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Arthur Latham, my part in his downfall.

(Arthur Latham died in December 2016 Daily Telegraph obituary)

The following account is my personal recollection of the events that led to the political demise of Arthur Latham. Life long Labour party member, former MP and leader of Havering Council from 1990 to 1996. The story is at times bizarre, sometimes funny and often sad. Arthur Latham was probably one of the most able politicians to ever grace Havering's Town Hall. Obviously being an able politician is not quite good enough. The memories are mine unless credited to another. All the documents are copies of the originals, some were confidential at the time. The news cuttings speak for themselves, just click on them to enlarge.        Del Smith
THE BACKGROUND

In May 1986 I was elected to Havering council for the first time, Labour had gained eight seats bringing us up to twenty, Arthur Latham returned to the council after many years absence, narrowly winning on a split vote in the Romford seat of Brooklands. Going into the 1986 election the previous leader of the twelve Labour Cllrs had been Ron Whitworth, a long serving Harold Hill Cllr. As the first group meeting following the election approached it became apparent that Ron would be challenged for the leadership of the group. Dennis Cook was lobbied by both Latham and Whitworth for support. Dennis told them both that he would support Ron and if Ron were to be eliminated he would switch to Latham. I only knew Arthur Latham by reputation but I knew Ron Whitworth and I liked him and I agreed to follow Dennis's lead.
At the first meeting it became apparent that there was another candidate, Cllr Alan Williams a barrister from Hornchurch. Just as Latham had a left wing reputation Williams was a well known right winger.
  The first round ballot was quite a shock for Whitworth he had been assured of support from many of his old friends but it didn't materialise. He got just four votes and was eliminated. His four votes were Dennis Cook, his wife Bessie, me and himself. In the second round Latham and Williams dead heated on nine votes each. Both Whitworths had abstained in disgust. After a short discussion we went into a third round with both Latham and Williams refusing to give way. The third round ended in a single vote victory for Latham, ten votes to nine. In the third round Ron Whitworth had regained his composure and because of his personal resentment of Latham he had cast his vote for Williams, his wife Bessie didn't vote. Ron Whitworth would have expected Williams to win but unbeknown to him Mike Davis had switched his vote from Williams to Latham ensuring Latham a win by the narrowest possible margin.
  Mike Davis was also new to the council having been elected for the Romford seat of Mawney. Prior to the leadership election he had been lobbied by Cllr Geoff Otter on behalf of Latham. He sought advice from the chair of his branch and was told under no circumstances should he vote for Latham. He had taken that firm advice in the first two votes and ignored it in the third. As the years passed Mike came to understand why his branch chairman gave him such advice.
  For the duration of the 1986-90 council the Tories carried on in coalition with the Independents. Not always getting their own way, one or two of the Independents did occasionally live up to their name. The Labour group harried and harassed but in the main had little to show for their troubles.

 With Geoff Otter, a compliant chief whip and Wilf Mills a docile deputy Arthur Latham was securing his grip of the Labour group, chairing the group meetings and often instigating and then controlling the agenda. Most of the group were content with that.
  In the 1990 election Labour marched on, winning a further five seats at the expense of the Conservatives. The Lib Dems gained one and the Independents gained three, leaving the Tories nine down. The council now comprised of 19 Conservative, 25 Labour, 6 Liberal Democrat and 13 Independent Cllrs, a total of 63, 32 were needed for a majority and the previous Con/Ind coalition did retain just enough but the Independents were divided and they had had enough. They decided the coalition was no longer viable. Arthur Latham seized his opportunity and proposed a minority administration. He became the leader of the council and although it looked on paper a pretty unlikely proposition, he held on for a full four year term, sometimes losing votes and sometimes winning. The Independents were often divided and the Lib Dems often supportive, Labour just muddled through. It couldn't have been done without the panache and bravado of Arthur Latham.
  Both Del Smith and Dennis Cook had stood down for the 1990 election to concentrate on building the strength of their local branches on Harold Hill. On top of that the Whitworths and Ron Lynn all retired, leaving room for five newcomers to Harold Hill. Mike Davis who lived on Harold Hill was already a sitting Councillor having won a seat in Romford's Mawney ward in 1986 so he wasn't a novice, he switched to Harold Hill and was nominated. Willis, Harrison, Flewitt and Tony Hunt were also selected, they were all complete newcomers. Sean Willis and Mark Flewitt didn't last long, Sean resigning in April 1991 and Mark in June 1992. This unusually led to two by elections at which in despair at the alternatives, first, Del Smith and then Dennis Cook were returned to the council.  By 1992 the four unlikely future rebels, Cook, Davis, Hunt and Smith were all now in place.

