Wat­son ‘pro­tect­ing chum’ over lewd mes­sages claim

The Sunday Telegraph - - Politics - By Laura Hughes PO­LIT­I­CAL CORRESPONDENT

A LABOUR MP has ac­cused his own party of be­hav­ing like a “chumoc­racy” for fail­ing to sus­pend a close ally of Tom Wat­son af­ter he sent lewd mes­sages about a fel­low coun­cil­lor.

Adrian Bai­ley spoke out af­ter a coun­cil­lor al­legedly sent mes­sages to a blog­ger in which he made lewd sex­ual re­marks about fe­male col­leagues.

The party opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter the mes­sages were pub­lished on­line and Mr Bai­ley raised the is­sue with Mr Wat­son, Labour’s deputy leader, whose con­stituency also cov­ers part of the Sandwell Coun­cil area.

But in the mean­time the male coun­cil­lor has been al­lowed to carry on in his role, leav­ing his fe­male col­league avoid­ing meet­ings be­cause she “can­not face the thought of see­ing him, know­ing what he said”.

Mr Bai­ley ac­cused Mr Wat­son of ap­pear­ing to put “mis­placed party loy­alty above the in­ter­est and well­be­ing of in­di­vid­u­als” and that “lo­cal party mem­bers are ac­cus­ing him of a cover-up”.

Richard Mar­shall, the coun­cil­lor who is al­leged to have sent the mes­sages, has re­ferred him­self for in­ves­ti­ga­tion and said he wants a “clear and trans­par­ent in­ves­ti­ga­tion” to take place. He also claimed the al­leged com­ments had been mis­rep­re­sented.

Mr Bai­ley, whose con­stituency bor­ders Mr Wat­son’s, per­son­ally in­formed Jeremy Cor­byn of the case last Wed­nes­day and ex­pressed his con­cern that the coun­cil­lor has not been sus­pended.

He told The Sun­day Tele­graph: “Given that sus­pen­sion of Richard Mar­shall would be con­sis­tent with both nor­mal lo­cal gov­ern­ment prac­tice and Labour Party ac­tions with other elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives, it is highly sus­pi­cious that noth­ing has been done to date. These al­le­ga­tions are very em­bar­rass­ing for them. It looks as if there is an in­for­mal ‘chumoc­racy’ in­tent on pro­long­ing ac­tion for as long as pos­si­ble in the hope that the is­sue will some­how go away.

“It would ap­pear in this case that Tom has put mis­placed party loy­alty above the in­ter­est and well­be­ing of the in­di­vid­u­als. Tom was a strong sup­porter of the coun­cil leader Steve Eling and two of his em­ploy­ees have cab­i­net posts on the coun­cil along­side Richard Mar­shall and Steve Eling. In­evitably some lo­cal party mem­bers are ac­cus­ing him of a cover-up.”

Maria Cromp­ton, a coun­cil­lor, has per­son­ally called on Mr Wat­son to de­mand the sus­pen­sion of her col­league af­ter ex­press­ing dis­tress at the pos­si­bil­ity of see­ing Mr Mar­shall at work. She told The Tele­graph: “I am now avoid­ing the coun­cil [build­ing] be­cause I can’t face the thought of see­ing him, know­ing what he has said. The only res­o­lu­tion would be his sus­pen­sion.”

The Sun­day Tele­graph un­der­stands Mr Wat­son told Ms Cromp­ton it would be in­ap­pro­pri­ate for him to in­ter­vene be­cause of his po­si­tion on Labour’s ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee (NEC). How­ever, in a lo­cal news­pa­per ar­ti­cle in May 2016, he pub­licly con­demned the ac­tion of an­other coun­cil­lor who is also fac­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Labour Party and would come be­fore the NEC.

Mr Mar­shall said in a state­ment: “I would like this mat­ter thor­oughly and in­de­pen­dently in­ves­ti­gated. Un­like Par­lia­ment, there is a proper stan­dards process in lo­cal gov­ern­ment and as such I have self-re­ferred the com­plaint against me to [the coun­cil’s]’s mon­i­tor­ing of­fi­cer.”

Tom Wat­son said: “A se­ri­ous com­plaint has been made against a coun­cil­lor in Sandwell. It is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by the Labour Party and that in­ves­ti­ga­tion will be con­ducted thor­oughly and fairly. It would not be ap­pro­pri­ate for me to make any fur­ther com­ment un­til that process is com­plete”.

ON WED­NES­DAY evening, a group of se­nior For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Of­fice man­darins were gath­ered to­gether at a drinks re­cep­tion. They were joined by a num­ber of dis­tin­guished mem­bers of the great and the good.

Hours af­ter Priti Pa­tel’s en­forced res­ig­na­tion, the at­mos­phere was cel­e­bra­tory. “They were tri­umphant,” ac­cord­ing to one of those present. “It was as if they had notched a hit on a score­card.” The no­tional score­card com­prises Brexit sup­port­ing min­is­ters, and in that con­text Priti Pa­tel’s de­par­ture from the Cab­i­net was in­deed a tri­umph for the FCO. It can hardly be over­stated how op­posed the FCO is to Brexit. The For­eign Sec­re­tary is, of course, an­other mat­ter. But as an in­sti­tu­tion, the FCO re­gards Brexit as some­thing close to evil.

Ms Pa­tel’s down­fall was her own fault. No one forced her to hold a se­ries of unau­tho­rised meet­ings and break the min­is­te­rial code. But once her own cul­pa­bil­ity is ac­cepted, there is a deeper is­sue here: the role of the FCO.

In the eyes of the FCO, Priti Pa­tel was a dou­ble of­fender. First, Brexit. But per­haps just as bad, she also wanted to re­set re­la­tions with Is­rael.

That in­volved not only shar­ing UK aid with Is­raeli mis­sions in Africa; she also floated the idea of help­ing the Is­raeli army de­liver aid to Syr­ian refugees in the Golan Heights, an area whose Is­raeli con­trol the UK has never recog­nised.

It was dur­ing her unau­tho­rised meet­ing with Is­raeli PM Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu that the shared Africa aid plan was agreed. Down­ing Street signed off on it later, with the en­thu­si­as­tic sup­port of Theresa May. In­deed, the orig­i­nal idea was to an­nounce it at the din­ner cel­e­brat­ing the cen­te­nary of

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