Southend Labour leader deposed in shock coup claim

Southend’s Labour leader was deposed by just one vote following a leadership coup driven by left-wing group Momentum, a well-placed insider has claimed.

A reliable Labour source said councillors who supported former leader, Ian Gilbert, were shocked by the bid to oust him.

The source said the leadership challenge was triggered by Momentum, in an “opportunistic alliance”. However, it was stressed that the new leader, Councillor Stephen George, was not a member.

It comes as Labour remains the biggest partner in a “city alliance” with the Lib Dems and the Independents to continue running Southend Council.

The Labour source said: “We spent months fighting the elections only to turn round and see some people plotting against us.

“We came through the election with two more seats than we would have in terms of measuring our success but it seems that for some time some members of our group were planning otherwise. The vote was very narrow, eight to seven, with one member who wasn’t available.”

The source said the challenge to Mr Gilbert was a surprise, adding: “There haven’t been any discussions. There are five Momentum councillors in the Labour group, all behind Stephen, who is not Momentum.”

Asked how policies on the city’s local plan and building on green belt, as well as the Queensway regeneration are seen through, the source said: “It’s difficult to say without knowing what Stephen has promised in favour of Momentum support.

“Stephen is not hard left and I haven’t heard of any discussions within the party so I’m not sure there will be any change. It’s more about the leadership of the administration. The first test for Stephen is if he can keep a coalition together. If he can’t, I will be expecting calls for him to go.

“Half the Labour group and members of the Southend Labour Party are not happy about this.”

Cllr Martin Terry, leader of the Independent group, has announced he will back a coalition but repeated his concerns about Momentum influence.

He said: “I had a cast iron assurance from Stephen George on this. Any policy changes or surges in ideology we will be done. We will walk away.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter

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