Councillor sparks ‘motherhood’ row with Newham mayoral hopeful

Cllr Lakmini Shah. Picture: Submitted

Cllr Lakmini Shah. Picture: Submitted - Credit: Archant

A Newham Council cabinet member campaigning to re-elect mayor Sir Robin Wales has said his rival Labour candidate is not aware of how important free school meals are for parents because she does not have children.

Cllr Rokhsana Fiaz

Cllr Rokhsana Fiaz - Credit: Rokhsana Fiaz

In comments made ahead of May’s election, Cllr Lakmini Shah said in a phone conversation that being a mother makes her better understand the pressures facing parents.

The cabinet member for work and skills and domestic violence prevention said of party colleague Cllr Rokhsana Fiaz: “She’s not married, she hasn’t got children so she don’t know how hard it is for parents.

“I’ve got three children and I know how hard it is to pay for school meals.”

Her remarks echo those of Tory MP Andrea Leadsom, who scuppered her bid for the party leadership in 2016 over similar comments to a Times reporter.

Mrs Leadsom apologised to Theresa May after suggesting that motherhood gave her “a very real stake” in the future, and that the then home secretary must be “really sad” not to have children.

Cllr Shah’s phone call took place on Wednesday with a local party member, according to a spokesman for community group Newham People’s Alliance.

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In the recording, which has been shared with the Recorder, the caller claims to be trying to persuade his wife, who is not heard, against voting for Cllr Fiaz in the upcoming mayoral election.

He states that her campaign is “looking to scrap free school meals” – something Cllr Fiaz strongly denies – and asks Cllr Shah to repeat an earlier statement on the issue.

In response, the representative for East Ham South claims rival campaigners are “going to stop” the service for low-income families to save the borough about £3 million annually.

“I’m not sure if it’s £3m or £6m a year,” adds Cllr Shah. “I have to find that number out.”

Cllr Fiaz at first declined to comment on the recording, stating that she has made a formal complaint against Cllr Shah.

“It’s an internal Labour party matter and it’s being dealt with by their own disciplinary processes,” she said.

But the representative for Custom House ward rebuffed the accusation she wanted to ditch free school meals.

“That’s incorrect,” she said, adding that she had “never” called or voted for “anything that suggests” she would drop them.

She demanded those in the mayor’s camp produce “some proof”, pointing out the council U-turned over funding free school meals after a quarter of primary schools threatened to drop out of the Eat for Free programme due to increased costs.

Asked about the recording, Cllr Shah admitted she “should have chosen my words more carefully” but did not apologise, stating her words were “said out of frustration and taken out of context”.

“This recording was purposefully taken and distorted by supporters of Rokhsana Fiaz’s campaign as a distraction from her refusal to guarantee funding for free school meals,” she told the Recorder.

Cllr Shah then demanded Cllr Fiaz debate the mayor and provide funding proposals for her campaign pledges.

The Labour Party has been contacted for comment.