conservatives. The truth perhaps is they are probably not in private, only in public. Heck, didn't the tory's have a big fall out recently leading to Dan Sworder's. appointment. I don't have a strong view on when I should vote for councillors so I did not take part in the consultation. I very rarely fail to vote unlike a high proportion of residents. If we see our "democracy" as important, engaging with the electorate is surely important.

2023-11-06 11:06:15

David Forman Re your comment about loss of life in Gaza. That desire is commendable! The truth is, it would stop if Hamas surrendered but will they. Why do we not see calls for that to happen. If Gaza choose peace it has the potential to become a fabulous place , $millions would be chucked at it, it would become a tourist resort. We are friends with our past enemies like Germany and Japan, Palestinians can become friends with Israelis. And let's remember, its not like Northern Ireland, where the English were invaders, the Jews (around 79% of Israel) have lived there for millennia. Unfortunately Arabs do seem to like falling out with their neighbours (Irag, Syria, Yemen to name but 3)

gary roberts
2023-11-06 14:26:17

Is the turnout relevant in this instance? Yes and No. Yes because it was so low while being conducted mostly on-line and no because of the variables such as the interest shown by residents. Further was it necessary given there is a full council election next year as well as a general election. And of course residents' currently have more pressing issues to deal with such paying their bills, and eating and heating. Was this a vanity exercise for a council who talk a lot and deliver little to the residents of this town: I suspect so.

Mark Gough
2023-11-06 17:01:44

In May there was something called a Local Election. If this 4 year Election Cycle was a serious proposal, why did they not do the Consultation at the same time. That would have been serious and got a better and more meaningful idea of the wishes of the Electorate! Mark Gough - Reform UK

Waida Forman
2023-11-06 18:19:55

Unfortunately Labour Group has decided not to listen to those who took time to participate in the consultation. I have never known any consultation by Council having a high percentage of participants yet some of them go ahead with the plans. Not sure what Labour Group wants to achieve except wasting public money and school disruptions.

Nicholas Taylor
2023-11-06 22:26:48

Well if we accept the point that even with such a low turnout (less than 500), a change to the electoral system should go ahead, then why when over 7000 people voiced their opinion against the Stort River crossings and development to the south and west of Harlow did our elected representatives agree to proceed anyway? Mark Gough makes a good point about the timing of a consultation exercise, speaking to people as they exit the polls would surely have got a much higher response.

James Leppard
2023-11-06 23:18:07

Nicholas Taylor, you are comparing apples with oranges. The HGGT project and Stort Crossing had already been agreed and formalised in the Labour Harlow Plan of 2020. The 6-7,000 signatures you refer to were not part of an official, objectively worded and balanced consultation, but rather a partial petition over a much longer period ( without criticising the concept). I am sure you will appreciate the fundamental distinction. They are not comparable.

2023-11-07 06:23:29

Blah Blah Blah same old B/S just a different year.

Nicholas Taylor
2023-11-07 08:48:16

They are comparable James. You as Councillors are elected to represent your constituents but ignored the thousand who objected. As far as I know, no-one apart from Councillors and council staff spoke in favour of the proposals. I would of course remind you, which you and your party conveniently ignore, that your Party raised no objections to the Planning Officers appointed to assess the Local Plans of EFDC or HDC back in 2019 and therefore took no part in the public hearings which took place.

James Leppard
2023-11-07 09:37:27

Nicholas, we shall have to agree to differ regarding petitions and consultations. However, the issue at hand relates to the electoral cycle and the hypocrisy of Harlow Labour. Chris Vince, earlier this year proposed cancelling the May elections in order to 'save money'. This could not be done for legal reasons. Given his stance, the administration engaged openly with Labour as we saw this as a non-party issue. Most councils in England (almost 70%) including many Labour councils operate on 4 year cycles. Several Labour councillors supported the proposed changes. For some reason, Vince imposed a whip to coerce them for reasons he has not explained. This should have been non-party political and subject to a free vote by councillors. As David Forman points out, this is sheer hypocrisy.

Jason Drew
2023-11-07 18:09:30

Letter to Editor YH Last week's Full Council meeting highlighted the huge democratic deficit Harlow is suffering with the absence of an effective and credible opposition. As somebody who has no fixed affiliation and might be considered a classic floating voter, I have seen how this town deteriorated under almost a decade of Labour administration. In the two and half years that Harlow Conservatives have been in power, whilst they too have had their ups and downs, they are clearly focused on the town and have made big steps in regeneration with the new partnership with Hill Group, have cut the Harlow element of Council tax, have successfully pressured Essex County Council to undertake large scale road repairs so that most potholes that plagued the town for years have been repaired. They have changed the management of HTS and noticeably improved its performance after the huge backlog Labour left by mismanaging the lockdown so that no environmental works were undertaken and a huge housing repairs backlog. They have also started to build much needed council homes, which Labour failed to do. Last week's proposal to change to 4 year elections ( as undertaken by the vast majority) of English councils was entirely sensible and strongly supported by the consultation carried out. It was not a party issue but one of good administrative sense and economy. Once again, Harlow Labour failed to step up to the mark. The role of an opposition is essential to hold the administration to account and to offer a viable alternative . Harlow Labour has consistently failed. They wax lyrical over national and international issues over which they have no influence and have nothing to do with running Harlow Council. They never present any constructive challenge or alternatives, which might explain that even with Conservatives in the doldrums nationally, in the past two years,Harlow Labour, against all national trends, has lost seats on the Council. They have shown consistently that they lack the requisite skills set and professionalism and are unfit to administer Harlow or to serve as a credible opposition. I sincerely hope that other parties or independents will emerge or step in to offer genuine alternatives. It is a democratic imperative and Harlow truly deserves better and needs a credible opposition.

Kim Oconnor
2023-11-09 09:41:25

James Leppard, I will say again... YES THE PLANS TO DESTROY THE RIVER STORT VALLEY WAS A LABOUR PLAN... BUT YOUR COUNCIL SIGNED AND SEALED THIS MONSTROSITY TO GO A HEAD.... KNOWING THE HARLOW PEOPLE WERE AGAINST IT.... 7,000 SIGNATURES AND GROWING..... LETS NOT EVER FORGET THAT... you all let this disruption and destruction go a head... so stop the blame game... your not innocents....

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