Four councillors disaffected with the current Enfield Labour administration have quit the party and formed a new political group called Community First.

Former Enfield Labour chair Cllr Dinah Barry and her colleague Cllr Derek Levy established the group earlier this year and have now been joined by Cllr Daniel Anderson and Cllr Dino Lemonides.

Community First is classed as the council’s minority opposition group. It gives the ex-Labour councillors the right to sit on committees and speak at full council meetings – which they would not have as independent members.

All four councillors expressed concerns about an apparent lack of democracy in the Labour Group under the current administration – claims that were dismissed as “personal struggles and grumblings” by Labour leader Cllr Nesil Caliskan.

Cllr Levy, who quit Labour in April, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “I was personally being sidelined and I figured, if you are going to be sidelined, you might as well be properly sidelined.

“If I’m not getting the information I need to give my residents the service they need by the conventional channels, I have to do something about it.”

Cllr Levy claimed those with differences of opinion to the administration “were either never allowed to speak or heckled or demeaned” during Labour Group meetings.

Cllr Barry also claimed the administration was hostile to dissenting opinions. She said: “It is called discussion, but it isn’t really – you are not supposed to question what is being done or what’s being said.”

The councillors added that they had been expected to support policies that they felt were against Labour values. These included changes to Enfield’s council tax reduction scheme, which Cllr Barry described as taking “the less poor of the very poor people’s money to help the very poorest”.

Cllr Anderson resigned from Labour on August 4, claiming the party had mishandled a conduct case in which he was accused of bullying. Months after the initial ruling by the council’s monitoring officer that he had bullied council officers and breached the code of conduct, he has been unable to have his appeal heard at a meeting of the conduct committee.

Cllr Anderson also expressed concerns over the apparent lack of democracy in the Labour group.

“It was just a toxic atmosphere,” he said. “If you tried to say anything, you were shouted down. If you tried to express a difference of opinion, you were talked down, and it was very intimidating. It was effectively as if decisions were determined in advance of Labour group meetings.”

Cllr Lemonides said he had been dissatisfied with the Labour group for some time. A recent decision to hike councillors’ pay and the party’s handling of Cllr Anderson’s conduct case pushed him to leave.

He claimed recent changes to the scrutiny process were debated by the Labour group, but the creation of new posts – resulting in a £36,000-a year increase in special responsibility allowances – was not properly discussed.

Cllr Lemonides said: “When I tried to point this out, I was a ‘trouble-maker’. If we had discussed it, then fine – but we did not really discuss it.

“They seem to make decisions behind closed doors,” he said. “It is just not a democratic environment.”

Cllr Levy added: “We (Community First) are true pretty much to the (Labour) manifesto on which we were elected, and we would like to see some of the decisions being made reflecting that.”

Leader of the Labour group Cllr Nesil Caliskan said: “These are opposition councillors who have personal struggles and grumblings because the Labour Group did not elect them into positions of responsibility. I continue to focus on the residents of Enfield during this difficult time of Covid-19.”

Cllr Tim Leaver, who became chair of the Labour group after Cllr Barry resigned from the position in February 2019, defended the way in which meetings were handled.

Cllr Leaver said: “I do not believe anyone who indicated was denied the opportunity to speak, and they were listened to.

“I do not think any of the individuals who have left the party are backwards in coming forwards with their opinions or views. I find it puzzling they consider they were unable to speak up. That was not my experience, and their contributions would have been welcomed.”