The Norfolk Labour Party has been thrown into turmoil after six councillors resigned from the party in the space of 24 hours. The resignations came out of the blue and caught both City and County Councils by surprise. As a result Labour has lost control of Norwich City Council, and its position as the official Opposition on the County Council. Although Labour has seen some councillors resign across the country in protest at the Party’s position on Gaza, the “Town Close clique” (named after their Norwich Ward) have stressed that this was not a significant factor in their resignations.
Rather, they were driven by the decision by the local party to stop one of them, Mr Stutely, from standing in next year’s local elections. His Labour colleagues in the Town Close area of the city – including his partner Ms Davis – refused to select another candidate. This forced Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) in London to impose its own candidate.
Who has resigned?
Five of the resignations were announced during a dramatic meeting at City Hall on Tuesday evening. A sixth then left on the following morning. Four of the departing members are city councillors while two represent the county. Two have previously stood for Parliament. The councillors who quit are:
- Emma Corlett, deputy Labour group leader on the County Council;
- Maxine Webb, County Councillor;
- Cate Oliver, City Council cabinet member for wellbeing and culture;
- Karen Davis, City Councillor;
- Ian Stutely, City Councillor;
- Rachel Everett. City Councillor.
All will continue to represent their wards as Independents.
Voting against the party
Mr Stutely has been a vocal critic of the Labour administration at City Hall. At a meeting last week, he launched an outspoken attack on the council cabinet for a decision over a long disputed major development project in the city centre. The cabinet had decided to excuse Weston Homes, the developer of the controversial Anglia Square site, from paying the Community Infrastructure Levy. He said his former Labour colleagues could “never consider themselves progressive” if they voted to let Weston Homes off paying the £2.3m charge, which is designed to pay for community facilities in the area. Unusually, a cabinet member, Ms Oliver, voted against the plan.
Deselecting a candidate
The deselection of Mr Stutely, and the imposition of a replacement candidate, is a key factor behind the resignations. Ms Corlett said,
It is a basic principle, and in the Labour Party rules, that Town Close members should decide who their candidate is … Town Close members had zero input into the outrageous and undemocratic decision to deselect Councillor Stutely. The NEC imposed a candidate on Town Close when members refused to shortlist any other candidate and indicated they wished to reselect Ian.
The switch from Labour to Independent is a particular shock in the case of Ms Corlett, a former nurse, whose partner works for Labour’s Norwich South MP Clive Lewis.
In a separate statement, Ms Webb said she was leaving the party after the “unjust deselection” of Mr Stutely and could no longer trust her former colleagues. She said,
The involvement in that process of Labour colleagues, with whom I work closely and need to be able to trust, has made my position representing Wensum as a Labour councillor unmanageable.
What do the resignations mean?
The resignations have thrown the Norfolk Labour Party into turmoil, with the group no longer having the majority on Norwich City Council. As the largest party it will continue to run the City, but all votes will be extremely tight, with the group having 19 members to a combined 20 in the opposition ranks. In practice they may need the support of the recent leavers to get the budget approved. A budget, by law, must be agreed.
At Norfolk County Council, the resignations have reduced the Labour group from being the second largest party to the third, making the Liberal Democrats the official opposition.
What does the party say?
A Labour Party spokesman said,
We are disappointed to see these councillors make the decision to leave the Labour Group, but we’re focusing on what matters most to us – delivering the best possible services for the people of Norwich.
Steve Morphew, leader of the Labour group at County Hall, said,
The people of Norfolk and Norwich facing a cost of living crisis and many other problems don’t want to hear about internal squabbles in the Labour Party … Nor will they be impressed by anybody who tries to distract us from looking after our county. That was what we were elected to do and what Labour councillors will continue to do. Inevitably losing two members affects our ability to influence decisions but Labour county councillors will remain focused on the needs and interests of Norfolk come what may. We are not going to be sidetracked by narrow party issues that make no difference to people’s lives during tough times.