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Dale’s Diary: Labour rocked by Howellgate, Balls threatens to resign

Dale’s Diary: Labour rocked by Howellgate, Balls threatens to resign

🕔26.Mar 2015

In the first of his Diary entries from the election front, chief blogger Paul Dale goes behind Labour lines…..

It’s not quite the Zinoviev Letter, but an emailed note alleging dirty dealings in the Birmingham Labour Party is causing quite a stir among the comrades.

A helpful MP, not Labour obviously, forwarded to the media a note he received from unidentified sources which claims to have uncovered evidence of a dastardly conspiracy to topple city council leader Sir Albert Bore.

At the heart of this plot, it is claimed, is one Andrew Howell, better known as Andy Howell, the former deputy council leader who deep in the mists of time challenged Sir Albert for the Labour group leadership and lost.

He was immediately deselected in Moseley and never stood again for election to the council.

With a decade of resentment boiling over, Howell has not apparently forgotten the humiliation heaped upon him and is intent on revenge, or ‘Revenge’ as the writer of the email puts it.

The author, or possibly authors, points out that Howell has friends in high places. He knows people on Labour’s NEC. He is therefore in a position to make life difficult for Sir Albert.

The note begins with a nod to various deep throats: “The information within this email was obtained by individuals close to senior figures of the Labour Party.”

It is claimed the opportunity to topple Sir Albert will be boosted by a poor Labour performance in the local elections:

There is a feeling that some of Sir Albert’s supporters will lose their seats in the upcoming elections which include, Stewart Stacey and James Mckay. The anticipated reduction in Sir Albert’s votes at next AGM provides an opportunity for a leadership takeover.

Much of the content of the email must be glossed over, for legal reasons.

The missive has quite a lot to say about the alleged conduct of a Labour party official and a Birmingham Labour MP who, wait for it, have close links to city councillors who want to see Sir Albert removed as leader. That’s a pretty wide field, then.

It’s claimed, and this is hardly a new accusation, that Labour’s selection procedure for the May 7 city council elections is being manipulated in some seats to favour anti-Bore candidates who can be trusted to get behind Quinton councillor John Clancy’s bid to topple Bore.

There is also a suggestion that Birmingham Labour party will be suspended by the NEC after the election for a thorough investigation to take place.

A matter of rounding up the usual suspects one imagines.

Howell is a calm, mild-mannered man, a patron of the arts, likes a beer in moderation, loves to walk in the mountains, and generally wouldn’t knowingly upset anyone. He is the most unlikely of plotters……or is his under-stated nature just a clever disguise?

He is taking all of this with good humour, denies the accusations and has written Facebook entries jokingly comparing himself to a combination of Dr Evil and Thomas Cromwell.

Howell has published the following section of the email, and his comments on the allegations:

Andrew Howell has been approaching and brokering deals between Councillors. He has been negotiating and flipping votes. Considering the NEC are taking no action on the current issues in Birmingham but being fully aware of the issues would suggest elements at the NEC are involved. Andrew Howell has ambition and would be seeking a Council seat in the near future.”

Wonderful imagination here. I should point out that I am not a member of any panel of candidates and as for flipping votes, I may be multi-talented but even for me it is a stretch to fix the votes of people I have never met or talked to!

To all Bham Labour Facebook Friends. If you want to de-friend me for a while — just in case — feel free. You might find yourself dammed by association with this growing band of Evil Geniuses.

Oh dear. With six weeks to polling day why do I get the feeling it’s going to be a long slog to the finishing post?

Ed Balls was in Birmingham the other day to issue a binding pledge not to do something.

In a speech to the party faithful, Balls said he would never, ever, ever, increase VAT and would in fact resign as Chancellor if ordered to do so by Ed Miliband.

This must be the first time in history that a shadow chancellor has threatened to quit even before getting the job.

Balls’ simple message, and it was simple, was that Tory governments always raise VAT although they claim before being elected that they won’t do so.

He spoke of the evils of VAT, “the tax that hits everyone – with the same rate paid by the pensioner as the millionaire”, although the same could be said about National Insurance and the 20 per cent band of income tax – we all have to pay it.

Balls continued: “VAT is the tax that every Tory government in the last forty years has raised. But no Labour government has ever hiked up the main rate of VAT.

“So today I can announce a clear pledge to the British people. The next Labour government will not raise VAT.

“We will not put up VAT. And we will not extend it to food, children’s clothes, books, newspapers and public transport fares.

“I would resign rather than break this promise and hike up VAT.”

The Tories, he claimed, have a secret plan to raise VAT, but Labour will not do this, relying instead on raising millions from a mansion tax and levy on bankers’ bonuses.

Far be it for me to challenge Mr Balls on economics, but you could see how Ed Miliband might regret being boxed in on the VAT issue.

Yes, VAT is a tax we all pay, from pensioners to billionaires. But at a time of zero inflation any government might take the view that a couple of per cent on VAT would hardly be noticed by most people.

Meanwhile, Mr Miliband appeared to walk into a trap at the last Prime Minister’s Questions of the Parliament as, shock horror, Dave Cameron answered a straight question with a straight answer. The Tories would not hike up VAT. The Labour leader’s PMQs plan shot and Mr Balls sent out to explain a Labour government would not put National Insurance up.

Still, probably Mr Balls knows best. We may not, though, hear too much over the next few weeks from the shadow chancellor about the “cost of living crisis” given that there is presently no inflation at all. Prepare instead to hear about the falling prices crisis.

Chamberlain Files will have special coverage of the election – looking at the battles for parliamentary seats in our area, local elections and at the expected contest for leader of the Labour group in Birmingham soon after polling day. Dale’s Diary will be making a regular appearance over the next few weeks. We urge readers to stay calm throughout and not to become too excited at the prospect. 

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