Fifth councillor defects to Havering Residents Association

Another Havering councillor has switched sides to the Havering Residents Association, marking the fifth to defect this year.

Councillor Paul McGeary crossed the floor from Labour to the Havering Residents Association (HRA) on May 31, saying the party “did not always represent his views”.

The HRA controls the council in a coalition with Labour, but is now just two members shy of the 28 it needs to govern on its own.

The Gooshays representative said, in a statement supplied by the HRA: “The time had come for me to step away from a party constrained by central party politics that do not necessarily always represent my views.

“I have seen the way the HRA operates and its dedication at the local level to do the best it can in the interests of residents, without central and local office control. I want to work in the best interests of Harold Hill and the borough as a whole.”

Cllr McGeary was one of just two Labour councillors in Havering’s nine-strong cabinet, alongside Labour group leader Keith Darvill.

He oversees housing, while Cllr Darvil handles climate change. The other seven positions are held by HRA councillors, with council leader Ray Morgon leading on policy.

Since the 2022 local elections, the HRA has grown considerably in size. Seven councillors have defected to the independent group over the past two years, all shedding their previous allegiances in favour of focusing on residents’ needs.

After winning 20 seats two years ago, the HRA entered into a power-sharing agreement with Labour’s nine councillors.

The Conservatives, the second biggest group in the borough, hold 16 seats while Labour now holds eight.

The future of the coalition has been uncertain since HRA councillors elected their own Gerry O’Sullivan as mayor on May 22, which was perceived as a “breaking of trust” by Labour members.

Cllr Darvil said he and Cllr Morgon had previously “come to an understanding” that outgoing deputy mayor Pat Brown would be selected. However, a spokesperson for the HRA said the working agreement did not extend to the mayoralty.

Gillian Ford, the chairwoman of the HRA and deputy leader of the council, welcomed Cllr McGeary, saying he is “someone just like the HRA, who only works in the best interests of local residents rather than following the interests of national political parties or ideologies”.

She added: “The council is facing challenging times and we need to make some tough decisions. We do not stand in national elections – our members therefore represent all political persuasions in one group.”

Councillors John Crowder, Philippa Crowder, and Christine Smith all left the Conservatives in late April, citing similar reasons as Cllr McGeary. In a joint statement, they said they “only became councillors in order to serve our residents rather than any party political agenda”.

Robby Misir, the first Tory to defect this year, left the party in February after saying that he saw “no future” for the party at a local level.

He added that the HRA was “better equipped” to deal with the “unprecedented” financial challenges the borough faces, including a £32.5million gap in council finances.

The three-seat Gooshays ward remains majority Labour, with councillors Brown and Katharine Tumilty continuing to represent the party.

Councillors have been criticised for changing parties in the past, with residents saying that the three Tory defections in April amounted to “jumping ship”.

Cllr McGeary was contacted for comment.

Sebastian Mann

Local democracy reporter