City council leader Mike Whitby has been accused of putting political expediency above the good reputation of Birmingham by continuing to support a cabinet member whose conduct was described as “scurrilous” by a judge.
The accusation came from deputy Labour group leader Ian Ward who last night repeated his party’s request for the suspension of Aston Liberal Democrat councillor and cabinet member for local services and community safety, Ayoub Khan.
Coun Khan was severely criticised at the beginning of April in a judgement by Elections Commissioner Timothy Straker QC. Mr Straker, presiding over the Aston election court hearing, found Coun Khan to have given evidence which amounted to a “scurrilous and unwarranted” allegation that Labour councillor Mohammed Afzal was involved in witness intimidation – an offence for which, if proven, Coun Afzal could have been jailed.
Mr Straker also concluded that Coun Khan was behind an “unpleasant, unsupported and unsubstantiated” allegation that supporters of Coun Afzal had burned out a Range Rover belonging to a Lib Dem supporter.
Lib Dem council group leader Paul Tilsley announced an internal party inquiry into Coun Khan’s behaviour within hours of Mr Straker’s judgement. It is yet to get under way and Coun Tilsley said last night that party officials in London had been too busy fighting elections to set a date for the investigation to begin.
Coun Ward (Lab Shard End) quoted a blog by Birmingham Post Editor Marc Reeves, written the day after Mr Straker’s onslaught, which said: “My paper will demand the resignation of Coun Khan because simply we have had enough of this city’s reputation being dragged through the mud.”
He added that Conservative leader David Cameron, when asked about Mr Straker’s judgement, said his party was determined to “root out unacceptable behaviour” in politics yet Coun Whitby reappointed Coun Khan to the cabinet last month.
Addressing Coun Whitby at yesterday’s full council meeting, Coun Ward said: “Your actions in appointing Coun Khan to the cabinet speak louder than your rhetoric. You have the power to end this situation. If the leader of the council would put the city’s reputation ahead of his own political expediency it would be more honourable to suspend Coun Khan from the cabinet until the result of the inquiry is known.”
Coun Whitby (Con Harborne) said Labour in Birmingham had done little in the past to stop its own councillors behaving in “a way that offends people”.
He added: “In the case of Coun Khan, the courts haven’t found him guilty of anything. He is innocent until proven guilty.”
Coun Khan continues to protest his innocence and is considering appealing against Mr Straker’s findings.
* See Marc Reeves’s blog here