Right-wing Labour figures in the West Midlands borough of Sandwell – the heartland of the Labour right – have been under increasing pressure in recent months.
One key figure after another has been suspended from the party for alleged improper behaviour – and then the right-dominated ‘LCF’ (local campaign forum) that oversees candidate selections in the borough was itself suspended by Labour’s national executive and general secretary over allegations of widespread anti-democratic manoeuvres and bullying, after a letter of complaint from one of the West Midlands few Labour MPs who is not wedded to the hard right of the party.
Local MPs themselves have not been exempt, with wide-ranging allegations against one of Sandwell’s Labour MPs and complaints against close allies of another – while the council leader has been exposed making misleading statements about the council’s use of confidentiality agreements some have termed ‘gagging clauses’.
That pressure appears to be telling.
An email went out from the council’s Labour group Secretary this week to all councillors and to the executive officers of each of the borough’s CLPs – to invite them to a ‘special joint meeting’ that some locals have described as completely unconstitutional.
The sole purpose of the meeting? To deal with ‘certain disciplinary matters’ – believed to . indicate a councillor who has offended the local established order:
The councillor, who was the subject of a prolonged smear campaign of leaks by figures close to Sandwell Council’s leader – and, the local blogger who received the leaks alleges – the leader himself – has refused to attend disciplinary meetings with the Labour ‘whips’ on the council until the many pending complaints against senior councillors and party figures have been investigated and resolved.
The invitation’s strong warning against any disclosure of the topics of the meeting – and the use of a ‘secret ballot’ to reach a judgment – seem to indicate a wish to keep the issue below the radar and to avoid the usual accountability associated with such decisions by senior figures.
However, the meeting’s organisers – perhaps having got wind that the existence of the meeting had leaked – today suddenly announced its cancellation:
No explanation is given for the cancellation, nor why the ordinary council meeting it was to replace was now revived.
Local Labour members have expressed surprise at the decision to call a meeting in the first place that has no standing in the party – Sandwell’s (council) Labour group and the borough’s CLPs (constituency Labour parties) have separate standing under the party’s rules and no authority to make joint disciplinary decisions.
But the decision to cancel it has widely been seen as an indicator of chaos in the party’s upper, mostly still right-dominated levels.
The scope of Labour’s investigation into the borough is understood to have been set far wider than simply the suspended LCF – in fact, to go ‘as far as the evidence takes it’.
Sandwell – and the Labour right across the West Midlands – look to be in for quite a ride.
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