Published: 11:04, 05 January 2021
| Updated: 11:47, 05 January 2021
A local councillor has resigned from the Labour Party in protest at the national leadership's stance on unions and school closures.
Laura Edie who represents the ward of Newtown in Dartford announced last night she would be leaving the party over its "refusal to stand by unions and protect school staff".
The SEN teaching assistant hit out at what she perceived to be several flawed stances taken by the opposition during the pandemic but said its recent position on school closures had finally "pushed her over the edge".
"I just felt unable to stay in a party that didn't represent my socialist values," said Cllr Edie.
"We are a party built on unions," she continued, saying she felt the current Labour leader's refusal to come out and back the teaching unions call for schools to remain closed undermined its position as the opposition and made them "complicit" in the government's policies.
"If he [Keir Starmer] had said I'm backing the unions as the Lib Dems did... they didn't want people to go back to school for one day."
The former Labour councillor penned an open letter to the Labour leader outlining the full reasons for her departure.
It read: "I have tried to remain steadfast, but time and time again the Labour leadership has gone against core socialist principles and not put up a fight when the country is in a desperate situation.
"With the death toll rising, as an opposition we needed to be standing up for citizens of the UK.
"From not protecting human rights, voting for an incredibly flawed Tier system, a Brexit deal that will be detrimental to our living standards, and more recently an utter refusal to stand by unions and protect school staff."
The National Education Union had advised its members not to enter schools on health and safety grounds because of escalating Covid infection rates.
However, the Prime Minister insisted there was "no doubt" that schools were safe and urged those parents able to send their kids back to school to do so.
But just a day after returning kids were back home as Mr Johnson announced to the the public last night there would be another national lockdown.
The Labour leader had called on the Prime Minister to announce such a measure but declined to back calls from teaching unions for the reopening of schools to be delayed.
Cllr Edie, the former shadow deputy leader of Dartford council, took exception to the party's handling of the schools situation.
The councillor has also launched a petition, which has amassed more than 5,000 signatures to date, calling for staff working in special educational needs settings to be prioritised for vaccinations alongside healthcare workers.
She said: "They [SEN staff] work in environments where it is impossible to maintain social distancing, the use of masks may be very difficult and they are expected to carry out personal care.
"It will also be very difficult to carry out the mass testing of pupils in these settings, which the government have said is vital as a long term aim to stop the spread of this awful disease."
The current guidance from the government advises priority vaccinations be given to "frontline health and social care workers at high risk of acquiring infection, at high risk of developing serious disease, or at high risk of transmitting infection to multiple vulnerable persons or other staff".
Cllr Edie believes staff working in special needs schools meet the above criteria and should be included as carers.
Extending the jab programme to them would not only protect staff but vulnerable children and adults in their care, she claimed.
She pointed to a recent report from Public Health England (PHE) that found the death rate from Covid-19 for those with a learning disability was 30 times higher in the 18-34 age group.
"If you classed it as a care home it would be treated very differently," she said.
Meanwhile, Cllr Edie says she will continue to represent her Newtown ward constituents as an independent councillor.
"I will continue working hard to represent my constituents but can no longer represent a party that I feel so let down by," she said.
"It is really important to me that I'm fighting their corner and I feel like I have done that for the last few years and that is what I will continue to do. "
The Dartford Labour and Co-operative Group said they were "shocked and sad" to hear that Cllr Laura Edie has resigned from the Labour Party.
"To see her sitting as an independent in the chamber will be most upsetting," the party said in statement.
It went on to call for her to resign her seat which it said Labour Party members not only from Dartford but also surrounding areas such as Bexley came to help her win.
"Volunteers gave up their time and party’s funds were used to finance her campaign. Members are upset by her departure," it added.
"We believe she should resign her seat and stand again at a by-election. She was elected on a Labour Party platform not as an Independent.
"The voters in her Newtown ward should decide whether they wish for her to continue to represent them as an independent or the candidate of another party."