17:37 Wednesday 11th June 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[N]ICK FAIRBAIRN: The Labour Group on Peterborough City Council has decided not to oppose the election of Conservative Marco Cereste as Council Leader. The Conservatives lost their overall control of the Council in the recent local elections, opening the opportunity for a leadership contest. Labour have just 12 seats on the Council, compared to Tories 28, but one Labour councillor feels they’ve given up without a fight. John Knowles has left the party, and will now serve the Paston ward as an Independent councillor. Earlier Mr Knowles said he’s disappointed with the Labour Group under their current Leader Nazim Khan.
JOHN KNOWLES: I’m Labour. I don’t know what Mr Khan is. Only Mr Khan knows that, together with a number of other people in the Labour Group. I’ve not left the Labour Party. I’ve had to resign from the Labour Party, because I’ve resigned from a non-functioning so-called Labour Group.
NICK FAIRBAIRN: Well Nazim Khan joins us on the line. Now Mr Khan, some stinging words there from John Knowles. What’s your response to what he had to say?
NAZIM KHAN: Well I think the gentleman is slightly confused, because on one minute he says that he’s disappointed. On the other, he did not come to the Group meeting to argue his case. And only last week he send me in an email saying that he will abide by what the Group decides. So he doesn’t turn up in the Group meeting to argue his case and than decides that he’s leaving the Party. It came to me as no surprise, because he did it once before, last year as well.
NICK FAIRBAIRN: Have you given up the fight too easily though? That’s what he’s saying, isn’t he? He’s saying you’ve given up the fight too easily, and you’ve basically laid down and allowed Marco Cereste to carry on unopposed. Are you representing the Labour voters?
NAZIM KHAN: No, we haven’t given up the fight. I think that the citizens of Peterborough actually haven’t given us the mandate to run the affairs. We were twelve until last night. We are eleven members today, taking out John Knowles, and that does not give us any confidence. We can’t be running around with eighteen individual people, trying to manage a local authority’s affairs. It’s not going to work. And always I think in my understanding of tradition always has been that whoever is the largest group is given the first opportunity to set up an administration. Whether they can run it or not, that’s their problem.
NICK FAIRBAIRN: But that’s not the point he’s getting at, is it? The point is that even if it looks like you would be defeated, the fact that you’re not even contesting it is letting down Labour voters. How do you respond to that?
NAZIM KHAN: It’s not a contention between one or the other. The alternative is worse than what we’ve got. Up to today, we’ve not been asked, or the Labour group has not been formally asked, to either work with the Independents , or set up some kind of coalition. So in the absence of their not asking us to join them, what do we do?
NICK FAIRBAIRN: Do you feel your political principles are still Labour? Because Mr Knowles was questioning that, wasn’t he?
NAZIM KHAN: Well yes. I think he questions quite a lot, and he just doesn’t know what the answer is. I’ve been a Labour Party member and Labour person since I became eighteen, and I’ve not joined any other group since then. So I’m still a Labour and I think I’ll probably retire as a Labour.
NICK FAIRBAIRN: What about this point that he makes as well about saying you’re hoping to get a job on a new Council set-up? How do you respond to that?
NAZIM KHAN: Well one of the things, since we became a strong opposition, we’ve been saying to the Conservatives, is that the role of the Scrutiny Committee needs to be strengthened. And we’d like to see a kind of House of Commons Select Committee. On the current system, whoever controls or has the majority vote, they control the Scrutiny Committees. And we have always been saying to them that they need to really look at the constitution. And one of the consequences of having a balanced authority is that you can take things away from the administration, and see what you can get out of the area of your strength, rather than weakness.
NICK FAIRBAIRN: Mr Khan, we’ll have to leave it there. Thanks for your company this evening.
NAZIM KHAN: No problem.