New Tory mayor feels wrath of Barnet Labour as meeting scheduled during party conference

15:11 04 June 2014

Cllr Hugh Rayner at the mayor-making ceremony.

Cllr Hugh Rayner at the mayor-making ceremony.

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Barnet’s new Conservative mayor endured a rude inauguration at his first full council meeting as the revived Labour group were left incensed by a Tory decision to re-arrange a key meeting during party conference season.

Hale councillor Hugh Rayner promised to “celebrate this mayoral year with all the pomp it deserves” after being sworn into office at Hendon Town Hall on Monday, but was quickly forced to censure Labour councillors and members of the public.

The former RAF squadron leader, who took over as mayor from Golders Green councillor Melvin Cohen, loudly condemned shouts of “farce” and “disgrace” which followed the Tory group’s vote to re-arrange a September 16 full council meeting, when two of their councillors are absent, for the third day of the Labour Party conference.

Attempting to bring order, Cllr Rayner told the Labour group: “I am the mayor of Barnet. You don’t have to respect me but I’d hope you respect the office of the mayor of Barnet at least. Please don’t bring the mayoralty into disrespect.”

Barnet group leader Alison Moore described the decision to move the September 16 meeting to a date when a number of Labour councillors were due to be in attendance at the party conference in Manchester as “shameful”.

She said: “It further emphasises the contempt with which the Tories in Barnet treat the democratic process. On the evidence of tonight’s proceedings, this will be a catastrophic council administration for the people of Barnet.”

Barnet Labour won 27 seats at last month’s election and has the largest representation on the council in its history.

It expects to gain a further three seats in the Colindale ward election, postponed until June 26 following the death of a Green Party candidate before last month’s borough-wide election.

Presuming Labour win three seats in the safe Labour ward, the Tories, with 32 seats, will have just a one-seat voting majority.

Shortly before Monday’s meeting, Tory group leader Cllr Richard Cornelius attempted to negotiate a “pairing” arrangement with Cllr Moore in which Labour councillors would agree to step down from voting if Tory councillors were absent from meetings, and vice versa.

In exchange, Cllr Cornelius offered to re-instate extra allowances for opposition spokesmen - a deal rejected by the Labour group.

Cllr Moore told the Ham&High: “I took it to my group and we said, ‘Nope. That is an outrageous attempt to bribe.’

“There’s a long-standing convention that generally-speaking you avoid meetings of the council during the three weeks of the party conferences. They rode roughshod over that.

“Two members of the Conservative group are on holiday on September 16. They would not have the vote that night.”

Cllr Cornelius, who was re-elected as leader of the council on Monday, rejected claims that re-arranging the meeting was a cynical ploy to avoid losing council votes, and defended the “pairing” offer.

“It was a draft calendar so we are perfectly entitled to change it,” he said. “They might not like the decision but the decision has been made.

“I don’t see it [the pairing offer] as bribery. I see it as a negotiation. It would be part of making the council more civilised if people didn’t have to be wheeled in from hospital to vote.

“It could happen to either side. It was a genuine offer. That’s part of being civilised, they do it in parliament.”

On Monday, the council also approved the annual budget, which will aim to tackle some of the £72million savings needed over the next five years, and plans to move from a cabinet to committee system of decision-making.

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