Tensions in Greenwich Council’s Labour group boiled over in public last night when two councillors rowed during a normally quiet planning meeting.
Councillors on the Greenwich area planning committee were deciding on an application to put lights on the roof of a house in Blackheath when the chair of planning, Peninsula councillor Stephen Brain, shook his head as colleague Mehboob Khan voted against the proposal.
Khan objected to Brain’s gesture and the two then held an argument in front of their colleagues and watching members of the public. They included a neighbour who had just spoken against the proposal and was stuck in the Zoom meeting while they bickered.
The row ended with Brain ordering the Greenwich West councillor to turn his microphone off. Khan then left the meeting altogether before the application was passed by five votes to one.
Earlier this year, the two councillors had been rivals for the job of planning chair, with Brain beating Khan to the role by one vote in an internal vote of Labour members in March. The job carries an allowance of £18,542, on top of the basic £10,415 every councillor gets.
All council meetings are being held online because of the pandemic, and the argument was captured so residents can could their councillors in action – the argument can be seen from 49 minutes in.
The row occurred while the committee’s clerk, Clare Chapman, was asking councillors for their votes. As Khan spoke against the scheme, Brain shook his head and appeared to mutter “no”.
Khan, a former leader of Kirklees council in West Yorkshire, said: “If the chair disagrees he can have his own comments, but I’d prefer it if he didn’t shake his head when I’m speaking because I think that’s disrespectful.”
Brain responded: “And I think your comments might be as well so let’s…”
Khan interjected: “Well, my comments are my views and I’m entitled to…”
The two men then talked over each other with Brain saying Khan was not entitled “to make a comment about my shaking the head”.
The row continued.
Khan: “I saw you shake your head, chair, now let’s move on to the next person.”
Brain: “No, I’m not going to move on on this, councillor Khan. These are difficult meetings, these are meetings in our own home, in a meeting in a public space I may well shake my head. I don’t really find this particularly edifying, and particularly when there are members of the public witnessing this as well. Thank you very much. Next vote please.”
Khan: “Well, you shouldn’t have shook your head then, chair. Now let’s move on to the next person.”
Brain: “Excuse me, I’m the chair, you don’t tell me to move on, I’m telling you to shut your microphone down. You’ll take no further part, you’ve voted, thank you very much.”
Chris Lloyd, the chair of scrutiny and Brain’s colleague in Peninsula ward, tipped his head back in exasperation while Neil Willey, an area planning offer for the council, placed his head in his hand as the councillors bickered. Khan then left and the meeting continued.
Brain has a reputation as a loose cannon on social media, where he tweets as @brain1brain. A former Liberal Democrat candidate nicknamed him “brain0brain” on Twitter after being one of many residents to be blocked by him.
The row came just hours after Brain boasted of having a Zoom meeting with the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, deputy leader Angela Rayner, shadow local government secretary Steve Reed and general secretary David Evans.
During 2018’s council election he threatened to report election opponents in the Green Party to police because they referred to Labour councillors’ support for the since-scrapped cruise liner terminal in a leaflet. The year before that, he threatened the anonymous author of the From The Murky Depths blog with libel action after he was criticised over the council’s record with large developments in his ward.
Last year this website revealed that Brain voted against a motion opposing the Silvertown Tunnel in an internal Labour Party meeting, despite having associated himself with opposition to the tunnel in the 2018 election.
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