Hartlepool councillor quits Labour Party amid suspension row
A Hartlepool councillor has resigned from the Labour Party just days after he was suspended over allegations of delivering leaflets for another party's candidate.
Councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher, who represents the Manor House ward, cut up his membership card and has announced he is joining the Socialist Labour Party.
But he said his husband Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, who is Labour Group leader on Hartlepool Borough Council, is not quitting the party.
Coun Stephen Akers-Belcher accused Labour chiefs of treating him unfairly over the complaint against him while ignoring reports of racist language by a Hartlepool party member and other behaviour within the party.
He claimed homophobia, anti-Semitism, bullying, and harassment has become acceptable within the Labour Party.
Coun Akers-Belcher said he had given 22 years to Labour but the speed with which he was suspended following the allegation of leafleting for Socialist Labour Party candidate Allan Barclay - who was deselected by the local Labour party - had helped him decide to quit.
He said: "For a long time I have been quite uncomfortable and unhappy in the Labour Party.
"I don't feel it's my natural home any more."
"I feel the Labour Party has become a lost cause and a breeding ground for right-wing extremists."
Coun Akers-Belcher, who helps run the Rift House Community Centre, added: "I'm joining the Socialist Labour Party and will become a Socialist Labour Party councillor.
"People may think it's the wrong decision but I feel people like myself on the left have no place in the Labour Party.
"I feel the Socialist Labour Party is more Labour than the Labour Party. It's like a breath of fresh air and I look forward to working with our candidates Allan [Barclay] and Sandra [Belcher] and the regional president of the party."
Sitting councillors Barclay and Coun Akers-Belcher's mother Sandra Belcher both joined the Socialist Labour Party after being deselected for their wards by Labour last July and chose not to seek to stand for Labour in any other branches in the town.
They are standing as SLP candidates in May's council elections after joining the party earlier this month.
Councillors Barclay and Belcher also cited concerns of racism and homophobia within Labour for their joining the Socialist Labour Party.
Frank Harrison, President of the Socialist Labour Party for the North East, said of Coun Akers-Belcher's decision: "It's nice to welcome him to the fold as well as Sandra and Allan."
Coun Akers-Belcher said he believes infighting within the local Labour party and issues at national level will cost the party votes and said three other Hartlepool Labour councillors are also considering quitting the party.
But he said his husband, Christopher Akers-Belcher is not quitting despite facing calls to stand down from the Constituency Labour Party unhappy at his leadership.
"He is staying where he is," said Stephen Akers-Belcher. "We are very different politically. He always jokes my views are more left."
A Labour spokesperson said: “Stephen Akers-Belcher was suspended by the Labour Party as he was campaigning for opposition candidates. This contrary to our rules and clearly against the spirit of party membership.”
The party added it has robust processes for investigating allegations such as the kind referred to by Coun Akers-Belcher and any concerns raised would be investigated thoroughly in line with those processes.
It added it is processing complaints from Hartlepool but could not comment on specific allegations while investigations are ongoing.
The party added complaints are taken seriously and are investigated thoroughly.