Watson/Spellar ally suspension confirmed amid calls for urgent selection reruns

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.

rowley mayor.jpg
Former mayor Derek Rowley

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.

The backdrop

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.

Endemic complaints

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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  1. In light of the serious allegations made against Mr Rowley it is clear that all selections made whilst he was secretary of this Local Campaign Forum will have to be annulled.

    As it appears that West Midlands Regional has facilitated the abuse of power and process by Mr Rowley, it would be inappropriate for individuals from West Midlands Regional to be involved in the decision to annul the selections.

  2. Looks as proud as any six-year-old whose Mum’s raided a charity shop skip for an old lady’s fur collar, the trim from a Quality Street tin, last year’s Liverpool kit and a pair of net curtains.
    And what looks like a medal for last one caught in a greased pig contest.
    Happy trails, Derek.

  3. That exactly how they got Steve Eling (Spellar and Watson’s man), elected as leader at sandwell Council. Local standing orders stated completed form to be handed to labour group secretary by a certain time and date. LG secretary confirmed to regional office no form from Eling and therefore he was not on ballot. ( Eling phoned his secretary long after deadline and asked her to complete for him as he’d forgotten to complete it, which his secretary has confirmed, but deadline long since past and LG secretary had already all names of completed forms emailed at the deadline, so knew Eling’s was not properly submitted.)
    Stolliday asked Eling to explain reasons and Eling said it was always in his office, which was accepted as true, but didn’t say it was blank and his own secretary had completed long after deadline……despite statement from secretary confirming it was not submitted on time and that she’d completed for him as he was not in Sandwell and could not complete it himself.
    Decision from Macnicol was that he would be included on ballot – completely overriding local group standing orders – and beginning the trail of lies that are surfacing in Sandwell leadership today. All complaints from labour group secretary and others completely ignored and dismissed!!

  4. Most of your articles provide some good insights, but occasionally your reporting leaves just a little bit to be desired. In this article for example it is not mentioned if either teller said anything at the time about Rowley’s alleged tampering with the ballot. They did not, virtually the whole of the Warley EC were in attendance, as observers, if one of the tellers had said anything then there would be, at the least, independent verification that an objection had been raised. At the end of the meeting members were asked if they any complaints, no one raised any objections.

    There are many problems with the Labour Party in the West Midlands, & as a leftwinger I will probally find myself in hot water for describing what happened at a selection meeting, but reporting stories that are not factual does not help resolve the difficulties. In fact it will have the opposite result as people will rubbish your other stories, by pointing to the inaccuracies in this one.

    1. Thanks for the comment. It’s not hard to imagine reasons why the tellers might feel uncomfortable about complaining there and then – especially if the alleged reputation of Mr Rowley is true. The article is clear that the claims are allegations and nothing has been investigated or proven – however, given the short time to the elections, the process should be rerun under monitoring to ensure a result and candidate that everyone can get behind without reservation.

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