Trouble at t'Mill: UK’s Labour Accused of By-Election Stitch-Up
16:29 GMT 13.05.2022 (Updated: 17:35 GMT 13.05.2022)
© AP Photo / Alastair GrantLeader of the British Labour Party Keir Starmer gestures as he makes his keynote speech at the annual party conference in Brighton, England, Sept. 29, 2021
© AP Photo / Alastair Grant
Previous attempts to parachute candidates in against Labour’s own rules ended badly, with a shock loss in Hartlepool and an extremely narrow victory in Batley and Spen, both once-safe seats for the party.
The entire Labour leadership in a Yorkshire city has resigned in protest after party bosses ruled out local candidates for a Parliamentary by-election.
Party insider website LabourList published a statement by the Wakefield Constituency Labour Party (CLP)’s Executive Committee over their decision to resign "en bloc".
According to the statement, party HQ broke Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer's own 2020 pledge to "end NEC [National Executive Committee] impositions" and select "local party members (...) for every election."
The resignation comes after the party's Westminster office imposed a shortlist of just two potential candidates for the forthcoming by-election, neither of whom were born or lives in the Wakefield area. The election was prompted after former Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan stepped down in the midst of his conviction for sexual assault on a teenage boy.
CLP branch officers said they had "repeatedly" asked party HQ to allow an early selection process to "avoid a rushed job" over the past year, and to let the branch choose a local candidate. "The Labour Party has a special set of rules when it comes to by-elections, updated as recently as last year, but the National Executive Committee (NEC) simply haven’t kept to them," they said.
"We asked for local candidates, but there are none. Three prominent council and local Labour candidates, including the deputy council Leader didn’t even make it onto the ‘longlist’," the branch complained.
The resignations will come into effect after the officers preside over Sunday's branch meeting to choose between the shortlisted candidates Kate Dearden and Simon Lightwood.
Dearden and Lightwood face off after Starmer's office ruled out popular local left-wing candidate Jack Hemingway, the Wakefield council deputy leader referred to in the CLP statement, according to the Huffington Post.
The Leader of the Opposition's Office (LOTO) reportedly vetoed Hemingway over his past social media posts, including a tweet calling for former leader Jeremy Corbyn to be reinstated. Corbyn was suspended in 2020 on Starmer's orders after he challenged a report by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission which alleged anti-Semitism in Labour's ranks.
"I’m a committed anti-racist and I think anti-Semitism is a scourge that should be eradicated," Hemingway told HuffPost UK on Thursday. "I’ve never hid the fact that I supported Jeremy Corbyn for leader and I voted for Rebecca Long-Bailey to be deputy...but I have always respected Keir’s right to lead the party."
But the mass resignation could bode ill for Labour's chances of winning back the once-safe seat it lost in the 2019 general election.
Previously parachuted-in Labour candidates fared poorly in 2021, with Dr Paul Williams, who was the only candidate shortlisted for last May's by-election in the Teesside town of Hartlepool, losing by almost 7,000 votes. The Hartlepool by-election was similarly called after the previous Labour MP Mike Hill quit over sexual misconduct accusations. Vocal “remainer” Williams lost the heavily “leave”-voting seat to Conservative Jill Mortimer, who became the first Tory to win the 'Red Wall' seat since 1959.
Labour threw out its rulebook again a month later when it picked Kim Leadbeater to stand in Batley and Spen, just six miles from Wakefield, despite her only joining the party weeks earlier. Leadbeater, the sister of murdered former MP Jo Cox, won by a wafer-thin margin of just 323 votes after a controversial campaign in which she repeatedly clashed with Workers’ Party candidate and broadcaster George Galloway, who came a close third to the Tory candidate.
Starmer and his deputy Angela Rayner have also faced criticism this week after the Durham Constabulary re-opened a probe into claims they broke COVID-19 lockdown rules with a beer and curry night for 15 to 30 party members in the north-eastern city of Durham in April 2021.