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Two Labour councillors on Maidstone council have quit the party after being suspended without being told why

Two Labour councillors have quit the party to stand as Independents.

Paul Harper and Patrick Coates, who both represent Fant Ward in Maidstone, revealed today that they had been given “administrative suspensions” on December 12 last year – they have not been told what for.

Cllr Paul Harper has quit Labour
Cllr Paul Harper has quit Labour

Cllr Coates said: “The only thing I can think of is that at a rally in Ashford I once stood next to Jeremy Corbyn.”

The suspensions have left the two – who have been Labour Party members for 47 years and 26 years respectively – unable to campaign for the party or carry out their normal spring doorstep engagement with residents in Fant.

Cllr Coates said the suspension had come “completely out of the blue”.

Cllr Harper said: “All we had was an email from the party’s ‘disputes’ section, based in Newcastle, to say we were suspended. No reason was given and no date for any hearing.

“People have been asking what’s happened to us.

Is having once stood next to Jeremy Corbyn now enough to get you suspended from the Labour Party?
Is having once stood next to Jeremy Corbyn now enough to get you suspended from the Labour Party?

“But seven months after our suspension, there has been no further contact from the Labour Party and we have still been given no details of the reason for our suspensions.

“We have been trying since December to get this issue resolved, but without success.”

Cllr Harper, who joined the party when he was just 17, said he had written to the Labour Party’s General Secretary and also to the chairman of its executive committee, but neither had responded.

Finally yesterday, the pair received a “curt” email informing them the case against them was ongoing and still no date had been set for any hearing.

Two other Labour Party members in Fant have also been suspended, apparently for the same reason – since they share a case number – but they also have been given no details.

Cllr Patrick Coates
Cllr Patrick Coates

One remains unnamed, the other is former Labour councillor Keith Adkinson, who represented Fant for four years between 2016 and 2020.

Cllr Harper said: “Whatever the problem is, it seems a very Draconian acton by the Labour Party.

“There was no name on the suspension email, so we don’t even know who to challenge.

“All four of us have been loyal Labour members for many years.

“We are the same people today as we were yesterday. It is not us who has changed, but the Labour Party.

Former councillor Keith Adkinson has also been suspended
Former councillor Keith Adkinson has also been suspended

“Our fellow party members in Fant think the way we have been treated is appalling and several have quit the party in disgust.”

Cllr Harper, who was a Labour councillor with the London borough of Merton for 16 years before moving to Maidstone, where he has been a councillor for nine years, said: “There is no indication of when our case will be heard, which we feel is contrary to natural justice and infringes on our human rights, both core values for us as Labour members.

“As time has passed, Cllr Coates and I have had time to reflect on the role of being a councillor, the trust the community puts in us, and our responsibility to them.

“Patrick and I continue to believe that in local government you should put people before politics.

“We have therefore concluded that our duty is to work on behalf of the people of Fant who elected us.

They are settling scores and are clearly embarked on a witch-hunt

“But to do this, it is with deep regret that we are forced to leave Labour and become Independents.

“We will be known as Fant and Oakwood Independents - unbeholden to any political party.”

Cllr Coates said: “We both intend to seek re-election in 2024 as Fant and Oakwood Independents, giving residents an opportunity to continue to put their trust in us.”

The Labour Party disputes department was approached for comment but did not respond.

The leader of the Labour group on Maidstone council, Cllr Maureen Cleator, was unavailable for comment this afternoon.

Labour group leader Cllr Maureen Cleator
Labour group leader Cllr Maureen Cleator

She will be directly affected by her two members’ defections.

Without them the Labour Group on Maidstone council will shrink from six to four, which means she will no longer qualify for a Group Leader’s Allowance, which is only paid to groups with five or more members.

The allowance is worth £394.74 per year per member, which means she will be potentially out of pocket by £2,368 a year.

Last Saturday, Labour MP Jon Cruddas claimed in the national press that the Labour party under Keir Starmer had fallen under the control of a ”rightwing, illiberal faction” who were embarking on a “witch-hunt” not only against anyone from the Corbynite left wing of the party, buy also anyone “with an independent voice”.

His accusation followed revelations that Labour is considering expelling Neal Lawson, a party member for 44 years and a former speechwriter for Gordon Brown.

Jon Cruddas MP: There's witchhunt
Jon Cruddas MP: There's witchhunt

Mr Cruddas told The Observer that: “The most rightwing, illiberal faction in the party has been handed control to decide who is and is not a member.

“They are settling scores and are clearly embarked on a witch-hunt – not just of the Corbynite left but of mainstream democrats within the party.

“It is a disgrace.”

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