REBEL Coventry Labour members who may seek to overthrow the council’s leadership allege party officials are blocking the local democratic selection of candidates for council elections in three city areas, amid allegations of vote rigging.
They complain the regional West Midlands Labour party has taken away the right of local party members in Foleshill, Whoberley and Sherbourne to select their own candidates for May’s elections. They fear party officials will instead impose candidates loyal to council leaders Ann Lucas and Phil Townshend.
Councillors Abdul Khan, Dan Howells and Damian Gannon respectively – all said to be Lucas/Townshend loyalists – are due for re-selection as candidates to fight those wards for Labour in May.
Party rules usually enable the membership in all local ward party branches to democratically vote to select their candidate from a shortlist, which would usually include the sitting councillor.
Those procedures have applied in all the other 15 Coventry areas, called wards, and candidates have been selected.
Factions thought by some to be opposed to the Lucas/Townshend leadership want to ensure their favoured candidates are included on selection shortlists from which there would then be democratic votes in Foleshill, Whoberley and Sherbourne.
Several sources have told the Coventry Observer the regional Labour party has suspended the candidate selection process in those three wards, supposedly while “investigations” take place, including concerning allegations of possible voting irregularies in Folehill.
The allegation is that Labour party rules have been broken by factions recruiting new members to the Foleshill ward specifically to bolster the vote in favour of their preferred candidate, who would stand against Coun Khan.
The same allegation of “factional recruitment” in Foleshill was investigated and ruled out by the Labour party when Coun Colleen Fletcher, considered a Lucas loyalist, was selected as the Parliamentary candidate in Coventry North east.
It is alleged the party is investigating not only whether some Foleshill new members were wrongly recruited against the rules, but whether those members were paying the right membership fees. If they were not, their votes would be ineligible.
In Sherbourne, sources claim Darrall Cozens, president of Coventry Trades Union Council, is being prevented from inclusion on a candidate selection list because of the unions’ hostility to the Labour council’s cuts budget, proposed by Coun Gannon as cabinet member for finance.
It is alleged Coun Gannon also broke party rules designed to ensure a level playing field by writing to members seeking support for his candidacy, without any candidates’ list being approved. The Coventry Observer has seen his letter.
Some claim he could be being lined up to stand in the Whoberley ward instead, should Coun Howells be prevented from standing there, which is unclear.
Several sources have told the Coventry Observer for some time of tensions and factional splits in the council’s ruling Labour group.
The Lucas/Townshend leadership could face a leadership challenge after May’s council elections.
If so, a secret vote of Labour councillors of who should be leader and deputy leader could swing on how many loyalists the leadership can muster.
It is understood the local Labour party fears losing several relatively marginal council seats elsewhere in May because of controversy over the Labour group’s proposals to build houses on the Greenbelt.
A Coventry Labour party spokesman said the matters in all three wards were expected to be resolved “soon”.
He would not be drawn on whether it could result in single candidates being imposed from above.