EMBITTERED Labour party members have called on leader Ed Miliband to investigate complaints after a popular councillor was barred from standing for re-election.
Councillor Denny Wilson, a member of Sunderland City Council’s ruling cabinet, was blocked from the list of approved candidates in the autumn after Labour North deemed him unsuitable to serve as a Labour councillor.
Sunderland Labour’s Local Government Committee opted to ignore the ruling – and was suspended by Labour North as a result.
Now 57 members of the Castle ward, which Coun Wilson represents, have written to the Labour leader calling on him to investigate the matter.
Other Shadow Ministers have also been approached.
In a letter to Mr Miliband – leaked to the Echo – John Taylor, chairman of the Castle ward Labour branch, questioned the procedures used in deciding Coun Wilson could not stand in this year’s council elections – which take place on May 5.
He wrote: “If Mr Miliband will not intervene to give us justice, then we will seek legal advice to find justice elsewhere and this communication will be included in that process as evidence we have tried all other routes.”
The Echo contacted Mr Miliband’s office, but was referred to the press office for Labour North.
Labour said its General Secretary, Ray Collins, had no concerns over the situation regarding Coun Wilson.
A party spokesman said “The General Secretary is fully satisfied the Labour party’s rules have been followed in the selection process in Sunderland and this has been communicated to the local branch.”
A Sunderland Labour insider, who did not wish to be named, said Mr Miliband had promised during his leadership election campaign to engage once more with the party grass roots, and this was a prime opportunity to get involved.
The source claimed Tony Blair’s system of command had sidelined grass roots members and taken decisions out of their hands and if Mr Miliband was to keep his promise he must change this.
The source said: “When he got elected part of his campaign was on the party grass roots, and here we’ve got grass roots members in the biggest ward in Sunderland (not being allowed the candidate they want).”
Coun Wilson declined to comment.
His colleague, Stephen Foster, chairman of Castletown Neighbourhood Action Group and a Labour party office holder, was also blocked from standing.
Party sources say this has left Castle without a Labour candidate from the ward and there is speculation Coun Wilson could stand as an independent. No Labour candidate has yet been selected.
Coun Wilson is responsible for the Safer City brief on Sunderland’s top team of councillors, charged with helping tackle crime and antisocial behaviour as well as cultural initiatives.
Some Echo readers rallied behind the councillor, and supporters say his good work and efforts to improve the city – including on the restoration of Hylton Castle and bringing a ferry service back to the Wear – will be lost if he ceases to be a councillor.