Former Labour councillors today called on Ed Miliband to investigate after a bitter row in the Redcar party led to the departure of a number of high-profile members.
Former Redcar and Cleveland Council leader George Dunning headed a demonstration in Redcar asking for a full investigation into the party’s “flawed selection process”.
The call came ahead of the Labour leader’s question and answer session at Redcar and Cleveland College.
Mr Dunning’s deselection followed those of Redcar and Cleveland Council cabinet members Steve Goldswain (Eston) and Norman Pickthall (Teesville), the chair of Cleveland Fire Authority, Cllr Brian Briggs (Skelton) and Cllr Olywn Peters (Eston).
The deselections meant Mr Dunning and his colleagues could not stand for Labour in May’s elections and followed claims of bullying and harassment in the local party.
Mr Dunning, who has since quit the party, said:
“I was and still am the longest serving leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council.
“But I was deselected due to the influence of a group within the party who have never been voted for by the public.
“Everybody knows the selection process is flawed from start to finish.
“I’m absolutely appalled by the Labour Party. I’m nearly 65 and this is the first time ever I will not be voting for Labour. It is not a democratic party anymore and it no longer represents the working class.
“I’ve asked the question, will Ed Miliband carry out a full investigation into Labour Party North’s deeply flawed selection process?”
The deselections have seen Labour lose control of Redcar & Cleveland Council.
> Which seems a weird thing to do just before elections….
The upheaval in the Redcar and Cleveland Labour group follows a similar row in the Middlesbrough party last year.
Five councillors were deselected following interviews, and although Cllr Derek Loughborough won an appeal against the decision, he quit the party along with Cllrs Len Junier, Pervaz Khan, Sajaad Khan and John McPartland.
In a statement issued at the time of the deselections, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Tom Blenkinsop and Anna Turley, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Redcar, said it was “time for change”.
“Leader George Dunning and deputy leader Sheelagh Clarke have served Redcar and Cleveland with great commitment and have a lot to be proud of,” the statement said.
“However, local Labour Party members have today voted to replace them with other candidates for the ward of Teesville. We have a wealth of talent in the Labour Party and the bar has been set very high this year.
“The people of Redcar and Cleveland deserve the very best representation that the Labour party has to offer in the local community and members have chosen some fantastic local candidates. It is time for change. We are building a fresh, exciting and committed new team.”
The statement was released in the names of Mr Blenkinsop, Ms Turley and John McCormick, chair of Redcar and Cleveland Local Campaign Forum, Neil Bendelow, chair of the Redcar Constituency Labour Party and Bill Suthers, chair of Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour Party.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 06 Mar 2015
The future of a Teesside council has been left in disarray after its Labour leader and other cabinet members resigned from the party.
Redcar and Cleveland Council leader George Dunning, his deputy Sheelagh Clarke, the mayor, cabinet members and other senior councillors resigned this morning.
The move is the latest development in a bitter internal Labour dispute and comes after the councillors were not selected by the party in their seats in May’s council elections.
Ten councillors – including more than half of those on the council’s cabinet – staged a public protest outside the Redcar office of Anna Turley, Labour’s candidate for the Redcar seat in the General Election.
An informal meeting is taking place today in which the group will speak to cabinet members still in the Labour Party, and also approach independents to debate how the council can continue to function.
The most pressing issue is the need to pass a budget before the end of March, which includes a vital decision on whether to raise council tax.
But the Liberal Democrat group on Redcar and Cleveland Council have now confirmed that they will table a motion at next Thursday’s full council meeting calling for Cllr Dunning to stand down as leader.
Speaking at the protest in Redcar, Cllr Dunning said Redcar and Cleveland residents have “nothing to worry about”.
Cllr Norman Pickthall, cabinet member for corporate resources, said: “The direction of travel is that we will agree the budget, with a 0% council tax rise.
“All the work has been done. Other councillors would be foolish to reject it.”
Asked if he thought Labour would again win control of the council in May, Cllr Pickthall said: “I don’t think so. Not if the councillor who wants to become leader succeeds.”
Cllr Dunning said that South Bank councillor Sue Jeffrey wanted to become leader of the council’s Labour group.
