Small Heath gives Labour pains

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Indy Politics
BY WILL BENNETT

and JOJO MOYES

The allegation that Labour politicians have been trying to buy support using up to £2m of public money is the latest in a series of scandals to hit the party in Birmingham.

Most of them have involved the Small Heath constituency, part of which will be absorbed into the Sparkbrook seat which is at the centre of the present row. This centres around the revelation that more than 50 per cent of those awarded slum housing renovation grants in the constituency are party members.

It is alleged that the majority of these applicants were generated by Labour politicians trying to buy their support.

In 1990, an inquiry was ordered by the Labour Party into allegations that a membership drive that brought in nearly 300 recruits in Small Heath had breached its rulebook. It was alleged that some were signed up without their knowledge and that children were allowed to join.

This row was soon overtaken by a fierce selection battle to succeed Denis Howell as the Labour MP in one of the party's safest seats. Allegations of dirty tricks were made.

At the heart of that dispute was Roger Godsiff, the nominee of the GMB union, who also figures prominently in the new allegations that housing renovation grants are being directed towards party members. His principal opponent was Mohammed Afzal, a local councillor.

At one stage the selection process was suspended after Mr Afzal was beaten up and a party inquiry was ordered into claims that the trades unions had manipulated the selection process in order to secure Mr Godsiff's victory.

In 1991 the Independent was handed documents which showed that new delegates to a committee which could affect the selection process had had their union subscriptions paid by cheques sent by Mr Godsiff.

Mr Godsiff, an official of the GMB, sent cheques paying the subscriptions of 15 of the union's delegates to the general management committee of Small Heath constituency Labour Party.

Three of the men subsequently wrote to the union saying that they had never applied for membership and the secretary of one branch, which apparently had five delegates, said that it had not nominated anyone. Eventually, at least 12 of the delegates were removed from the committee.

Eventually Mr Godsiff won the nomination and his selection was approved by Labour's National Executive Committee. He became MP for Small Heath at the last General Election but the constituency will disappear under new boundary reorganisation.

At the same time there was also a dispute in the Birmingham Ladywood constituency and the NEC took the unprecedented step of barring 11 delegates from the EEPTU electricians' union from taking part in the selection process, which was eventually won by Clare Short, the sittingMP.

In September last year, an investigation was launched after it was alleged that a large chunk of the £7.2m set aside by Birmingham City Council to improve "environmental conditions in areas of deprivation" had been used to win over middle-class voters in vulnerable Labour wards.

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