Yesterday, the SKWAWKBOX covered the apparent suspension of former Sandwell mayor and current Labour Local Campaign Forum (LCF) secretary Derek Rowley – considered a close ally of deputy leader Tom Watson and of vehemently anti-Corbyn MP John Spellar.
After further investigations, the SKWAWKBOX has been able to confirm that Mr Rowley has indeed been suspended, in accordance with Labour procedures, pending investigation of a string of serious allegations. The suspension is considered long overdue by local members frustrated at a lack of action – or even response – to complaints.
Mr Rowley’s suspension comes against a backdrop of urgent calls for contentious selections of council candidates for May’s local elections to be re-run, with some of the most recent allegations against him centred around alleged undemocratic procedures to protect right-wing candidates or eliminate left-wing incumbents.
The ‘Langley fiasco’
One of the most prominent among these is that of the Labour branch in Langley ward, which took place on the last day of February, where both tellers (vote-counters), as well as other branch members, complained to Labour’s West Midlands office that Rowley had snatched votes part-way through the count and declared a winner that did not match the tellers’ perception of the size of the vote stacks they had separated.
The first part of each complaint is shown below:
The branch, in accordance with Labour rules, was taking a vote on whether to have a ‘shortlist of one’ to rubber-stamp the candidacy of the incumbent councillor, or a full contest among various candidates.
Rowley’s allegedly grabbed the vote piles before announcing that a shortlist of one had been carried. The beneficiary of the result was an incumbent councillor regarded as close to the West Midlands Labour office and employed by Tom Watson.
Both tellers called for the selection to be re-run, but say that they have received no response to their complaints.
But if a right-winger complains…
By contrast, when a right-wing councillor, who was recently supported by ‘centrist’ groups Labour First and Progress for a national position, was deselected by her branch’s members, she complained to the regional office – which acted almost by return to order a re-run, which she then won.
Langley is far from the only branch that considers its selection to have been illegitimate. Just this week, Rowley was accused of blocking a left-wing councillor from even entering the building in which a selection meeting was being held – and to have done so in such an aggressive manner that the councillor suffered a cut foot. The SKWAWKBOX reported the incident at the time and it eventually also made its way into the local newspaper.
So widespread is members’ unhappiness at the way in which selection meetings have been conducted that, with only a short time available before formal campaigning begins, strong rumours are circulating locally that if no action is taken by the West Midlands regional office very soon, applications will be made for injunctions to force properly-conducted re-runs.
The big picture
These latest developments and the events that have led to them raise serious concerns about the conduct of Labour officials in what has been a seemingly-impregnable stronghold of right-wing Labour, with similar complaints by members in other parts of the West Midlands region.
A blanket re-run of Sandwell selections needs to be ordered as a matter of urgency. Both the matter of re-runs and the overall situation in Sandwell are on the agenda for discussion at Tuesday’s meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee.
Mr Rowley is entitled to due process and a proper investigation. But the short timescale to the local elections requires immediate and decisive action on the Sandwell selections themselves, without prejudice to his case.
And then Sandwell needs to be just the beginning of an investigation into Labour structures across the West Midlands, with ruthless action taken where appropriate for the good of local members and the reputation of the party.
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