Kirklees Council’s ruling Labour Group has been hit by the resignation of four councillors amid claims of a lack of openness and transparency.
In a statement, one of the councillors who quit over the weekend, Crosland Moor and Netherton councillor Jo Lawson, described Kirklees Labour Group as a “toxic swamp.”
All four councillors, Clr Lawson and Clr Imran Safdar (Crosland Moor and Netherton); Clr Ammar Anwar (Dewsbury West); and Clr Ebrahim Dockrat (Batley East), have resigned from the national Labour Party in protest over leader Sir Keir Starmer’s stance on Gaza.
Clr Anwar quit in tears during an emotional debate on Gaza in a council meeting in January while councillors Lawson and Safdar followed over the weekend.
Clr Dockrat, who was elected in a by-election last September, had been under investigation by the Labour Party for allegedly posting anti-semitic content.
Clr Dockrat, who denied the allegations, said he had been under suspension since November 7 last year and he decided to quit as he believed the matter had dragged on too long.
In his resignation statement on Monday, Clr Dockrat condemned Sir Keir for failing to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and refusing to speak up over “horrific acts” committed on the Palestinian people.
Clr Ebrahim Dockrat (left) and Clr Imran Safdar consoles Clr Ammar Anwar who breaks down in tears after his resignation
In her resignation statement, Clr Lawson described the Kirklees Labour Group as a “toxic swamp where any semblance of democracy, discussion on pertinent issues (is) practically non-existent.
“It is not for so-called backbenchers to dare to question in Labour Group meetings. We must unquestionably follow the whip or face the consequences. We are seen as voting fodder.”
Clr Cathy Scott took over from Clr Shabir Pandor as council leader last September promising a “fresh start.”
Since then three Cabinet members have resigned – councillors Gwen Lowe (Batley West), Clr Masood Ahmed (Dewsbury South) and Clr Yusra Hussain (Batley West). Clr Lawson said it was “unheard of” for three Cabinet members to quit in such a short period of time.
The Labour Group hit back by saying Clr Lowe resigned due to the ill health of a close family member while Clr Ahmed secured a job with the Forget Me Not Children’s Hospice. It is understood Clr Hussain resigned “due to not wishing to be a part of collective responsibility going forward.”
Clr Lawson said: “Cathy Scott, on her appointment as leader, promised a fresh start not only for Kirklees but for the Labour Group – openness and transparency promised along with regular updates from Cabinet and much needed discussion on issues. Unfortunately, all of this failed to materialise.”
Clr Lawson claimed she was effectively ‘sacked’ from her role as chair of the Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Panel immediately after voting against the Labour whip in the Gaza debate.
Clr Lawson also had wider criticism of Sir Keir beyond his stance on Gaza and said she feared a future Labour government wouldn’t invest in local government or the NHS or help lift more children out of poverty by removing the two-children benefit cap.
She added: “It’s not a case of me leaving the Labour Party, the Labour Party left me. The party no longer holds the same values as me.”
Clr Safdar, meanwhile, said he’d had “long-standing disagreements with the national leadership over the very disappointing positions on Palestine and arms sales to various regimes across the Middle East” and his own “red lines” had been crossed.
He urged people to be respectful as many inside the Labour Party fought to change it from within.
Clr Dockrat added: “I only became a councillor last September believing that the Labour Party had high moral values of fundamental human rights, social justice, tackling inequality and deprivation and I would be able to represent my community to bring about much needed change locally.
“However, I quickly discovered that there is little or no scope to contribute to the many decisions which are being currently implemented, often adversely impacting on my community. As a fellow councillor recently described, we are just ‘voting fodder.’
“As Labour councillors we are discovering policy announcements more via the media than hearing it from the leadership, most recent example, the closure of the Customer Service Centres.
“I find myself an elected representative of a party that, if I had been just a member, I would have resigned months ago, if it had not been for the allegations which I had wanted to clear.”
All four councillors said they would remain on the council and continue as independents.
Sir Keir Starmer (second left) with Clr Cathy Scott (left), Clr Will Simpson and Clr Shabir Pandor (right)
Huddersfield Hub asked the Labour Party for a response to the various allegations but the party simply issued the following statement: “Leader of Kirklees Council Cathy Scott said: “Kirklees Labour group has been fighting to save public services and delivering for local people whilst the council has been under severe pressure due to 14 years of Conservative cuts. It is disappointing that the former members don’t support this.
“Kirklees Labour will continue putting local people first and deliver on the priorities of our communities in the Conservative cost of living crisis.”
Kirklees Labour Group chief whip Clr Will Simpson issued the following statement on group discipline: “Our agreed basic standards were discussed at the first group meeting under Cathy’s leadership.
“These are basic standards: not bringing the Labour Party into disrepute, not leaking confidential information, not organising against the Labour Party, and voting with the group whip on whipped votes.
“These are basic standards expected of all councillors across the country within political parties. They are also within Labour’s rules. As a group, we also repeatedly discussed how we needed to be united and work together over the crisis in Gaza, which had resulted in some members facing serious threats to their safety.
“Since Cathy became leader we have been very clear that we would work to improve standards within the ground as such, it was stated that these standards would be upheld. It was also made clear on multiple occasions that members should not act in a way that would make anyone less safe.
“Therefore, it would not be compatible for a member to hold a senior role – and taking a considerable taxpayer-funded allowance – whilst not meeting these very basic standards.
“Clr Lawson was immediately made aware that she would no longer be a chair during the council meeting break. Discussions had taken place long before the council meeting about what steps would be taken if standards were not met.
“Clr Lawson was already aware of the standards that are expected and that they would be upheld. Whilst it was disappointing that Clr Lawson was not able to meet these basic standards, this underlines our commitment to ensuring that we improve standards and that, in challenging financial times, we put the people of Kirklees and the services that we deliver above the politics of protest and self-indulgence.”
Clr Simpson accused Clr Lawson of attempting to “weaponise” the Cabinet resignations which had caused “pain” to Clr Lowe who was seeking an apology.