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

Anger has erupted about a selection contest for one of the safest Labour wards in Brighton.

Thursday, 20th March 2014, 11:01 pm
Updated Wednesday, 14th December 2016, 1:57 pm

Anger has erupted about a selection contest for one of the safest Labour wards in Brighton - amid claims it was an attempted "fix" to ensure the party's favoured candidate was chosen.

The three sitting councillors in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean - along with two other potential candidates - were hoping to be chosen to stand in the local elections next year.

Whoever the ward party picked could be almost certain of becoming a member of Brighton and Hove City Council in May next year. They would have a four-year term as a councillor ahead of them.

But despite just 10 people voting, a recount brought to light a miscount.

And then two of the candidates tied, with a run-off now looking likely.

Eight local branch members turned out for the three-hour meeting at the Bevendean Church Hall in Norwich Drive, Bevendean.

They were joined by the five candidates and four members of the executive committee of Brighton, Hove and District Labour Party - including Melanie Davis, the city party's chair.

The local branch used to need just seven for a quorum: the minimum number of people required for the meeting to be valid.

But one of the executive committee members said that the quorum should be 10 '“ so two executive committee members took part in the meeting and, crucially, the voting.

They were Peter van Vliet, the city party treasurer, and John Warmington, his predecessor.

Mr van Vliet said that the result of the first secret ballot saw Councillor Leigh Farrow top the poll, with Harris Fitch second and Councillor Mo Marsh third. Christine Robinson was said to have come fourth and former mayor Councillor Anne Meadows fifth.

Robert Brown, who was chairing the meeting, called for a recount. This found that Councillor Meadows and Christine Robinson had, in fact, tied - with Councillor Meadows winning the run-off.

Subsequently, she claimed attempts to post her victory on the Labour Party's Facebook page had been thwarted, with posts being deleted. Instead, she tweeted her victory - even though the party has yet to announce the result.

The next vote saw Cllr Farrow come first and Cllr Meadows second. Cllr Marsh, who topped the poll at the last elections in 2011, tied with Mr Fitch, whose family have long links to the local Labour Party and the council. For several months, the youngest in the Fitch dynasty had been said by insiders to be favourite to get the seat.

Another vote was held and they tied again. A local party member asked one of the executive committee members to abstain so that the final candidate could be chosen. Mr Warmington said that this was against the rules.

It transpired that both executive committee members were voting for Mr Fitch, a relative of veteran councillor Brian Fitch, whose father Stan was a Brighton Council stalwart.

The farcical proceedings came hours after the local party posted news that former Brighton and Hove Albion chief executive Martin Perry was to be a candidate in the city. Councillor Warren Morgan, leader of the Labour Party in Brighton and Hove, said that he would be found as safe a seat as possible.

Late last year Cllr Farrow was told that he had not been chosen for the candidates list. He appealed and was restored to the list.

And last summer Cllr Meadows was suspended 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.

Labour's regional director Malcolm Powers is expected to order a run-off between Cllr Marsh and Mr Fitch.

For articles related to the Labour controversy, visit:

External links:

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

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