A row over scrutinising the Silvertown Tunnel has led to Labour angrily accusing the Greens and Liberal Democrats at City Hall of “being in bed with the Tories”.
The disagreement blew up on Friday as London Assembly members met to decide who will chair the scrutiny body’s committees for the new term.
Labour had wanted to chair the transport committee – a key post at City Hall and an important one for Greens and Liberal Democrats, who both oppose mayor Sadiq Khan’s £2 billion road crossing between the Greenwich Peninsula and Royal Docks.
The Greens refused their request, and say that this led to Labour pulling out of talks between the four parties – and now the assemblies’ committees, which scrutinise the mayor, TfL, police and other bodies, will only be chaired by Conservatives, Greens and Liberal Democrats. Caroline Pidgeon, the Liberal Democrat member who has been a consistent opponent of the tunnel, will chair the transport committee, with Conservative Keith Prince – a tunnel backer – as vice-chair.
The 25-member assembly does not run any services, although it can block a mayor’s budget if two thirds of its members disagree. Instead it reviews policy, makes representations on behalf of constituents and challenges the mayor at monthly question time sessions. After last week’s election, there are now 11 Labour AMs, nine Tories, three Greens and two Lib Dems.
Labour insists it was effectively presented with an ultimatum. Len Duvall, the Greenwich and Lewisham assembly member and Labour group leader, accused the Green and Lib Dem members of being “in bed with the Tories” and “betraying the very people who put them in City Hall”.
Duvall said: “They say they want to reflect the political balance of the assembly yet they’re supporting each other’s preferences and not Labour’s.
“What we essentially have here is a new coalition. It’s disappointing to see the Lib Dems and Greens backing the Tories this way – they had a choice and they’ve decided to go with those who want to weaken our public services.”
But other parties have pointed out there are no coalitions in the assembly – and said that Londoners will be less well represented by Labour’s actions. And one Labour source told the Evening Standard that “they’ve done over the Mayor’s office and they’ve done over themselves”.
🙅♀️Very sad to see that the Greens, Lib Dems and Tories have got together to form a new coalition on the London Assembly.
🌹Rest assured, Labour Members will stand up against this regressive alliance and play a full and proper role in scrutiny. pic.twitter.com/1nVPWVZLq1
— Len Duvall AM (@Len_Duvall) May 14, 2021
Green assembly member Caroline Russell tweeted that it was “disappointing that Labour have refused to agree a fair distribution of work on the Assembly and that they tried to stop Greens leading on transport scrutiny especially when Silvertown Tunnel looms so large”.
She added in a statement: “We hope Labour will come back to the table and fully participate in Assembly work to serve the interests of Londoners.”
Pidgeon said: “Up to the eleventh hour every effort was made to reach such an agreement. I am only sorry that Labour have chosen not to join us.”
Susan Hall, the Tory leader on the assembly, accused the Labour members of “abdicating their responsibility to hold the mayor to account”.
The row at City Hall led to sharp exchanges on social media.
Duvall’s stance was backed by Danny Thorpe, the leader of Greenwich Council, who said the deal on the scrutiny chairs was “really, really shocking”.
Charlie Davis, Duvall’s Tory opponent at the election, replied: “Someone wants a job at City Hall.”
Additional reporting from Joe Talora, Local Democracy Reporter.
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