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Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
Nick Statham

'The Labour party in Stockport is becoming unsafe': Councillors resign amid claims party failed to tackle ‘bullying and harassment’

Two Stockport Labour councillors have resigned amid claims the party has failed to take action over bullying and harassment in the local group. Coun Andy Sorton and Coun Amanda Peers confirmed they were now standing as independents in impassioned speeches at the council’s annual budget setting meeting.

It comes just five months after Coun Matt Wynne - who has since formed the new Edgeley Community Association party - quit Labour alleging the local party had been taken over by the ‘far left’. The pair were responding to a public question from Rachel Glindon. She asked for an update on what action had been taken after it was revealed a woman was compared to ‘Jabba the Hutt’ in a WhatsApp group whose members included councillors and members of the local party.

The offending remark was made by a trade union official. Coun Peers who was deemed 'unfit' to stand at the next local elections by the local candidate party's selection panel was the first to respond.

READ MORE: Stockport council tax bills to rise by 4 per cent - but more kids will get free school meals and every neighbourhood will get £10k for community projects

She has always rejected the finding - which did not stop her from continuing as a Labour councillor till May, or being a member of the party - and describes herself as being 'intergrated' in the community she serves. The former cabinet member said the Labour group whip - Coun Kate Butler - had launched an investigation in September, but those involved had refused to cooperate.

However, Coun Peers said that when she personally tried to pursue this with the regional office and the national party she got no reply. She said: “I cannot be a member of an organisation that does not take bullying, discrimination and inequality seriously. An organisation that does not take action when the law is not adhered to - especially the Equalities Act."

Coun Peers said that, as cabinet member for fair and inclusive neighbourhoods previously, these were the very things she stood against. “The lack of action taken locally, regionally and nationally has compromised my own moral compass and integrity so much I have reached the point where I cannot continue,” she said.

Councillor Amanda Peers. (Stockport council)

“The eternal optimism that the right thing would be done, has gone. The hope that those involved would admit their mistake, offer an apology and change their ways has rapidly faded - it just isn’t going to happen, especially when leaders do nothing.”

The Brinnington and Central councillor claimed she had been barred from standing in May because she didn’t knock doors to ‘tick the Labour Party data collection boxes’. “I wouldn’t want to be that councillor,” she added. “I am a councillor that has been integrated and embedded in the communities I represented and I’m proud of that.”

Coun Peers said she was ‘very sad it has to end this way’ she now felt the candidate selection panel - had done her a favour. “I’m now looking forward to getting my life back,” she added.

Meanwhile Coun Sorton, who also represents Brinnington and Central, told the chamber the Labour movement had been part of his life for 35 years. “There are some bad people now hanging around Stockport Labour,” he added.

Councillor Andy Sorton. (Stockport council.)

“My view is that if you allow them to continue to go unchecked they will destroy the Labour Party in Stockport. I made it clear all along that I will not support or canvass or door knock or support those involved in a Whatsapp group that saw a woman with disabilities referred to as Jabba the Hutt.”

And he confirmed that - due to taking that position - he had been deselected from standing as a candidate at May’s local elections.

Coun Sorton called on Labour to seriously investigate the matter if it is to be considered a safe environment. “There is an Equality Act that is designed to protect people from being bullied and harassed, and it includes people with a disability,” he said.

“In my mind, in many people’s mind, there is no doubt that a member of the Labour Party in Stockport was quite clearly the victim of harassment. And yet there has been no investigation.”

Coun Sorton said he was deeply concerned that the matter had been ‘concealed’ - allowing three people allegedly involved to play a role on the selection panel. He claimed those people were ‘instrumental in the deselection of three women with disabilities’ - and questioned whether this was politically motivated.

Councillor Elise Wilson. (Stockport council.)

“That is where the Labour Party nationally needs to step in,” he said. "I genuinely believe, with all my heart, that the Labour Party in Stockport is becoming unsafe.”

Coun Sorton told the meeting there were good people in the local party, with whom he still had close friendships. “But what I have to do, as I always have, is do what I believe is right,” he said.

Coun Elise Wilson, leader of the Labour group on Stockport council, said she was 'saddened' by the resignations, adding that both councillors had made 'valuable contributions to Stockport and their local communities.

She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: "I take the issues that Couns Peers and Sorton raised at the council meeting very seriously, rather than being dealt with at a local level, complaints of this nature are investigated by the national Labour Party, these complaints have been referred to them, and I await the conclusion of their investigation.

"Stockport Labour has a proud record of working hard and standing up for the people of Brinnington and Stockport and I know that Coun Kerry Waters, Coun Christine Carrigan, and the local Labour team will continue to do so."

The Labour group leader wished Coun Sorton and Coun Peers well for the future.

Coun Kate Butler, Stockport Labour group chief whip, said: "We profoundly regret the decision made by our two colleagues but it is their own personal decision and we wish them both well".

Stockport council met at the town hall on Thursday night (February 23).

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