Twist at Peterborough mayor-making ceremony as controversial candidate challenged

There was a twist at the Peterborough City Council Mayor Making ceremony last night (Monday) when a second, completely unexpected candidate for the position was proposed… twice.

Tuesday, 21st May 2019, 11:16 am
New Mayor of Peterborough Cllr Gul Nawaz

Cllr Gul Nawaz (Conservative) was chosen as mayor despite a late challenge from Labour’s Cllr Darren Fower.

Under council rules the 12 month position of Mayor of Peterborough is offered to the most senior sitting councillor who wants the position and has not held it before, which was Cllr Nawaz.

However, the member for Ravensthorpe was a controversial choice after being jailed 17 years ago for housing benefit fraud.

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Voting during the meeting

Leader of the council Cllr John Holdich nominated Cllr Nawaz for the ceremonial role, with Labour stating last week it was not planning to challenge the nomination.

However, when outgoing mayor Cllr Chris Ash asked if there were any other candidates, Cllr Dennis Jones (Labour) stood up and proposed that Cllr Fower should be mayor “as an alternative”.

There were shouts from members in the chamber, with calls of “shame, shame on you”, being heard.

Cllr Fower was recently sanctioned by the city council after Cllr Holdich and Cllr John Fox claimed he’d misused private information and suggested Cllr Fox had shown ‘fascist tendencies’ by closing the public gallery. Cllr Fox said he had taken the action due to police advice.

Both claims were strongly denied by Cllr Fower.

Cllr Jones’ proposal for Cllr Fower to be mayor was seconded by Cllr Angus Ellis, forcing the issue to be debated and then voted upon.

Cllr Nick Sandford, Liberal Democrat group leader, said: “We’ve had a long-standing principle in this council that we offer the position of mayor to the most senior sitting councillor who wants the position and has not held it before.

“The post of mayor is, and ought to be, above party politics and the convention that we’ve operated in this council for some time helps to ensure that is the case.

“I think it’s a real shame that on this occasion my Labour Party colleagues have chosen to play party politics, and we will not be participating in that.”

At which point Cllr Ellis stood up and explained: “The Labour group are offering an alternative simply because we are concerned about the position of First Citizen of Peterborough.

“We are concerned that somebody – and this is not about the person in question – but somebody with a previous criminal conviction should not be elected to the post of mayor.”

In 2002 Cllr Nawaz was jailed for two months having falsely claiming £3,000 of housing benefit from the council.

Cllr Gul Nawaz served one month of his sentence and has argued that it should now all be forgotten.

The result of the vote - announced to cheers and clapping from the chamber - was 40 votes in favour of Cllr Nawaz and 17 in favour of Cllr Fower.

But no sooner had Cllr Nawaz made his declaration of acceptance of office than his first task was to ask for nominations for deputy mayor.

Cllr Holdich rose again and said: “Congratulations Mr Mayor, I would like to propose Cllr Diane Lamb who has a very special birthday this year when she will be 80.”

The nomination for Cllr Lamb (Conservative) was seconded by Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald before Cllr Nawaz asked if there were any other nominations.

Once again Cllr Jones stood up, saying: “Yes I would like to propose Cllr Darren Fower as deputy mayor please.”

Cllr Jones’ proposal was once more seconded by Cllr Ellis.

Then Cllr Christian Hogg (Liberal Democrat) rose, saying: “On a point of principle Mr Mayor you have just this minute been elected on a long-held assumption of seniority of position.

“I believe that Cllr Fower is the next most senior person for the position of deputy mayor. So, for the people that booed and hissed earlier when Cllr Fower was put forward for mayor, I would hope they continue with that principle when he’s put forward for the position of deputy mayor.”

Deputy council leader Cllr Fitzgerald said: “Cllr Hogg is absolutely right that we do support, in principle, the longest-served being the next in line.

“But we also support, in principle, that you have to deserve the job to do the job. And I’m sorry, but we cannot support Cllr Fower who has refused to apologise despite being sanctioned by the recent standards investigation.

“He still refuses to apologise, and therefore we cannot countenance that he is a proper and fit person to hold the office of deputy mayor.”

Another vote was called, and the result this time was much closer with 31 votes for Cllr Lamb and 27 votes for Cllr Fower.

After the meeting an angry Cllr Fower said: “This is typical of the hypocrisy of this current administration.

“They elect a man who conned this city out of thousands of pounds and went to prison for it, simply because they want him there.

“But when it comes to applying the same rules and principles to electing a deputy mayor the goalposts have suddenly moved, and they ignore their principles when it suits them to do so.”

Cllr Jones said: “The Conservative administration of this council are all complete hypocrites.

“Regardless of what Cllr Fower may or may not have done, council rule 12 states that the next most senior councillor who wants to take office, and who has not done so in the past, should be offered the position.

“Darren is the next most senior person. He should be deputy mayor. I have no problem with Cllr Lamb, she’s served the city well since 2004; but in this instance they have shown their true colours, bending the rules to get anything that they want, irrespective of who they trample along the way.”

Cllr Holdich said he was “very happy with both the proposed persons who have been elected”.