LABOUR’S bid to re-take one of its red wall seats in a byelection has been thrown into turmoil amid claims of a ‘stitch-up’ by party bosses.
The entire executive committee of Wakefield’s local Labour group has quit en masse in protest at the way the candidate selection has been handled.
Members accused the party’s ruling body, the National Executive Committee, of not following the rules, leading to the exclusion of local candidates.
The byelection has been triggered by the resignation of Tory MP Irman Ahmad Khan, who was last month convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in 2008.
Wakefield had been Labour-held since 1932 until Mr Khan won it in 2019 with a majority of just 3,358 votes.
His exit presents Sir Keir Starmer with a prime opportunity to show Labour can regain its old territory in the wake of partygate and other Tory scandals.
Labour has shortlisted the Community union’s Kate Dearden, from Bradford, and NHS worker Simon Lightwood, a member of Labour’s national policy forum.
However the local party said it had been stymied by London HQ over the selection, and there was unhappiness at the exclusion of local candidates, including the deputy leader of Wakefield Council Jack Hemingway.
In a statement, Wakefield Constituency Labour Party (CLP) 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 ‘long list’.
“A short list of four was requested by our representative on the panel to give members some choice but the NEC members insisted on just two.”
It added: “Representations to Party Officials at the highest level have got absolutely nowhere with some queries not even answered.
“As a consequence, the constituency executive (comprised of local branch representatives and constituency officers) decided last night to resign en bloc with effect from the Sunday selection meeting.”
They also said the party rulebook states the five-person selection panel should include three people chosen by the local Labour Party, with one each from the NEC and the Yorkshire region.
The CLP said: “The NEC simply reversed this, with three from the NEC itself plus one for region and one local (which had to be female).
“The rules say there should be a week between publication of Shortlist and the vote, so members can find out about the candidates and a chance to think about their choice.
“The NEC have given two clear days.”
Michael Graham, another Wakefield councillor who put his name forward as a candidate, tweeted: “On Monday, I submitted my application to be the Labour Party candidate in the upcoming Wakefield byelection, with hope and enthusiasm.
“However, I am disappointed that no applicants who live in the Wakefield constituency were long-listed for the candidacy, decided by the Labour National Executive Committee.”
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “We’re really pleased to have two fantastic candidates on the shortlist with strong connections to the local community.
“On Sunday, local members will make the final choice on a candidate who will be a strong champion for Wakefield and represent a fresh start against a backdrop of Tory failure.
“Wakefield has been badly let down by the Conservatives and our focus is on winning the by-election and ensuring local people in Wakefield get the representation and the hard working MP they deserve.”
The national party said the process of choosing a candidate had followed NEC guidance, used in other recent by-elections including Erdington and North Shropshire.