Haringey Council leader Joseph Ejiofor has sacked two senior members of his cabinet, saying in a message to “comrades” that the changes were needed in order to build “a cabinet team able to work closely together to deliver our manifesto”.
Councillors Zena Brabazon and Peray Ahmet were removed from their posts in the run-up to New Year. Both women were defeated by Ejiofor in the election to become the council’s new leader following the May 2018 borough elections, which saw Labour retain control of the borough but with reduced a majority.
Ejiofor’s decision follows his sending an email to Labour council colleagues, dated 27 December 2018, complaining about leaks of confidential information to media outlets, including On London. His immediate concern was an article in the Observer on 22 December, which quoted “confidential memos” about Tottenham Hotspur Football Club complaining that streets surrounding their new ground, which is nearing completion, were not being kept clean enough and included comment from an unnamed councillor.
“It is my view that it is fair to assume that the ‘anonymous councillor’ quoted in the story instigated the leaking of the documents,” Ejiofor wrote in the email, adding that the documents would have indicated “how delicate negotiations are between Spurs and the council at this time.” He asserted that “the only motive for leaking this story was to damage our Labour council,” and says that since the Observer article was published “the slow movement towards compromise his dissipated”.
Ejiofor also wrote: “Anybody who knows Tottenham Hotspur Football Club knows that Spurs don’t do ‘Shame’ and that [club chairman] Daniel Levy cannot be bullied.” This appears to refer to the Observer article making much of Tottenham’s wealth, reporting that the club had “angered locals” and that council officials believe Spurs could “easily afford” the cost of street cleaning after each home match or other event. The club itself was quoted saying that the new, larger Spurs stadium will attract higher business rates “which will more than cover increased match clean-up costs.” As well its new stadium, the football club has other land development interests in the Tottenham area, related to council regeneration programmes.
Brabazon and Ahmet were among four fellow councillors defeated by Ejiofor when members of the council’s new Labour Group made their choice of leader. However, a previous “indicative ballot” restricted to representatives of local ward branch memberships suggested that the borough’s heavily-Corbynite activist base much preferred Brabazon, who had been a prominent critic of the previous Labour administration’s extensive redevelopment plans, primarily a proposed joint venture with international property regeneration company Lendlease. Ejiofor came second in the “indicative ballot” and Ahmet third.
Brabazon was a strong opponent of the joint venture – named the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) – and the previous administration, along with her husband Alan Stanton, a former Haringey Labour councillor. Stanton has been a persistent public critic of Ejiofor on Twitter since he became leader, including over street cleaning. “Live in truth Joe. Try it you may like it” he wrote in a tweet four days before Christmas.
Ahmet resigned from the cabinet of the previous administration one year ago, criticising the HDV having previously supported it, though she has said she only did so because she was “towing the cabinet line“. Responding to Ahmet’s resignation at the time, the council’s then leader Claire Kober said that Ahmet’s support for the project had been consistent until the summer of 2017 when she abstained from a Labour Group vote on the issue. “More recently, your public comments on the matter could be seen to imply your opposition has been both longstanding and principled,” Kober remarked.
Ahmet’s signalling disquiet over the HDV appeared to come in time to protect her against being ousted as a 2018 council election candidate during autumn 2017’s acrimonious re-selection process, which resulted in a string of “moderate” sitting councillors stepping down or being removed for declining to denounce the project. A local campaign by Momentum and various non-Labour groups paved the way for the formation of what has been dubbed the nation’s first “Corbyn Council” after the council elections last May. Invited by On London through Twitter to comment on why Ejiofor had sacked her, Ahmet replied: “You will have to ask Joe why I was sacked.”
Ejiofor is a member of a national body of Momentum, the pressure group formed to support the leadership of Labour by Jeremy Corbyn. However, he was Kober’s deputy leader and is regarded by many local Corbynites, including a number of Labour councillors, as insufficiently socialist. Speculation that he might face a challenge to his leadership has increased since news of the sacking of Brabazon and Ahmet began to circulate.
Ejiofor’s 27 December email concluded:
“It seems like Councillors and Cabinet members feel that it is OK to share private and/or confidential information with all and sundry. This has to stop.
There continues to be an assumption that Councillors, sometimes senior Councillors in this administration, can use their friends and contacts outside of the council to push their own agendas even when it is clear that doing this damages our Labour Council, or senior people within it. This has to stop.
I promised to include Councillors from across the Labour group in my first cabinet. That has meant that people who do not much like each other have sat around the cabinet table. This has not created the most united or cohesive governance. The reality is that most of the personal tensions that were apparent in May remain now, and in some cases have actually got worse. This situation is unsustainable.
I shall take a view over the next few days of how I can best address these issues.”
His sacking of Brabazon and Ahmet followed. Their replacements are Councillors Kaushika Amin and Sarah James.
Update 2 January 2018. This article originally wrongly said that Peray Ahmet had resigned from the cabinet of the previous administration prior to her re-selection as a candidate. That has been corrected and some further information about her stance on the HDV project and relationship with the previous administration added.