Council tax meeting overshadowed by political clashes and personal insults

By Robert Firth, Local Democracy Reporter

A town hall meeting to set the council tax for the coming year was overshadowed by clashes between Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors, with accusations of lies, political point scoring and personal insults levelled.

Southwark councillors had gathered at the council’s Tooley Street headquarters on Wednesday evening to vote on a proposed 4.99 per cent rise to council tax for its more than 300,000 residents, and to set the budget for the year.

But the meeting was marred by stormy exchanges between councillors from the ruling Labour Party and opposition Liberal Democrats.

In one showdown, Labour councillor Chloe Tomlinson accused Liberal Democrat leader Victor Chamberlain of “using his LGBT identity for political point scoring”.

Cllr Tomlinson – who is LGBTQ+ herself and in a same sex relationship – also told Cllr Chamberlain that he needed a “better understanding of equalities” if he thought being a “white gay man” meant the local Liberal Democrat group was “sufficiently diverse”.

Councillor Victor Chamberlain said he was ‘deeply hurt’ by some remarks made at the meeting (Picture: Eve Milner)

Cllr Chamberlain said he was “deeply hurt” by remarks made by some councillors towards him at the meeting and asked Mayor of Southwark, Michael Situ, to review if the council’s code of conduct had been broken.

Cllr Chamberlain, member for Borough and Bankside, said: “Attack our party, attack our policy, we’re here to look at the important things that happen to our borough, not to have a go at each other.”

Earlier in the meeting Labour councillor Richard Livingstone made a joke about the amount of money Cllr Chamberlain spent on his hair, which multiple Labour councillors, including leader Kieron Wiliams and cabinet member for finance, Stephanie Cryan, laughed at.

Cllr Livingstone’s remarks were in reference to Liberal Democrats proposals that the council scrap a £6,495 allowance per year for councillors who chair multi-ward forums.

Southwark council’s HQ in Tooley Street (Picture: Google Street View)

At another point in the meeting, Labour councillor Portia Mwangangye accused the Liberal Democrats of believing that poor and black and ethnic minority councillors didn’t deserve to be in their jobs.

She said: “Mr Mayor, could I ask the Lib Dems to come out and say what they actually mean to say, that councillors like me from a low income background who are of black and ethnic minority do not deserve these positions of power and we do not deserve to make decisions for the people who look like us.”

Cllr Mwangangye, deputy cabinet member for young people, also accused the Liberal Democrats of ‘feeding’ the public ‘lies’ by making it seem the council was “spending more on our councillors’ budget than our local services”.

Labour’s budget for the coming year passed at the meeting. Labour councillors voted in favour of it, while Liberal Democrat councillors abstained.

Pictured top: Southwark council’s HQ in Tooley Street/Councillor Victor Chamberlain (Picture: Google Street View/Eve Milner)

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