Islington Labour criticised over ‘cash for canvassing’ tactics

Cllr Paul Smith

Cllr Paul Smith - Credit: Archant

The Islington Labour Group has come under fire for offering paid positions to councillors based on the amount of political campaigning they do.

A letter sent by Cllr Paul Smith, deputy leader of the Labour group, to a colleague warned them they needed to up their game if they wanted to be eligible for a special responsibility allowance (SRA) at the group’s AGM next month.

An SRA is given to top brass within the council on top of their basic £10,010 council allowance. Committee chairs, cabinet members, the mayor and the leader get them. Cllr Richard Watts, as leader, gets £37,676, while his cabinet are each paid £29,418. The mayor Cllr Kat Fletcher pockets £6,323 and committee chairs receive between £3,097 and £5,161.

The letter, seen by the Gazette, reads: “I am writing as a simple courtesy to remind you about our AGM requirements for canvassing, which are: in order to be eligible for a position that pays SRA at the Labour group AGM on April 24, attend five canvass sessions in your ward between September 12 and April 17. Our record shows you have attended one session. I know you have always been a good campaigner in the past and the purpose of this letter is to help you be eligible to stand for a position in the AGM.”

The person who sent the letter to the Gazette, who did not want to be named, said: “It is setting out criteria for getting onto the well paid positions. It blurs the boundaries between the town hall as a council and the Labour party as a campaigning group.”

Cllr Caroline Russell, the only opposition councillor in Islington, said she was “really shocked”. “It just shows the blurring of the lines that occurs when you have a super majority council,” she said. “You have to be clear about when you are wearing your party hat and when you are wearing your councillor hat.”

Former Lib Dem council leader Terry Stacy also took issue with the letter: “It’s unbelievably worrying that the council is allowing Cllr Smith to use the SRA system as an incentive to get people to knock on doors. That’s not what SRAs are for.” He called it a “bribe”.

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An Islington Labour Group spokesman said: “We have extremely high expectations of all Labour councillors, including requiring councillors to regularly keep in touch with local residents by knocking on doors.

“Other political parties may not think it is important to keep in touch with local people, but Islington Labour does.”