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Letters to the Papers: Labour’s weakened super-majority means more accountability

Thanks to the Tribune for reporting how Islington’s opposition councillors have ‘called in’ the council’s decision to merge Montem and Duncombe schools, but it’s disappointing that Executive Member Cllr Ngongo has chosen to attack this call on party-political grounds in your letters page (‘For first-class education’).

Admittedly the government’s decision to make Poole Park an academy was wrong-headed and ideological, as Cllr Ngongo suggests, and it’s to be hoped that the council’s appeal against this succeeds. But the council’s process for managing around declining numbers of school-age children in the borough has gone poorly. Another primary school is already at risk of academisation, in the south of the borough, and ramifications of the council’s choices have not been considered for other schools. Drayton Park, for example, has been federated with Montem for several years, following the council’s encouragement and considerable commitment by staff, parents and governors, and its financial stability is threatened by the changes too.

In particular, parents and unions feel unlistened to on this and we are unapologetic about wanting to give them time in council for the changes to be debated properly. It’s time to pause Stage 2 of the council’s school reorganisation plan and fold this into Stage 3, ensuring that the student places crisis is considered in the round and as constructively as possible.

Your article mentions that this is the first time in ten years that a council decision has been called in. That’s because Islington’s constitution requires a call-in to be submitted by at least five councillors and until recently Islington has been effectively a ‘one-party state’, with an all-powerful Labour super-majority. It is only after two councillors resigned from the Labour party, on matters of principle, that they and the three elected Green Party councillors now have the power to work together, as an opposition, to call in poor decisions.

Super-majorities are bad for democracy, bad for financial management and notoriously reluctant to listen to other views than their own. The aggrieved tone of Cllr Ngongo’s letter is recognition, perhaps, that Islington Labour’s super-majority is no longer quite as invulnerable to challenge as it was. Perhaps, instead, they should now just start listening to people a bit more.

Cllr Benali Hamdache

Leader of the Opposition (Green Party)