In January, Tory MP James Morris secured a Commons debate on alleged ‘incompetence and corruption’ of the Labour council in the West Midlands borough of Sandwell. In isolation, Morris’ claims might be seen as mere politicking ahead of the local elections taking place across the country in May.
But those claims are mirrored by similar claims – and more – within the Labour Party.
Two senior Labour figures had already been accused of financial misconduct, harassment, bullying, subverting local democracy and even more lurid behaviour. One of them was – finally – suspended by the ‘Disputes Panel’ of Labour’s National Executive Committee last week, pending investigation of extremely serious allegations.
The other, for unknown reasons, was not discussed – and has still not been suspended.
Derek Rowley is a former Labour councillor and Mayor and is the current secretary of Sandwell’s ‘LCF’ – the Local Campaign Forum responsible for the selection of the ‘panel’ of prospective local government candidates in the borough and for overseeing the shortlisting and selection process by local branches.
Mr Rowley has been accused of an array of serious misdeeds – ranging from financial misconduct and data protection breach to bullying, sexism, racism and ‘unwanted attention’ – by several members and employees. Some of the matters have been referred to the police.
The allegations are as yet unproven, but normal Labour procedures would involve his immediate suspension while the allegations are investigated – yet this has not happened. Local members and senior national figures have complained that he has been protected by Labour’s West Midlands regional office because he is close to right-wing Labour MPs in the area.
Today, new allegations were laid against Mr Rowley by members of the ‘Great Bridge’ branch of West Bromwich West CLP (constituency Labour party), who claim that he behaved aggressively to a local councillor, causing her a minor injury – and was so obstructive during their attempt to shortlist their prospective council candidates that the meeting had to be abandoned.
The SKWAWKBOX contacted Mr Rowley today to ask for comment regarding the allegations:
Local Labour members advise that at the Great Bridge shortlisting meeting last night, you:
- tried to insist that the marked register be produced to show that members had voted in the last election to prove their eligibility to vote in the shortlisting meeting, even though Labour Party members might have all manner of legitimate reasons for not voting and a failure to have done so would not disqualify them from voting in a selection meeting
- refused to show the panel list [of approved candidates] to members
We’ve also received allegations that when Cllr ________ attempted to enter the community centre you were very aggressive in refusing her entrance to the building and that you physically blocked the door from opening, causing her a minor injury, and made her wait outside the building, in the rain on a dark night – and that, as a result of your behaviour, the meeting had to be abandoned.
We also understand that other serious allegations concerning your behaviour have been made to the Labour Party and that, while your colleague Mr ________ was suspended whilst similar complaints are investigated, you have not been.
We will be covering these latest allegations and the overall situation this evening. If you have any comments you wish to have included in the article, please provide them by return and not later than 7pm tonight.
Mr Rowley had not responded by the time of publication – four hours after the requested deadline.
The SKWAWKBOX understands that the new allegations have been raised with Labour HQ and NEC members, along with the existing allegations, and that these will be discussed by NEC officers ahead of next Tuesday’s full NEC meeting. Demands have also been made for an investigation into Labour’s West Midlands regional office for its alleged part in protecting figures in the region who have been the subject of serious allegations.
The West Midlands has been a stronghold of the Labour right for many years. If the allegations by local members and national officers prove to be true, it appears that at least some of those integral to that stronghold have long abused their positions of power, privilege and influence.
Intervention by the NEC in Sandwell will rock that stronghold to its foundations.
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