Tower Hamlets slams Eric Pickles in row over filming council meetings

Accused... Tory Minister Pickes of "double standards", Labour's Fitzpatrick of "bandwagon jumping"

Accused... Tory Minister Pickes of "double standards", Labour's Fitzpatrick of "bandwagon jumping" - Credit: Archant

Ruling councillors backing Tower Hamlets independent Mayor Lutfur Rahman last night slammed the Tory government and their own local Labour MP in the row over letting the public film town hall meetings.

They blasted Communities Secretary Eric Pickles for “double standards” because Downing Street doesn’t have its cabinet meetings filmed and accused MP Jim Fitzpatrick of “jumping on the Tory bandwagon”.

It follows disruption at last month’s council meeting when security guards threatened to call police after disabled pensioner John Wright was spotted in the public gallery filming proceedings on his pocket camera.

The 71-year-old Alzheimer’s Ambassador protested that the council was being “undemocratic” preventing him recording the meeting for his disabled neighbours unable to get to the Town Hall and pointed out that Mr Pickles was pressing local authorities to be more open.

Rules restricting cameras and microphones in council chambers and cabinet rooms must be relaxed, Mr Pickles insists.

The Secretary of State responded to a Commons Question on Monday from Poplar & Limehouse MP Fitzpatrick saying: “We have legislated to ensure that cameras should be in cabinet meetings in Tower Hamlets.”

But Mayor Rahman’s councillors later claimed the legislation “says nothing requiring a decision-making body to permit photographs or any means to enable those not present” to see or hear proceedings.

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Council cabinet member Alibor Choudhury challenged Mr Pickles to allow cameras into Downing Street.

“There shouldn’t be one rule for Pickles and his government and another for local government,” he fumed.

“I’m in favour of open government—the question is whether Eric Pickles is.”

He claims the council has never stopped anyone filming its cabinet meetings—but “this should be by the same standards that apply to Parliament.”

Fellow independent Cllr Ohid Ahmed then challenged MP Fitzpatrick’s intervention.

“Jim Fitzpatrick should know better than to jump on this Tory bandwagon,” he said.

“Maybe he would have a better idea of what’s going on—if he ever turned up to council meetings.”

The row continued as Labour’s majority opposition group accused Mayor Rahman, who holds executive powers over the £1.2 billion budget authority, of over-ruling a council decision last year for live streaming.

Labour Group Leader Sirajul Islam said: “We should be transparent and accountable to those who elect us—there’s no reason why elected politicians want to hide from the public.”

But the public may be able to film council meetings in neighbouring Newham, following Eric Pickle’s ruling.

A legal report goes before Newham Council on Monday to change regulations banning sound or video recording at meetings.