Former Mayor of Sunderland suspended from Labour Party over sharing Facebook post

A former Sunderland mayor and senior councillor has been suspended from the Labour Party pending an investigation.

Thursday, 7th March 2019, 3:41 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th March 2019, 3:53 pm

It is understood that Coun Stuart Porthouse – a cabinet member on Sunderland City Council – has been suspended after sharing an interview from ex-Labour MP, George Galloway, on social media.

Mr Galloway spoke to Sky News last month, defending the Labour leadership over complaints around anti-Semitism within the party.

In the interview, he likened what he called a media “black op” against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to the work of Nazi minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels.

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Mr Galloway also spoke of “foul slander” against the Labour party in regards to anti-semitism, stating the claims were “all a lie”.

Coun Porthouse is alleged to have shared a link to the interview on Facebook and wrote: “Always liked Galloway in small bits, this time he is spot on.”

This week, Sunderland’s Labour branch confirmed Coun Porthouse has been suspended from the party.

Chairman of the Sunderland Labour group, Coun Phil Tye, said: “We can confirm Coun Porthouse has been administratively suspended by the party, pending the results of an investigation.”

The social media post has also been removed from Facebook.

Sunderland City Council said Coun Porthouse’s cabinet position for ‘Housing and Regeneration’ will be taken up by other senior Labour councillors “until further notice”.

A council spokesman said: “The council has been informed that the deputy leader Coun Michael Mordey and the deputy cabinet member for Housing and Regeneration, Coun Rebecca Atkinson, are assuming this portfolio’s responsibilities until further notice.”

Opposition parties on Sunderland City Council have since called for Coun Porthouse to step down.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat and Others group on the council, Coun Niall Hodson, called for Coun Porthouse to “resign from his cabinet and councillor positions.”

Conservative councillor, Antony Mullen, added: “Stuart has the right to a fair hearing, but it’s difficult to see how that will be completed in time for him to be reinstated as the Labour candidate for St Chad’s this year.

“On that basis, the Conservatives believe he should resign from the cabinet”.

When contacted on the suspension, Coun Porthouse said: “I can’t comment while an investigation is ongoing.”

Last month, a cohort of MPs resigned from Labour  and formed their own independent group amid criticism of handlings of Brexit and anti-Semitic sentiments within the party.

And this week, the Equality and Human Rights Commission confirmed it was considering launching a formal investigation into anti-Semitism in the Labour party.

In a letter to the party, the human rights watchdog will consider whether Labour could have “unlawfully discriminated” against the Jewish community in the wake of the anti-Semitism row.

Depending on the response, the commission could take enforcement action ranging from a voluntary agreement to an inquiry.

A Labour party spokesman added: “Labour takes all complaints of anti-Semitism extremely seriously, which are fully investigated and appropriate disciplinary action taken in line with our rules and procedures.

“Anti-Semitism has absolutely no place in the party, and we are committed to challenging and campaigning against it, in all its forms.”

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service