St Helens councillor quits Labour amid 'smear' campaign claims

Councillor Gill Neal
Councillor Gill Neal

A Labour councillor has quit the party following a bitter row in the run up to the 2020 local elections.

Last week the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) reported that Windle councillor Gill Neal had been selected to stand in the Town Centre ward next May – ahead of sitting cabinet member Lynn Clarke.

This was after Coun Neal withdrew from the selection process for her current ward, Windle.

But on Saturday, Coun Neal publicly announced her decision to resign the Labour Party whip via Twitter.

“I would like to advise residents in Windle and Town Centre wards that I have resigned the Labour Group Whip with immediate effect and will not be standing for election in May 2020, and I thank you all for affording me the privilege of representing you,” the tweet read.

In an email to Labour councillors, Coun Neal said she will sit as an independent councillor for her remaining time on the council, prompting calls from the party for her to resign and contest a by-election.

Coun Neal also said in the email that her husband, Simon Neal, will decline the invitation to stand as the Labour candidate in Parr.

Mr Neal was selected to stand in Parr after pipping former deputy council leader Andy Bowden last month.

It is understood the decision to deselect Coun Bowden did not sit well with some members of the Labour camp.

In the email to members, Coun Neal denied media reports she chaired the meeting where her husband was selected, saying another branch member did.

This has been disputed by Coun Bowden who said Coun Neal “effectively” chaired the meeting in her role as secretary.

In her final email to the Labour group, she accused colleagues of working against her.

“Some members are so set upon driving forward their own agenda, they are prepared to leak confidential details to the media which have been damaging,” she wrote.

“And maybe those are the same people who have set up stories that have maligned me, and my family.

“Whoever you are and whatever your motivation, my principles and my integrity no longer allow me to be associated with you.

“If you are what the Labour Party stands for then I do not want to be part of this anymore.”

Coun Neal, the former cabinet member for better health and building arts and culture, told the LDRS members attempted to “smear” her in recent weeks.

She said: “I have raised concerns with the Chief Whip who has said nothing can be done, once I learned of a social media campaign to smear me further, I decided enough is enough, and I will walk away before I have my family put through anything more.”

Coun Neal said the reason she decided not to stand in Windle was because she lost the support of branch members.

And in the email sent to Labour group members, which has been seen by the LDRS, Coun Neal said she believes her values are no longer shared by everyone in the Labour group.

Coun Neal also bemoaned the lack of support she has had from her Labour colleagues in recent weeks.

“Whatever your motivations are for being in this group, I can count on one hand those who have supported me in the last couple of weeks and I won’t name you on here, but you know who you are,” she said.

“Equally, those of you who have had knives in my back for a while, can ease off on the pressure, because I am no longer a threat inside this group to you.

“Many of you will be glad to know that Simon feels the same way as I do and will not be taking his place as the candidate for Parr.

“I wish you luck in the forthcoming elections, and I thank those of you who have extended a hand of friendship to me.”

Following her decision to quit the party, Coun Neal told the LDRS: “I have been proud to represent the Labour Party in Windle since being elected in 2016.

“From a platform of being a councillor I have played a part in securing a good Ofsted outcome for families of children with SEND, ensured children are being fed in the school holidays, safeguarded green belt land that would otherwise have been released and raised awareness of mental health and wellbeing and the need for suicide prevention.”

A spokesman for the Labour Party said residents who voted for Coun Neal in Windle will be “let down” by her decision.

A Labour Party spokesman said: “It is disappointing that Coun Neal and her husband have chosen to stand down just days after they asked loyal local party members to endorse them as candidates in next May’s elections.

“We will quickly move to select new candidates in Town Centre and Parr wards who share Labour’s values and our commitment to working hard for the people of St Helens.

“Coun Gill Neal was elected in 2016 thanks to the hard work of Labour Party activists and volunteers, who understandably feel very let down by her actions.

“Also let down are the people of Windle who voted to elect Gill Neal as a Labour councillor.

“If she now wishes to serve as an ‘independent’, she should resign and seek a mandate for that decision in a by-election.”