The Turkish Cypriot leader of Enfield Council in north London has lashed out at calls from members of her own party to resign.
Labour’s Nesil Çalışkan, who became the borough’s first female leader and the youngest in London when she was elected last May, dismissed a motion of no-confidence issued by the Enfield Southgate Constituency Labour Party (CLP) as “unfounded”.
She accused some of its members of “racism”and “harassment”, claims which they deny.
The CLP tabled the motion after Cllr Çalışkan’s decision earlier this month to “remove” one of her Cabinet members, long-serving councillor Yasemin Brett, for failing to support a waste disposal plan.
Cllr Brett, who is of Turkish heritage and was the Cabinet member responsible for public health, represents Bowes ward, which is close to the possible location of a new waste facility.
She was “relieved of her duties”after publicly opposing a decision that had been “previously agreed” by Çalışkan’s Cabinet.
Her decision to dismiss Cllr Brett was described as “appalling”by the Enfield Southgate CLP executive committee.
In a motion of no-confidence issued on 22 November and published on a blog called The Skwawkbox, the CLP said it “condemned” the removal of Cllr Brett from the Cabinet on “spurious grounds”.
It cited animal rights and conservation, issues which are “matters of conscience”for Cllr Brett, the borough’s “designated animal and conservation champion”, as being behind her stance.
Enfield is one of seven north London boroughs that make up the North London Waste Authority and are obliged to create a joint strategy for waste management and recycling in the region. Part of the plan includes nominating industrial wasteland that could be used in the future.
Cllr Çalışkan told T-VINE that “After ten years of difficult negotiations, the seven local authorities recently reached a consensus on a joint waste policy for north London that will be submitted to the Secretary of State [for the Environment].”
Cllr Nesil Çalışkan accuses Cllr Yasemin Brett of being “out of step with her own Labour group”
In the absence of such a policy, local authorities remain vulnerable to Central Government, which could impose its own plans for waste facilities on what it deems ‘suitable land’.
Despite this, Cllr Brett decided not to back the new policy, making a stand over proposed waste land over Pinkham Way, a disused site in the neighbouring borough of Haringey.
“Cllr Brett had already raised concerns about conservation issues and when the item on the controversial inclusion of the Pinkham Way site in the North London Waste Plan came up in Cabinet, Cllr Brett declared a non-pecuniary interest and left the meeting as she is entitled to do as a Cabinet member and as other Cabinet members have done in the past on issues which affect residents of their wards,” the CLP motion said.
The CLP claimed that Cllr Çalışkan then instructed officials to “remove Cllr Brett’s position on the Cabinet from all council websites”,effectively “removing”her from the Cabinet “without first informing her”. Cllr Çalışkan refutes these allegations, telling T-VINE that Cllr Brett “was asked to attend a meeting to discuss the situation”and after refusing this option, she was “sent an email informing her of the temporary suspension”.
The CLP also criticised Cllr Çalışkan for the timing of the suspension, and that it was “appalled” Cllr Çalışkan “chose the moment of the Bush Hill Park ward by-election” – which the Conservative Party won with a swing away from Labour – to “autocratically remove” Cllr Brett.
“We hold her responsible for any damage this latest public scandal may have done to the [Labour] Party’s reputation and electoral prospects,” the motion continued.
The CLP called on Cllr Çalışkan’s “immediate resignation” and the “immediate and unconditional reinstatement of Cllr Yasemin Brett to the Cabinet”.
Support for Ms Brett – who in March this year opposed a motion by fellow Enfield councillors calling on direct flights to North Cyprus – was also expressed on the Enfield Voices Facebook group.
Cllr Çalışkan is accused of making a “huge mistake” by suspending Cllr Brett
Francis Sealy, a former BBC Open University producer, said Cllr Çalışkan had made a “huge mistake” which “appears to humiliate a well-respected councillor, and puts pressure on others not to follow their conscience on such issues”.
In comments exclusive to T-VINE, Cllr Çalışkan accused Cllr Brett of being “out of step with her own Labour group”.
“Why doesn’t a Cabinet member understand what collective decision-making is?” she said. “How can she be trusted? It’s like if someone in Jeremy [Corbyn’s] Cabinet suddenly started to take a different policy position. They are either sacked or they resign out of principle.”
She also claimed Cllr Brett was trying to use the incident to “attack a Labour BME woman leader, when her ‘punishment’ has been totally fair and reasonable.”
“If she strongly believes in what she says about animal welfare . . . why doesn’t she stick by her principles and not serve in the Cabinet?” she continued.
