Hackney Citizen

Hackney councillor Linda Kelly: ‘Why I left Labour for the Tories’

Leabridge ward councillor who defected claims she was ‘punished’ for speaking out

Linda Kelly

“I’m still the same”: Councillor Linda Kelly. Photograph: Marta Wlusek

A Labour councillor who defected to the Tories has launched a renewed attack on her former colleagues and has told the Citizen she feels “free” after breaking loose from the majority party at the Town Hall.

Leabridge ward councillor Linda Kelly crossed the floor at the council’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) on 18  May. In her first in-depth interview since the move, she defended herself against charges she has betrayed her constituents and said she decided to jump ship after being “punished” for speaking out on government cuts.

The Citizen has seen documents which appear to show:

1. The Hackney Labour group is “stifling” opposition by not allowing residents to bring deputations to Town Hall meetings without first receiving permission from the Labour chief whip.

2. Labour backbenchers are banned from writing letters to the local press without these first being cleared by the chief whip.

Labour supporters have seized on the fact that Cllr Kelly criticised government cuts but then joined the party spearheading them.

A Labour group spokeswoman said: “It will be interesting to see what her new Tory allies in Hackney think of her anti coalition government stance.”

Cllr Kelly accused Labour of advancing “no alternative”, adding: “If they are arguing I am betraying my voters, ask yourself, what are they doing? The cuts have been implemented. They have implemented them.”

A Hackney resident since 1959 and a Labour councillor for nine years, Linda Kelly has been accused by Labour of harbouring ill feeling towards her former colleagues because of the outcome of a recent election in which Labour councillors chose a different candidate for the role of Speaker – a post for which  Cllr Kelly had made a bid.

A Labour spokeswoman said: “Leabridge ward had the lowest Tory vote in London in May 2010 (5.3 per cent), so she has no mandate to continue as a councillor in that ward. Leabridge ward still has two hard working Labour councillors and Linda should resign and fight a by-election so that residents there are given the chance to decide on who represents their interests best.”

The professional advocate and school governor denied she had left the party because of any bitterness over the outcome of the election, insisting she was “still the same councillor… Nothing has changed”.

She told the Citizen: “What I want the people of Hackney to understand is I’m not that petty and it’s not that I don’t care about them. I’m in a Tory group and it’s not a whipped vote. You can decide how you want to vote. If I decide I’m not happy with things, I am going to vote the way my conscience tells me to.

“I don’t think I’ve found nirvana in the Tory group – I don’t think you find nirvana in any group – but I believe I have a voice here and I’m going to use it.”

Leading Conservatives have scarcely been able to hide their glee at the defection of Cllr Kelly, who had the second highest vote total of any Hackney councillor in last year’s elections and who was praised by Tory group deputy leader Cllr Simche Steinberger as “one of the most hard-working councillors”. Steinberger added that he was “delighted that Cllr Kelly has joined the Conservatives”.

In a sign of their new-found mutual appreciation, the Tories swiftly whisked Cllr Kelly off to Whitehall for a meeting with Communities Secretary Eric Pickles in which the two discussed the Localism Bill – legislation which was in turn praised by Cllr Kelly, who said it could prove instrumental in future battles to preserve historic buildings like the Clapton Tram Sheds.

The thrust of Cllr Kelly’s complaint about the Labour group centres on what she claims amounts to an “authoritarian” atmosphere and lack of tolerance of political dissent in its ranks.

She said the decision not to hand her the speakership was taken to “punish” her after she signed a letter, along with five other Hackney Labour councillors, calling on the council to reject government-enforced spending reductions and “support a campaign to defeat the policies of this government through public protest, opposition and defiance”.

Cllr Kelly told the Citizen that the Labour group turned against her despite the fact that when it came to the full council meeting, she voted for the Mayor’s budget. She said: “I was punished for not toeing the line… I was not prepared to accept this, to spend another three years nodding like a toy dog in the back window of a car.”

She said: “As far as I’m concerned, I went over to the Tories because I believe I need a voice to speak up for them [my constituents]. Now if someone tells me they want to bring a deputation, I can bring a deputation. I don’t have to worry about getting permission. I am free.”

Asked about Cllr Kelly’s claims she was ‘stifled’, a spokesperson for the Hackney Labour party said: “These accusations are deliberately misleading and inaccurate. In common with most political groups of councillors, we have a set of protocols as Hackney Labour Group.

“These help to provide guidance for councillors on how to work together effectively and make sure that we are supported to represent the issues of residents in our wards. No one is ‘banned’ or prevented from particular actions – the only expectation is that individual councillors let their colleagues know what they are planning to do.”

An extract from the protocols to which the spokesperson refers is reproduced here.