The ten councillors who resigned from the party were Steve Goldswain (Eston), Olwyn Peters (Eston), Norman Pickthall (Teesville), Mark Hannon (Kirkleatham), Vic Jeffries (Marske), Brian Briggs (Skelton), Carole Simms (Normanby) and Wendy Wall (Normanby).
Their total membership in the party spans 230 years.
Cllrs Goldswain, Briggs and Pickthall were deselected as Labour councillors in November.
Cllrs Dunning, Clarke, Hannon and Jeffries were deselected at a meeting on Sunday, the culmination of a rift the council leader says exists between the leadership and Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Anna Turley, and councillors Joe Keenan and Dale Quigley, who work in Mr Blenkinsop’s office.
Mr Blenkinsop said earlier this week that “he wasn’t part of the selection process”.
Ms Turley said in a statement today:
“I am sad that the councillors and members who didn’t get selected don’t feel they can continue to be part of the Labour movement without being paid councillors, but the party cannot be held to ransom.
“There were simply other candidates who won their elections and they deserve their opportunity to serve their local communities.”
Ms Turley was out campaigning when the councillors staged their protest at her Milbank Terrace office.
A Labour Party statement said the decision was “disappointing but unsurprising”.
“The selection process in Redcar &; Cleveland has been fair, robust and competitive. The Labour Party expects the highest standards from our councillors and council candidates. These expectations include that a candidate demonstrates a willingness to campaign in their community all year round.
“The selection process is still ongoing but local members have begun to choose a new team of candidates drawn from a wide range of backgrounds, including a postman, a steel worker, a cobbler, a barmaid, and a netball coach.”
Cllr Sheelagh Clarke has now called for an independent inquiry into allegations of bullying, and the selection process which saw senior Labour members rejected by their party.
Cllr Peters said she had suffered a nervous breakdown because of bullying – and that she supported the deselected councillors who she said “represented what Labour is all about”.
Cllr Goldswain has also complained about bullying.
Chair of the Redcar Constituency Labour Party, Neil Bendelow, claimed earlier this week that there had been “no complaints” about bullying.
However, Cllr Vic Jeffries said he had made an official complaint around three weeks ago – which had been acknowledged.
Mr Bendelow said: “We had no complaints from those councillors who have spoken about the issue in the press. But we have had a complaint from Cllr Jeffries – the first I have ever had to deal with – and it will be dealt with by Labour Party process.”
Speaking after ripping up his 30-year Labour Party membership this morning, former mayor Cllr Jeffries said: “It is a very, very sad day.
“I am weighing my options up. I am a socialist and I believe in fairness, transparency and truth.”
Cllr Brian Briggs said: “I used to help my father with party business when I was a boy. I am Labour through and through. It is with a very heavy heart that I resign my membership.”
Independent mayoral candidate for Middlesbrough Len Junier, and fellow Middlesbrough councillors Pervaz Khan, John McPartland and Derek Loughborough supported their Redcar and Cleveland counterparts at the protest.
All but Cllr Loughborough were deselected by Middlesbrough Labour Group last year.
Cllr Junier said: “I think that this shows that party politics on Teesside is in terminal decline.
“It is the rise of the Independents. I hope we see a repeat across Teesside.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 04 Feb 2015
Five Middlesbrough councillors have taken a 5% cut in their allowances.
Members of the newly-formed Association of Independent Middlesbrough Councillors (AIM) have taken the voluntary reduction after the idea was vetoed by other councillors.
North Ormesby and Brambles Farm ward councillor Len Junier raised the issue at a full council meeting in May but the proposal failed to win support of members.
Now Cllr Junier and colleagues Cllr John McPartland (Middlehaven), Cllr Pervaz Khan (Middlehaven), Cllr Michael Hudson (Coulby Newham) and Cllr Derek Loughborough (North Ormesby and Brambles Farm) will receive about £300 a year less.
All councillors receive a basic allowance of £6,130 per year while those with special responsibilities are paid more.
Cllr Junier said: “We are living in very difficult times. We are under no illusion that 5% will make a big difference but if it saves one job that one person will be forever grateful.”
At the time Cllr Junier proposed the reduction, Mayor Ray Mallon said the suggestion was “narrow-minded” and insisted the cut would not “be a pin prick” in relation to the savings required.
