Streeting calls on Starmer to launch probe into council leader suspension

Sienna Rodgers
© David Woolfall/CC BY 3.0

Labour frontbencher Wes Streeting has called on leader Keir Starmer to launch an independent investigation into the party disciplinary case concerning council leader Jas Athwal amid claims of a “stitch up”.

The leader of Redbridge Council has today announced that he has been cleared of wrongdoing by Labour’s highest disciplinary body, the national constitutional committee (NCC), after a year-long suspension.

Labour suspended Athwal in October 2019 after a national executive committee (NEC) panel dealing with sexual harassment complaints decided to refer his case upwards, as reported by LabourList at the time.

The move took place the night before Ilford South Labour’s parliamentary candidate selection meeting was due to be held – a race in which Athwal was a frontrunner, along with Sam Tarry who is now the MP.

The local government leader has now revealed that he is a full Labour member once again and is urging Starmer to launch an immediate independent investigation into the handling of the complaint made against him.

Backing the call for a probe, Shadow Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury Streeting said: “I have never been in any doubt about the malicious nature of the complaint and I have been proud to stand by Jas throughout.

“I remain shocked and sickened by the depths to which people were prepared to sink in order to manipulate a parliamentary selection and exclude our popular, local council leader from the process. It was a stitch-up.

“This kind of grubby political corruption cannot go without serious consequences… Now that the Labour Party is under new management, there must be a thorough investigation into the handling of this case and lessons learned.”

Supporters of Athwal have launched a petition for those wanting to back the calls for a “thorough investigation” into the handling of his disciplinary case by party officers and NEC members and for an new independent system.

The councillor has described the complainant as “someone with a political axe to grind” and said he has “felt tortured and betrayed” by the party, adding: “My family and I have been through hell as this case has been dragged out.”

Athwal said: “There must never be a repeat of this kind of corruption. I have every confidence that Keir Starmer’s leadership will restore principles of fairness, decency and justice to the Labour Party.

“The Labour Party must now undertake a thorough investigation into the handling of my case by party officers and members of the NEC and introduce a complaints system that is independent and free from political manipulation and corruption to give genuine victims the confidence to know that they can come forward.”

The first scheduled selection meeting – attended by over 500 members – was cancelled after Jeremy Corbyn intervened and the local party voted to reopen nominations. Tarry spoke in favour of postponement.

A Labour source at the time said of the suspension: “The timing has nothing to do with the selection process. Yesterday was the earliest opportunity for the case to be reviewed following the independent investigator’s report.”

Tarry, who worked on Corbyn’s leadership campaigns, won the Ilford South selection race to replace Mike Gapes at the rescheduled meeting in late October 2019. His bid was supported by Starmer and Angela Rayner.

The former TSSA officer won on the first round of voting against Kam Rai, the Redbridge Council deputy leader favoured by supporters of Athwal, as well as Syeda Rahim, Neeraj Patil and Rajni Chodha.

Update, Wednesday, 10.25am: Tarry has commented: “The claims of Mr Athwal and those of his supporters that this process was in some way a stitch-up to prevent him from being selected as the candidate for Ilford South are not only farcical but insulting to the alleged victim and their family.

“Mr Athwal is well aware that I was the clear choice for Labour members in Ilford South and that it was only my intervention in the room that led to the postponement of the original selection.

“To make out that NEC panels were brought together specially for Mr Athwal is plain wrong and risks undermining the confidence in the process that victims need to feel to come forward.

“On the same day, the NEC also suspended a sitting MP, Stephen Hepburn, and a prospective parliamentary candidate, Stephen Saxby, as a result of similar allegations.

“Our party is right to pursue justice for all victims of sexual abuse and assault, even in historical cases which are notoriously harder to prove.”

LabourList has contacted the Labour Party for confirmation of the NCC outcome and for comment.

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