'I'm a casualty of war': Fresh turmoil for Sandwell Labour amid claims of national interference

Sandwell's Labour group has been plunged into fresh turmoil ahead of the local elections over claims of a "hugely damaging" selection process.

Sandwell Council is dominated by the Labour Party
Sandwell Council is dominated by the Labour Party

Four councillors who have served nearly 100 years between them on Sandwell Council have been booted out ahead of the May 6 poll.

They include Newton councillor Joyce Underhill, who was first elected 30 years ago, and Councillor John Edwards, who has represented Greets Green and Lyng for the past 43 years.

It comes amid claims of interference in the selection process by Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC), which former Sandwell MP Adrian Bailey said was having a disastrous impact on local politics.

Labour currently dominates the authority, which has been mired in turmoil for years amid numerous investigations and scandals and changed leaders three times in 18 months.

Other deselected councillors are Oldbury's Susan Downing, who was first elected in 2004, and Sharon Davies, who has been in Langley since 2012.

Councillor Maria Crompton has been interim leader since Yvonne Davies stood down in 2020

Councillor Susan Eaves has been deselected in Rowley, although it is understood she has now been named as the candidate for Princes End.

Councillor Underhill, who has been replaced by current Bristnall councillor Elaine Giles, described the selection process as a "farce".

She said she was rejected after a six-minute interview having initially been told she was unopposed in the ward.

"There's a lot of infighting in the national party and to put it bluntly I'm a casualty of war," Councillor Underhill said. "They are replacing me with someone who is bottom of the list when it comes to doing casework.

"To me that's terrible for the residents of Newton. Labour is going to be on a real sticky wicket this year in Sandwell and this latest cull doesn't really make sense.

"This is not the first time the national party has interfered in Sandwell and people are fed up of it. These decisions are made in London by people who have no idea about Sandwell."

Councillor Joyce Underhill has been deselected

Councillor Giles defended her record and said she did her casework "through council officers".

She added: "She [Councillor Underhill] doesn't know the whole story. It really has hurt me what she's said. I haven't made the decision to go in there, it was the Labour Party.

"Ask anyone in Bristnall, they didn't want to lose me."

Councillor Underhill said she was planning to write to Sir Keir Starmer to demand answers, and did not rule out standing against Labour in the election.

"I have no intention of joining another political party, but I could give the people of Newton the chance to vote for me as an independent," she said.

Councillor Downing said that by selecting a male candidate in her place in Oldbury, Labour had broken its own gender equality rules that each three-member ward should have two female representatives.

She said she was "saddened and shocked" to have been deselected, adding: "If another woman had given a better interview than me and been selected then I could have accepted it.

"But I can't accept they have put a man there, which has broken their own regulations. I have always been faithful to the Labour Party, but at the moment I have lost my confidence in them."

Former West Bromwich West MP Mr Bailey, who served as deputy leader of Sandwell Council in the late 1990s, made an unsuccessful bid to return as a councillor in Rowley.

He said councillors Underhill, Downing and Davies were all "incredibly hardworking in their wards".

"I think the NEC of the Labour Party has made decisions which are both devastating for them personally and hugely damaging for the local Labour Party," he added.

Former Sandwell MP Adrian Bailey made an unsuccessful bid to return to local politics

Councillor Edwards, who in 2019 was the subject of a formal complaint over claims he had posted anti-Semitic tweets, was the council's longest serving member having been first elected in 1978.

He also served as chair of the West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority.

The new candidates also include Nagi Daya Singh in Rowley, a local shopkeeper who is understood to be in his mid-80s.

Former Cradley Heath and Old Hill councillor John Tipper, who stood down in 2016, is back as the new candidate for Old Warley.

Hateley Heath councillor Paul Sandars is retiring, as are councillors' Ann Jaron (Abbey), Babu Singh Bawa (St Paul's) and Linda Horton (Smethwick).

Councillor John Edwards is the authority's longest serving member

Labour said the new slate of candidates – which includes nine women and 13 people from a BAME background – will boost diversity on the council.

Sandwell Council leader Maria Crompton, who is defending her Tividale seat at the election, said: “I’m excited to be going into these elections with such a fantastic set of candidates.

“In Sandwell we know diversity is our strength and these fresh faces will bring a wealth of lived experience to the council chamber.

“I’m confident that our new, reinvigorated team stands poised to represent our community better than ever before and together we will begin a new, positive chapter for Sandwell.”

It is understood that one new candidate, Hezera Zehora, has already dropped out in Wednesbury South. Gulshan Tabassum is expected to take her place, making way for Councillor Eaves to stand in Princes End.

Tipton Green councillor Ian Jones is unable to stand for Labour as he is currently suspended.

The run up to the 2019 elections in Sandwell was marked by allegations that Labour’s national office had interfered in candidate selections, amid claims that allies of then West Bromwich East MP Tom Watson had been dumped in favour of Corbynites.

Labour holds 62 of the 72 seats, while six vacant seats were all previously Labour held. There are three independent councillors and one for the Brexit Party.

Four leaders in 18 months

Current leader Councillor Crompton became Sandwell Council's fourth leader in 18 months when she took over in July last year on an interim basis.

The leadership turmoil began in January 2019 when then-leader Steve Ealing was among several Sandwell councillors who were suspended or thrown out of the Labour Party by its National Executive Committee.

Mr Ealing stood down in February 2019 and was replaced by Steve Trow, who then stood down himself due to personal reasons shortly after a successful local election for Labour in Sandwell.

The next leader was then Yvonne Davies, who won a narrow leadership election in May 2019.

Councillor Davies then stood down in July last year after she was suspended by the Labour Party following allegations she posted anti-Semitic tweets.

Councillor Crompton had been deputy leader under Councillor Davies and has been the council's interim leader ever since.

Sandwell Labour candidates

The full list of candidates provided by the Labour Party is as follows:

St Paul's: Sukhbir Gill

Soho & Victoria: Farut Shaeen

Hateley Heath: Keonyemenu Akpoteni

Greets Green & Lyng: Paramjit Randhawa

Great Bridge: Ann Jarvis

Oldbury: Rizwan Jalil

Smethwick: Parbinder Kaur

West Bromwich Central: Laura Rollins

Wednesbury North: Peter Hughes

Langley: Caroline Owen

Tipton Green: Charn Singh Padda

Wednesbury South (two seats): Kiratraj Singh/Hezera Zehora *no longer standing.

Tividale: Maria Crompton

Abbey: Nicola Hinchliff

Cradley Heath & Old Hill: Vicki Darby-Smith

Great Barr with Yew Tree: Chris Worsey

Bristnall: Ellen Fenton

Charlemont: Liam Preece

Old Warley (two seats): John Tipper/Harnoor Bhullar

Friar Park: John Giles

Princes End: Gulshan Tabassum *standing in Wednesbury South and replaced by Susan Eaves.

Rowley (two seats): Claire Mayo/Nagi Daya Singh

Newton: Elaine Giles

Blackheath: Kerrie Carmichael

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