The resignation of six councillors in the space of 24 hours has left Norfolk's Labour Party in disarray.

The departures have cost the party its overall majority at Norwich City Council as well as its official opposition status on the county council.

Five of the resignations were announced during a dramatic meeting at City Hall on Tuesday evening. Another councillor then revealed she was quitting the party the following morning.

The resignations affect both the city and county council. Four of the departing members are city councillors while two represent the county.

Eastern Daily Press: The Norwich City Council offices The Norwich City Council offices (Image: George Thompson)

Four of them are from the same ward, Town Close in Norwich, and the group has been dubbed the Town Close clique.

The councillors to have quit are: Emma Corlett, deputy Labour group leader at Norfolk County Council; Maxine Webb, county councillor; Cate Oliver cabinet member for wellbeing and culture at City Hall; and city councillors Karen Davis, Ian Stutely and Rachel Everett. All will continue to represent their wards as Independents. 

WHY DID THEY QUIT?

The resignations came out of the blue and caught both councils by surprise.

They come at a time when Labour has seen a significant number of councillors resign across the country in protest at leader Keir Starmer's views on Gaza.

But the Town Close clique have stressed that this was not a significant factor in their decisions.

Rather, they have their roots in a row over the decision by the local party to stop one of them, Mr Stutely, from standing in next year's local elections.

Eastern Daily Press: Emma Corlett and Ian Stutely (back row) with Karen Davis and Cate Oliver (front)Emma Corlett and Ian Stutely (back row) with Karen Davis and Cate Oliver (front) (Image: Town Close Facebook)

His Labour colleagues in the Town Close area of the city - including his partner Ms Davis - refused to select another candidate.

This forced Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC) in London to impose its own candidate.

The reasons for Mr Stutely’s deselection by the local party are not clear, but he has been a vocal critic of the Labour administration at City Hall.

At a meeting last week, he launched an outspoken attack on the council cabinet for supporting a decision to excuse the Anglia Square developer from paying a tax intended to help community projects.

He said his now-former Labour colleagues could “never consider themselves progressive” if they voted to let Weston Homes off paying £2.3m in community infrastructure levy (CIL) cash. 

CIL is a tax on housing developers with the money going towards facilities like playgrounds, schools, libraries and allotments. 

That meeting also saw Ms Oliver, who was a member of the cabinet, vote against the plan.

She was the only member to do so with votes against its own recommendations extremely rare.

Eastern Daily Press: Ian Stutely an Independent councillor at Norwich City CouncilIan Stutely an Independent councillor at Norwich City Council (Image: Ian Stutely)

The deselection of Mr Stutely - and the imposition of a replacement candidate - is a key factor behind the resignations.

Ms Corlett said: "It is a basic principle and in the Labour Party rules that Town Close members should decide who their candidate is.

"Town Close members had zero input into the outrageous and undemocratic decision to deselect councillor Stutely.

"The NEC imposed a candidate on Town Close when members refused to shortlist any other candidate and indicated they wished to re-select Ian."

WHO ARE THE TOWN CLOSE CLIQUE?

The group includes some of the city's most prominent councillors, two of whom have previously stood for Westminster.

They are considered to be on the left of the party, more closely aligned with former leader Jeremy Corbyn than Sir Keir.Eastern Daily Press: Norwich City Councillor Karen DavisNorwich City Councillor Karen Davis (Image: Ella Wilkinson)

Ms Davis stood as the candidate in Norwich North in 2019, when Mr Corbyn was leader.

She put herself forward to stand again at the next election but was beaten by Alice Macdonald, who was a councillor in London.

Ms Macdonald’s selection caused acrimony in the local party, with Ms Corlett - who also stood in 2019, in the North Norfolk constituency - accusing her of lacking local knowledge.

Ms Davis is a former teacher who studied for an English Literature degree and a PGCE at the University of East Anglia.

Eastern Daily Press: Maxine Webb a Norfolk County CouncillorMaxine Webb a Norfolk County Councillor

Ms Webb has been a pivotal figure in the party’s fight for better support for children with special educational needs. 

Mr Stutely is chairman of the licensing committee at City Hall.

