Peterborough Labour councillors dramatically resign after ‘being bullied for calling out anti-Semitism’

Cllr Richard Ferris
Cllr Richard Ferris

Two Labour city councillors in Peterborough have dramatically resigned after alleging they were bullied for speaking out against anti-Semitism in the party.

Deputy leader of the Labour group on Peterborough City Council Cllr Richard Ferris, and shadow cabinet member for the University of Peterborough Cllr Matthew Mahabadi, said they were pressured into keeping quiet over what they allege is anti-Semitism in the Peterborough Labour Party, and that the online backlash against them made them fear for their families’ safety.

The pair, who were up for re-election in May’s local elections, also hit out at “the incompetence and pettiness of the Tory administration” in a joint statement announcing their resignations, which take effect on Wednesday.

They added that there is a “tinge of sad relief in standing down, given the alienation and ignorance we have faced, and the failure of our party to take seriously the disease of anti-Semitism we have diagnosed”.

In particular the pair highlighted the selection of Alan Bull for this year’s local elections.

Mr Bull, the candidate for Stanground South, shared an article on his private Facebook account, without commenting, which suggested the Holocaust was a hoax.

He said this was to find out his friends’ views on the article, and that he had never denied the Holocaust in his life.

Both councillors also alleged that a Labour branch has “affiliated themselves with an organisation condemned by Jewish community leaders”.

They added: “Even when we have tried to change things for the better, tried to open dialogue on and challenge the prejudices that sadly exist in our party, we have been blocked from doing so. This is shameful.

“We don’t believe that the actions of this powerful minority represent the true face of the Labour Party.

“It is as though they believe they are above the anti-racist values of the party. Enough is enough.

“This... has manifested itself in whispered threats of deselection and slanderous rants on social media. It is not a joke to say that we have at times worried for the safety of our families, given some of the comments made online.”

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints extremely seriously, which are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures.

“The Labour Party is wholly committed to the support, defence and celebration of the Jewish community and its organisations. We are taking action against anti-Semitism, standing in solidarity with Jewish communities, and rebuilding trust.”

Cllr Ferris was a representative for Park ward, while Cllr Mahabadi, who has not resigned from the party, was a member for East ward.

Their resignations mean that of the 58 seats currently filled on the council, the Conservatives hold 31 while Labour now hold 12.

A third of the council’s seats are up for re-election in May.

There will be no by-elections as it is less than six months until voters go to the polls.

In their statement Cllrs Ferris and Mahabadi also expressed their disapproval of the council’s Conservative cabinet, and in particular their actions to help homeless families living at St Michael’s Gate estate in Parnwell.

They said: “The scythe of heartless cuts - delivered by a Tory Government - have been devastating both to our city budgets and to the lives of ordinary families, including those in St Michael’s Gate.

“It is to the everlasting shame of this Tory administration that it took unwanted pressure from the Peterborough Telegraph to force them to fix the heating and roofs of these residents, a shame that will live long in the memory of our city.

“Sadly, it is not just failure by inaction demonstrated by senior leaders in the Tory administration. Their hubris and childishness is to blame for a culture of disrespect and playground pettiness that inhabits the Council Chamber and social media.

“Grown men acting like children, playing silly pranks, flipping the middle finger at other councillors, is not what our city deserves and represents everything that holds Peterborough back.

“These are decision makers who get paid handsomely for what they are supposed to be doing - guiding our city with vision - rather than embarrassing our city, and themselves, whenever they get a chance. It is shameful, and Peterborough deserves better.”

The pair though, thanked a number of people, including Labour group leader on the council Cllr Shaz Nawaz, who they said “like many of the councillors in the Labour Group have been there for us and supported us”.

They said their resignations “in no way” reflected on his leadership.

They also thanked their families, voters, councillors from other parties and council officers, in particular chief executive Gillian Beasley and council service director for community and safety Adrian Chapman.

They added: “We have been so grateful to be councillors and to have had the chance to help residents in our city. With hope for the future we move on to new challenges and new roles outside of local politics, and we will continue to support our local communities in any way we can.

“We only hope that in our time we have done a little to contribute to the betterment of our wards and our city”.

Cllr Nawaz said: “I am very disappointed that Richard and Matthew have taken this decision. They had a passion for serving this city, which is shared by all of us in the Labour Group. The high regard by which they were held by their constituents is testament to their success.

“Politics has become extremely rough in recent years; it has been my goal and that of the Labour Group to restore decorum and civility to local democracy.

“It is a shame that Richard and Matthew will depart at this point, but our commitment and our efforts will continue. I wish them all the best for the future.”

Council leader Cllr John Holdich said: “My view is that the two are victims of weak inexperienced leadership locally.

“They and the Labour Group spend little time in the Town Hall and, despite numerous promises to work together, they play little or no constructive part in policy development.

“I consider them not only to be negative but destructive and they expect us to take them seriously.

“Furthermore, nationally, they have the most unpopular Leader since Michael Foot, who is making no positive noise about local government.

“It is one thing to put nice words in your PT column about what you would do, if you do not have any responsibility or any idea about how you are actually going to pay for them.

“Finally, to put the record straight once and for all, St Michael’s Gate has housed approximately 250 people, of which 169 have been permanently re-housed - all of these could have easily needed to go into Bed and Breakfast, at cost to the city and its taxpayers.”

MP for Peterborough Fiona Onasanya has been contacted for comment.