Labour leaders in Birmingham accused of 'silencing' backbenchers and treating them 'like toddlers'

councillors on the Labour benches at Birmingham City Council have hit out at their leaders
-Credit: (Image: Graham Young / BirminghamLive)

Angry councillors on the Labour benches at Birmingham City Council have hit out at their leaders for sending out a memo that treated them 'like children' and attempted to 'silence them'.

The memo, revealed first in the Inside Birmingham with Jane Haynes newsletter, was sent to 65 Labour members in the immediate aftermath of the party's national victory by the group's chief whip Cllr Ray Goodwin and authorised by group leader Cllr John Cotton.

It stated that there must be no press interviews nor could anyone 'talk to the press' without prior agreement. It also said none of them should 'walk around' or go outside of the council meeting chamber during the five hour meeting (other than during a half hour break).

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The tone of the memo was described by one group member as 'patronising', while another said it was treating elected representatives 'like toddlers.' Conservative councillor Meirion Jenkins said he would have had a two word response to such a memo from his group leader - 'and the second one is off'.

One member, Cllr Martin Brooks (Lab, Harborne), had spoken publicly about the email, tweeting: "Just received an email from the Brum Labour Chief Whip telling councillors that we now can’t speak to the media without his permission. The entire social fabric of the city is under threat, yet our leadership believe it’s acceptable to silence local representatives."

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The issue was raised at the full council meeting held this week (Tuesday July 9th). Cllr Richard Parkin (Cons, Sutton ) posed a question about it to John Cotton. Referring to the Labour hierarchy as 'the politburo' he asked: "What do you think this gagging order says about your leadership given that you don't trust your members elected to represent residents to engage in what is an important part of the democratic process without askin for your permission to speak first."

Cllr Ray Goodwin, front, on the campaign trail in Castle Vale before the May election
Cllr Ray Goodwin, front, on the campaign trail for Labour -Credit:R. Goodwin

In response he said there was no 'politburo' operating and that he believed it was 'really important' that members are able to "advocate on behalf of their residents, not just on social media but out in communities as well." Cllr Parkin said that 'did not answer the question'.

BirminghamLive also reached out to the leadership to ask for clarification on its press engagement rules for backbenchers, but they refused to comment.

One local resident turned to Twitter to decry the memo, saying the demand to stay seated and not walk around showed a lack of understanding of the need of some councillors to get up and move around for physical, mental or neurodiverse reasons. "Outrageously ableist," said Simon Dixon on X.

The group has been under close scrutiny and the oversight of the regional Labour party since it was deemed to be 'in special measures' early last year. It's then leader Ian Ward was booted out as part of an overhaul, and leader John Cotton and deputy leader Sharon Thompson imposed under party orders.

The group continues to have external support. Government appointed commissioners are also currently overseeing council affairs as it seeks to recover from a crippling financial crisis.

The full text of the memo, sent on Saturday, reads: 'Good Afternoon, I hope everyone is well and is recovering from yesterday, and our historic win! There will now be extra focus on all of us at Birmingham City Council. As I am sure you are all aware, we have full council on Tuesday, everyone is expected to be in attendance.

'In the meeting, without exception, colleagues will be in the chamber and there will be no walking around the council house, colleagues will be seated for voting at all times. I also need to reinforce there will be no press interviews or talking to the press, including writing published articles, unless either agreed with the leader's office or with myself as Chief Whip.'