AIM was formed after Cllrs Junier, McPartland, Sajaad Khan, Pervaz Khan and Loughborough were deselected by the Labour party.
The five appealed against the decisions but only Cllr Loughborough was successful.
He then joined Cllrs Junier, McPartland and P Khan in setting up AIM after all resigned from the Labour party.
Cllr Hudson, who was previously an independent, joined the association shortly afterwards.
AIM is the second largest political group in Middlesbrough after Labour.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 07 July 2014
A demonstration by the English Defence League in Middlesbrough and a counter demonstration have passed off (more or less) peacefully, say police.
Over three hundred police officers were involved in the operation, which has been planned for a number of months.
Around 150-200 counter demonstrators gathered, many dressed in red – the home colours of Middlesbrough FC and the workers movement – as a sign of solidarity.
A strong police presence was active around Ayresome Gardens, but counter demo organiser, Lawrie Coombs, said: “Every time the fascists come, we’ll stand together. But we don’t anticipate any trouble.”
Councillor Len Junier was a prominent figure, leading the march onto Linthorpe Road Middlesbrough.
As the crowds gathered he said: “We are lucky in Middlesbrough, we don’t have problems with racism.
“We don’t want the EDL splitting our community. We want to celebrate the diversity in our area. But we don’t want to get in anyone’s face.”
Addressing the crowd before setting off, a Counter demo spokesman told demonstrators to avoid the areas that the EDL were reported to be.
Then the counter demo set off along Linthorpe Road to the sound of drums and whistles.
Len Junier led the march while chanting, “Whose streets?” to which the procession replied, “Our streets!“
Passers-by looked on as the march made its way up towards House of Fraser where a series of anti-racist speeches were made.
The words, “We are British, we’re not going anywhere,” were met with applause from the protesters as the EDL gathered just down the Corporation Road.
Around 350 people took part in the EDL demonstration which set off from Corporation Road at around 2pm.
As the crowd set off, turning the corner from Corporation Road onto Albert Road, it wasn’t long before the singing was broken by the sound of a loud bang.
Police were forced to temporarily halt the march after the bang, from what appeared to have been a firework exploding, shocked many bystanders.
Seconds later, a second firework and a glass bottle were thrown from among the EDL crowd.
As it shattered on the footpath outside Middlesbrough Town Hall, at least one woman was injured and was sat at the road side being treated by an EDL first aider – her foot was bleeding.
Before the march, demonstrators had been warned that banners, flags and placards that might incite disorder would be banned along with anything that could be used to cause injury or damage.
Even so, some of the signs held by EDL supporters were openly hostile in their criticism of Islam.
One read: “Islam causes more deaths a day than cancer does.”
Further fireworks exploded as the procession turned onto Borough road.
As the procession passed some Asian men who were standing at the roadside, certain members of the EDL contingent began chanting “Scum, scum scum.”
Then, as the march turned onto Melrose Street, glass bottles and another firework were thrown in the direction of another group of Asian men, one of whom had a child on his shoulders.
Following this police moved the bystanders away from the march and the missiles which were still being thrown.
Mr Hussein, 37, of Southfield Road, was shocked and baffled by the march.
He said: “I’ve lived here all my life, we live a humble life.
“The people in Middlesbrough have never had these problems before and we don’t want them here now.”
Finally, the EDL supporters gathered outside Teesside Crown Court for speaches.
One speaker said: “When will the government admit that there’s an epidemic of child grooming happening right now.
“Street justice, street justice, is far worse than anything the government can do.”
Still on the issue of child grooming, a second speaker said: “Don’t say this is not a race issue.
“The peaceful majority are irrelevant.”
A total of two men were arrested – one on suspicion of possession of an offensive weapon and one on suspicion for assaulting a police officer.
Acting assistant chief constable Ciaron Irvine said: “Clearly there has been some disruption in Middlesbrough town centre to allow these demonstrations to take place, and we are grateful to local residents and businesses for their co-operation.
“We have been working with our local communities and partner agencies including Middlesbrough Council for a number of weeks now to ensure people have been aware of the events and have had the opportunity to contact us if they have had specific concerns.”
