Jennie Formby 'instrumental' to changes in Sandwell, council leader says
Jennie Formby has been "instrumental" in making changes to how Sandwell Council operates, the authority's Labour leader has claimed.
Councillor Yvonne Davies heaped praise on the Labour general secretary's influence in the borough at a full council meeting last night.
It comes after Ms Formby was heavily criticised by former Labour staff in a BBC Panorama documentary for allegedly interfering in party investigations, which are supposed to be independent.
The council's former leader Steve Eling, who has been suspended by Labour since January, said Mrs Davies' comments proved that dispute cases were not being dealt with independently.
She has hit back, accusing Mr Eling of "twisting" her words.
Mrs Davies, who is Sandwell Council's third leader this year, used a speech to pay tribute to Ms Formby, who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer.
She told councillors: "We are going to do a card for Jennie Formby. At the end of this meeting... it is going to be a photograph, and we are going to send our best wishes because she really has, in our view, been instrumental in making the changes that we want to make in Sandwell, and has been supportive of the difference that we are making.
"We just want to say all the very best for what she is going through."
Mr Eling said: "So, after all that has been said nationally that the general secretary is not involved in dispute cases and they are dealt with independently – which the party rules require – the council leader has now publicly confirmed the general secretary being instrumental in what has been done in Sandwell.
"This is confirmation of an absolute disgrace that shows that the Labour Party is rotten to the core. Its not limited to any one issue but is clearly now the norm. Its an indication of vicious vendetta politics.
"What is being done shows contempt for the people of Sandwell, when the Labour Party declares war on itself rather than focussing on the best interests of the community."
Labour has strenuously denied the claims made in Panorama and has complained to the BBC. The fallout saw a row erupt between Ms Formby and West Bromwich East MP Tom Watson, who demanded answers over the claims.
Labour's ruling National Executive Committee is thought to have had a major influence on politics in Sandwell over the past year, with members involved in choosing candidates for May's local council elections.
It led to a number of long-serving councillors being de-selected, a move which Mr Watson described as "brutal factional politics" and "completely anti-democratic".
Meanwhile Mr Watson has launched a motion to be voted on by the NEC next week, to toughen up the party's rules to make it easier to expel members for anti-Semitism.
Mrs Davies said: “Jennie Formby is currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer and I wanted to send our best wishes to her.
“I also paid tribute to her work in transforming the party’s handling of disputes. Under Jennie’s leadership a number of long-standing complaints from Sandwell members have now been investigated independently and resolved.
“It is disappointing that a councillor who has been suspended should seek to twist my comments to suit his own narrow political agenda. Natural justice has prevailed and under my leadership this council is moving forward and getting on with the job for the people of our towns.”