In the 1994 election the Conservatives hit rock bottom with just 11 seats. Labour increased to 31, their highest ever tally. The Lib Dems lost two and the Independents increased to 17. Labour were one short of a majority, but not for long.

The count for the 94 election took place at the Hornchurch Sports Centre. Hopes were high in the Labour camp but as the night wore on it became clear that we were tantalisingly close to an overall majority. As the final results began to be posted it was obvious that we were one short and the Lib Dems with four seats held the balance of power. Terry and Caroline Hurlstone were fairly chipper in spite of losing a third of their group (two). I had known Terry for many years and we got along OK, I barely knew Caroline but I went over and had a chat with Terry. Along with the inevitable banter, it was clear to me that we could do business with them. It seemed obvious to me that Terry though not a Cllr was going to be pretty influential. I then went to see Arthur, across the hall suggesting that a deal was eminently possible and we should be talking to the Lib Dems as soon as possible. Arthur turned his nose up. I persisted with the argument explaining that some of the Lib Dems were further to the left than some of our own Cllrs. Arthur was non-committal. It was late, well past midnight and I went home to bed......................

THE BUILD UP

 

 

THE LAST STRAW

At the Labour group meeting on Monday 18/3/1995 we were all astonished to find that Latham had unilaterally decided to impose a new chair and vice chair of housing on us. Presumably the two members benefiting from this, Cllrs Shaw and Hoepelman were aware of what was coming but no one else seems to have been consulted, including me and I was the chief whip. There were several objections from the floor but by now we were getting weary of this arrogant behaviour. At the conclusion of a rather flat group meeting five of us dropped off at the Ship pub in Gidea Park. As we sat down with our drinks we were all pretty depressed by the evening’s events. Housing was very important to us. Arthur detested the director of housing, Jim Draper, and in his determination to pursue his vendetta, he had already tried replacing the long term chair Mike Davis with Stefan Koseda. For us this was an unmitigated disaster. As it happens we all liked Stefan, his heart was in the right place but he was wild and often furious. The appointment caused havoc in the housing dept which as far as Latham was concerned was just what the doctor ordered.
In the pub after a brief discussion I think It was me who suggested “why don’t we just dump him” Mike gave it a second’s thought and replied “yeh, why not”. The details of the lengthy debate are lost in time. But we thought two of us could possibly do it, three would be better and four would make it solid. Tony decided to throw in his lot after a while and Dennis was at first reluctant but eventually decided to join up. Chris Purnell said that there was no way he would join the coup. The discussion then centred on tactics and possible scenarios, needless to say as the weeks unrolled events took on a course of their own and we spent a lot of time trying to keep up and adapting our tactics as necessary.
We all knew we would be expelled from the Labour Party, we all knew it would be tough and we all knew there would be no way back. Mutual respect drove our solidarity and only Tony with his strong family connections had any difficulty. We were also in no doubt that we could rely on a serious body of discrete support from within the Labour group, it suited us that way..
We planned to meet up the following morning at 10 o clock at the town hall and announce our intentions to Mike Tink the highly regarded Borough Solicitor. Spot on time we knocked on his door and his secretary invited us in explaining that Tink was in a meeting with all the other directors in Latham’s office. We explained that it was of supreme importance and she agreed to go fetch him from the meeting. We were in good spirits, the die was cast. When Tink arrived we explained that we were refusing the Labour Whip and forming a separate group. We were firm in explaining that Latham could no longer command a majority and that we were determined to depose him. He asked why and I think it was Tony who said "we couldn’t stand any more of those Labour group Christmas parties". Tink explained the consequences for us and the procedures that needed to be undertaken and we agreed to him setting in motion whatever was necessary. The inscrutable Mike Tink then set off, up the stairs and along the corridor. For the first time in many years he was trotting, he was also barely suppressing a smile, but working with politicians he was accustomed to that. On entering Latham's office he immediately made the announcement to his fellow senior officers and Latham himself, all done in the most appropriate official language.
All present were stunned, no one was more shocked than Latham who according to Jim Draper twitched and turned pale. Latham didn’t do much twitching but he was always somewhat pale. Apparently his pallor was now a deathly white, almost life threatening. The meeting immediately broke up with most of the officers walking on air but trying not to show it as they hurriedly returned to their departments. The Chief Executive, Harold Tinworth was probably the most pensive. Within minutes the whole town hall knew.

