Bridgwater Labour Party has been stunned and saddened by the sudden and unexpected resignation of their District Group Leader and former Mayor Cllr Diogo Rodrigues. The news was delivered ‘out of the blue’ on the afternoon of Friday 5th July shortly before appearing on Facebook, Twitter, on the councillor’s own blog and in the local press generating 100’s of responses both supportive and critical.
Cllr Rodrigues moved to the Bridgwater area in 2015 and joined the local party immediately being quickly selected to fill a last minute vacancy in Dunwear North ward which he won. 4 years later he had been nominated by the controlling Labour Group to be the Town’s Mayor -a ceremonial post voted in by the 16 Town Councillors, 14 of whom were Labour. During his time as Bridgwater’s youngest ever Mayor he launched many initiatives including a massive personal social media presence and rapidly increased his own following along with that of his party.
In May 2019 he fought for the Dunwear ward on Sedgemoor District Council for Labour , which he won alongside new councillor Alexia Bartlett, ousting the sitting UKIP candidate. He also stood for Labour in the Fairfax East ward on Town Council which he also won.
With the Labour Group keeping control of the Town council, Diogo was made a Labour Cabinet member on Town for Youth and was elected by his fellow members onto the Council’s powerful Executive Committee.
Meanwhile, on Sedgemoor District Council Labour had increased their numbers after the election and the Tory majority was looking precarious, however their Leader Mick Lerry had sadly lost his seat by just 10 votes. Labour members had no hesitation but to put their faith in Diogo and elected him to the paid position of Labour Leader on Sedgemoor District Council and therefore Leader of the Opposition. Diogo had been in post for just one month and was now part of the District Council’s senior ‘Leaders Liaison group’, ‘Property Investments Board’ and had also recently attended the Local Government Association Conference in Bournemouth.
‘Thought it was a hacker’
Labour’s Deputy Leader, Cllr Brian Smedley said “This resignation came as a bolt out of the blue and appeared on my ‘messenger’ at 1.30 on Friday afternoon. It was so unbelievable I assumed it was a joke and had to check he hadn’t been hacked. I was astounded that it was genuine and obviously immediately tried to talk him out of it but his mind had been made up and in fact he’d already gone to the Press and informed the Council’s officers that he would now continue as a councillor but as an independent. I informed Labour colleagues who were naturally astounded by the news particularly as we’d all just fought an election campaign together alongside him and we knew that ordinary members of the Party who had leafletted and canvassed on his behalf would feel disappointed to say the least. However, the point of a Labour Party is to provide organisation to local government and to bring change to society against a very well organised ruling Conservative Party. That’s why we need political parties. Without that Unity we are nothing and so we will simply close ranks, lick our wounds and carry on the struggle. We put a manifesto to the people, we all stood on that and we are now delivering it even in the face of this devastating blow.”
Diogo outlined the reasons for his resignation in a letter to the CLP, which he also put out in the Press and on Social Media that same afternoon. In his letter he said that “the decision was not taken lightly and is no way a reflection of the great work local Labour councillors do”. He also described the Labour Party as having “clear principles of fairness, equality and opportunity for all” but went on to say that he felt “more and more disenfranchised and disconnected”. His reasons included the EU referendum which, despite being a ‘remainer’ himself he was now critical of Labour “arguing against the democratic result”. He also added he believed Labour had become “tainted” by an “antisemitism crisis” although he later added that the Tory party was “mired in islamophobia” and was “in a bigger mess than the Labour Party”. He also concluded that “The UK with Jeremy Hunt or Boris Johnson as prime minister is a great risk to ordinary people across the country”.
Diogo’s decision to now sit as an Independent will mean Labour committee places on Sedgemoor are reduced as the council operates on proportionality. There is one other Independent on SDC, a man from Cheddar of indeterminate politics, but to gain seats they will have to now declare themselves to be an ‘independent group’. It is not known whether they’ve even spoken to each other yet.
On Bridgwater Town Council Diogo has declined to resign from the Executive and could only be replaced by a vote of councillors at 2020’s annual meeting should the members wish to do that.
Labour Closes Ranks and Moves On
Bridgwater Labour Party members and Councillors will meet on Wednesday to discuss the crisis brought about by their former colleague and decide on their response whilst at the same time electing a new leader and taking steps to deal with the loss of Committee places.
Cllr Smedley said “Diogo is a passionate and committed young activist and we recognised this immediately and naturally encouraged him because that’s what we do and that’s important. You have to trust people. He did some great work as a Labour councillor – but it wasn’t on his own, it was part of a team. Lots of people put in a lot of time to help him realise his ideas. In terms of the Mayoralty he definitely did a brilliant job bringing it into the 21st century and in terms of Youth Work he was an excellent advocate for empowering young people. But he couldn’t do that on his own, he had the support of the rest of the councillors and because the Labour Party was in power locally we made that happen. Regarding his reasons, he is not alone in being disillusioned with the state of British politics, but you don’t change things by running away, you stay and fight.
Brexit is tearing the country apart and is affecting families, communities and, as in this case, friendships. Anti-Semitism is an evil and it has to have no place in the Labour Party. I guarantee that locally there has been zero tolerance and zero incidents. The political fight is with the Tories and not with ourselves. Unity is always the answer because United we Stand Divided we Fall. And that is especially poignant this week as we say a final farewell to our former leader John Turner who understood the value of loyalty and devoted his entire life to Labour and to the people of Bridgwater. No matter what threatened to divide and undermine us he put party, class and community first and we’ll miss him. He knew it was important to promise what you’ll deliver and then deliver it. That’s what he did through his life and that’s what we’ve done as a Labour Group in control of Bridgwater Town Council and in opposition on Sedgemoor and that’s what we will continue to do. “