Wolverhampton councillor who 'tried to join the Tories' is suspended by Labour

A Wolverhampton councillor has been suspended indefinitely by the city’s Labour Party after allegations of breaching group rules were upheld at a special members’ meeting last night.

Councillor Celia Hibbert. Photo: Harborough Labour Group.
Councillor Celia Hibbert. Photo: Harborough Labour Group.

Councillor Celia Hibbert – a Labour councillor for Penn since 2018 – will no longer be allowed to attend group meetings or take part in any of the party’s decision-making processes after councillors voted 33-9 in favour of her removal.

The allegations were detailed in a letter sent to Councillor Hibbert by Labour group chief whip Councillor Rita Potter earlier this month.

The letter, dated October 6, said: “It is alleged that on July 21, 2021, at full council, you voted against the Labour group whip in relation to a senior leadership review, despite having said nothing in the previous three Labour groups when this paper was discussed.

“It is (also) alleged that on July 21, 2021, during full council, you sent a message to members of a Labour councillors BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) WhatsApp group encouraging them to also vote against the group whip in relation to the aforementioned report on senior leadership review.

“It is alleged that in the previous weeks, you have approached the Conservative opposition in the council and asked whether you could cross the floor and join their group.

"By choosing to ‘abstain’ on the vote in relation to a senior leadership review at full council and encouraging other members on the BAME WhatsApp group to do the same, you have in our view breached our group rules and standing orders,” added the document.

"Having completed the investigation, we have come to the conclusion that the withdrawal of the whip for a period of 12 months would be the appropriate disciplinary action required.

"A decision to withdraw the whip is subject to appeal but remains in force pending that appeal being heard. You therefore have a right to appeal to the regional executive committee.

"Such appeal must be made in writing to the regional director at the regional office of the party within 14 days of the decision. The regional director will arrange for a panel of the regional executive to meet to hear the appeal within 14 days of receiving it,” the letter said.

"Despite the withdrawal of the whip, you are still required to abide by group decisions, in accordance with the rules of the party. You will need to make appropriate arrangements with the whip to ensure compliance.

"The whip will need to monitor your compliance, as any further failings may need to be investigated and acted on at the end of the period of withdrawal of the whip."

Following the meeting, council leader Ian Brookfield, said: “The Labour Party cannot comment on an internal party disciplinary procedure.”

He added that this would be the only official comment to come from his Labour group on the matter.

Labour councillor Paul Birch said: "Behaving in this manner is a complete disgrace to the Labour group and its values.

“I was told by an opposition member that Councillor Hibbert had crossed the floor on three occasions to try and join the Conservatives. Clearly they didn’t want her – and now the Labour group don’t either.

“It is well documented that Councillor Hibbert also stood as Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Market Harborough in 2019. This demonstrates that she is not committed to the Wolverhampton Labour group – or indeed its opposition’s values either,” he added.

Conservatives in the city have denied that Councillor Hibbert had attempted to join them.

Councillor Wendy Thompson, Conservative group leader, said: "The Wolverhampton Conservative group wishes to make it clear it is not prepared to be involved in any way with the petty, internal squabbling presently taking place within the Labour group of councillors.

"There is no truth whatsoever in the allegation made by Labour councillor Paul Birch that Councillor Celia Hibbert has attempted to join the Conservative group.

"If the Labour group has a dispute with one of their members that is no matter for any other political party.

"This is a Labour issue and belongs firmly with the Labour Party to resolve."

Several attempts were made to contact Councillor Hibbert by telephone and email following the decision, but she did not respond.

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