Greenwich Labour’s election plans in chaos as angry party officials quit

Polling station
Voters will go to the polls on May 5 next year

Greenwich Labour’s preparations for May’s council elections have been left in disarray after a veteran councillor and longtime activist quit their key roles in helping to select potential new councillors.

Peter Brooks, a councillor for Glyndon ward and a former deputy leader of the council, has resigned as chair of the local campaign forum (LCF) – the body which approves candidates for possible selection by branches in each council ward.

A letter of resignation signed by Brooks said that he had been “put in an untenable situation” and had been accused of lying; while Julie Grimble, the LCF’s secretary, has also quit.

Party sources have told 853 that the pair are unhappy with pressure to secure a list of candidates that would be loyal to the current council leadership. The LCF is supposed to be an independent body.

“On Wednesday 6 October, Peter Brooks, the chair of the LCF, having felt he was put in an untenable position including being called a liar, resigned as chair,” the letter to party officials reads. “He has emailed the Director of London Region and not received a reply.

“Peter has put his Labour heart and soul into these selections and Julie, as LCF secretary and procedures secretary, and the other volunteers … have received enormous support, and at times, the defence we have needed from inappropriate behaviour.

“Julie thought about remaining but without the rock that Peter has been for her, it is not sustainable. So yesterday she emailed the director of London region and informed her that she had resigned as procedures secretary. She has received no reply.”

Council chamber
The Greenwich Labour group remains deeply divided

The selection process for new councillors – which has the added complication of being based on new wards – has been criticised by many in the party.

Multiple sources have told 853 that two long-serving councillors with more than 60 years’ service between them were told that they were not suitable for selection. One, who has served since the 1990s, was told that they were not experienced enough.

Both are thought likely to succeed in appeals. One source suggested that the whole selection process may have to be re-run because of the allegations of interference.

“We have not had a reply from the director of London region to advise us what to do. So we cannot answer any questions,” Brooks and Grimble say in their letter.

“The selection process is onerous beyond belief and is delivered by Labour Party volunteers and those volunteers have the right to expect support.”

With the final selection process beginning on October 27, the party now needs volunteers who can “put in almost full-time hours and have the ‘strength beyond compare’ to withstand difficult behaviours” to conduct 46 meetings over 28 days, the letter says.

While Labour are all but certain to retain the town hall, the party in Greenwich has long had a reputation for instability. It has been deeply split since Danny Thorpe won an internal election to become leader by just one vote in May 2018.

The years since have seen one of Thorpe’s supporters given a suspended prison sentence for housing fraud, allegations of racism in the Labour group and most recently, rows over the cost of the flagship Woolwich creative district spilling into the public domain after Thorpe branded claims that it had gone over budget as “fake news” – claims first raised by his party colleagues and that turned out to be largely true.

Labour will also be fighting May’s elections on boundaries largely chosen by the Conservatives. Boundary commissioners rejected the party’s plans for “minimum change” to the current system of wards in a borough that has undergone dramatic changes in the two decades since they were last revised.

The party will need to find 55 candidates for 23 wards, rather than 51 for 17 wards. Labour currently has 42 councillors to the Tories’ nine.

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