Caroline Pidgeon is a Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member and member of the London Fire Emergency and Planning Authority (LFEPA)
Walking out of a meeting as a protest is something I would not normally recommend, but last week I felt had no other option and left a key budget meeting of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA). Both the Lib Dem leader on the Fire Authority, Councillor Ed Butcher from Haringey, and I knew we had to make a protest at the decision of the Conservative Chair Brian Coleman to prohibit TV cameras from filming the meeting, and Coleman’s decision to prevent questions being asked about the disgraced Brent councillor, Bertha Joseph, who was present and voted for the half billion pound budget for London’s fire service.
Most of the media reporting of this saga has inevitably focused on the Conservative councillor Bertha Joseph. However her record is not the main story.
After all her behaviour has already been put under detailed scrutiny. Councillor Joseph was found guilty of misconduct as a councillor and she lost her appeal against this ruling from Brent Council’s standards committee. Her six-month suspension from Brent Council actually started last October.
She has remained on the Fire Authority because the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has simply refused to sack her. In any other part of the country a suspended councillor would automatically be disqualified from serving on a fire authority. In London, because Ms Joseph was appointed to the Authority by the Mayor of London this was not the case. Shortly after Councillor Bertha Joseph was suspended from Brent Council she was even promoted to Deputy Chair of LFEPA.
The defence for this incredible development was that at the time she was appealing against her suspension. However, in early February this excuse no longer stood up when her appeal failed.
At this stage Boris Johnson faced a crucial test. A test he completely failed. The Mayor should have automatically sacked her, but instead he allowed her to remain on the London Fire Authority simply to ensure that a Conservative majority was maintained. Put simply Party advantage was put before anything else. He tolerated something that would not be permitted in any other part of the country. He defended the indefensible.
Yet this wasn’t just the end of the matter. Having shown poor judgment there was a subsequent decision to try to cover up the issue – although in the end this was far from successful. The decision by Brian Coleman to block cameras filming a meeting of elected representatives was simply disgraceful. To then prevent questioning by elected representatives of his decision showed the Conservatives were happy to bring an elected body into total disrepute.
Boris Johnson appointed Brian Coleman to be chair of the London Fire Authority. It is now time that the Mayor states whether he defends the record of Brian Coleman that has already led to him being sacked from the National Joint Council for Local Authority Fire and Rescue Services.
For readers around the country I know this whole saga might seem like an inward looking London issue. But do remember that, at present, Boris Johnson is the most powerful elected Conservative politician in the UK. His record needs to be closely examined.
Boris Johnson was elected pledging to clean up politics. At the time of his election, the Conservatives made continual allegations about serious cronyism that they claimed was entrenched in City Hall. Boris Johnson’s past pledges on tackling croynism in politics have a remarkable similarity to some of the claims now being made by David Cameron as he seeks to become Prime Minister. You have been warned. The Tories claim they want to clean up politics. In reality they are the part of the problem.