Jamie Driscoll accuses Labour Party of acting like 'North Korea' over Sunderland leader's ousting

Jamie Driscoll, the former North of Tyne mayor
Jamie Driscoll, the former North of Tyne mayor -Credit:Newcastle Chronicle

Jamie Driscoll has accused Labour of acting like “North Korea” after a week of controversies for the party.

The former North of Tyne mayor, who quit Labour to turn independent last year, has attacked his former party and claimed it gives its members “no democratic right for the freedom of expression”. It comes after the national Labour Party intervened in Sunderland to prevent local councillors from choosing their own leader, installing Michael Mordey to replace Graeme Miller, and also sparked concerns among its own MPs over Natalie Elphicke’s defection from the Tories.

Coun Miller, who had led the Wearside council since 2018, is thought to have angered some within Labour for endorsing Mr Driscoll to be the party’s candidate in the North East mayoral election last year rather than the eventual winner Kim McGuinness. That was before the bitter row which saw Mr Driscoll blocked from Labour’s mayoral selection, amid a dispute over an appearance he made on stage with film director Ken Loach, and ultimately resign from the party he had been a member of since 1985.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service on Friday, the ex-mayor revealed that he plans to back a raft of independent candidates standing in North East elections over the coming years.

Criticising Labour’s intervention in Sunderland, as well as episodes such as the expulsion of Northumberland councillor Holly Waddell for liking social media posts from the Socialist Appeal group, Mr Driscoll said: “We have a first past the post system, which we share with Belarus as the only other country in Europe with that. The implicit promise in that is that parties have to be democratic and allow different views to be represented.

“But the Labour Party now is North Korea. You saw that with me, you saw it before then with other selections and the way they have expelled people like Holly Waddell.

“They have let Natalie Elphicke into the party with views that most Tories would find extreme and now they are replacing city council leaders. The people of Sunderland voted Labour on the basis of the record of Sunderland Council and the assumption that Graeme Miller will be their leader.”

He added: “To say that they are going to punish him [Coun Miller] because when I was in the party he supported me to be mayor, and that is what has driven this, shows that there is no democratic right for the freedom of expression on any different ideas in the Labour Party.”

Coun Miller declined to comment when contacted by the Local Democracy Reporting Service. In a statement released by Sunderland City Council, he said that he wanted to “step back and concentrate on my own health and family life”.

A Labour source earlier this week said that its actions to place the Sunderland Labour group into special measures were “not an unusual intervention and adhered to the Labour Party’s internal processes”. A party spokesperson added on Friday: “People in the North East voted decisively for Kim McGuiness and the positive platform she and the Labour Party set out for their community.

“Our elected mayors are at the heart of our pledge to return the party to the service of working people and begin a decade of national renewal. After 14 years of Tory chaos and decline, voters made it clear at the ballot box that they are ready for change. It is only the Labour Party who can deliver that change.”