Rift in Labour as councillors clash over Deputy Leader’s resignation

The shock resignation of the Deputy Leader of Sheffield Council has split Labour with councillors descending into a war of words.

Sunday, 25th August 2019, 10:02 am
Updated Wednesday, 28th August 2019, 13:39 pm
Coun Olivia Blake

One councillor has dubbed Coun Olivia Blake “cowardly and selfish” while Coun Blake’s supporters have retaliated, saying the criticisms are “cynical and false allegations”.

Coun Blake quit suddenly on Friday, just two hours after a 26,000-name petition was handed into the Town Hall condemning the way the council is run.

She has signed the It’s Our City petition, which calls for the Cabinet system to be scrapped and replaced with committees, and resigned saying her role had become “untenable under the current political leadership”.

Colleagues have spoken out both in criticism and support of Coun Blake, who is also prospective Parliamentary candidate for Sheffield Hallam.

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One anonymous Labour councillor said: “It’s a cowardly, selfish and divisive move from Olivia to launch an attack on the Labour Party like this late on a bank holiday Friday when the Leader and most of our colleagues are on holiday.

“People will see through Olivia’s actions. She thinks this will help her in Hallam. It won’t help her in Hallam and Olivia’s actions make a Labour-led council less likely after May.

“She should be putting the Labour Party and the people who depend on a Labour council ahead of her own selfish interests.

“She asked full council in July to let her work cross-party with scrutiny to review the council’s governance structures.

“Council let her do that but she hasn’t done anything about it. She hasn’t met with scrutiny, she hasn’t discussed anything with Labour colleagues and certainly hasn’t engaged the public. Ironically, Olivia launched an attack on her own failures to deliver the committee system.”

But Coun Francyne Johnson, an ally of Coun Blake, hit back saying: “I’m saddened that Labour Group colleagues are trying to split the party with these cynical, false allegations.

“These comments represent the worst of the self-interested, smoke-filled backroom-style of politics that has to end in Sheffield – and that Olivia has done so much to tackle in her time on council.

“I’m proud that after massive achievements as Deputy Leader, Olivia has taken a principled stand on this issue, and will be supporting a much more democratic committee system alongside the vast majority of Labour members and the people of Sheffield.”

A second anonymous Labour councillor criticised Coun Blake, saying: “I am surprised that Olivia has chosen this moment to declare her support for a committee system, on the day that the petition from It’s Our City is handed in and during the by-election campaign for Sheffield Hallam.

“This is particularly so, as she has not previously raised any support for the committee system, and we had assumed she supported the current Cabinet model.

“Indeed she has previously voted against moving to a committee system at full council in 2017, and subsequently has been very dismissive of It’s Our City.”

But another anonymous councillor defended Coun Blake, saying: “Olivia argued passionately at Labour Group to voluntarily adopt a committee system and avoid a costly referendum.

“On the other hand, Julie forced through a proposal that in hindsight she must have had no intention of following.

“Not only has she wilfully missed the chance to avert an unnecessary referendum, but she has badly betrayed her promises to Labour Group colleagues and has blatantly not followed the course of action she proposed.

“It seems to me that Olivia has taken a principled stand following Julie’s actions – at the end of the day, it should be Julie considering her position.”

Coun Olivia Blake declined to comment.