Party dispute engulfs Labour

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SUNDERLAND’S communities chief has been disciplined by the Labour Party in the latest episode of a long-running row.

Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) has issued Councillor Tom Wright with a formal warning after an investigation named him as a “key instigator of trouble” engulfing the region’s Labour party.

The NEC has also opted to permanently dissolve Sunderland Labour’s existing Local Government Committee, which oversees the running of the party’s council operations in Wearside, as bigwigs crack down on what they see as rebellious members in the city.

Labour party members in Sunderland are said to be outraged by the actions of what they call “the dark side” of the party trying to undermine Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson because of an ongoing rift.

The latest row began last year after another cabinet member, Councillor Denny Wilson, was blocked from standing for re-election by Labour North.

The Local Government Committee was suspended by Labour North for supporting Coun Wilson. Labour has now completed an investigation into the affair.

In a letter leaked to the Echo, Declan McHugh, the NEC’s director of strategic planning and constitutional affairs, told Labour members in Sunderland their Local Government Committee would be entirely replaced next year.

He said: “The Sunderland Local Government Committee had become dysfunctional for some time – since at least 2006/7.

“The meetings were conducted poorly and there was acute factionalism, to the extent that delegates had begun to be intimidated by the aggressive conduct of meetings.”

He added “numerous witnesses” claimed Coun Wright, who represents St Anne’s and holds the Sustainable Communities brief on Sunderland’s cabinet, had organised Labour members to break party rules and “sought to dominate” the Local Government Committee.

“Should the NEC or Party Officers receive any further substantive complaints or concerns regarding Coun Wright’s conduct and potential breaches of Labour Party rules, they will be passed to the National Constitutional Committee with a view to disciplinary action.

“The warning will be noted by the NEC so that, if any repetition of this conduct is made, that this would be considered in any further sanction.”

Mr McHugh was writing to Labour members after an investigation into the party in Sunderland.

A Labour North spokesperson said: “The NEC has completed its investigation and a new structure will be implemented.

“This gives all of our members and local parties in Sunderland the opportunity of a fresh start to ensure we move forward together for the benefit of the local community in Sunderland.”

Labour members had called for an investigation over the decision to dissolve the committee and to block Mr Wilson, who was responsible for tackling crime and promoting culture in Sunderland, from seeking re-election last May.

A Labour insider said: “This is the return of the dark side. We expected the investigation to be a total white-wash of Labour North, but this is just outrageous.

“Tommy Wright did nothing wrong. The Labour Party is his life. He eats, sleeps and breathes Labour and has donated thousands to the party.

“This is all about them trying to destabalise Paul Watson. They got Denny, and now they’re after Tommy. They’re saying ‘you can put him on the cabinet, but we can take him off’.”

Neither Mr Wilson nor Coun Wright was available for comment.

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