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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Redbridge councillor left the Labour Party with a scathing criticism of leader Jas Athwal’s “top-down leadership approach”

In an email sent to councillors and local MPs in late December, Shanelle Johnson slammed the Labour leadership for overseeing an “increasingly toxic” atmosphere that discourages “critical discussion”.

She said: “This shift towards unquestioning compliance has hindered effective governance and oversight, leaving us ill-prepared to address key challenges.”

Cllr Johnson, a freelance project manager and British Army reservist, officially became an independent councillor last week at the first full council meeting since her resignation.

In the email, seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), said she chose to leave Labour due to concerns about the party both locally and nationally.

She said the Labour group, led by Cllr Athwal, has a “top-down leadership approach” that prioritises “political ambitions over collective progress and democratic principles”.

The now-independent councillor criticised the “short-sighted” closure of Wanstead Youth Centre and Cllr Athwal’s “dismissive approach” to her concerns about racism and public safety.

“This centre played a crucial role in our community, and its closure, coupled with the leadership’s failure to engage with concerned stakeholders, is a misstep that cannot be overlooked,” she said.

Cllr Johnson said she felt “excluded” within the Labour group’s culture of “silos, cliques, and gaslighting”.

Her concerns about the national party included the party’s “refusal” to call for a ceasefire in Gaza and its failure to “fully implement” the recommendations of the Forde report.

Martin Forde KC’s report investigated allegations of racism, sexism and bullying within the Labour Party in the wake of its antisemitism crisis under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.  According to Labour, 154 of the 165 recommendations have been “completed”, with eleven considered but not progressed. 

One of the eleven recommendations that were not progressed included the use of blind CVs in recruitment.

By not being a Labour member, Cllr Johnson said she now could “act independently” and exercise her rights “without the constraints of the current team dynamic”.

Cllr Athwal did not respond to a request for comment.

A Labour Party spokesperson said they did not need to respond to Cllr Johnson’s concerns.

Following her resignation, Cllr Johnson told the LDRS she feels “so much better” and is sure that she did “the right thing by my conscience”.

Leader of Redbridge’s Conservative group Paul Canal said: “It’s unusual for a member of the Labour group to have the courage of their convictions and resign from an oppressive regime which brooks no criticism, in private or in public.

“Whilst I may not share some of Shanelle’s views I respect her courage and integrity and wish there were more people like her in the Labour group.”

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