The guidelines for Labour councillors: what they say

Press

[…]

Letters to the Gazette from backbenchers – please send these to the Chief Whip first for clearance

Press Releases from backbenchers – please send these to the Chief Whip first for clearance

The Chief Whip will clear these with the Mayor and Deputy Mayor before sending to the press […]

Full Council

[…]

Protocol for bringing a deputation:

Contact the relevant Cabinet   member and Whips to discuss your deputation

The Whips will then send you the deputation form to fill in for more details on the deputation

In response to the news of Cllr Kelly’s move, a spokesperson for Hackney Liberal Democrats said: “So, a councillor can cross from the Labour to the Conservative party and feel perfectly at home.

“It demonstrates how alike in some ways the two parties are: authoritarian centralists who believe in tight control and in telling people what to do.

“The only difference now appears to be economic – ‘cut now’ or ‘cut later’, hardly surprising when both Blair and Brown saw themselves as Thatcher’s heirs.

“If Linda Kelly had serious criticisms of the Labour programme, as we do, then she has always been free to voice them. We look forward to hearing them now.”

Cllr Kelly’s defection to the Conservatives hardly alters the balance of power on the council, as the Labour party still holds 49 of 57 seats. Her move brings the Conservative group to a total of five. There are also three Liberal Democrats on the council.

Related: Leader: Healthy public debate is crucial for Hackney democracy

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14 Responses »

  1. I presume that when Ms Kelly met Eric Pickles she told him that she was against all the Tory cuts. Perhaps she can enlighten us to what his response was. Also we await a response as to how she could defect to the Tories when 94.7% of the voters in the 2010 local election rejected the Tories.

    She has made a laughing stock of herself for going over to the Tories. But far worse is that she has betrayed those people who voted for her as a Labour candidate.

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  2. ‘I am free’, to criticise the policies of the Tory led government that are adversely affecting my Leabridge Ward constituents now that I am a member of the Conservatives? Nope; ‘I am free’ to now criticise ex-colleagues, ex-comrades, and ex-friends. ‘I’m in a Tory group and it’s not a whipped vote. You can decide how you want to vote’. Really? Really? A Group with no whip? Really? Wow, and Josh Loeb kept a straight face, and Keith Magnum checked this fact maybe with the Local Government Association Conservative Chair Baroness Eaton DBE?

    Punishment or risk analysis? Publicly supporting a Marxist ideology and a campaign of ‘protest, opposition and defiance’ does seem pretty hot headed for such a high profile and politically natural office, and for as much as I would love to read the headline ‘Speaker in ceremonial robes and chain stands ready on the barricade’, this isn’t what the Group Whip Cllr Louisa Thomson, the hardest working Councillor in the Borough as her SNC Ward constituents and political opponents will testify too, and the rest of the Labour Group want.

    So then why join the Tory Group? Why not simply stop paying the Group levy, there is a charge to be a member of the all political Groups, so effectively resigning the whip, or become an Independent by resigning from the Party, or just join the Liberal Democrats? Why the Tories? Well the first two are pretty lonely and the third doesn’t offer safe empty seats up in Springfield, Lordship and New River Wards in 2014. Most importantly, Cllr Linda Kelly is now a member of the Lordship Branch Conservative Party and will now have ample time to apply herself to her selection as one of their local election candidates.

    Maybe I should be a journalist, or maybe quack journalism is all Hackney Citizens deserve.

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  3. If Labour councillors must get permission from the mayor to issue a press release, this makes a mockery of the principle of checks and balances which is meant to be at the heart of directly-elected executive systems.

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  4. Jed, interesting comments, scoring brownie points for the 2014 selections, may be with this you will go straight onto the Panel?

    It is debatable who the hardest working Councillor is in Hackney, was she working Leabridge, New River, Springfield, Lordship, all at the same time for the good of the party? Or is this only a story? I can give you the names of constituents I have helped in those Wards.

    The majority of them all became my “ex” when they decided to punish me because “I went against the collective of the group” I have all the emails and the letter, you can see them any time.

    Regarding “safe seat” where are you getting this information? When the elections happen in 2014 I am standing in Leabridge. Name calling is not really fair, Hackney Citizen (“that dirty rag”) is reporting an interview, it is for open minded readers to draw their own conclusions, but one thing I will let you know, I did not throw the baby out with the bath water, because I did not get the Speakership, I have been there and got the t-shirt.

    We are elected to serve and advocate for our constituents, to give them a voice, this what I intend to do, represent my constituents as per the Constitution, with no restrictions.

