Express & Star

Ex-mayor among Sandwell councillors to quit Labour over ‘destructive infighting’

Two Sandwell councillors have quit Labour over 'destructive infighting' that they say is stopping the party from properly representing the public.

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Councillor Steven Frear

Bristnall councillor Steven Frear and former mayor Barbara Price, who represents Rowley, will now serve as an independents after resigning the party whip.

It came as the authority's leader Steve Eling warned that more Labour councillors were likely to quit in the coming days.

He said the exodus from Labour's ranks is part of the fallout from former deputy leader Councillor Mahboob Hussain's failed bid to quash the publication of the Wragge report into alleged misconduct.

Mr Frear, who was first elected in 2006, said he believed the party and its members had become 'too distracted by internal politics and conflict' and had 'lost sight' of the reasons why they were elected.

He told the Express & Star he feels his remarks 'ring true' for other serving councillors and added: "As an independent councillor, I am now free of such destructive infighting to focus on what’s important and that is to represent my own neighbourhood and its residents, which I have done for the last decade."

In a letter serving notice of his resignation from the Labour party, Mr Frear wrote: "After much consideration, and with a heavy heart, I have made the decision to resign from the Labour party with immediate effect.

"After an association with the Labour party that has spanned over forty years, including a decade as a local councillor, I believe I will better serve the people of Sandwell in an independent capacity.

"My decision is based on the fact that I believe the party and its members have become too distracted by internal politics and conflict, and have lost sight of the reason that they were elected; to serve their constituents and make positive changes to local communities."

Councillor Barbara Price

Mrs Price, who was first elected in 1998, said: "I didn't take the decision to stand down lightly but I have to stand by my principles.

"There is a lot of infighting among the group and I don't want to be involved in the Labour party at this moment in time. There are a lot of us that feel we have been let down."

Mr Eling said he expects more Labour councillors to stand down in the coming days. "There are some people aligned with Mahboob Hussain who are clearly not happy and I think we will see others leave," he said.

"The reality is that the Labour group in Sandwell is working better now than it has done in a long, long time."

Last year the Labour party in the borough saw councillors splitting into rival camps during a leadership election that followed the death of council leader Darren Cooper.

There were farcical scenes during the battle to replace Mr Cooper, which saw several members barred from voting over unpaid subscriptions and three separate ballots.

The West Midlands Regional Labour Party eventually intervened and Mr Eling was elected as leader.

It came shortly after the publication of the Wragge report, which accused Mr Hussain of a number of code of conduct breaches.