Green Party’s Russell hits back at Watts’s claim ‘super-majority’ Labour council can police itself

Council Leader Richard Watts (left) and Cllr Caroline Russell. Photograph: Islington Council and the Green Party

The Green Party’s Caroline Russell says it is “extraordinary” that Council Leader Richard Watts believes a “super-majority” Labour council can scrutinise itself.

Cllr Russell, the only opposition councillor in Islington, was responding to remarks by Cllr Watts about council scrutiny if Labour wins all 48 seats in tomorrow’s election.

Watts told the Islington Citizen on 17 April that “the vast amount of scrutiny has always been provided by backbench members of the Labour Group anyway”.

Cllr Russell, who is standing for re-election in Highbury East, told the Citizen: “I find it extraordinary that he thinks that’s enough.

“Now, if he was getting residents in – and a cross-party group of residents, genuinely getting residents in, not just getting in Labour members – then he would be opening himself up to real challenge.”

She said: “I have enormous sympathy for Labour keeping the council running during these very difficult times and times when there is very little money.

Cllr Caroline Russell (centre) campaigning with Green Party activists in Islington. Photograph: Green Party

“The cuts have been biting, and it’s not pretty.”

But she added: “If they think that the Labour backbench councillors can do the scrutiny, and they don’t think it is necessary to be thinking of creative ways to get the community in to help with that scrutiny when it is such an unbalanced council, then I think that’s an indication of part of the problem.”

Cllr Russell, who was elected in 2014, sits on two of Islington Council’s scrutiny committees – the environment and regeneration scrutiny committee, and the policy and performance scrutiny committee – and has brought to light issues such as black mould in council flats.

She has been calling for voters to elect more Green Party councillors to better hold the Labour-run council to account, and to “amplify” residents’ voices.

She said: “I think it’s easy for a super-majority council to become complacent – to stop properly listening and asking people their opinions.

Cllr Caroline Russell (right) with Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas. Photograph: Green Party

“As residents, I think people feel decisions are done to them, rather than that they participate in decision-making and priority-setting.

“What I’ve done as a lone [opposition] councillor is work with residents and bring them into the Town Hall, bringing in petitions, asking questions of executive members, and then I ask questions as well or I present their petitions and we’re able to amplify their voice.”

She said: “If there were, say, three or four [Green] councillors, we could then make sure that we really cover all the committees and that we’re able to really keep tabs on what’s going on and ask searching questions.”