Investigation over Northampton by-election leaflet

Regional Labour Party officials have today launched an investigation into how former MP Tony Clarke was allowed to endorse one of its candidates in a borough council by-election.

Details of the behind closed doors hearing – seen by the Chron – reveal that three lay members of the East Midlands Regional Board will be holding a two-day hearing to investigate why Mr Clarke appeared in Labour by-election literature, endorsing the party's candidate in New Duston, Geoff Howes.

Supporters of Mr Howes, a Labour stalwart during the 1980s and 1990s who later became a freeman of the borough of Northampton, circulated a leaflet during the campaign which contained a ringing endorsement from Mr Clarke, who served alongside him at the Guildhall before he won the Northampton South seat in the 1997 Labour landslide.

Mr Clarke was expelled from the Labour Party amid much rancour almost two years ago during a bitter row in the selection process in the run-up to the borough council elections.

He later stood and won Castle ward as an Independent candidate, but he and several party supporters were slung out at the same time, including Mr Howes, although he was reinstated last year.

According to a letter sent to members in Northampton South Constituency Labour Party (CLP), the investigation will "centre on the events leading up to the production and distribution of a party leaflet which contained an endorsement from a political opponent.

"This political opponent has stated publicly that he intends to stand against the CLP's chosen candidates in subsequent elections, including the General Election."

Statements have been demanded from the entire CLP executive together with ones from Mr Howes and Clyde Loakes, the party's prospective parliamentary candidate. Mr Howes' campaign agent, Anjona Roy, widely thought to be the driving force behind the decision, is also likely to be called to give evidence.

The Chron also understands that Mr Howes' selection as the candidate was done without the prior knowledge of the group's leader at the Guildhall, Councillor Keith Davies.

Mr Clarke last night said he was aware that an investigation might be under way, but urged his former party colleagues to move on. He said: "They are turning good, loyal party members into enemies. They really need to move on. They expelled me almost two years ago, but I have moved on and it's time they did too."

Mr Howes finished a distant second to Conservative Matthew Golby in the January poll.

A Labour Party spokesperson said: "The East Midlands Labour Party is meeting with a number of members of the Northampton South Labour Party as part of an internal Labour Party fact finding investigation.

"We hope this matter is resolved as quickly as possible as it is crucial we continue exposing the financial incompetence of the Lib Dem Council and highlighting the Tories' lack of action for families and small businesses in these difficult economic times."