Sedgemoor Labour left in shock

On Friday Diogo Rodrigues resigned as a Labour Councillor for Sedgemoor. He also resigned as a member of the Labour Party. Over the weekend we received a number of press releases with claim and counter claim. The Labour Party had just elected Diogo as their leader on Sedgemoor Council following the May elections.

Diogo was until recently Mayor of Bridgwater. He campaigned to get young people involved in politics and to improve communications in the town between the council and the population at large.

For the sake of clarity, we have published below the full statement that Diogo put out about his decision:

Before any rumours start spreading or lies start being spouted I want to let you know – Today I resigned as a member of the Labour Party, I will continue to serve my area as an Independent Councillor

I have been a loyal flag flyer and committed member of the Labour party with its clear principles of fairness, equality and opportunity for all – but for some time I have felt myself feeling more and more disenfranchised and disconnected from the Party.

The result of the EU referendum was not the result I wanted but I strongly believe that the result must be respected and delivered, otherwise we are turning against democracy. The Labour party has for too long squabbled on this issue – with many Labour parliamentarians openly arguing against the democratic result and pushing to overturn it. (Tom Watsons recent interventions are most unacceptable.) I find myself feeling too uncomfortable with this, fed up of the internal battle and I also question what, therefore, the point of democracy is.

Although having accepted the result of the referendum and having promised to deliver it, the Labour Party has not conveyed a strong and positive message about the future of the UK post-Brexit, instead conveying a message more on the lines of damage limitation, and I believe this is one of its biggest downfalls.

The party has been fighting an antisemitism crisis for too long and the Labour party is now, in my view, tainted by this. I do not feel comfortable being part of a party which comes across as not having taken this form of racism seriously enough.

The party seems to be in a mess, factions battling against democracy, struggling to convey a clear message, fighting with itself and as a result failing in its leadership. Because of this, at this moment, I feel I have been pushed away and can no longer be part of the Labour Party and, with a heavy heart and after much thought, I issue to you this as my resignation as a member

Let there be no doubt that the Tory Party, mired in Islamophobia, are also in a mess, a much bigger mess than the Labour Party. And the UK with Jeremy Hunt or Boris Johnson as prime minister is a great risk to ordinary people across the country and either of them will simply drag our communities down to its knees.”

Locally the Labour Party in Bridgwater is in shock. Mainly because the change of heart seems so sudden. Only 6 weeks ago Diogo was campaigning with party activists as a prominent member of the community in both Bridgwater and within Sedgemoor.

There do not appear to have been any events on the national stage in the past 6 weeks that have dramatically changed the position of Labour. While many commentators have observed that the party has given out confusing messages on Brexit, that was arguably as much the case in the last 6 weeks as in the past 2 years.

Cllr Smedley told us “Diogo is a passionate and committed young activist and we recognised this immediately  and naturally encouraged him because that’s what we do and that’s important. You have to trust people. He did some great work as  a Labour councillor – but it wasn’t on his own, it was part of a team. Lots of people put in a lot of time to help him realise his ideas.  In terms of the Mayoralty he definitely did a brilliant job bringing it into the 21st century and in terms of Youth Work he was an excellent advocate for empowering young people. But he couldn’t do that on his own, he had the support of the rest of the councillors and because the Labour Party was in power locally we made that happen. Regarding his reasons, he is not alone in being disillusioned with the state of British politics, but you don’t change things by running away, you stay and fight.”

Bridgwater Labour Party members and Councillors will meet on Wednesday to discuss the crisis brought about by their former colleague and decide on their response whilst at the same time electing a new leader and taking steps to deal with the loss of Committee places.

For all that something does not seem to add up here. Has something significant happened locally? Nothing that has come to our attention. Yet the sudden resignation so soon after an election suggests something must have gone wrong.

The Leveller finds itself a little conflicted. Regular readers will know we advocate for Independent councillors. However when a councillor has changed allegiance (as happened last year with Mike Rigby) or is banned for their conduct (as happened a few years ago with County Councillor Huxtable) it is our firm view they should stand in a by-election. And that really should now be the case with Diogo Rodrigues. The more so because his resignation follows so rapidly after his election on a different manifesto.

In the meantime the composition of a number of Committees on Sedgemoor District Council will now have to change. Membership is decided on the % of seats held by each party. With Diogo becoming an Independent Councillor some reallocation may be necessary.

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