Labour threatens to discipline independently-minded mayor

THE Labour Party is facing a major blow in one of its Northern heartlands after being forced to threaten to expel an elected mayor from the party's ranks.

Doncaster's mayor, Martin Winter, has been given an ultimatum by party officials after it emerged he and two other leading Labour councillors in the borough had set up their own independent group in the wake of the local elections earlier this month.

Furious regional party officials have told Mayor Winter and cabinet members Stuart Exelby and Eva Hughes that they have until the end of next week to reverse their move or they will no longer be members of the Labour Party.

But locally, loyal Doncaster councillors believe there will be no turning back and the controversial mayor, who is in the last year of his second term in power, and his two colleagues made a calculated decision.

Labour rules bar party candidates from standing for a third term but there have been suggestions the rule will be overturned.

However, Mick Jameson, chairman of Doncaster's Labour group, made it clear that Martin Winter now had "absolutely no chance" of being the party's candidate at next year's mayoral elections.

Coun Jameson described his party colleagues' action as "a unilateral declaration of independence" which was potentially linked to Mayor Winter preparing to stand as an independent next year. "This would

have been a considered decision and not something decided in the heat of the moment," he said.

They had not mentioned their plans at the local party's annual general meeting following the elections at which officials for the forthcoming year are nominated and elected.

Instead, their intentions only became known after the three attempted to register themselves as the official Labour group with Doncaster Council's managing director Paul Hart.

Party officials, reeling from the disastrous performance at the local elections, informed Mr Hart who the genuine Labour group was and then issued an ultimatum to the three.

In a statement issued at the weekend, the party said: "It has come to our attention that Martin Winter and two other Labour councillors have registered as members of a separate political group. This is therefore a clear breach of party rules.

"The Labour Party have given all three members involved 14 days to re-register as a member of the recognised Labour Group. If they fail to do so, they are automatically considered to have excluded themselves from party membership."

Mayor Winter did not respond to a request to comment. Coun Exelby and Coun Hughes refused to discuss why they aligned themselves with the mayor but said they were considering the party's ultimatum.

There has been previous speculation Mayor Winter is intending to form an independent Cabinet with members from other parties after it emerged that he had held talks with the leaders of the opposition groups.

His reign has been mired with controversy, including a police inquiry into a community project he used to run. It did not result in him being charged.

Public unhappiness over his reign prompted an 11,000-name petition calling for a referendum to scrap the elected mayoral system in Doncaster. The council subsequently voted for a referendum but the Government blocked the plan, citing a recent change in the law which gave mayoral systems at least 10 years before they could be subject to a challenge to their existence.