“What she is suggesting is that she is permitted to be in the Cabinet, but not exercise any of the responsibilities of a Cabinet member. . . We can’t treat Yasemin as a special case, otherwise each Cabinet member would ask for the same and we would never get anything passed.
“This is about running a strong Labour council, not about any one personality or ego, like Yasemin is trying to make this out to be.”
In an earlier statement, Cllr Çalışkan said that the North London Waste Plan had been discussed by Cabinet and the Labour group on “numerous occasions, over a number of weeks”.
She added that when the report had been brought to “full council” on Wednesday, 22 November, Labour group members, excluding Cabinet members, had been “permitted to abstain” and that “only two members chose to do so” – one of which was Cllr Brett, who at that stage had already been suspended and sent to the backbenches.
Cllr Çalışkan has not filled Cllr Brett’s role, adding she would be “reinstated” in the coming days. She said that Cllr Brett had been “given the chance” to avoid being suspended but had “refused to take up the offer”.
“It will be for Cllr Brett to decide whether she wants to serve as a Cabinet member as part of the Labour administration at Enfield Council,” her statement stressed.
“The position of ‘animal champion’ is not a position outlined in the Constitution of the Council, nor is it a position on the Labour group and no election has been held for such a position.
“However, I do understand and respect that Cllr Brett takes her work as ‘animal champion’ very seriously and we all applaud her for her commitment to animals.”
T-VINE has approached Cllr Brett for comment.
Responding to the CLP’s calls for her resignation, Cllr Çalışkan told T-VINE that the no-confidence motion repeated “previous unfounded accusations” and accused some of its members of “racism” and “harassment”.
Cllr Çalışkan (below centre) attends recent protest demanding better conditions at Tottenham Park Cemetery
She said that the motion was part of a “relentless” campaign against her since becoming leader and that many local Labour members were “fed up” with the CLP committee and their “nastiness”.
A vote on the motion due to take place tonight (29 November) would be “totally irrelevant”, she stated, because only “a tiny proportion” of around 1,000 Enfield Southgate CLP members would attend.
Cllr Çalışkan said that a “small number of members” of Enfield Southgate CLP had previously passed a motion referring to Turkish-speaking councillors as “functionally illiterate”.
“The vast majority of Labour members in Southgate do not agree with this and many of them have told me that they do not wish to be associated with the individuals who conduct the meetings and who continue to harass myself and members of the Turkish-speaking community,” she said.
“In previous statements, I have made my position clear. I always stand up to racism, and I spoke out against the two Conservative councillors who were recently suspended from their party due to racism.
“The first tweeted that Turks are barbaric and the second was explicitly racist towards a Labour Turkish-speaking councillor during a public council meeting.
“Like the overwhelming majority of Labour Party members, I have always grounded my politics in equality and anti-racism.”
In response, the CLP said it was “outrageous” for Cllr Çalışkan to “falsely accuse CLP [executive committee] officers of ‘harassment’ when all they have done is attempt to hold her to account in accordance with party rules”.
Claims by Cllr Çalışkan that the CLP had referred to Turkish-speaking councillors as “functionally illiterate” were a “flat out lie”, the statement added.
Since taking office in May 2018, Cllr Çalışkan has been extremely active on issues affecting local ethnic communities, while also championing equality and diversity
So excited to be watching the @CONIFAOfficial final football match between Northern Cyprus and Karpatalya in Enfield. These matches mean so much the communities involved #poweroffootball @EnfieldCouncil @clattenburg1975 pic.twitter.com/ri8IEZvi1k
— Nesil Caliskan (@Nesil_Caliskan) 9 June 2018
The spat with Cllr Brett and the CLP is the latest in a string of high profile issues that the council leader has had to deal with in her six months since coming to power.
In June she risked the wrath of UK-based Greek Cypriot lobby groups by welcoming to Enfield footballers from North Cyprus taking part in the CONIFA World Football Cup – an event that they had sought to stop from going ahead.
In July a Sunday Times report by Andrew Gilligan – now the subject of a legal complaint from Cllr Çalışkan – on the selection process of Labour candidates for May’s local elections claimed that Enfield town hall had been “taken over” by politicians of Turkish origin. Cllr Çalışkan said the story was part of a “smear campaign”.
Later in July and in September, two Enfield Conservative Party councillors were suspended over “racism” towards British Turks.
Earlier in November Cllr Çalışkan joined a protest over the “appalling state”of Tottenham Park Cemetery, the largest burial ground in Britain for people of Turkish heritage, and called on the Ministry of Justice to “urgently appoint an inspector”.