Labour blocks councillors from election

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The Independent Online
The Labour Party has banned its members on troubled Hackney council from taking part in annual elections for new chairmen and women of council committees.

Members of the ruling Labour group, which is the subject of an investigation into allegations of vote-rigging, have been told the only post they may vote on is mayor. An unofficial caucus of councillors - calling itself the Manifesto Group - retaliated by boycotting the Labour group's annual meeting this week, rendering it inquorate.

The ban was imposed on the councillors by Labour's headquarters at Walworth Road, south London. Richard Burningham, spokesman for the Greater London Labour Party, said: "While the National Executive Committee is conducting its inquiry into the allegations relating to Hackney council, the head of the Labour group has been instructed to re-elect the existing committee chairmen and vice-chairmen. The mayor is one exception."

A sub-committee of the NEC is examining claims that a councillor, Isaac Liebowitz, packed meetings with supporters and became involved in voting irregularities which resulted in three Labour seats in a traditionally safe ward falling to Conservatives in the 1994 elections. A report into the allegations, obtained by the Independent, says: "There is strong prima facie evidence that Isaac Liebowitz was involved in two areas of malpractice surrounding the 1994 borough elections." It accuses him of "membership packing" and "proxy vote-fixing generally".

Mr Liebowitz, who the report recommends suspending from the party, denies the allegations. Also recommended for suspension is David Phillips, the constituency agent at the time. He has declined to comment.

After the Manifesto Group boycott, a candidate for mayor was chosen by eight Labour group officials under emergency measures outlined in party rules. A spokesman for the council said it would be unaffected by Labour's problems as chairmen and women would continue to occupy their posts.