The only Labour voices on a Conservative-dominated council in southern England have resigned from the party over Sir Keir Starmer’s decision to write for the S*n.
Paula Langley and Stephen Dolan – who are both from Merseyside – slammed the party leader’s decision to write for the newspaper, reviled on Merseyside for its poisonous coverage of the Hillsborough tragedy.
An Anfield season ticket holder in 1989, Cllr Langley was due to go to Sheffield for the tragic FA Cup semi-final only to be kept home through illness.
Cllrs Langley and Dolan said they were appalled by Mr Starmer’s decision to write in the S*n last Sunday.
The move came after he stood in Liverpool during his campaign to become the party’s leader and vowed not to work with the newspaper during that leadership bid.
That comment followed a reference by Mr Starmer to the “hurt” caused on Merseyside by the organisation.
While Mr Starmer said he would consider that position should he become leader, many on Merseyside – including a number of MPs, regional mayors and councillors – regarded the move as a betrayal.
Among those voices was that of West Derby MP Ian Byrne, who survived the disaster and reacted through a statement in which he said: “Today the families and survivors of Hillsborough, the people of my city, supporters of our great club and the millions of others smeared by the rag will feel profoundly betrayed by the leader of the party I was elected to represent.”
Meanwhile, over the past week a significant number of Labour representatives on Liverpool Council and Wirral Council have written to Mr Starmer to highlight their disappointment.
The letter sent by Liverpool councillors, made public on Twitter by Cllr Sam Gorst, condemned the move and described it as “a smear not only against the city of Liverpool, but against basic decency and working class communities across the country”.
The Wirral letter called for Mr Starmer to apologise as it argued: “The S*n newspaper has gone out of its way to oppose everything that we as socialists stand for.”
The ECHO can today reveal that strength of feeling extended across the country, even reaching the corridors of power in East Hampshire.
There, just two Labour representatives sit on the 42-strong regional district council – Cllr Langley, who grew up in Litherland, and Cllr Dolan, who was born in Bootle.
At the time of the FA Cup semi-final disaster, Cllr Langley was a season ticket holder at Anfield who had a ticket for her beloved club’s meeting with Nottingham Forest only to stay at home due to illness.
One of her friends was among the 97 innocent men, women and children who lost their lives as a result of the tragic crush on the Leppings Lane terrace.
Now 51, she was the leader of the district council’s Labour group before handing in her resignation this week.
In her resignation, she detailed her frustration at Mr Starmer’s decision to write for the S*n, and at his wider leadership of the party.
Cllr Langley said: “During your campaign you promised the people of Liverpool, my home town, and the party’s most loyal base, that you wouldn’t talk to The S*n.
“That indicates to me that you fully understand why we deplore that paper and all it represents.
“Anyone who lived in Liverpool at the time of Hillsborough can never forget what that paper said, just four days after that most horrific of days, whilst we still grieved our dead friends and family.”
Cllr Langley said the coverage was “unforgivable” and continued: “But it’s not just about Hillsborough. There are many communities that The S*n has made feel abused, over many decades.
“There has been a positive campaign that has spread beyond Merseyside, asking people not to buy the S*n and newsagents not to stock it.
“By choosing to write for this paper, and it was a choice, you have done several things. You have legitimised the kind of ‘news’ this paper reports, despite knowing the pain they have caused to millions… You have said to the people of Liverpool, and all those affected by Hillsborough, that, despite understanding their grief and their suffering, you are prepared to court the instigators of that pain. You have legitimised headlines that most of us find deplorable.”
Cllr Langley’s only Labour colleague on the district council, Cllr Dolan, said Mr Starmer’s decision-making since winning the top job within the party had led him to question the leader’s “character and moral compass”.
While he cited several concerns about Mr Starmer’s leadership, he explained in his resignation letter “the final act of betrayal carried out by you that sealed the deal was yet to come”.
Cllr Dolan wrote: “I am a 49-year-old-man born and raised in Bootle, Merseyside. I am proud of where I come from, the place that helped shape me. I remember the aftermath of Hillsborough locally within families, at school and across the entire community. I will never forget how that day was portrayed by The S*n.
“You have let the party down and tarnished its reputation. This party is supposed to encourage a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect. How does that tally with the S*n? I struggle to comprehend why you would ever think that writing for them would be seen as acceptable by the members of the party. I am disgusted that you did so.”
Gideon Cristofoli, Cllr Langley’s husband and the only Labour voice on the town council of Alton, south of Basingstoke, also resigned from the party.
He accused Mr Starmer of “draining the life and soul” from the Labour party and added: “The final act that has driven me to resign is your legitimising the S*n by writing an article for them.
He labelled the organisation a “disgrace” and added: “Its appalling lies in the aftermath of Hillsborough broke hearts and destroyed lives.”
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