Anger has erupted over a selection contest for one of the safest Labour wards in Brighton – amid claims that it was an attempted “fix” to ensure the party’s favoured candidate was chosen.
The sequence of events is set out in the Brighton and Hove Independent free weekly newspaper today (Friday 21 March).
The three sitting councillors in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean – along with two other potential candidates – were hoping to be chosen to stand in the local elections next year.
Whoever the ward party picked could be almost certain of becoming a member of Brighton and Hove City Council in May next year. They would have a four-year term as a councillor ahead of them.
But despite just 10 people voting, a recount was needed – and it brought to light a miscount.
And then two of the candidates tied, with a run-off now looking likely.
Eight local branch members turned out for the three-hour meeting at the Bevendean Church Hall in Norwich Drive, Bevendean.
They were joined by the five candidates and four members of the executive committee of Brighton, Hove and District Labour Party – including Melanie Davies, the city party’s chair.
The local branch used to need just seven for a quorum: the minimum number of people required for the meeting to be valid.
But one of the executive committee members said that the quorum should be 10 – so two executive committee members took part in the meeting and, crucially, the voting.
They were Peter van Vliet, the local party treasurer, and John Warmington, his predecessor.
Mr van Vliet said that the result of the first secret ballot saw Councillor Leigh Farrow top the poll, with Harris Fitch second and Councillor Mo Marsh third.
Christine Robinson was said to have come fourth and former mayor Councillor Anne Meadows fifth.
Robert Brown, who was chairing the meeting, called for a recount.
This found that Councillor Meadows and Christine Robinson had, in fact, tied – with Councillor Meadows winning the run-off.
Subsequently, she posted details of her victory on the Labour Party’s Facebook page but the posts were promptly deleted.
So instead, she tweeted her victory – even though the party has yet to announce the result.
The next vote saw Councillor Farrow come first and Councillor Meadows second. Councillor Marsh, who topped the poll at the last elections in 2011, tied with Mr Fitch, whose family have long links to the local Labour Party and the council.
For several months, the youngest in the Fitch dynasty, had been said by insiders to be favourite to get the seat.
Another vote was held and they tied again. A local party member asked one of the executive committee members to abstain so that the final candidate could be chosen. Mr Warmington said that this was against the rules.
It transpired that both executive committee members were voting for Mr Fitch, a relative of veteran councillor Brian Fitch, whose father Stan was also a Brighton Council stalwart.
The farcical proceedings came hours after the local party posted news that former Brighton and Hove Albion chief executive Martin Perry was to be a candidate in the city.
A party source said that Mr Perry would be found as safe a seat as possible. However, the selection process has been completed in the only other safe Labour seats in Brighton and Hove – in East Brighton and North and South Portslade.
The announcement followed a series of anxious moments for members in the ward.
Late last year Councillor Farrow was told that he had not been chosen for the candidates list. He appealed and was restored to the list.
And last summer Councillor Meadows was suspended after an anonymous claim that a gift had gone missing while she was mayor. No evidence could be found to support any wrongdoing on her part.
Labour’s regional director Malcolm Powers is expected to order a run-off between Councillor Marsh and Mr Fitch.
Mr Powers and Mr Brown were unavailable for comment. Councillor Marsh declined to comment and Councillor Meadows would say only that she was honoured and delighted to have been reselected.
In contrast to the official silence in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean, the result of the Queen’s Park ward party selection was shared online.
The party announced that three candidates had been chosen: Adrian Morris, Karen Barford and Dan Chapman.