Published: September 16, 2011
by PETER GRUNER
A FORMER Islington mayor who switched sides from Labour to become an independent is being ordered to stand down next month to make way for a by-election.
Councillor Joan Coupland, 69, has been informed that under local government rules a by-election must be declared in her St Mary’s ward in October because in the past six months she has not attended enough council meetings.
It will mean a second by-election in the borough in as many months and the news will cause further disarray for councillors currently facing a major campaign against the housing agency Homes for Islington.
The latest blow comes after Cllr Coupland’s daughter Shelley – also a former Labour councillor – was forced to stand down before a by-election in St Peter’s ward last month following allegations of benefit fraud. Labour candidate Alice Perry won her seat.
Shelley Coupland is due to appear at Southwark Crown Court in January and intends to plead not guilty.
Her mother, who lives on the Popham Estate, off New North Road, Canonbury, has since resigned from Labour on grounds of “disenchantment” with the party and lack of support for Shelley from former colleagues.
Speaking to the Tribune this week, Cllr Coupland (pictured) said: “After 14 years serving the community as a councillor I get a letter on Wednesday saying that I have broken the rules and there’s going to be a by-election. No one has rung me personally and tried to explain what’s going on. I feel very let down.”
The letter was from Islington’s new chief executive, Lesley Seary, who wrote that she was sorry she had never met Cllr Coupland and that the tone of the communication had to be so formal.
Cllr Coupland added: “Ms Seary wrote that she is formally advising me that I have not attended a full council since last March.
“It’s true I didn’t attend the Mayor-making evening earlier this year but that’s because Shelley had been a candidate for the post and was dropped. As for the second meeting, I was in hospital and obviously couldn’t attend. I couldn’t attend several other committees because they were cancelled.”
Cllr Coupland has been told that her membership of Islington Council will end on October 1 when members will be obliged to declare a vacancy and hold a by-election.
She is currently taking legal advice and has not decided yet whether to stand and fight the by-election as an independent.
“If I do stand and fight,” she added, “I think I’m in with a good chance. After all these years I’ve made a lot of friends in my ward. I know a lot of people will support me.
“Rents and council taxes are expected to increase while benefits are reduced,” she said. “You can’t blame it all on the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition.”
Cllr Coupland, a former nurse, who has been dogged by ill health, originally defected to Labour from the Lib Dems in Islington in 2006. She was Mayor of Islington in 2005.
Speaking about her switch from Labour to independent in August this year, she said: “I jumped before I was pushed. They would have tried to deselect me at some point. I feel I have been ostracised and victimised by the Labour group.”
Cllr Coupland is a diabetic who has suffered blood clots in her legs. Her condition deteriorated after she was attacked two years ago by a youngster brandishing a scaffolding poll.
A spokesman for the council said: “The last meeting Cllr Coupland attended was the council meeting of March 31, so she will cease to be a member of the council on October 1 unless her reasons for non-attendance are approved.”