The Merton Labour group has refused to confirm whether an outspoken rebel councillor has been indefinitely suspended from the group over an internal party dispute.
It is believed Councillor Jeff Hanna was suspended at a group meeting on Monday, February 13, despite the fact he was on holiday at the time and unable to attend.
In a letter addressed to Labour’s chief whip, Councillor Mary Curtin, and dated Friday, January 20, Cllr Hanna accused the Labour group of “harassment and intimidation”.
The letter, which was sent to all Labour councillors and some other party members, was leaked to the Wimbledon Guardian by an anonymous source.
In it, Cllr Hanna complained he had been subjected to two disciplinary meetings, and asked to attend a third, where he had been accused of “54 repetitive, alleged breaches of rules”.
He also claimed that “what is happening would be an incompetent farce, were it not also harassment and intimidation” and insisted there had been “no serious attempt to establish whether I have broken any Labour Party rules” in the meetings.
The Civic Centre in Morden
Cllr Hanna alleged in the letter that he is really being investigated for his support of raising council tax to fund adult social care and for reporting the leader of the council, Councillor Stephen Alambritis, to the standards committee for his controversial council tax consultation.
A standards and general purposes committee voted in favour of formally investigating Cllr Alambritis in December, after he used council resources to send a Labour-backed letter and questionnaire to residents encouraging them to vote against a council tax raise, at the same time as a formal council consultation was taking place on the same topic. The result of investigation is due to be announced in the spring.
Cllr Alambritis confirmed last month that Merton’s Labour group would now support taking the adult social care precept and raising council tax by three per cent, and denied accusations of a U-turn.
Cllr Hanna, a councillor for Pollards Hill, wrote in the letter: “He [Cllr Alambritis] has lost the argument. His credibility has been undermined. He has been forced into an embarrassing U-turn. He is now throwing a tantrum.
“He wants to punish me for my role in his embarrassment, and to do so in a way that other members of the group will not forget.”
He added: “While Stephen [Alambritis’] management style inspires loyalty from some – mainly those who are ambitious, those in receipt of allowances they are afraid of losing and those who are afraid of de-selection and loss of allowance as a councillor – it has also created real and lasting resentment amongst others.
“Stephen and yourself [Cllr Curtin] are clearly engaged on a campaign of harassment and intimidation, with just one end in view, my resigning from, or being expelled from, the Labour group.
“It is a charade of false accusations, misuse of rules, and innuendo, and I do not intend to play along.”
Cllr Hanna has been out of favour with the Merton Labour group since March 2016, when he disobeyed the party whip and abstained in the controversial budget vote that saw £5 million of cuts being passed to adult social care.
He said he abstained as a “matter of conscience”, but in April 2016 he was removed as chair of the licensing committee, losing his annual allowance of £8,000, and in May he was suspended from the Labour group for three months.
In a statement released through the Merton Labour group, Cllr Alambritis said: “Under the rules of the Labour Party we are not permitted to comment on disciplinary matters.
“To be clear, the Labour group has decided not to increase the Merton element of the council tax, but unfortunately we are being forced by the Government to introduced their so-called precept to pay towards the cost of the national crisis in older people’s care.
“The council is being bullied by the Government, which is forcing health managers to take away millions of pounds from Merton’s local NHS if we do not increase council tax.
“The Tories should be ashamed at the way they have slashed the budget for older people’s care and forced hard-working local families to pay more.”
Cllr Hanna declined to comment.
However, in his letter he wrote: “I am ashamed that Stephen fought this increase for so long. I am ashamed at his last minute attempt to engineer the outcome of the council consultation with his letter to Mitcham and Morden residents that failed anywhere to even mention the needs of adult social care.
“I am proud to have been on the right side of the argument, fighting for vulnerable adults and for Labour values, and I am delighted that Labour councillors in Merton have finally accepted that argument, albeit still too little and a year too late.
“Should Stephen now succeed in throwing me out of the Labour group, so be it.”
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