The switch from Labour to Independent is a particular shock in the case of Ms Corlett - a former nurse - whose partner works for Labour’s Norwich South MP Clive Lewis. 

WHAT HAVE THEY SAID?

The four councillors who represent Town Close – Mr Stutely, Ms Davis, Ms Corlett and Ms Oliver – have issued an open letter setting out some of their reasons for leaving Labour, with blame levelled at the national party. 

It said: “We no longer consider the current national or local Labour Party matches the overriding principles that guide our work as your councillors. 

“We have tried to achieve our aims as part of the Labour Party but have been frustrated by the national party's obsession with suppressing debate and the local party's prioritising of corporate developments over what's best for communities and the quality of services they receive.  

“There are some wonderful people within the local Labour Party but too often their actions are overshadowed by a small clique of people who show no discernible Labour values and who fail to utilise their power and influence for the benefit of Norwich residents.” 

They also condemned the city council, saying it had failed locals, with families “forced to live in mouldy or insecure homes for years”. 

Eastern Daily Press: Emma Corlett. Picture: supplied by Emma CorlettEmma Corlett. Picture: supplied by Emma Corlett (Image: Archant)

The authority recently promised it has reviewed its approach to damp in its properties after being criticised for a growing number of issues.  

In a separate statement, Ms Webb said she was leaving the party after the “unjust deselection" of Mr Stutely and could no longer trust her former colleagues.   

She said: “The involvement in that process of Labour colleagues with whom I work closely and need to be able to trust, has made my position representing Wensum as a Labour councillor, unmanageable.” 

Ms Everett has not commented.

WHAT DO THEIR RESIGNATIONS MEAN? 

The resignations have thrown the Norfolk Labour Party into turmoil, with the group no longer having the majority on Norwich City Council.

As the largest party it will continue to run the authority, but all votes will be extremely tight, with the group having 19 members to a combined 20 in the opposition ranks.  

One area that will be of particular concern to the Labour group is next year's budget, which is likely to face amendments from opponents.

Such amendments are almost always dismissed but if the three opposition groups club together they could force changes.

A budget, by law, must be agreed.

Eastern Daily Press: The Liberal Democrats will take over as the main opposition group at Norfolk County Council The Liberal Democrats will take over as the main opposition group at Norfolk County Council (Image: George Thompons, LDR)

At Norfolk County Council, the resignations have reduced the Labour group from being the second largest party to the third, making the Liberal Democrats the official opposition.

It is unclear if this means that Steve Morphew, the leader of the group at County Hall, will have to give up his role as chair of the scrutiny committee, which helps hold the authority to account.

LABOUR DRAMA 

While the party is riding high in the polls, the shock resignations come during a tumultuous period for Labour locally.

Alongside the controversy over the Anglia Square levy, the embattled leader of City Hall, Mike Stonard, suffered recent embarrassment after ‘liking’ pornography on social media.

Mr Stonard initially denied that it was his social media account before a source close to the councillor admitted it was and had been done accidentally.

It also follows a revelation that the party took a £10,000 government grant from the city council - which it controlled - at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

Although the organisation was entitled to apply for the money, critics have condemned the decision to do so and called for the cash to be repaid.

Accounts reveal that at the time the party had total assets worth £447,106, including investments of £416,020. 

WHAT DOES THE PARTY SAY? 

A Labour Party spokesman said: "We are disappointed to see these councillors make the decision to leave the Labour Group, but we're focusing on what matters most to us - delivering the best possible services for the people of Norwich." 

Eastern Daily Press: Steve Morphew, leader of the Labour group at Norfolk County CouncilSteve Morphew, leader of the Labour group at Norfolk County Council (Image: Archant)

Steve Morphew, leader of the Labour group at County Hall, said: "The people of Norfolk and Norwich facing a cost of living crisis and many other problems don't want to hear about internal squabbles in the Labour Party.

"Nor will they be impressed by anybody who tries to distract us from looking after our county.

"That was what we were elected to do and what Labour councillors will continue to do.  Inevitably losing two members affects our ability to influence decisions but Labour county councillors will remain focussed on the needs and interests of Norfolk come what may.

"We are not going to be side-tracked by narrow party issues that make no difference to people's lives during tough times."