Leading members have split from Lewisham's left-wing People Before Profit party, with claims it has become an "authoritarian leader cult."

Five members of the party - including founder member Tobias Abse, 2015 election candidate Helen Mercer and secretary George Hallam - have left after a rift between Mr Hallam and stalwart John Hamilton.

In a scathing Facebook post last week, Mr Abse criticised the way the party was run and made a number of allegations about Mr Hamilton and a property he rents out in Nottingham - allegations the party says are unsubstantiated. 

He wrote: "The organisation has degenerated into an authoritarian leader cult similar to various other left organisations and I could not in all conscience continue to be part of it when all the opposition forces were walking away."

Mr Abse added: "George and Helen believed in a twin track approach, combining electoral interventions (parliamentary, local, GLA) with community campaigning. 

"John opposed not only our intervention in the Rochester by-election but more significantly opposed our intervention in the General Election."

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But Mr Hamilton, who has been publicly backed by ex-election candidate Nick Long, rubbished the claims of authoritarianism.

He said: "What I've liked about People Before Profit is the fact we take and share the work out. We take decisions based on consensus and we don't have a leader."

The party has made a name for itself over the years with eye-catching stunts, mainly focusing on the lack of affordable housing in the borough.

But, despite decent results in last year's local elections, the party struggled at the ballot box this summer - with Ms Mercer, its candidate for Lewisham Deptford, doing the best with just 666 votes.

A pre-election Deptford festival organised by member Ray Woolford was also widely derided as a washout, despite his claims to the contrary.

"Very sad"

George Hallam refused to comment but Helen Mercer sent us a 230-word statement she insisted must only be printed in full.

It said: "I was a founder member of PBP and I believe it has done some excellent work, especially in the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign where our vision and drive were essential to the formative demonstrations in November 2012 and January 2013.  

"We foresaw that threats to Lewisham Hospital would continue if the merger with QEH went ahead because at the root of the problem were the unaffordable PFIs. It is sad that we were ignored at the time by the campaign itself.

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"Our manifestos and our election bulletins, which I took a major part in formulating, have presented radical and realisable policies which offered an alternative to austerity and privatisation. 

"This work, together with active campaigning, won us respect and electoral support among Lewisham people. Various issues erupted after the election where I have been at odds with a group of leading members of PBP to the point where I found my position untenable. It is very sad.

"I have campaigned on many local issues - the Gateway scheme, where the predictions of the Lewisham Gateway Action Group are coming to pass to everyone’s horror; and the associated Loampit Vale and Thurston Road schemes. 

"I fought to save Lewisham Bridge school, securing the listing of the old building. I have also worked in wider health campaigns especially exposing the profiteering behind PFI schemes. I will continue such work through other organisations."