All five Respect councillors in Bradford have officially quit the party after a long dispute with party officials and MP George Galloway.
The dispute arose in August when Councillors Ishtiaq Ahmed, representing Manningham, and Mohammad Shabbir, representing Heaton, were suspended earlier this year for reportedly criticising George Galloway over his comments regarding his participation in the Mayor of London election.
The councillors, which also include Councillor Alyas Karmani, Councillor Ruqayyah Collector and Councillor Faisal Khan, protested against the decision and have been temporarily acting as independents.
In a statement, Councillor Alyas Karmani, former Leader of the Bradford Respect Party, said: “Over the last two months I have been having discussions with senior Respect party officials to address the legitimate concerns that we have relating to the unwarranted suspension of Respect Councillors Ahmed and Shabbir, the defamatory statements made about the Bradford Respect councillors and a failure to develop transparent operational structures and procedures to enable the party to work effectively in Bradford. To date our rightful and legitimate request for a full and unconditional retraction of defamatory statements and allegations made against our group of councillors collectively and individually have not been met.
“Regrettably these discussions have failed to find common ground as senior Respect officials have shown a disregard to address our legitimate grievances and we have been unable to resolve our issues of difference. After much deliberation this has left our group no choice but to fully resign from the Respect party with immediate effect and hence forth we will continue to operate as a group of independent councillors for the remainder of our term. This decision has not been made lightly and we are saddened that certain ‘gatekeepers’ involved in Bradford Respect appear to have no interest in transparency, accountability and equity.
“I informed Rob Hoveman (parliamentary secretary to George Galloway MP) of this on Thursday 24th October 2013 and following this both Cllrs Ishtiaq Ahmed and Mohammad Shabbir then received an email from Ron Mckay, (acting secretary of Respect Party) that they have been dismissed from the Respect party as of 24th October 2013. This action only reinforces our view that decisions are made with complete disregard and contempt for any due process and are motivated by self-interest and not in the interest of constituents and the people of Bradford.”
He added: “We find this particularly disturbing given that since being suspended on 13/8/2013 there has been no formal allegation put to them, no description of any processes, no interview and no opportunity for the two councillors to challenge the allegations made against them and there seems to be no collective endorsement for this decision from the Respect National Executive Council.
“I want to assert that as a group we entered into local politics with a view to stand up for Bradfordian’s and therefore we believe we have acted in the best interest of Bradford. Needless to say we will remain committed to the electorate and will continue to advocate for the citizens of Bradford and work hard for the interests of our constituents and we will continue to represent them in Council on the issues that affect them in the District.”
Since the statement was released, the Respect Party have responded with a statement of their own.
The Respect Party statement read: “It is entirely in character that the five councillors who have resigned from Respect in Bradford did so under cover of darkness, putting out their rambling statement in the middle of the night. Two of them ‘resigned’ having been expelled by the party, a logical impossibility.
“The facts are these. Since George Galloway’s win in Bradford West there has been a concerted effort to damage Respect in the city, some of it illegal, as a forthcoming criminal case will demonstrate. For obvious reasons we cannot comment on this. Two of the five councillors, Ishtiaq Ahmed and Mohammed Shabir, repeatedly briefed against the Respect party and George Galloway, including to members of the press. They were suspended from the party some two months ago, and were expelled yesterday.
“This is not about principal, or policy, but self-interest and a naked attempt by the five councillors and one ally to control the party in Bradford. They proposed a constitution which would have given them absolute power in the party in the city. It came to a head when they proposed installing their ally in what they considered to be a safe seat at the forthcoming May election. These machinations were rejected by the national party. Since then they have continued to act against Respect.
“The five, some of whom have chequered political histories, were elected on the coattails of George Galloway’s historic win in Bradford West. Does anyone seriously doubt that? Their visibility and impact in the council chamber has been virtually non-existent. If they had a shred of principle they would now resign their council seats and stand again in their new colours. Or will they instead continue to draw thousands of pounds of public money until they are removed by the voters?”