THE Labour Party has insisted its council candidates will be chosen fairly after fears a rift could see sitting councillors blocked from standing for re-election.
Labour insiders fear a number of Sunderland’s prominent councillors could be blacklisted from standing for re-election by regional party powers.
Among those feared to be in the firing line is St Anne’s councillor Susan Watson, wife of council leader Paul Watson and chairwoman of the council’s sustainable communities committee.
Hendon councillor Michael Mordey, chairman of the prosperity and economic committee, and Coun Rosalind Copeland, who represents Southwick and is chairwoman of the North Sunderland development control committee, have also been named among those who may be blocked.
It comes after cabinet member Denny Wilson was barred from standing for re-election in May by Labour North, despite having the backing of Sunderland Labour members.
The Echo also reported how Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) had dissolved Sunderland Labour’s Local Government Committee after an investigation made damning findings of its operations.
Sitting cabinet councillor Tom Wright received a written warning over his conduct after the investigation. Sources say some members now fear other councillors will meet the same fate as Coun Wilson.
But Labour North said the process for selecting election candidates would be “open, fair and consistent” and members would still get a big say in who represented the party on the ballot papers.
A spokesman for the regional party said: “The actual final selection of candidates will be done by local party members and overseen by Constituency Labour Parties.
“As usual, local branches pick from a panel of candidates. All party members in the city can apply to go forward to our panel of possible candidates.
“Applicants will be interviewed by Labour Party members drawn from across the region.”
He added: “The NEC investigation found serious organisational problems in the way Sunderland Local Government Committee conducted itself in the past.
“The party has a duty to ensure this is addressed and selections are conducted in an open, fair and consistent way.”
Labour Party members in Sunderland are still reeling after the outcome of the NEC investigation, and the decision to disallow Castle ward Coun Wilson from standing for re-election last year.
One party member, who did not want to be named, said: “We’re all just so annoyed. Tommy Wright has been knocked for six by what’s happened to him.
“We’re worried now what will happen with the selection panels.”
Labour sources said they are furious with the outcome of the report. They say the actions are a result of a rift between the regional party and senior Labour figures in Sunderland.
They have claimed there is an attempt by some to destabalise Coun Watson’s leadership by targeting members of his cabinet and his allies on the council.