As the SKWAWKBOX reported last month, the dramatic suspension of Sandwell council leader Steve Eling – a close ally of right-wing Labour MPs Tom Watson and John Spellar – by the Labour Party has thrown open the leadership of the Labour group on the council. Eling has said he intends to remain as council leader, although it may not be his choice if Labour councillors, with a huge majority on the council, decides to remove him.
With the deadline Tuesday evening for declarations by those wishing to stand to be the new group leader, the people below have either indicated an interest in competing for the position or are have been identified by insiders as intending to.
Trow has a record of left activism in younger days according to those who know him, but his more recent history has been of closeness to the Labour right via the suspended Eling.
He has also been accused of falsifying minutes of a meeting in which a senior female councillor says she was bullied out of the room for asking questions about the behaviour of Richard Marshall, at that time a councillor and close Eling ally. The minutes claimed she constantly interrupted and impugned Marshall’s reputation, which witnesses say is untrue. The claims about Yvonne Davies’ behaviour resulted in her suspension, but she was subsequently exonerated and reinstated.
Locals also allege that Trow:
- ignored his responsibilities as cabinet member responsible for legal services, by ignoring the alleged behaviour of his then-leader and by ignoring the complete lack of ethnic minority councillors on the council’s standards committee. Trow was one of two cabinet members who took places on the committee in spite of the lack of BAME representation
- failed to act appropriately over a conflict of interest by sitting on the standards committee when he was also responsible for legal services
- conducting a standards committee pre-meeting in secret when standards meetings are supposed to be open to the public
The SKWAWKBOX has been trying to obtain comment from Mr Trow about these issues for the past week, without success.
Edwards is a veteran councillor and has a solid reputation for strong left politics. However, his critics point out that as Labour’s chief whip on the council he participated in the suspension of a number of Labour councillors at odds with Steve Eling, while the behaviour of the disgraced Richard Marshall and others went unchecked.
One of the suspended councillors was Yvonne Davies, who according to witnesses was bullied out of a meeting room by male councillors for questioning the fitness of Marshall yet was subsequently suspended. Ms Davies was exonerated and reinstated – and is now another contender for the group leadership.
Edwards told the SKWAWKBOX:
The reality is that when complaints were received about Marshall other enquiries were already in train: I had been informed by the Sandwell CEO that police were investigating relevant social media accounts and blogs, a Labour Party enquiry was taking place (Marshal was later suspended by the Party) and Marshall had self referred himself to the Council’s Monitoring Officer.
These activities meant that under the rules contained in the Party Disciplinary Procedure, Whips were precluded from making further enquires at that time because activity by us could have jeopardised the other enquiries. Party rules are crystal clear on this.
This position was confirmed to me at the time by the acting Regional Director of the Labour Party who instructed me to take no action until other enquires had concluded.
Whips have acted consistently, constitutionally and properly throughout the events of recent years
Yvonne Davies is considered one of the strongest characters on the council and has a reputation for speaking her mind – and ‘truth to power’.
She is a former contender for leadership of the council, having tied the vote with Eling in spite of upsetting local right-wing MPs, but then ‘lost’ controversially when the then-regional director ruled eleven councillors’ votes invalid after the fact.
She has also accused Tom Watson of attempting to bully her to such an extent that he ‘made my life a misery’, so is unafraid to stand up to the local right-wing establishment.
Davies, a councillor since 2007 who has overcome serious illness, is considered one of the strongest prospects for leadership of the group and eventually of the council.
Liam Preece and Bob Lloyd are not standing, contrary to local expectations.
The window for would-be candidates to announce closes this evening. The new group leader will be elected at a meeting of Sandwell councillors at the council house in Oldbury next Monday 11 Feb, starting at 6.30pm.
The contest is expected to be very tight, with the left hampered by the right blocking the readmission of two councillors who resigned in 2017 in protest over the behaviour of the group leadership.
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