Greens defend ‘noble’ decision by assembly member to resign three days after re-election

While the move did not break any rules, Labour MP Wes Streeting called it “very poor”, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

Zoe Garbett outside City Hall (credit Noah Vickers/LDRS) and (inset) Sian Berry
Zoe Garbett outside City Hall (credit Noah Vickers/LDRS) and (inset) Sian Berry

A Green politician who resigned as soon as she could after being re-elected to the London Assembly took a “hugely generous and noble” decision to give up her job, her colleagues have said.

Sian Berry, the party’s former co-leader, sparked a fierce backlash from the Greens’ opponents last week when she quit her City Hall role on the first working day after being voted back in by Londoners.

It has also been revealed that Berry tried to resign on the same night that she was re-elected, but was prevented by the assembly’s rules – which required her to be sworn in before abdicating her seat.

Once she was able to resign, on Tuesday 7th, her seat was automatically passed to the party’s Green mayoral candidate, Zoe Garbett – without the need for a by-election to be held.

While the move did not break any rules, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting called it “very poor” and Labour MP Jess Phillips said it was “a terrible thing to do”.

Berry was last year selected by members of her party as their candidate to replace Green MP Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion, who is standing down at the general election.

Following her selection in Brighton, Berry had told the Local Democracy Reporting Service she would still run for re-election at City Hall, and would “keep representing the people of London” until she became an MP, if elected to parliament.

But in a Q&A session with reporters this week, Berry’s party colleagues explained that she decided to quit City Hall after the party failed to win four assembly members, which would have enabled Garbett to join them from the start of the new mayoral term.

Green group leader Caroline Russell said: “What she has done is a hugely generous and noble thing, because she has left herself without the safety net of a job, if she weren’t to get elected in Brighton Pavilion.

“She has left herself without an income for this next few months. It’s extraordinary what she did. It’s unbelievably generous.”

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All three Greens at City Hall won their seats via the proportionally-elected list of London-wide assembly candidates. Berry was placed first on the Greens’ list, followed by Russell, then the national party’s deputy leader Zack Polanski, and Garbett in fourth place.

Under the ‘closed list’ system used to elect London-wide members however, none of their names appeared on the ballot paper – only the ‘Green Party’ label.

The Greens received 11.6% of the vote on that ballot, which was only enough to get their top three candidates elected as assembly members.

Garbett, who therefore initially failed to be elected to the assembly, said: “Sian’s made it very clear that [her] stepping aside was to allow me to just work as hard as possible for the Green group here.”

She added that Berry tried to resign on the night of the results being declared [Saturday 4th], explaining: “It was meant to just be a quick switch-over… and it wasn’t going to be ‘a thing’.

“Legally, she couldn’t do it. Legally, she had to be signed in, and then had to resign so that I could [take her place]… so we just did it as quickly as possible.”

She said it “wasn’t a plan” in advance of the election for Berry to immediately stand down following the results.

Russell said: “It was incredibly unexpected that she would bring that [option] forward, but she could see that it was the right thing to happen, because Zoe had run such an incredible campaign, and it makes so much sense for Zoe to start at the beginning [of the term].

“Because when you’ve got a new assembly, you’ve got all the induction, all the things that go on at the beginning, and to come in a few months in [if Berry resigned following the general election] was going to be much tougher. But it was a surprise.”

Russell also pointed out that assembly members have in the past resigned mid-term, saying it is “how this building is set up to work” and that the “resilient” system used at City Hall enables its members “to be replaced in a completely transparent and democratic way – it doesn’t cost any money”.

However, no assembly members have resigned as swiftly following an election as Berry.

In 2000, Labour’s David Lammy resigned after just two months on the newly-created assembly, as he had been elected in a by-election as MP for Tottenham.

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