The deselected deputy leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council Sheelagh Clarke has called the process “undemocratic” – and claims “somebody in London wants rid”.
Council Leader George Dunning, along with deputy Cllr Clarke, cabinet member Mark Hannon and former mayor Vic Jefferies were told at a meeting at the Claxton Hotel in Redcar on Sunday that they would not be allowed to stand for Labour in their wards in May’s elections.
It immediately raises questions about how the authority will run on a day-to-day basis – coming as it does after a further four Labour councillors were deselected last year.
But Cllrs Dunning and Clarke say they remain “as committed as ever”.
How the leader and deputy responded
“There is a budget for us to get through, and we’re proposing to keep council tax frozen again and do what’s right for the people of this borough,” said the leader.
“We’ve done a hell of a lot of work since taking the council back in 2007 – which a lot of people in our party didn’t even think we would do.
“As far as we’re concerned, unless there’s a vote of no confidence, Sheelagh and I will continue to run the council.”
Cllr Dunning insists he is the victim of a “power struggle” within the Labour Party and that the office of Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop “wants to run the council, and we won’t let them”.
“A lot of members in Teesville are getting on, or have been ill,” the leader continued.
“I wasn’t going to round people up on a cold day and tell them they had to come and vote for us, but I know we had the support.
“This has been a struggle for years.
“There have been people in this party who wanted to be leader, who wanted to be on the cabinet, and they are paranoid and power-mad.”
‘It’s not democratic’
Cllr Dunning has survived tests of his leadership in the past – both from within his own party and from the Liberal Democrat opposition.
And Cllr Clarke said:
“I do not think it is a democratic process. If the people of my ward had voted me out, I would fully accept that.
“But those people have been denied a chance, because somebody from the Labour Party in London wants rid of us.”
Meanwhile, cabinet member Mark Hannon blamed the fall-out on a rift between senior councillors and Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Mr Blenkinsop, Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Redcar Anna Turley, and councillors working in their offices.
Candidates are chosen by local Labour party members in each ward, but if not enough members show up, as was the case on Sunday, the party’s local executive steps in to vote.
And Cllr Hannon, cabinet member for economic development, said: “I went and did a ten minute presentation at my interview, I answered questions for ten minutes, and I know I did the best presentation.
“The other candidates weren’t in there for anywhere near as long as me.
“I am popular with people in Redcar.
“Since I’ve been a councillor, we’ve got a new hospital in my Kirkleatham ward, housing, a new shopping centre.
“That doesn’t matter though. It’s been a cull of senior councillors.”
‘Labour just want to keep people on benefits’
“The Labour Party doesn’t care about the working classes any more.
“They just want to keep people on benefits and feather their own nests.”
“Against a backdrop of austerity, we have totally regenerated Redcar.
“We’ve not only kept leisure centres open, but we’ve built a new one, we’ve kept libraries open – and we’ve tried to keep council tax down.”
Cllr Hannon alluded to bullying within the party – which led cabinet member Olwyn Peters to claim she had suffered a breakdown.
This comes two-and-a-half years after Labour North’s Wallis Report claimed the Redcar and Cleveland Labour Group was “dysfunctional”.
What the MPs said
In a joint statement, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Tom Blenkinsop and Anna Turley, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Redcar, thanked Cllrs Dunning and Clarke for their service but said it was “time for change”.
Mr Blenkinsop said:
“All candidates knew exactly what to expect, and the bar has been set very high in these elections.
“If deselected councillors were not told about the reasons for deselection, they’re not asking the right questions. Selection is a democratic process.
“The Labour Party is not looking for candidates that take support for the party for granted, or for anyone who is complacent. Candidates need to get out and talk to people to find out what they want.
“But I wasn’t part of the selection process for these councillors, so I don’t know what the reasons were.”
‘If Labour group can’t manage their own affairs, how can they manage the council?’
Glyn Nightingale, leader of the council’s Lib Dem group, said the possibility of launching another ‘no confidence’ vote would “be a matter for group members to discuss”.
“If the Labour group cannot manage their own affairs, how can they manage the council?” he added.
“I do not agree with what George Dunning and his administration have done in office, but I acknowledge that they have been working hard.
“It was up to the people at the ballot box to replace them – not an internal party manipulation.”
‘I totally do not accept any form of bullying’
Neil Bendelow, the chair of the Redcar Constituency Labour Party, said that all members had been treated equally.
“The way that candidates were selected follows the Labour Party process and would be the same anywhere,” he added.
“All councillors were asked the same type of questions, and were allowed to give a ten minute presentation and answer questions for ten minutes.
“We have some fanstastic candidates who are going to work tirelessly for their wards.”
Last year, Cllrs Brian Briggs, Steve Goldswain, Norman Pickthall and Brian Hogg were also deselected.
But Mr Bendelow added: “I totally do not accept any form of bullying whatsoever.
“There is a process for anyone to follow if they feel they are being bullied, and I have received no complaints and no shred of evidence has been given to us.”
What the future holds
Cllrs Dunning, Clarke and Hannon were told that they could possibly stand for Labour in other wards – but say they were not given reasons for their deselection.
Cllrs Dunning and Clarke said that at this point, they would not consider standing as independent councillors.
Cllr Dunning said that Bob Norton, Rob Hodgson, and Geraldine Williams will now stand for Labour in the Teesville ward.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 02 Feb 2015