Sunday, 29 December 2013

Andrew Lilley and the Stoke Labour "Conspiracy"

It's good to see Stoke Central Labour in the national press. Not so good when it's about my local constituency party having had at least ten grand nicked by its former treasurer. Back in November, the Stoke-on-Trent Labour-turned-unaligned councillor Andy Lilley was sent down for 16 months after his pilfering of party funds were uncovered. You can read a bit about the subsequent by-election this caused here and here. Unfortunately, as per the "idiosyncratic" nature of local politics in the Potteries this has become the pivot of a local conspiracy theory. A theory given life by some of the nonsense uncritically regurgitated by yesterday's Mirror. It's about time someone cleared the air.

The Mirror writes "in 2010 ... attempts to suspend Lilley were blocked by regional party officials during a period of political infighting." I wasn't in the party when this was happening. But my understanding was that Lilley had not produced the books for inspection by the constituency for a period of time, a situation compounded by his avoidance of party meetings. Understandably the then executive had concerns and had notified the city party organisation (now Local Campaign Forum) and the regional office. At this point there was no evidence of wrongdoing. However, events have a habit of shaking up politics and so it was with Stoke Central CLP. Against the backdrop of leading party members - practically the entire executive - playing crucial roles in campaigning for the unseating of an elected Labour mayor, in the space of a mid-March weekend the party was placed into special measures by the NEC and incumbent MP Mark Fisher announced his retirement a month-and-a-half before the general election. Of course, some might want to attribute sinister and cynical motives to the regional party apparatus failure to pursue Andy Lilley then, but more reasonable people could conclude that organising a last minute candidacy, handling the administration that comes with a constituency party suspension and the small matter of overseeing a large election campaign across the West Midlands were monopolising their time.

I first met Andy Lilley after the election. Tristram Hunt was the new MP and the 'old guard' had resigned. Lilley chaired the first meeting of the CLP and was re-elected the constituency treasurer. It also appeared the previous executive had nothing to be worried about - in 2010 and 2011 the constituency finances were audited again by members chosen at those years' AGMs. Money in the ledger Lilley kept matched the money in and out recorded by the bank statements (I saw these as I was the CLP secretary 2011-13). It all appeared above board.

Then, at the 2012 AGM, he was voted out of office. There followed a substantial delay of months before the books were handed over to the new treasurer and the auditors could take a look at them. We met about this time last year in a pub with the auditors, and there was a discrepancy. Money known to be paid in had not appeared in the accounts. Pending further investigations, the auditors did not sign them off. About a month later on a Saturday morning, we were called to an emergency executive meeting at the campaign officer's house. The treasurer had produced a fully itemised statement from the bank that showed the incomings and outgoings, which clearly didn't match with what was in the ledger. But what about the banks statements seen in previous audits? Then came the real bombshell. They were fake. Coming to light after he scanned copies of the old statements and sent them to the bank, what we and auditors had previously seen were quite convincing mock ups. They looked like the real thing with the exception of two details - the reference numbers on them were false, and its design was a few years out of date. But unless you have an eye for that sort of thing, you never would have guessed. And so it turned out the bank account, which we were led to believe was in a low but workable state was empty and in front of us we had evidence that our former treasurer had been forging documentation. What could you do? I remember my jaw hitting the floor and laughing. In short order the treasurer spoke to the regional office and both went to the police. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Irony of ironies, it was around the time his wrongdoing was coming to light that Lilley resigned from Labour for "principled" anti-cuts reasons. He made a big play of not wanting to attack the labour movement, but thought nothing of splashing thousands of its pounds on ridiculous watches, expensive champagne and large tables at the Lord Mayor's charity do.

So let there be no doubt at all. There was no blocked investigation. No cynical shafting of Lilley when he ceased being "useful". There was never any conspiracy. There was one man who, whatever his excuse, helped himself to at least £10k of party funds. He troughed on money raised from campaigning and the donations of ordinary working people who believe Labour can make a difference. Lilley didn't steal from a faceless institution. He took cash off me, off the executive he worked with, off the activists and CLP regulars, off affiliated trade unions, off our phalanx of members in their 90s and the youngest comrades who've not long joined and, worst of all, his own wife. It's right he's doing bird for it. And it's right that the nonsense surrounding this case be put to bed.

