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Labour councillor defies council rules, sparks debate on Hamas-Israel conflict

Tensions rise in Tower Hamlets Council as Councillor advocates for ceasefire in violation of meeting protocol

An East London Labour councillor was almost chucked out of a meeting on Wednesday evening (November 15) after she rebelled against council rules and used a debate to speak on the Hamas-Israel conflict and called for a ceasefire.

Ahead of this week’s full council meeting, the Aspire, Labour and Green party at Tower Hamlets Council had wanted to present motions on the ongoing conflict, which all called for a ceasefire and pledged to support communities in the borough who have been affected by the events.

However, they were all rejected on the grounds that they were outside of the council’s remit, as well as there reportedly being safety concerns for some councillors.

Motions last for 30 minutes and are put forward by councillors to debate an issue, ending with a decision on whether to adopt it or not.

According to the council’s constitution, motions must be “about a matter for which the council has a responsibility or which affects the area”, otherwise they can get rejected.

Councillors were discussing Aspire’s motion on the local plan when Cllr Asma Islam from the Tower Hamlets Labour Party stood up to speak and started to relate the debate back to the conflict between Hamas and Israel.

Cllr Islam was interrupted by the speaker of the council, Aspire councillor Jahed Choudhury, who stood up and pleaded with her to sit back down while he received advice from the council’s monitoring officer, Janet Fasan.

Cllr Choudhury looked stressed as he tried to stop Cllr Islam from speaking about the conflict because it wasn\’t allowed Credit: Tower Hamlets Council

Cllr Choudhury said: “Can I remind everybody, could you please state your motion please.”

Cllr Islam stood back up to begin her speech again: “We sit in the chambers tonight and no doubt will be arguing and debating over how we deliver the best for our people.

“I believe we all sit in this chamber with that sincerity regardless of party politics, this administration wants to build 4,000 new homes for this borough and I commend the ambition; Labour supports the ambition, but we will debate how this is delivered and implemented and I understand that the local plan should go along way to do that.”

She went on to say: “On one hand, I feel politics has come a long way. We have a British Indian for the Prime Minister, a British Pakistani for the London mayor and a British Bangladeshi for the Mayor of Tower Hamlets – glass ceilings broken.

“On the other hand, I feel politics has failed when over 800,000 British people get out of their homes protesting and calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Middle East-”

Cllr Islam was then again interrupted by Cllr Choudhury who urged her to leave the council chamber as motions on the conflict had been banned from the meeting however she shouted back: “I do not want to disrespect you but please allow me to finish.”

She could be heard saying ‘The people of Gaza are fighting to survive in their homes destroyed by the bombardment, while thousands are displaced in what is called the second Nakba’.

Shaking his head and clearly distressed, Cllr Choudhury said: “Cllr Islam you have to leave now… I’ve warned you so many times, I’ve given you the chance and I’ve advised you to [stick] to the motion.”

Cllr Islam defended her comments and said: “I am relating it back to the motion” but was asked to leave the room while a round of applause could be heard in the council chamber.

Labour councillor, Abdal Ullah jumped in to support Cllr Islam and said: “Mr Speaker, with all due respect as an elected councillor you cannot ask a member of the council to sit on the audience and if that’s the case we as the Labour group will go out.”

Clearly frustrated, Cllr Islam tried to respond to Cllr Choudhury’s decision but was asked to sit back down.

After a quick break, monitoring officer Ms Fasan confirmed council rules, and said: “Just to remind members the speaker does have the power to exclude members after a warning.”

Ms Fasan said: “Going forward can I just remind members to please keep to your scripts, keep to the questions keep to the motion and do not stray into material that is not relevant to the motion?

“In this particular instance, we’re talking about the conflict between Gaza and [Israel], a very emotive issue I know but this is even more of a reason why members need to be mindful of their language and mindful in making sure they keep their contributions relevant to the subject matter of the motion.”

On Thursday afternoon (November 16), hundreds of school children walked out of lessons and took to the streets of Tower Hamlets demanding there be a ceasefire and could be heard chanting ‘free Palestine’ and ‘stop bombing Gaza’.

It comes after Rushanara Ali, Labour MP for Bow and Bethnal Green abstained from voting for a motion in parliament which called for a ceasefire.

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