SENIOR Labour officials have launched an investigation into an ongoing row over a blackballed councillor.
Sunderland Labour’s Local Government Committee (LGC) was suspended in November after a bitter dispute with Labour North over the decision to block a senior councillor for standing for re-election.
Denny Wilson, a member of Sunderland’s ruling cabinet, was forced out of Sunderland City Council after Labour North ruled the popular yet controversial councillor could not run in May’s elections.
It sparked outcry among Wearside Labour members and Echo readers, who praised Mr Wilson’s achievements while in charge of culture and beating crime and antisocial behaviour in the city.
The Sunderland Labour LGC supported Mr Wilson, a former Castle ward councillor, and was suspended as a result.
Appeals were made to party officials, including leader Ed Miliband, to intervene. Now the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) is to investigate the row.
In an email leaked to the Echo, Labour North director Fiona Stanton told members: “I am emailing to advise you formally that the NEC will be conducting a formal investigation into the LGC’s November 4 2010 meeting and the functioning of the LGC.
“It will make recommendations on the way forward to the NEC for the LGC and its functions within Sunderland.
“The LGC will remain suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.”
The investigation will be chaired by Norma Stephenson, chairwoman of the National Executive Committee. Richard Williams, regional organiser from Labour North, will serve as secretary.
The investigation team will be holding interviews at the beginning of August, and Labour members have been invited to attend or pass on any views.
Labour insiders, however, said they were uneasy about the investigation as they fear members will shy away from standing up to regional party officials for fear of recriminations.
Senior party figures in Wearside have already expressed fears they could be next on the blacklist if they speak out.
One Labour member said: “I’m a bit concerned the Sunderland Labour Party isn’t going to stand up for itself out of fear.
“Ed Miliband said in his speech this week that we need to hold people to account.
“He said ‘it is not only the duty of those with power to exercise responsibility. It is the duty of us all to ensure that they do’.
“And if that goes for the police and the press, it should go for the Labour Party too.”
A Labour North spokesperson said: “I can confirm that the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party will be conducting a formal investigation into the Local Government Committee’s November 4 2010 meeting and the functioning of the LGC.
“The investigation team will make recommendations on the way forward to the NEC for the LGC and its functions within Sunderland. The LGC will remain suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.”