No one was caring enough to call an ambulance for Latham.

THE CATASTROPHE

WEEK 1

Hotel Invoices

Latham's enemy within letter

The PEP letter.

Director of housing's response

WEEK 2

Anonymous letters

Letter to Labour group from the Socialists

The "Stolen" letter

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WEEK 3

Hansard

 
WEEK 4

Mr Bean Letters

 
WEEK 5
 
WEEK 6

Hospitality docs

 
WEEK 7

WEEK 8
WEEK 9

Appendix 1, the endless working lunches

Official Car Use Queries

Latham's response to car use queries (appendix 1)

Investigatory Sub Ctte Comments on car usage

 
WEEK 10

WEEK 11

 
WEEK 13
Injunction documents  
WEEK 16
Investigatory Sub Ctte Comments on car usage  
WEEK 17
WEEK 19

Latham's Letter

Hurlstone refuses to pay phone bill

WEEK 31
Latham's letter to group  
WEEK 39
WEEK 40

WEEK 41
WEEK 43
WEEK 44
Labour group letter on bad publicity  
WEEK 47
WEEK 59
WEEK 60
WEEK 62
Ivor Cameron drinks letter  
WEEK 63

 

WEEK 75
WEEK 88

WEEK 90
WEEK 91
Latham's letter to mayor  
THE END

 

What became of them all?

Mike Davis is now 71 and has recently (2015) retired from the chair of PETRA (Parkhill Estate Tenants & Residents Association) in Hornchurch after eighteen years. He has also retired from the executive board of the NFTMO (National Federation of Tenant Management Organisations) where he held the position of executive board member for twelve years, membership secretary for six years, deputy chair for five years and shadow treasurer for five years. In case you are wondering he really is just one person. 

Dennis cook now nearing eighty still lives on Harold Hill and in spite of the fact that most of his family are Labour Party members he still refuses to rejoin Labour, unless they ask him nicely. Sadly Tony Hunt died young in November 2009. Chris Purnell moved to Hornchurch, and he meets regularly at the Moon and Stars with Micky Wood and Mike Davis. Arthur Latham died in December 2016 aged 86. Up until then he and his wife Caroline led a quiet life in Romford. Terry Hurlstone, now a Green party member, soldiers on with left wing causes, unbowed and as outspoken and eccentric as ever. He still lives in Rise Park. Ray Harris is still in Elm Park, no longer an activist but one more reinvigorated Corbyn supporter. Bill Harrison recently rejoined Labour after years without a party.  Many of Arthur’s past supporters in the Town Hall have died, Tony Gordon, Bob Kilbey, Jack Hoepelman, Sheila McCole, Pat Ridley, Dave Martin and not the least Margaret Latham all gone. Wilf Mills and Denis O Flynn still carry the Labour flag, Denis with more vigour than Wilf.
  As for me, well Gaynor and I fled to the hills in 2006. We now live on a remote Aberdeenshire hillside far away from the turmoil of Havering. I rejoined the Labour party after Corbyn’s victory in 2015. Gaynor also joined Labour, after a lifetime of abstinence. In spite of being hundreds of miles from home I spend my time causing as much trouble as I can, it's probably an irresistible behavioural disorder.