Redbridge Tories name new leader

Redbridge’s Conservatives have chosen their new leadership team following a painful result at the ballot box in the local elections last week.

Paul Canal, who was previously the borough Conservative leader from 2014 to 2018, was elected to head the Tories again by the group’s remaining five councillors, at a party meeting on Tuesday May 10.

Cllr Canal has taken over from Linda Huggett, who resigned on Monday after being “devastated” by the loss of six council seats to Labour.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “Linda worked hard for four years to protect the interests of the residents of Redbridge and hold the Labour administration to account.

“She has been an outstanding ambassador for our party and our borough, and I am delighted that she will remain front and centre on our front bench as we continue to fight to protect our residents’ interests.“

The Conservatives have also picked newly-elected Monkham’s councillor Joel Herga, 31, as their deputy leader. Cllr Herga is an associate director at public relations firm FleishmanHillard Fishburn from “the Woodford area”.

New group leader Cllr Canal joined the council in 2010, when the Conservatives ran Redbridge in coalition with the Lib Dems. He was leader of the Conservative opposition for four years after Labour won the 2014 election.

Cllr Canal told the LDRS he “sacrificed time” with his family during that period and did not plan to become leader again but has been “persuaded” by his colleagues.

He added: “I was persuaded by my four colleagues that it was the right thing to do for the party and borough.

“I’ve also received comments from former and current members saying they’re pleased I’m taking on this role. Sometimes we do what we have to do, not what we want to do.”

Cllr Canal described Labour leader Jas Athwal as “de facto” mayor of Redbridge and promised to continue to hold his administration to account.

He added: “We are determined to be effective in the chamber and in scrutiny committees over the next four years, holding this council to account. 

“There’s a real challenge in Redbridge that in public, the Labour administration, run by Jas [Athwal] as de facto mayor, isn’t  transparent, and isn’t held up to account by rigorous scrutiny.

“In the chamber Labour members are not willing to give opinions or comment on matters. In the scrutiny committee meetings in the last four years we’ve barely heard a murmur from councillors who seem frightened to challenge the leader.

“That isn’t effective for the borough. Whether in charge or opposition, we have the same resources and the same challenges. Those outside the cabinet need to speak up for residents, we’ll do that and we need them to do that as well.

“Scrutiny in private isn’t scrutiny. It is an abrogation.”

In response to Cllr Canal’s comment, Jas Athwal said: “I’m fortunate to have a talented group of councillors who have always provided constructive scrutiny on what is in fact our collective agenda.

“The problem has been that the opposition have rarely understood their role, do not grasp the function of scrutiny and have often been preoccupied by superficial issues instead of ensuring the council delivers for its residents.

“I genuinely hope that the conservatives change their approach and come forward with some positive ideas to critique the administration instead of hoping the Labour group do their work for them.”

Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter