All five Respect councillors at Bradford Council have resigned from their party en masse in protest at the suspension of two of their members.
The dramatic move follows an internal row over MP George Galloway’s ambitions to become Mayor of London.
The councillors say they will not rejoin the party until the two suspended members, Ishtiaq Ahmed and Mohammad Shabbir, are “publicly exonerated and their suspensions revoked”.
In the meantime, the five say they will be continuing in their role as ward councillors, but as a group of independent politicians.
The row was sparked when Mr Galloway, Respect MP for Bradford West, revealed he was considering running for Mayor of London in 2016.
On Tuesday, they were suspended pending a disciplinary hearing.
At the time, Respect national secretary Ron McKay said it would be “unfair” to comment publicly on the reasons for their suspension, but added there would be a wider party investigation into what he described as “attempts to subvert the party in Bradford”.
But Councillors Ahmed and Shabbir claim they were accused of “conniving” to destabilise Respect, and in a joint statement released yesterday, all five Respect councillors, who also include deputy group leader Ruqayyah Collector (City) and Faisal Khan (Bradford Moor), demanded the pair be exonerated.
It said all the group’s councillors had voiced “legitimate frustrations” raised by their constituents about Mr Galloway considering whether to stand for Mayor of London in an election in 2016.
It said: “The Respect Party, in response to our raising these concerns of Bradfordians, has sought to silence two of our group.
“Our concern has always been that Bradford district and our respective constituencies should be the main priority of our work and that of George Galloway MP and the Respect Party in Bradford.” The statement continued: “We the Bradford Respect group of councillors collectively demand the two councillors be publicly exonerated and their suspensions revoked and the baseless and false allegations about them are retracted.”
Coun Karmani said he was “hopeful” that their demands would be met.
He said: “We are hopeful of an amicable resolution to this whole matter, because that would be the best result for all concerned.”
When asked whether the mass resignations spelt the end of Respect in Bradford, he said: “Not at all, not at all.
“It shows we are a mature party which has disagreements, but that we can resolve these issues.”
But the mass resignation met with a hostile reception at Mr Galloway’s office.
Mr McKay, who is also Mr Galloway’s aide, issued a statement on behalf of Respect saying the five councillors had satisfied their “thirst for prominence” after never before featuring “in the media or noticeably in the Council”.
He said: “The people of Bradford will no doubt find the whole matter absurd.
“These five were elected in the wake of George Galloway’s election victory. Does anyone think they could have been voted in without that and the backing of the Respect party?
“Does anyone doubt that they will continue to sit in the Council and pick up their £13,000 a year?
“The two councillors were suspended for widely saying that they intended to stand as independents and now they are independents they are demanding the allegation is retracted that they were going stand as independents. This is Lewis Carroll material.”