A POWER struggle at the heart of a North-East council’s Labour membership came to a head this morning when ten councillors tore up their party cards.

The mass resignation follows the deselection of seven leading members of Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, including leader George Dunning and his deputy Sheelagh Clarke.

Pivotal to the row is the deselected members blaming interference from Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP, Tom Blenkinsop, and members of his staff, including three fellow Labour councillors.

This morning, they held a protest outside the office of the party’s candidate for the Redcar parliamentary seat, Anna Turley - where the shutters were firmly down.

Council leader George Dunning said: “This is a devastating day for me, I have been member for more than 25 years and it has come to the point where I have had to rip up my membership card.

“This situation didn’t have to happen but it has been forced upon us by Labour North and the bullying antics of some members.”

Councillor Brian Briggs, still the chairman of Cleveland Fire Authority, said: “I have been a Labour supporter for more than 50 years and it is with a very heavy heart that I have resigned from the party – it didn’t have to be like this but this was our only option.”

The other councillors who were not reselected by the party were deputy leader Sheelagh Clarke; cabinet member Steve Goldswain; chairman of the council’s planning committee, Cllr Brian Hogg; member of the cabinet for corporate resources, Cllr Norman Pickthall; former Mayor Vic Jeffries; and cabinet member Mark Hannon.

Another deselected member, current mayor Cllr Carole Simms won her appeal and can seek to apply for reselection as a Labour candidate - but tore up her membership card as she no longer wanted to work with her former colleagues.

Two other members who resigned, despite not being deselected, were Wendy Wall and cabinet member Olwyn Peters.

Cllr Wall said: “I never thought I would have to leave the Labour Party but what has been going on in Redcar and Cleveland is unacceptable.”

A Labour Party spokesman said: “The decision by this group of councillors, the vast majority of whom were not selected as Labour candidates for the forthcoming local elections, is disappointing but unsurprising.

“The selection process in Redcar and Cleveland has been fair, robust and competitive. The Labour Party expects the highest standards from our councillors and council candidates. These expectations include that a candidate demonstrates a willingness to campaign in their community all year round.

“The decisions on ward selections are for local party members to make. Councillors are accountable to them when they are seeking re-selection.

“The Labour Group on Redcar & Cleveland Council will now make arrangements to elect a new Leadership team committed to an inclusive way of working, listening to local people and fighting for Redcar and Cleveland.”

The authority needs to pass a budget before the end of March, which includes a decision on whether to raise council tax.

But the Liberal Democrat group on Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council have confirmed that they will table a motion at next Thursday’s full council meeting calling for Cllr Dunning to stand down as leader.