6 comments:

Gary Elsby said...

Wrong on many counts.
The accounts were proven to be be 'wrong' before the dates you give.
They were audited and not signed off until they were corrected.
Lilley was removed by the AGM in 2010.
We were suspended as a CLP. At that point.
Lilley re appeared as CLP treasurer courtesy of the WM and NEC (against our wishes) .
We dealt with it and the cash went missing on your watch.
£10 K?
You take the piss.
Nowhere near.

Phil said...

Then where was the evidence, Gary? If you had evidence of wrongdoing why didn't you take it to the police? We did and we did. I'm sure you're aware withholding evidence is an offence.

And remember, the "AGM" you held was ruled out of order by the NEC before it sat. As a new member I received a letter from the NEC stating its unconstitutional character, as did everyone else. I know it's hard for you to realise there's a world outside Stoke-on-Trent, but being a Labour Party member has rights and responsibilities as defined by our duly elected national exec and the rule book. Stoke Central CLP was not the sovereign body like you and your clique thought, but a unit of a much larger organisation. It was therefore bound by rules and - one would think - a sense of moral responsibility to the wider organisation and the people it represents. Therefore campaigning to remove an elected Labour Party member from office you broke the rules and, as such, the party you led was put under suspension by the NEC. And they were entirely right to do so.

Gary Elsby said...

Oh dear.
We removed him in February 2010.
He was reinstated as we, the CLP, were in suspension. We had no power or authority to do anything.
You put him back in.

Stoke Central and all of its core officers did not campaign to remove anyone (that is unconstitutional).
We were suspended for holding our AGM in February (as per the last 50 years or so) and not in March.
God only knows the tripe put out to undermine Stoke via London and West Bromwhich!

None of this has anything to do with parachuting their Lordships puppet into a Stoke vacancy and shafting the only part capable of stoping that debacle.
Oh no,

A piss poor attempt. On your part to throw a swerve ball prior to the further police inquiry coming in 2014.

(I did warn you of this in 2011 and 2012).

Phil said...

Carry on with what you believe, Gary. And the rest of us will make do with the facts that fit the timeline.

Loz said...

Lilley himself cuts a pretty sorry figure. I recall his standing in Hanley pubs boasting about his own political importance, lecturing all who would listen on all aspects of socialism and trade unionism following his election to council.

I understand that even after his arrest, with the court date pending (and presumably, his lawyers telling him he was facing a prison term) he was still going around lying and denying there was anything wrong.

The sad reality here is that Andy Lilley lied to and conned honest people in the Labour Party both before and after the 2010 CLP suspension. He also lied to and conned a lot of people outside the party in the wider community, to the extent that there were a lot of people unconnected to local politics cheered by his conviction.


Gary Elsby said...

I can only give a view of what I witnessed.
You make a common mistake of blending personal views and actions to that of political officers and therefore see CLP officers 'campaigning' to remove a a Mayor.
What you actually did see was concerned individuals of all parties (and non parties) join together with a common cause to hold a referendum with a view to remove a Mayor.
This was agreed by all hierarchies as long as the Labour name and logo was not used.
The red herring is now dismantled.
We never saw the 2009 accounts and therefore the 2010 AGM sought action (at the point he was removed).
He was re installed during our suspension.
The WM office and the NEC were informed of impending court actions as we told them face to face in Stoke on Trent.
There is no falsehoods and no conspiracies on our part Phil, we were a legitimate CLP going about our legitimate ways but being turned over by the Milibands and Lordships looking to corrupt Stoke politics for their own perverse ends.
Your viewpoint that I couldn't voice against an elected Mayor, but could only voice in support of one frightens me and shows how low local Stoke politics and democracy has fallen.
It is noticed that this unchallenged Labour council now shuts down everything we fought for as you whimper and whine about real and serious former suspended and expelled members.
On our watch, we won everything and made National headlines.
On yours, you make headlines that make Stoke look stupid.