Can you think of any official opposition in the history of the United Kingdom’s democracy that would have consistently and actively voted to restrict the amount of time that it had to ask questions of the executive that it was supposed to be opposing?
It would be hard to imagine why any official opposition would want to do this, given its important function of scrutinising and holding the executive to account – a role vital to the health of a functioning democracy.
Perversely, this is precisely the situation we currently have at Brighton and Hove City Council.
Since Labour became the official opposition at the council in July last year following the anti-semitism crises, it has voted no less than six times at full council meetings to restrict councillors’ questions or close and curtail meetings – a 100 per cent record of voting to shut down debate.
This included two occasions when Labour voted against allowing councillors’ oral questions to the executive to be completed and a further four occasions when Labour voted to close the meeting before notices of motion could be debated and considered.
The intent of Labour’s votes was to stop a total of 12 vital questions and 19 notices of motion from councillors that had been legitimately put on the full council’s agenda from discussion.
This equates to over nine hours of potential debate on important local matters ranging from Madeira Drive and litter reduction to the council’s anti-racist strategy that Labour has tried to stop.
Oral questions and notices of motion are two of the few tools that councillors have at full council meetings to hold the administration to account.
So why on earth would the official opposition repeatedly want to curtail these meetings and shelter the executive (the Green administration) from scrutiny?
The answer, of course, is that they are not really an opposition at all.
As Brighton and Hove News revealed in December in its exclusive report, Labour and the Greens have a far-reaching coalition-style agreement covering a broad range of the council’s functions.
This agreement has continued after the transition of the executive from the Greens to Labour.
This is problematic for a number of reasons. As I have previously outlined in a column for Brighton and Hove News, Labour is claiming substantial amounts of Brighton and Hove taxpayers’ money to fulfil the role of an official opposition but opposition functions are not being fulfilled.
Wherever you look at Brighton and Hove City Council, you see mounting evidence that opposition functions not being carried out.
Whether it is through Labour and the Greens wasting 76 per cent of their council debating time discussing national or international matters over which the council has no authority or control (take nuclear weapons, for example) or in their actions to restrict councillors applying scrutiny to the executive, the pattern is clear.
Ultimately it is the city’s residents who suffer as important local matters are not discussed and the administration is not held to account.
At the council meeting in December, I asked the leader of the council whether, given the implication that opposition functions are not being carried out and the potential damage to the city, he would support a review into the legality of the situation. He said that he would not.
This city’s Labour opposition is failing in its democratic duty to the public – and that is bad for all of us.
Councillor Robert Nemeth is a Conservative member of Brighton and Hove City Council.
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