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  5. When Linda Kelly defected other Labour party members said she would seek election in 2014 in one of the wards where the Tories already have a councillor ie Lordship, New River or Springfield. I said I wasn’t so sure- she might seek re-election in Leabridge. We will see if she really means what she says or whether in the end she will go for a seat she thinks she is more likely to win.

    I’m still puzzled why one month she can state that she opposes all Tory cuts and then 2 months later she joins the very people she was so recently slagging off. Perhaps she can explain this. And also tell us why she didn’t join the Greens or Lib Dems instead. Or even go independent.

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  6. Did you clear you response with the Tory Group? Maybe they would have liked you or needed you to be in a safe seat and you just went and superseded their decision? Don’t worry too much about it as I am sure that they can let you learn this lesson and not make this type of mistake again.

    It really is the most risky part of electronic communications that of it being much too easy to respond when the red mist descends. The whip system when it’s not necessary is easy to ridicule for populist points, but when it is and it isn’t applied, this is how people are hurt and organisations such as the Conservatives in this instance are undermined.

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  7. Dear All,

    I understand that there is a tweet message going out asking people to write to me, asking me to resign. Thus before Leabridge Ward members feel the need, just would like to explain.

    When this whole episode with the LRC article was going around the Group, and the issues of the budget vote, the Chair of Leabridge Ward and members wanted to discuss our accountability.

    We were told we were not accountable to our Ward or its members, we were only accountable to Group, role Ward’s role was to select us, from then on we belonged “to the collective” one which we could never leave.

    So before everyone rises to this call, just stop and think for a second, whose bidding you are doing, the constituents as a whole, the Ward, or is it really the Group (“the Collective”) or the “Executive”.

    This proves more than ever, it was always about the Article in the LRC never about the Speakership, please do not be anyone’s tool.

    I am here to serve Leabridge, my constituents and anyone else who needs my help, no matter what obstacles are put in my way and they have been trying.

    Jed, Luke and anyone else in the Group who are interested, with regards to this post did not need clearance of permission from the Group Whip, or Execuive

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  8. Linda – why didn’t you join the Liberal Democrats?

    Anyway good luck with Tories.

    Having a big opposition is important in politics.

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  9. As a Leabridge resident, secretary of a local TRA and Hackney Homes Clapton residents panel and an active member/participant of various local groups, the most important thing is that Linda is there for us, no matter how big or small an issue, with sound advice if needed and swift action wherever possible.
    I don’t think Linda’s views on political matters have changed, just that she feels she can work with the other members of the Hackney Conservatives on a daily basis.
    Perhaps when you get right down to it, it’s mostly about inter-personal and working relationships – a different type of politics – that led to Linda’s move to the cons.
    Linda has dealt (effectively) with a issue from two of my estates residents already today and is working on several others just from the Beecholme Estate.
    Linda must be one of the hardest working councillors in Hackney.

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  10. David you dont think Linda’s views on political matters have changed. If thats so that means she is still against all cuts to public services! No doubt when she met the odious Eric Pickles she said she was against all cutbacks to funding for estates such as Beecholme!

    I dont doubt some Tory councillors help out individual constituents but thats not the same as ensuring government funding for decent services for all their constituents.

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  11. Barry nice words, just remember your fellow Labour councillors implemented the cuts, without a fight or by your leave, gave rousing speeches in the Council Chamber, whilst voting for the budget, I was one of them.

    If Labour councillors cared, something would have been done when they had the chance, the fact of the matter is 17 labour councils, who have control of london councils IMPLEMENTED the cuts, for whose benefit?

    Barry, are these posts with the group whip, mayor or executive, but then again it probably does not need to be cleared, as it is having a go at Cllr Linda Kelly.

    This Councillor will be working for her constituents whenever they need her.

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  12. Linda I know you were against the Tory imposed cuts and would have preferred not to vote for them. But that makes it all the more remarkable and inconsistent that you should join the party that is responsible for the cuts. There is no coherence in your position.

    You could have resigned the Labour whip. Sat as an independent. If so in Council you could have voted for those Labour administration proposals you agreed with and voted against those you disagreed with. That would have been an honourable position, What you have done is shameful.

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  13. and why be pictured with Eric Pickles? Why give this awful government the publicity? why looks so happy to be meeting someone ‘famous’? it’s all about you. if it was about residents or about cuts you would be an independent.you wouldn’t be sucking up to the people who have forced the cuts on hackney.

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  14. I live in the ward which elected Ms Kelly. When I heard about her defection I wrote to her and to the two remaining Labour councillors regarding the matter. The latter two individuals responded within days. I have still not received a response from Ms Kelly, weeks down the line.

    It really beggars belief that an elected councillor can so brazenly ignore the wishes of the people who elected her. We need a mechanism whereby we can recall such people.

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