CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Labour calls in mediators to tackle group’s leaks and splits

Exclusive: Leader invites 'conflict resolution' experts to heal difference amid rows over pay rises and regeneration projects

25 October, 2019 — By Richard Osley

Camden Council leader Georgia Gould

RELATIONS inside the ruling Labour group have become so strained that “conflict resolution” experts are to be hired to try and heal the splits.

The move to bring in mediators was agreed at a meeting of Labour councillors on Monday evening and follows a summer of internal disagreement and snippy briefings to the local press.

Insiders have suggested that some Labour councillors cannot bear to be in the same room as some of their colleagues, who are now jokingly – rather than affectionately – called “comrades”.

Although rarely on display in public, friction has intensified in recent weeks after rebel backbenchers refused to vote for a pay rise for councillors.

They suggested the move looked “greedy” at a time of public services cuts and quietly walked out or made excuses not to be in the room so that they were not officially breaking the party whip.

Later, eight of them ramped up the issue with a public declaration that they would donate the extra money to women’s aid charity Solace.

Other incidents which have led to the party calling for outside help:

  • Backbench support for a new investigation into the council’s flagship policy of raising investment funds through land and property deals;
  • Critical briefings about individuals to the local press, often provided on condition of anonymity;
  • Sharp disagreements about how the national party has dealt with accusations of anti-semitism;
  • Some disagreement about the best strategy for Brexit and splits over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership;
  • Ongoing tension over the make-up of the cabinet.

Briefing against the mayor of Camden Maryam Eslamdoust is understood to be one area of concern cited at Monday’s meeting. After her mayor-making ceremony, an anonymised Labour councillor told the Hampstead and Highgate Express newspaper: “Socialists have very expensive tastes.”

Council leader Georgia Gould had hoped to be a unifying figure amid traditional left-right divides, and hardly concealed personality clashes and has always insisted she wants to involve those who are both enthused by Mr Corbyn’s stewardship and those characterised by their opponents as “centrists”.

Asked about the decision to bring in conflict resolution experts, she strongly refuted suggestions from critics that it was a measure to “silence” rebellious voices.

“Political debate and challenge is healthy but we also need to make sure that we are treating each other with compassion and respect,” she said. “So this is about making sure everybody’s energy and hard work is harnessed in the best way for Camden residents, and making sure all of our councillors feel comfortable to raise ideas and their concerns.”

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