Hartlepool council leader loses no confidence vote

Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher
Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher

Hartlepool Labour party chiefs have overwhelmingly passed a vote of no confidence in their group leader on Hartlepool Borough Council.

Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, leader of the majority Hartlepool Labour Group on the council, now faces calls from the Hartlepool Constituency Labour Party (CLP) of grass roots party members to resign.

It follows a motion which laid out a series of members' grievances of the leadership of Coun Akers-Belcher, who is also leader of Hartlepool Borough Council.

In a statement, the CLP says the motion received the 'unequivocal backing' of party chiefs at a meeting of its decision-making General Committee on Friday night.

The motion resolves that the CLP has no confidence in Coun Akers-Belcher and fears he will harm the party's chances in next May's council elections.

The CLP is now calling on Coun Akers-Belcher and Labour's other 17 elected councillors to take action on what it says is the wishes of the party and residents.

But Coun Akers-Belcher has described the move as 'bullying behaviour' and said previously it will not distract him from achieving the priorities of the council.

The statement of the CLP reads: "Following a full consultation of local party branches Hartlepool CLP’s general committee last night gave its unequivocal backing to a compound motion calling for a vote of no confidence in the leadership of Hartlepool’s Labour Group, Christopher Akers-Belcher.

"This was the product of a full and democratic process in which the views of all members were considered.

"Over recent months the CLP has done all it can to enact change and ensure new, strong leadership alongside a wave of new candidates to help protect and rebuild Hartlepool in this time of Conservative led austerity.

"The passing of this motion makes the views of Hartlepool CLP formal and clear, it is now down to our Labour Party councillors to exact the will of the membership and what we believe to be the will of Hartlepool’s residents."

The motion notes what it says has been a lack of communication and consultation between the Labour Group and voters, and a 'growing disconnect' most notably due to councillor allowances increases and 'vanity' regeneration projects.

It complained of Coun Akers-Belcher failing to address ‘a growing tide of lies and deception’ directed at the leadership of Labour on social media, or to tackle their political opponents on the council, which it said has created a widely-held public perception of a virtual coalition.

And it says that support for Labour has fallen significantly since Coun Akers-Belcher became Labour Group Leader in 2012 with criticism from voters on the doorstep.

It states: “This CLP therefore resolves to formally request the resignation of the current leader of Hartlepool Labour Group and request appropriate action from Labour Group members to ensure that the requested change in leadership is forthcoming.”

A second motion proposed by the Victoria Branch of the Hartlepool CLP was also passed. It requests that party officers urgently confirm that Labour councillors are not involved in any community or commercial activities that could, or could be viewed, as bringing the party into disrepute.

Coun Akers-Belcher has not yet responded to the Mail's request for comment following last night's meeting.

But before the vote he said: “As has been reported in the national media there is growing concern across the Labour Party that bullying behaviour is resulting in some political leaders being subject to personal attacks.

“I am incredibly disappointed that this too is happening in Hartlepool.

“I am encouraged by the many messages of support I have had from people.

“I believe that the National Labour Party and Labour North need to deal swiftly with this situation and put a stop to it.

“However, I absolutely will not let this situation distract me from continuing to achieve the priorities agreed by Full Council for making Hartlepool the best possible place to live, work and visit.

“Hartlepool has made great strides in recent years, but there is so much more we can achieve by working together.”