Labour to expel 250 in power struggle

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The Independent Online
WILL BENNETT

Violence and intimidation at meetings and the recruitment of 250 members in breach of the rulebook have been uncovered by an internal Labour Party investigation into a power struggle in three Birmingham. constituencies.

Labour will expel the 250 members, who were not listed on the local electoral roll as required by party rules. The inquiry was into allegations that factions in Perry Bar, Ladywood and Sparkbrook had recruited people to try to influence the selection of parliamentary and council candidates.

Some members were said to have been recruited without their knowledge, others may have been bogus names and there were allegations that block membership subscriptions had been paid often using bundles of postal orders.

The struggle is going on because four safe Labour seats in the inner city have been reduced to three by boundary changes. Although Roy Hattersley, the party's former deputy leader, has decided to stand down as MP for Sparkbrook, this has not ended the manoeuvring. All the constituencies have large numbers of Asian voters and in some council wards non-white residents comprise more than 60 per cent of the population. Most of the 4,000 Labour Party members in the three constituencies are Asian.

There is strong feeling among them that at least one MP should be non- white and two leading local Asian politicians are known to be be interested in challenging Roger Godsiff, whose Small Heath constituency is to disappear for the Sparkbrook nomination.

The three constituency parties and their Parliamentary selection procedures have been frozen since last year when Labour announced the inquiry into allegations about membership irregularities and claims that party members had been given preferential allocation of housing repair grants.

The inquiry, carried out by four members of the party's National Executive Committee, was unable to prove or disprove the grants allegations but found that 250 party members were not on the electoral roll as required, a discovery which they described as "disturbing." The investigators interviewed local party officials and the four current local MPs, Clare Short, Jeff Rooker, Mr Godsiff and Mr Hattersley, before producing two confidential reports for Labour's Development and Organisation Directorate.

The first said: "The discussions centred on allegations of membership abuse, namely that large numbers of party members had been recruited into the party without their knowledge and furthermore had their subscriptions paid for them by someone else."

"It was said that these alleged actions were all designed to influence the selection of council candidates and parliamentary candidates. Allegations were also made concerning the packing of selection meetings for council candidates with supporters of rival candidates."

"Allegations were also made that some party members were also members of the Tory Party and leafleted for the Tories at elections. Some party members also alleged that they had been attacked by party members during election campaigns."

In their second report the investigators said that annual general meetings in the three constituencies "are often characterised by intimidation and violence." They added: "Factions are recruiting members for their own political ends."

The expulsions are likely to take place in May but some local party activists are suspicious that the NEC wants to keep the constituency parties suspended for as long as possible and then impose Ms Short, Mr Rooker and Mr Godsiff as candidates just before the next general election.

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