Banbury councillors claim they have been victims of a 'Labour purge'

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Banbury councillors on the left of the Labour Party claim they have been victims of a 'Labour purge'.

One of those speaking out is Cassi Bellingham, a former Labour councillor in the Cherwell district who is now standing as an independent candidate for Banbury in next month's general election.

She said it was “basically made impossible” for her to stay in the party after other politicians were also targeted.

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Ms Bellingham said: “I campaigned very strongly for public ownership of our services – energy, healthcare, water and particularly the NHS.

Cherwell District CouncilCherwell District Council
Cherwell District Council

“I’m a socialist and socialists aren’t welcome in the party now.”

She said she left the day her council term ended in May 2022 after witnessing four years of “purges”, with “bullying” in the party and other women treated in a way that was “personal” and “nasty”.

When asked whether changes to the party structure and ethos were just a part of the natural cycle of shifting priorities and leaders, the MP candidate said: “The Labour party is meant to be the organising party of the working class.

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“If Keir Starmer wants to create another Labour party then congratulations to him and he’ll be successful at it but we’ll be much poorer for it.

“I think politics is a rough game but I don’t think we’ve seen anything in many decades as ruthless as Starmer’s Labour party.”

The criticism comes as 10 councillors have resigned from the Labour party in Oxford over the leadership’s rhetoric around Gaza.

There have been no public allegations of ‘purges’ in the city, however, despite Ms Bellingham’s claims that what is happening in Banbury is happening “all over the country”.

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Sir Keir’s Labour party is currently soaring ahead in the polls and predicted to win by a landslide in the UK General Election.

But it has received criticism for its deselection of some candidates in seats with views seen as more on the ‘left’ of the party and for its treatment of long-serving members with those views such as Diane Abbott.

Former Banbury district councillor Simon Garrett said he was “expelled” from the party two years ago just before the local elections.

Mr Garrett ran as an Independent for district elections last year but was not voted in.

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He believes this was due to 'purges', and said: “I had worked in the area for a good two years before so could sense the change in mood.

“I was known to be on the left of the local party and had been asking pointed but awkward questions such as supporting free school meals for children, maintaining the £20 universal credit uplift and other socialist leaning policies.

“My ‘crime’ was to be a member of a Facebook group called ‘Labour against the witch-hunt’. I admit to being a member but had not commented on any posts or shared any content.

“In my expulsion letter the wording was very careful, they kept mentioning ‘on the balance of probabilities’ I had committed X or Y offence.

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“I wouldn’t mind but in the same letter they managed to spell my name incorrectly, so on the balance of probabilities they may have mixed me up with someone else.”

Hannah Banfield, now an independent councillor on the county and no longer a councillor in the district, said a lot of the criticism of her was personal and also noted an issue of a “targeting of women” in her opinion.

She said: “Cassi was more left than me. With me it was personal. It was always women.”

Ms Banfield added she did not believe Jeremy Corbyn had been “the right candidate” for 2019 elections but said: “There has definitely been a purge of left-wing members.

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“If any members wrote on their Facebook page or social media that they supported Gaza in the Israel-Gaza conflict then they would be called anti-Semites.”

Green councillor in the Cherwell district, Ian Middleton, was an MP candidate for Banbury in 2019.

At the time, the Labour leadership in Banbury had reportedly messaged him giving tips on how to win against the Labour party’s own MP candidate Suzette Watson who was seen to be more on the left and a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn.

Mr Middleton said: “The problem with Labour is they are so ruthlessly whipped and told how to vote.

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“We knew it was being driven by the national executive committee.”

Observations of the so-called purges have extended across party borders with a local Banbury Conservative councillor, Kieron Mallon, also offering his thoughts.

Mr Mallon, of the Easington ward, said: “I can’t comment on the internal disputes of the Banbury Labour Party and its leadership, but I can comment on Cassi.

“We worked together across the political divide on local issues and as we are both ex-Army on Armed Forces Veterans welfare issues in the town.

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“Some people are just good councillors whatever their politics. Cassi was one of those and had so much to offer, it’s a great pity.”

We have approached Cherwell District Council Labour leader Sean Woodcock for comment, who is also the MP candidate for Banbury, as well as the regional Labour press office.

We have also made attempts to contact Ms Watson but received no response.

A full list of candidates for the Banbury constituency is as follows: Liz Adams – Liberal Democrat; Arron John Baker – The Green Party; Cassi Bellingham – Independent; Chris Nevile – Climate Party; Victoria Prentis – The Conservative Party Candidate; Declan Sam Soper – Social Democratic Party; Paul Nicholas Topley – Reform UK; Sean Lee Woodcock – Labour Party.

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