Row over treatment of pro-Palestine protesters at Haringey Council meeting

A socialist councillor has spoken out in defence of a number of protesters who were bundled out of a council meeting last week, reports Grace Howarth, Local Democracy Reporter

Independent Socialist councillor Lotte Collete (left) and council leader Peray Ahmet (right)
Independent Socialist councillor Lotte Collett (left) and council leader Peray Ahmet (right)

The leader of Haringey’s Independent Socialist political group has hit out at the Labour administration for refusing to “hear anything” on Palestine after a protest was shut down at a meeting last week.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service understands several pro-Palestine protesters had submitted a petition to Haringey Council but were “denied the right to speak” during a meeting at Tottenham Town Hall last Thursday (14th).

Independent Socialist councillor Lotte Collett – one of three to quit Labour last year and form the new political grouping on the council – was also present at the meeting and said the protesters defended their right to speak before being “cleared out” by security staff on the orders of the mayor, who chairs full council meetings.

In footage of the meeting protesters are seen being ushered out by security, with some instances of resistance.

Cllr Collett claimed some of the women were handled in an “aggressive manner” while the men were treated “more respectfully”.

In footage uploaded to Twitter, a man was shown holding up a phone and playing the sound of drones while he called out: “This is the sound of drones that kids in Gaza have to listen to every single day.”

He also called for the council to divest from pension fund investments linked to illegal Israeli settlements and the supply of weapons to Israel, while demanding a ceasefire.

A woman also stood in the public gallery holding a Palestinian flag and said: “A rebel borough? When you have known since July 2022 that you invested in arms companies like Lockheed Martin and Elbit Systems.” 

Earlier this month Haringey was awarded the ‘London Borough of Culture’ for 2027 with a campaign dubbed ‘Rebel Borough’. 

In response to the protest, council leader Peray Ahmet said she remains “focused on delivering for our residents” and pointed out the council “do not have a remit over foreign policy”.

Cllr Collett quit the Labour Party last year over what she described as the “quite serious diktat coming from Labour HQ”. She said: “We’re silenced on things, certainly silenced on Gaza, that’s not to say it’s coming from any members within the local party, it’s coming from Labour HQ.

“We have to make a stand on certain subjects and for me it was all going in the wrong direction. We’ve had candidates imposed, a lot of good people blocked I think for being too pro-Corbyn.”

She also says that “unlike many others around the country” Haringey Council had taken the stand that no statement would be made that was pro-Gaza.

But Cllr Ahmet said the protesters at last week’s meeting had “overstepped the mark” by coming into the meeting and taking “direct action to actively disrupt it”.

She said: “Our council security have a duty of care to act to protect members of the public present in the public gallery, all elected members, and all council officers, and they stepped in and did their job to the best of their abilities in response to this action. The footage shows their response was not overly aggressive.”

Cllr Collett claimed she saw a number of people in the Labour group finding the incident funny and said the description the council leader gave of the protesters was “over the top”. 

“They weren’t violent; they were loud, they were calling out what they felt and yes, they were disturbing the meeting, but unless we enable people to be heard or engage with them in some way we’re going to have continued issues like this within council meetings.”

Speaking of the protesters, Cllr Collett added: “I think they feel as if they’re not being heard or are somehow being avoided rather than engaged with. We talk a lot about cohesion of our communities and this is a large body of people who feel very strongly and it just seems to me that we’re just not listening.”

The council leader said Labour councillors come from all parts of the community, with roots all over the world, and they cherished and celebrated their diverse backgrounds. But Cllr Ahemt said: “Intimidation from anyone and from anywhere is simply unacceptable.

“As council leader I am rightly focused on delivering for our residents and do not have a remit over foreign policy – we have worked hard to engage with, support and reassure our residents right across our diverse communities at a time of heightened global tensions.”

Regarding the Independent Socialist group, Cllr Ahmet added they were not elected on their “current platform” and should “do the decent thing and face by-elections so the people can give their verdict”.

Cllr Collett said her group would be bringing a motion to the next full council meeting calling for the pension fund to divest funds away from organisations involved in supplying weapons to Israel.

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