Labour’s campaign in May’s county elections has been dealt a blow with the resignation from the party of Garstang-based Michael Banahan.
Rumours about divisions between Mr Banahan, one of the leaders of the Garstang Labour Campaign Group, and its parent body, Poulton-le-Fylde Labour branch, have been circulating for several weeks.
This week Mr Banahan confirmed he had quit – and fired a series of salvoes at Garstang Labour candidate Ben Whittingham and Poulton Labour party secretary Norman Irish.
Mr Banahan quit claiming a lack of support and funding from the parent branch and criticised Mr Whittingham, an Edinburgh University student, as “an absentee candidate”. Mr Banahan also claimed both Mr Whittingham, who lives in Forton when not at university, and Mr Irish, had abandoned the agreed election strategy which Mr Banahan had drawn up for Labour’s campaign in Garstang.
He said the hierarchy of the Poulton party regarded Mr Whittingham merely as “a paper candidate” and that Mr Irish had withdrawn what he called “critical funding” for leaflets “killing off meaningful campaigning.”
Mr Whittingham, 22, a former special constable, who is studying modern languages at Edinburgh, was chosen as Labour candidate a year ago, and is a keen user of social networking sites to discuss political matters.
In a statement to The Courier Mr Banahan said: “Party campaigning is not about Facebook or Twitter it’s about listening to local people on the doorstep and doing something practical to win their support. Being an ‘absentee candidate’ has not helped Mr Whittingham’s campaign.”
He added: “If Labour want to control the county and Wyre councils in future they have to put a real challenge in Garstang, Calder, Great Eccleston and other rural areas and win some of them!”
In response Mr Whittingham said: “While it is always regrettable that someone with a similar respect for the need to help build a fairer society in line with Labour values decides to step back from the Labour movement, such a decision is a personal one and so it would be deeply unfair for anyone else, and indeed myself, to comment any further on it.” Mr Irish, a former Wyre councillor declined to comment.
Mr Banahan burst on to the political scene in Garstang around two years ago, regularly issuing strongly worded press releases criticising the record of Garstang’s Conservative representatives at town, borough and county levels.
Mr Whittingham, who graduates in May, is a former pupil of Lancaster Royal Grammar School.
He has been a regular contributor to The Courier’s letters page over the past year. He is one of the youngest candidates in the county and has worked on various campaigns locally, ranging from petitions to protect services at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, equal marriage and supporting local businesses and the living wage.