A ROW over Labour’s leadership has spilled into the public arena as the group’s chief whip challenged his leader’s decision in the council chamber this week.

The feud between Labour councillors over ousting the deputy planning chief comes just weeks after a vote of no confidence in the group’s current leadership was passed at a local party meeting.

One senior Labour figure has said that this is all part of an attempt by Momentum, a left-wing faction of the party, to get rid of moderate Labour politicians.

In what is thought to be an unprecedented move, Labour’s chief whip Cllr Kevin McKeon asked for support from opposing parties to keep Cllr Hanif Darvesh in his position as the vice-chairman of the planning committee on Wednesday night.

Labour leader Linda Thomas had tried to remove Cllr Darvesh from his role – a decision which she has described as a “personal matter” between the two of them.

Now, the ex-council leader has criticised her chief whip, saying that he must explain his actions to the party.

She said: “It’s a pity that Kevin felt a need to bring it to council. I gave Cllr Darvesh the position and it’s the right of the leader to ask somebody to step down. It’s not something that’s discussed out there in the public arena.

“We do not normally discuss these things publicly. He needs to justify why he did it, not just to me and to you, but to the group and to the party.”

Cllr Thomas acknowledged that Cllr Darvesh has been a long-serving member of the planning committee and described him as a “popular” councillor.

But when asked why she decided to remove him from the role, she said the issue was a “personal matter” to be resolved within the party.

She said: “I felt his position had become untenable so I decided that we needed to ask him to step down and I put someone else in place who will hopefully fulfil the role. It’s not up to the chief whip to stand up and discuss it in a public arena.”

Cllr McKeon’s call to keep Cllr Darvesh in his position was thrown out by his colleagues at the full council meeting, meaning that Cllr Mohammed Ayub is now vice-chair of the planning committee.

However, councillors Martin McMulkin, Bilkis Ismail and Champak Mistry sided with Cllr McKeon.

Cllr Thomas refused to confirm whether the events on Wednesday night were related to the motion of no confidence by the Bolton North East constituency Labour Party.

She said: “If you look at the Labour Party nationally, this is not isolated to Bolton.”

Cllr McKeon told councillors at the meeting that the move to replace Cllr Darvesh was “unwise” and “irresponsible”.

He said: “Cllr Darvesh, until the Labour Group lost control, was chair of planning, a very effective chair, a chair who was well informed, a chair who conducted himself with great dignity and probity.

“He is currently the vice-chairman and occupies that office with similar virtue so it seem to me that we must be very mindful of positions within the council we have to be mindful of the effectiveness and skills of office holders and I do not see any justification, as far as I can see, that he should be removed.”

Council leader David Greenhalgh said that appointments to roles and committees are done by the party leader in conjunction and consultation with their group and should therefore be dealt with internally.

He said: “Well, we do live in very strange times indeed. We have an amendment brought by the chief whip of the Labour Group.

“Sorry Kevin I agree with much of what you say on many occasions, but these are internal matters for groups.

“It is not a judgement for other groups to decide on how the Labour Group makes their appointments.

"This is a constitutional issue of committee membership.”

He added: “Your leader has made a decision that is an internal discussion for you to have now in private within your own group if you disagree with it. We are not gong to interfere in any way and play politics with a decision that is in the hands of your leader.”

Cllr Roger Hayes said to debate with Cllr McKeon could embarrass the group.

He said: “I think it would be an unwise thing to do.

"It is far better to deal with it things privately. All groups have our issues occasionally but normally we and try to deal it with away from publicity and sort it internally.”

Cllr Mark Cunningham added: “It’s quite unusual thing to spring on us and if we are expected to debate this we would need more information from this group as to why we have been asked to do it.”