Labour MP demands PM investigate gerrymandering by Tory council leader

Elliot Chappell

Update, 6pm: Havering Council monitoring officer has launched an investigation, to be conducted by an officer from another borough, into the allegations of gerrymandering by the Tory council leader and Conservative group.

Commenting on this development, Jon Cruddas tweeted: “This must be an independent process and I will be making sure the person conducting the review has no ties to Havering or the Tories.”

Jon Cruddas has called on the Prime Minister to investigate allegations of gerrymandering against a Conservative council leader “both within the Tory Party and through the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government”.

In a letter to Boris Johnson today, the Labour MP highlighted “shocking revelations” about the actions of Havering Council leader Damien White, and said that the “independence of the boundary change system has been undermined”.

Cruddas referred to a 32-minute leaked recording of a meeting of Tory councillors, which captures White discussing how he had influenced the ongoing local boundary review process so that it would be “politically advantageous” for the Tories.

The Labour MP argued it “shows the council leadership in detailed discussion, stating that they have met with civil servants to manipulate the boundary changes for political gain”, and said it should “prompt an immediate investigation”.

Commenting on the allegations levelled against the Tory councillors, Cruddas said: “The charges against Havering Conservative group and the council leader are very serious so I’ve gone straight to the top.

“I would have written to the minister for local government as my next port of call but considering the current controversies surrounding the minister, I felt it inappropriate.

“So today I have called on the Prime Minister to take immediate action. The allegations of gerrymandering require a full investigation, both within the Conservative Party and by the ministry for local government.

“As it stands, this situation appears to undermine the independence of the boundary change system, and has the potential to erode public confidence in the political process.”

In the recording, White is heard telling Tory councillors, “for these four walls”, that chief executive Andrew Blake-Herbert had “agreed for some reason to allow me to influence the proposals and, erm, I’ve been able to”.

White said: “The [chief executive] has now agreed that we can have a governance committee meeting to discuss the four options, pick which one we like, make any recommendations or changes to it and that then goes to full council as an administration amendment or a motion.”

He added: “By changing it and having governance committee filter, we can argue that there’s cross-party involvement in the boundary proposals we have brought forward.”

Cruddas’ letter also highlights a moment when the Tory council leader identified a council officer as the cousin of a Conservative councillor, saying: “He’s the chap who’s been able to govern the boundaries and whatnot”.

The letter follows the council’s submission to the boundary commission in March, which is conducting a programme of reviews of all London boroughs to ensure that each councillor represents approximately the same amount of voters.

You can read the full text of the letter to the Prime Minister here.

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