A YORK councillor has dramatically quit the Labour Party and launched a stinging attack on the way it is running the city.
Lynn Jeffries, well known as an equality campaigner, announced her decision at a Labour group meeting at Guildhall last night, a week after she publicly criticised her party's handling of the consultation over the withdrawal of community social care to 184 people.
She is now considering whether to become an independent councillor, although The Press understands the Liberal Democrats have encouraged her to defect to them.
Coun Jeffries, elected in Westfield in May 2011, said Labour had ignored the views of York people and said the “final straw” came when the party told her to apologise for comments she made at a meeting last Monday, when she criticised her party’s handling of plans to cut social care. Coun Jeffries chairs the York Independent Living Network, which also raised concerns.
She told The Press: “I became a councillor to have a voice and give other people a voice, but I feel they have taken my voice away.”
In a stinging statement issued to The Press, Coun Jeffries said:
- The group ignored residents over the proposed sale of Union Terrace car park, the closure of Beckfield Lane waste recycling centre and the removal of 349 litter bins.
- Labour councillors struggle to make their voices heard and are told how to vote on most issues by the group’s leaders, with no room for a full debate.
- Council leader James Alexander and Coun Tracey Simpson-Laing, cabinet member for social services issues, refused to listen to “reasoned argument” over the care cuts, and the group’s mind had been made up ahead of the consultation on the issue.
- The party was more interested in its “public profile” and that of Coun Alexander than representing residents.
She said she was privileged when Coun Alexander asked her to Labour and stand in the 2011 elections but said the party was unrecognisable from the “exciting” one she joined and said she realised soon after being elected that “the rhetoric bore little resemblance to the reality”.
She had previously been a Labour Party member but resigned in protest at the Iraq war in 2003.
STATEMENT FROM LYNN JEFFRIES
“AS many people in York will already know, I have been a vocal campaigner on equality issues, particularly those affecting disabled people, for many years.
“In 2010, I felt privileged to be asked by James Alexander to stand as a Labour candidate for the Westfield ward in the local elections. I was excited at the prospect of being in a position where, together with residents, I could be part of making positive change happen.
"The Labour group manifesto ‘York Deserves Better’, with its commitment to local people, engaging in genuine consultation and giving residents a real say in decisions that affect their lives, was, I believed, precisely what was needed to bring about positive change.
“It wasn’t long, however, before I realised the rhetoric bore little resemblance to the reality. The attempt to close Union Terrace car park, ignoring the views of thousands of residents; the closure of Beckfield Lane, again dismissing residents’ views; the removal of a third of York’s waste bins – with no consultation with residents – the list goes on.
"And I discovered, to my horror, it was not only residents who weren’t being listened to, but members of the Labour group too. The group is instructed on how to vote on most issues without proper debate. The situation is atrocious.
“The final straw for me came with the so-called ‘consultation’ on the decision to make cuts to the support given to people addressed as having moderate needs. The consultation was a sham.
"It was clear the decision to make cuts had already been made. James Alexander and Tracey Simpson-Laing simply were not listening to any reasoned argument.
“I no longer recognise the exciting Labour Party I joined in 2010. They have not listened, they do not understand and I can no longer be part of it.
“Today I am resigning from the party. I will now be considering the best way to represent the people of Westfield.
"Without the party politics and constant ‘whipping’, I will be able to do a better job, be able to speak out and be accountable to the people who really matter, those residents of the city who elected me and expect me to do my very best for them, not simply the public profile of local Labour Party and its leader.
“There is one thing the Labour manifesto has got right. York certainly does deserve better!”
SHE HAS LET VOTERS DOWN, SAYS LABOUR LEADER
COUNCIL leader James Alexander last night accused Coun Jeffries of letting Labour down.
He said: “Some people are not fully aware what the role of a councillor is like until they are elected and are not cut out for it.
“Some find it difficult being part of a team, having a debate, losing a vote and coping with not getting their own way. I personally fought very hard for Lynn to be selected as a Labour councillor, so this is very disappointing.
“Lynn voted for the Labour budget after debate and it included many required, tough decisions due to Government funding cuts. Some do not want to accept the reality of what Government funding cuts actually mean.
“If Lynn wanted to be an independent councillor, she should have stood for election as such. She has let down the many Labour voters who voted for her and the Labour activists who pounded the streets campaigning for her."
Coun Ann Reid, deputy leader of the Lib Dems, said: “We applaud Coun Jeffries and believe she has made a brave and principled stand over Labour’s cuts to social care, and I feel her resignation from the Labour group is a damning indictment of James Alexander’s leadership.”
Conservative leader Coun Ian Gillies said Coun Jeffries would be “a big loss to Labour”, saying: “I have always found her to be a really genuine, honest and practical councillor who has supported people with disabilities in a very professional manner, and she has expressed what a lot of people in York think about the current council administration.”