Cllr Damian White has been accused of deceiving the public by Cllr Bob Perry (right)
Additional reporting by Haydn Jeavons
Cllr Bob Perry, who now sits as an independent, has come forward as the source of a recording in which Cllr Damian White is heard conspiring to gerrymander electoral boundary changes in an ongoing review of wards in Havering.
Gerrymandering is the manipulation of boundaries to favour a particular individual or organisation. By changing the boundaries to spread residents out across different wards, you could in theory reduce the concentration of residents that are believed to support one party, effectively changing the likelihood of a candidate winning a seat.
The Local Government Boundaries Commission for England (LGBCE) oversees all changes to electoral boundaries and previously launched a full consultation to assist in its decision-making process. Havering Council formally responded to this consultation, recommending its preferred choice of four options.
During the recording, Cllr White is heard suggesting the council’s chief executive, Andrew Blake-Herbert, had allowed him to shape the plan which the council supported.
Cllr White laid out a scheme to increase the number of councillors in areas of the borough where the Conservative Party is popular, such as Romford, and to limit the number of councillors in other locations like Upminster, South Hornchurch, and Rainham.
He also mentioned plans to separate unpopular developments in Romford into different wards to limit the chances that new residents moving into the borough could see the Conservatives lose seats.
“In my opinion, there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed and that line was crossed when you’re trying to deceive the public,” Cllr Perry said. “They’ve tried to stop the opposition from having a voice here. In any council or government, you have to have a viable opposition and the Tories under Damian White have done everything they can to stifle opposition.
“It’s wrong to deceive the public. They’ve put their trust in us, they elected us to do the right thing for them and by them and that’s what we should be doing. Not doing things behind their back and manipulating them.”
Havering Council has refuted the suggestion that the chief executive was “influenced in any way when pulling together the options for the boundary review.”
A council spokesperson said: “In respect of future boundary arrangements, council officers suggested options for members to consider based on objective criteria and did not make recommendations.
“Four options were put forward which were first shared with all the council’s political group leaders.
“The options were then considered by the council’s Governance Committee, where changes to one of the options were agreed to be put forward to a special meeting of full council. At this meeting, other options were presented by councillors and an agreed option was adopted as the council’s submission to the Boundary Commission.”
“The next steps are for the Boundary Commission to publish their recommendations which will be open for further consultation. Therefore it will be for them to decide on the final boundary changes, not officers, or councillors.”
But Councillor Gillian Ford, from the Havering Residents’ Association, claimed the Conservatives manipulated the options at the Governance Committee meeting to ensure only their preferred option would go before the full council.
The committee has 12 members, but six of those are Conservatives and another is Martin Goode, from the North Havering Residents’ Group, a party that very rarely votes against the Tories.
Minutes from the committee meeting in February show that two Conservative Councillors did not attend the meeting, so two others were parachuted in to make up the numbers.
Two residents’ group councillors voted for an amended version of Option 1, but the conservatives voted against it, as did the one Labour councillor on the committee.
Three councillors, one Labour and two from residents’ groups, voted in favour of the unamended Option 4, but the six Conservatives all voted against it.
All six Conservatives voted for Option 4A, which was a suggestion put forward by Cllr White based on the fourth suggestion put forward by the council’s officers.
Cllr Goode did not vote for or against any options.
Option 4A was the only option that was put forward to be voted on by the full council at a meeting in March. Opposition councillors suggested several different amendments but these were all rejected.
Cllr Ford told Time 107.5FM: “They [the Conservatives] made it quite clear that the best option was their option, they made amendments to their option, and any other options were not even on the table.
“Prior to the full council meeting, opposition members were asking for data and information so that they could formulate their own opinions and options. It was being delayed, ‘we’re just putting this together’, ‘we’re just doing that’, and it didn’t come through. The full data was not presented to opposition members until the day after the full council meeting so any proposals that they were trying to put together were not going to be as comprehensive as the opposition’s.
“What was also made clear at the very beginning of the process is that every political group would be offered the same opportunity in putting proposals together. That clearly wasn’t the case.”
Councillor Ford also said Cllr White may have undermined the value of resident’s votes by manipulating the proposals.
“It will make a difference as to who their representatives are, what ward they’re in, the way the borough will be carved up politically,” she said. “I think at the end of the day it will be detrimental to the democracy of the borough.
The Havering Resident’s Association has lodged a formal complaint with the LGBCE, which is due to publish the proposed boundary changes this month. These will be open for further consultation and the LGBCE will then make a final decision.
Cllr White did not respond to Time 107.5FM’s request for comment.
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