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Illicit Pacts and Power-Sharing: Labour Activists Face Suspensions and NEC Veto Over Council Coalitions

A party crackdown on local party cooperation is preventing Labour councillors from leveraging their election victories to unseat the Tories in some towns, Josiah Mortimer reports

Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer has ruthlessly bolstered national involvement in local party decision-making. Photo: James Manning/PA/Alamy

Illicit Pacts and Power-SharingLabour Activists Face Suspensions and NEC Vetoes Over Local Coalitions

A crackdown on local party cooperation is preventing Labour councillors from leveraging their election victories to unseat the Tories in some towns, Josiah Mortimer reports

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Labour party councillors celebrating victories in traditionally Conservative towns across England are finding themselves blocked from power – as their attempts at coalition-building to oust Tory administrations are met with resistance from Labour’s national executive committee (NEC). 

Labour activists have highlighted an alleged “crackdown on cooperation” from the leadership in a dozen councils in England following the May 4 elections. 

In areas where Labour lacks a clear majority, such as Hertsmere, Lewes, Canterbury, Folkestone, and eight other councils, forming alliances with Liberal Democrats, Greens, or local independents seemed like a viable pathway to change. 

But, as Private Eye reports this week, the Labour leadership’s understanding of pluralism appears confined to “owning Peter Mandelson’s memoirs in both hardback and paperback” – as the NEC refuses to sign off a raft of progressive coalition agreements. 

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In Cherwell, Oxfordshire – a county the Conservatives have historically dominated – Labour’s executive has reportedly rejected a planned Labour-led coalition, potentially at the expense of letting the area remain under Tory control.

The “Progressive Oxfordshire” alliance of Lib Dems, Greens, Labour and independents could have ousted the Conservatives. Instead, the area looks set to have a minority Conservative administration now. 

The rationale behind this approach remains unclear, leaving disillusioned councillors to voice their disappointment. Some, however, suspect the rationale is to avoid Daily Mail headlines about “coalitions of chaos” in the run up to the next General Election.

Neal Lawson, director of the cross-party campaign Compass – which backs progressive alliances and power-sharing – told Byline Times: “Labour’s leadership can’t always be anti-Tory alone. In some places they need to defeat the Tories by working with others. Otherwise, they look like they are putting party interests before the country’s.”

It comes as Labour HQ takes an increasingly centralised approach to local councils, candidate selection, and even council leadership. The NEC was recently accused of ousting the party’s council leader in Birmingham, supposedly to address internal factionalism and poor performance. 

But councillors and MPs are left questioning the value of their victories if they are effectively barred from governing – or worse still, suspended for allegedly working with other progressives.

A number of local party activists have been suspended in Hertsmere (Hertfordshire) over allegations of an “unauthorised pact” between Labour and the Lib Dems before the local elections. Local figures deny that such a pact exists – but regardless, the Conservatives lost their majority, giving Labour and the Lib Dems a chance at running the show for the first time in decades.

Labour’s NEC, however, has refused to sign off the governing deal amid the ongoing row over any pre-election cooperation. 


“Completely Heavy-Handed”

Byline Times spoke to a senior Hertsmere Labour figure, who branded the situation “bizarre”. 

“They have accused us of having an unsanctioned pact with the Lib Dems, which is complete nonsense. We simply worked hard for nine months to win…There’s been no wrongdoing on anyone’s part. The situation has been heavy-handed, and to be honest, we’re not sure where it all originated from.”

They added: “There was no contact [between Labour and Lib Dems], no emails, no phone calls, nothing.” Some of those suspended are understood to be mulling legal action if they are not reinstated. 

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“This is the first Labour council we’ve had here in 24 years. And we now have the first LGBTQ+ mayor, which is a significant achievement for Hertsmere. We are implementing Labour policies outlined in our manifesto…We have successfully overturned a substantial Conservative majority, with 14 Labour councillors and nine Lib Dems. 

“If the NEC does not sanction the power-sharing arrangement, we will have to consider our next steps,” the local party source added.

Locals rows had already broken out before the elections in areas like Leicester, where 19 sitting Labour councillors were deselected before May 4 after the party’s national Campaign Improvement Board argued there was too much “in-fighting and division” among the council group. Labour went on to lose more than 20 seats while the Conservatives there went from zero to 17 councillors.

Commenting on the Leicester deselections, a Momentum spokesperson said previously: “It’s shocking to see this degree of centralisation and disempowerment of local members from Starmer’s NEC. Local members should decide their council candidates, not political operatives with no connection to the area.

“This kind of disregard for communities is sadly not new – we’ve seen it time and again in Starmer’s stitch-ups in Parliamentary selections – but it’s equally damaging.”


Latest Defection

Alex Feis-Bryce has worked with three Labour MPs and advised party figures including Ed Miliband

Alex Feis-Bryce, CEO of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, has been an active member of the Labour Party for 20 years – but has now switched to the Green Party after becoming fed up with Sir Keir Stamer’s leadership. 

Speaking to Byline Times, the former Labour staffer said the party had become “complicit in the ongoing decline of our country.”

He added: “It’s disappointing to see the party blocking the possibility of power sharing. We’re in a time when our economic system is broken and we need transformative policies to address the challenges we face. 

“I genuinely believe Keir Starmer could become the next Prime Minister, but the best outcome would be a coalition of some kind.” 

He added: “Ultimately, I think Labour and the Greens will have to start engaging in dialogue at some point to find common ground and work together… I’ll actively campaign to build a progressive coalition which has the vision, hope and courage to fight for a better society.”

But Feis-Bryce also claimed the Labour Party has “become a bit of a laughing stock in my sector” – citing the party’s reluctance to explore drug liberalisation, and the leadership’s rhetoric on issues like gender. 

A Lib Dem source called the Labour NEC’s blocking of coalitions “another example of Labour meddling in local government, vetoing local coalition plans to end decades of Conservative control in some councils.” 

“They are throwing residents under the bus for short-term gain, local communities deserve better. This will just allow the Conservatives to regain control of councils as has been seen in a number of places, most recently in Cherwell,” the Lib Dem staffer warned.

The Labour Party was contacted for comment.


Do you have a story that needs highlighting? Get in touch by emailing josiah@bylinetimes.com


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