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Havering Council leader recorded conspiring to influence boundary changes

The Conservatives currently have a minority administration within Havering Council 

A secret recording has emerged, suggesting that the Conservative group within Havering Council conspired to influence proposed changes to electoral boundaries in an attempt to bolster the number of councillors they could get elected.

In the 32-minute recording, which is from a private meeting of Conservative councillors in February, Havering Council leader Damian White told members of his party about plans to change wards in the south of the borough in a bid to target specific areas.

Boundary changes are overseen by the Local Government Boundaries Commission for England (LGBCE).

Changes are usually made to ensure that each councillor represents roughly the same number of voters.

But boundaries can be redrawn in various ways and those seemingly subtle differences could have massive consequences in terms of who gets elected.

Cllr White told the Conservative group about four options that were on the table. During the meeting, he told fellow Conservative councillors that some of the options were “disastrous” and that “if they would be included, we would never ever win ever again.”

The Conservatives have a minority administration within the council, with just 25 of 54 councillors representing the group. They are backed up by the three councillors from the North Havering Residents Group. Independent councillor Melvin Wallace, who used to be a Conservative before being kicked out of the party, also regularly votes to support the group.

Havering Council leader, Damian White, aimed to have smaller wards in areas of the borough that do not support the Conservatives

The LGBCE asks for the opinions of local residents, and also offers councillors and group leaders the opportunity to put their views forward.

During the meeting in February, Cllr White said the plan that he was recommending to have put forward to the LGBCE would see the number of seats within the Romford area of Havering increase from 21 to 24.

That move would likely favour the Tories, who gained the vast majority of their seats in Romford and the north-west of the borough.

He also appeared to suggest that he had spoken to a contact at CCHQ (Conservative Campaign Headquarters) who advised that a greater number of smaller wards in areas where the Tories were unlikely to have as much support, would be beneficial.

Cllr White told his group: “We’ve tried to break up the south of the borough into smaller, two-member wards where possible, so that we can then pick the best bits and target them.”

This, he said, would help the Conservatives try and take seats because they could run targeted campaigns in smaller areas.

“We can make gains in those areas because we can do a monthly newsletter,” Cllr White explained to his colleagues. “We can do 1,500 or 1,700 houses rather than 5,500.

“I really think these are a good set of proposals and they all meet the threshold of requirements.”

White mentioned Upminster, Rainham, and South Hornchurch as areas where they would suggest having two councillors per ward. The Conservatives failed to have a single councillor elected in any of those areas during the last election in 2018.

The LGBCE told the Romford Recorder, which first published the story, that the recording would not affect its review.

A spokesperson said: “The allegations are about the motives behind a submission. This is not something the commission takes into account when analysing submissions.”

Cllr White did not respond to Time 107.5FM when we approached him for comment.

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