Tensions ran high during a Tower Hamlets council meeting as a motion was agreed for an alternative proposal for a cabinet and leader system to appear on the mayoral referendum ballot paper planned for next year.
The council has already agreed that a decision on the future of the current mayoral system, which has been in place for a decade, will be put to a public vote in a referendum in May next year. Now an alternative proposal, reverting to a council cabinet with the leader of the majority political group becoming the leader of the council will be offered to voters.
The system faced criticism after disgraced previous Mayor Lutfur Rahman was found guilty of voter fraud. He was replaced by current Mayor John Biggs.
Although the majority of the council voted in favour of the referendum, opposing Liberal Democrats and Independents had concerns over the implications of the move
Independent Councillor Andrew Wood said: “I do worry about how fast we’re rushing into this, naturally it reminds me of the Brexit referendum where propositions were made without really thinking through the long-term consequences.”
Wood said two petitions that were gaining attention from the public. One in favour of a cabinet and leader system proposed by Labour councillors currently has 504 signatures. A petition from Wood’s suggesting other options has 616.
Conservative Councillor Peter Golds agreed, saying: “If we were to move to a committee system, it would involve all Councillors that would serve on committee decisions and then refer those to council meetings for a final decision.”
Mayor Biggs said: “I’d like to express my gratitude to the petitioners, but in my view it’s time for the people of Tower Hamlets to have their say in what they think works best for them and for the borough but it’s reasonable that we as members, particularly during covid, should initiate this process.”
Biggs said the Mayor’s report states a referendum can be initiated by cabinet members and the public, but the public cannot move any petition during the covid-19 period on governance instructions.
Backing the Mayor, council member Kevin Brady said: “If I was a member of the public, I would be asking myself why our opposition is so determined to stall and delay giving the people a say on this matter.”