Police and crime commissioner Barry Coppinger said: “I attended one of the briefings to police officers this morning and have been out around the town centre observing activities. The whole operation has been well planned and in consultation with our local communities and businesses.
“Clearly the priority for the police today has been to facilitate each demonstration while ensuring the safety of the public and I am pleased that the day has passed off peacefully.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 28 June 2014
A council meeting descended into chaos last night when two members of the public began filming inside Middlesbrough Town Hall.
The meeting was halted just minutes after the new chairman was agreed as Cllr Bob Kerr.
Made aware of the filming taking place, he asked the men to cease filming.
When the men refused to put down the cameras and stop filming, two police officers entered the council chamber to speak to the men.
The chairman then suspended the meeting and left the chamber.
After several minutes he returned to ask everyone to evacuate the building and congregate in the quadrangle outside.
After a 30 minute delay, councillors, the media and members of the public – except the men with cameras who were prevented from re-entering the building by the police – returned and the meeting resumed.
Beechwood ward Cllr Joan McTigue said: “It is a public meeting and councillors themselves tweet away to people outside – what is being said and by whom etc. Therefore I see no problem with it being filmed and put into the public domain.”
Last June Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles published a guide which states councils should allow the public to film, blog and tweet council meetings.
But the chairman said: “According to 25.2 of the Constitution no photography or filming can take place. The chair has the authority according to the Constitution of asking and if necessary forcing anyone doing so to leave.”
When the meeting resumed, North Ormesby and Brambles Farm ward councillor Len Junier proposed an amendment regarding allowances that every councillor in the authority should take a 5% cut for the next two years.
Mayor Ray Mallon accused him of speaking to the press saying it was “narrow-minded”.
He said: “If I had my way I would give them a bit of a pay rise. A 5% cut would be minimal, it would not be a pin prick in relation to the savings.”
The majority voted against the amendment.
Middlesbrough Conservative leader Chris Hobson submitted a proposal to alter the new senior management structure which she said would save the local authority £363,000. Mr Mallon said he would meet with her to discuss it further. Six voted for it, 34 against.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 15 May 2014
Hugely controversial television show Benefits Street could have its second series filmed in Middlesbrough.
Researchers for the Channel 4 show have been approaching residents and councillors in certain parts of the town asking if they would like to take part in a future series.
There have been reports of the North Ormesby, Brambles Farm, Pallister Park and Grangetown areas of the town being targeted.
The first series of Benefits Street, filmed on James Turner Street in Birmingham , sparked a national controversy about its portrayal of people living on benefits.
Len Junier, Labour’s councillor for North Ormesby and Brambles Farm, said: “Channel 4 rang me asking whether I would be interested in taking part.
“I refused point-blank.
“I told them I don’t take part in programmes that show people in a bad light.
“East Middlesbrough has had its issues – it would be wrong to say it hasn’t – but those people in the show in Birmingham were set up.
“They were made to look like spongers and scroungers.
“I asked Channel 4 not to contact me any further.”
Ann Bayley, who is chairwoman of North Ormesby Neighbourhood Development Trust, said: “There are a lot of people in North Ormesby on benefits but there are a lot of good people.
“Things are going quite well around here, there are only two empty shops – we’re trying to improve.”
Specific streets thought to have been visited by researchers include Peaton Street, North Ormesby, and Marshall Avenue.
Meanwhile, TV chiefs have remained tight-lipped about the possibility of using Middlesbrough as a location.
Love Productions – which produced Benefits Street – referred queries to Channel 4.
And a spokesman for the broadcaster said: “Love Productions are in development and researching potential new locations for a second series of Benefits Street and are looking at a number of areas around the country.
“The first series ignited an important debate about the welfare system and we are interested in seeing if we can revisit this through the experiences of residents of a street in a different part of Britain.”
But speaking after the original programme was aired, Dee Roberts, who appeared in the series, said: “They said they wanted to film for a TV show about how great community spirit is in the street and how we all help each other out on a daily basis.
“But this programme has nothing to do with community, which you can tell from the title. It’s all about people in the street living off benefits, taking drugs and dossing around all day.”
Source – Middlesbrough Gazette, 04 April 2014