‘An insult to democracy’: Labour Party suspends local branch party

An insult to democracy: Malcolm Powers, Mel Davis, Cllr Gill Mitchell, and Cllr Warren Morgan

An insult to democracy: Malcolm Powers, Mel Davis, Cllr Gill Mitchell, and Cllr Warren Morgan

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The Labour Party has suspended the local branch party in one of its staunchest strongholds.

The Labour Party has suspended the local branch party in one of its staunchest strongholds.

Malcolm Powers, Labour Party regional director

Malcolm Powers, Labour Party regional director

It has also instigated "a consultation" on what threatens to be a fundamental restructuring of the 1,400-member Brighton and Hove District Labour Party "to ensure that the objectives for branches as set out in the Labour Party Rule Book are being met".

The shock decision to suspend Moulsecoomb and Bevendean branch - "pending an investigation" - has fuelled concerns that the city party's ruling executive plans to marginalise even further the influence of grassroots members.

Malcolm Powers, the unelected regional director employed by the Labour Party and its members, broke the news to branch officers in an email.

He told Robert Brown, chair of Moulsecoomb and Bevendean Branch Labour Party: "During the period of the suspension, the Moulsecoomb and Bevendean branch will not be able to meet or conduct any formal Labour Party business."

Leigh Farrow has been a Labour Party member for 30 years

Leigh Farrow has been a Labour Party member for 30 years

Mr Powers did, however, assure members they could still campaign for the party.

His intervention was condemned as "an insult to democracy" by one well-informed Labour Party figure.

Today, Brighton and Hove Independent publishes a coruscating attack - by David Butler, vice-chair of Moulsecoomb and Bevendean branch - on the city party’s “arrogant abuse of power”..

Grassroots members are particularly angry at the treatment of Councillor Leigh Farrow, the veteran party member who was suspended last month from the panel of “approved” candidates after a complaint that he swore during a private meeting with two fellow Labour councillors.

Councillor Mo Marsh

Councillor Mo Marsh

Immediately before the meeting of the council’s housing committee on June 18, Cllr Farrow allegedly swore when Councillor Chaun Wilson, the party’s housing spokesperson, passed on voting instructions from Councillor Gill Mitchell, the Labour Group whip.

Cllr Mitchell subsequently had Cllr Farrow removed from the housing committee, making him the only Labour councillor not to sit on any council committees.

Cllr Farrow successfully appealed against a previous attempt to de-select him as a council candidate, during his recovery from a double heart-bypass operation. Friends believe he is the long-suffering victim of "a witch-hunt", with city party leaders determined to install a favoured candidate of their own.

The 59-year-old councillor is expected to attend a Southeast Regional Labour Party disciplinary hearing in the next couple of weeks, accompanied by a supporter who can act as “a silent friend”. He has until Monday (September 1) to submit a deposition.

Cllr Farrow has rejected defamatory attempts to establish a "pattern of behaviour" and accusations that he failed to meet the requirements of the Labour Party's "candidates' contract".

He has told friends that he accepts he "mis-spoke" and has offered his unreserved apologies for any offence caused. Supporters are urging him to stand as an independent candidate for “Progressive Labour”.

Mr Brown, the branch chair, has written a letter of support. In it, he states: “With knowledge and experience of the character of the area, I wish it to be known that by de-selecting a popular sitting local representative, the present action against Leigh could very well cause voter apathy as well as de-motivating local party activists.

“Given the working-class demographic of Moulsecoomb and Bevendean, there is too surely a high risk of contributing to an increase of support for UKIP and/or delivering the council seat to the Tories. The impact upon the parliamentary campaign can only be negative also.”

Earlier this month, a meeting of branch members voted unanimously to support him. Before the meeting, there was a report of a leaked "crisis" email from Mr Brown, the branch chair, to the three local councillors – Cllr Farrow, Anne Meadows, Mo Marsh - as well as to Nancy Platts, the Labour parliamentary candidate for Brighton Kemptown.

In the leaked email, Mr Brown warned: “If they (ward party members) turn up and find that one of the councillors has been deselected without consulting the ward members and if Leigh is not reinstated to his post, I can see members leaving the party because it is undemocratic and a hidden few are overruling the members’ wishes."

Since the suspension of Moulsecoomb and Bevendean branch, a series of questions have been asked by members, including Cllr Meadows, who was herself suspended – and then re-instated - after an anonymous claim that a gift had gone missing while she was mayor; no evidence could be found to support any wrongdoing on her part.

The questions being asked by grassroots members include:

•    What is the reason for the suspension of Moulsecoomb and Bevendean Branch Labour Party?

•    What is Mr Powers investigating?

•    If there is a consultation about the city party, why is Moulsecoomb and Bevendean the only branch suspended while this happens?

With the city party due to hold an all-member meeting soon - before Cllr Farrow’s disciplinary hearing - it will not be long before answers have to be given.

For articles related to the Labour controversy, visit:

The City Party;

Officer of suspended Labour Party branch speaks out;

‘An insult to democracy’ – Labour Party suspends local branch party;

Labour members stand by Councillor Leigh Farrow;

Labour’s ‘witch-hunt’ against party veteran;

Councillor Mo Marsh wins Labour selection run-off;

War of words in Labour selection re-run;

Furore over Labour's botched attempt to 'fix' safe seat.

External links:

The Argus (August 16): Labour deny suspension of Leigh Farrow from Brighton and Hove City Council;

Brighton and Hove News (August 16): Grassroots party members stand by suspended Labour councillor;

Brighton and Hove News (August 14): Labour members in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean urged to join discussion on suspended councillor;

Brighton and Hove News (August 2): Labour suspends Brighton and Hove councillor;

Brighton and Hove News (April 9): Brighton councillor wins selection run-off;

Brighton and Hove News (March 27): Potential Brighton Labour candidate accused of sending misleading email;

Brighton and Hove News (March 21): Furore over Labour’s botched attempt to ‘fix’ safe Brighton seat;

Brighton and Hove News (March 14): Former Albion chief to stand for Labour in Brighton and Hove council elections.