A GROUP of 20 Pendle councillors has resigned from the Labour Party, accusing it of a ‘draconian’ shift in policy, of bullying councillors, stifling free speech and hindering it from standing for election.

The councillors say Labour nationally no longer reflects their views and that they were elected to represent local people  – not party officials. And they have described the mass resignation as the biggest since Sir Keir Starmer  become the national Labour leader.

The councillors will form independent groups at Pendle Council, Brierfield Town Council and Nelson Town Council, according to a statement, and will not joining any other party.

It comes as the Labour Party faces major debates over its position on the Israel-Gaza conflict and the potential impact of that on local and national elections.  Local council elections are due in May and candidates from different parties will be confirmed very soon.

George Galloway recently won the Rochdale by-election for the Workers Party of Britain and put Middle East issues at the centre of his campaign. He has called on others to join his party and stand for election across the country.

Pendle Council has held two debates on Gaza with the most recent in March. That included a fresh call for peace, humanitarian aid, a political solution for Israel and Palestinian states and a proposed ‘Homes for Palestinians’ scheme similar to UK help for Ukrainians.

In a new statement, Coun Asjad Mahmood, the leader of Pendle Council and the newly formed Independent group, said: “I, along with my colleagues, were elected by local residents to represent them in the council chamber. As a Labour councillor, I have always felt that the party’s policies were aligned with my own beliefs and those of the constituents who have honoured me with their votes.  Sadly, over a recent period, senior party officials have attempted to impose their ideas at a local level. I was elected to serve the public, not party officials.”

Cllr Yvonne Tennant said”At a time when 14 years of Tory cuts are affecting local people across Pendle, the Labour Party leadership should be allowing local hard-working councillors the opportunity to challenge the Tories. Instead, colleagues are being hindered from fulfilling their roles.”

Coun Mohammed Iqbal MBE, a former leader of Pendle Council, added, “I was suspended from the party for 18 months before it was lifted in December 2023 for advocating on behalf of my constituents. I joined the Labour Party over 30 years ago and have always been encouraged to speak out on issues.

However, senior figures within the party are attempting to stifle free speech and threaten dedicated councillors with removal as candidates. I, for one, cannot stand by and allow this to happen. The bullying needs to stop.”

The Labour Party has been contacted for comment.