Wakefield’s Labour party executive has walked out of the final selection meeting for the party’s byelection in protest at the choice of candidate, which members termed a stitch-up by Labour HQ.
In a rebellion by activists that could harm the party’s chances of taking the crucial West Yorkshire seat, the local party’s executive walked out en masse ahead of the vote on the final two shortlisted candidates. The vote was won by Simon Lightwood, a former staffer for the ex-Labour MP Mary Creagh.
A Labour source accused the local executive of an “obsession with internal machinations and niche political issues” and said the party was “setting a high bar for our candidates”.
Labour is widely expected to take the seat in the byelection triggered by the resignation of Imran Ahmad Khan, the former Conservative MP who was convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.
Regaining the seat would have major symbolic value for the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, to show the party is making progress in “red wall” seats won by the Conservatives in 2019.
The shortlist from Labour’s national executive committee excluded several local candidates, including the deputy leader of Wakefield council, Jack Hemingway. Members of the local executive argued that the final shortlisted candidates did not have close connections to the region. Lightwood said he had lived and worked in the city for 10 years.
“We have a lot to be proud of in Wakefield, and a huge amount of strength and resilience in our communities, but the Conservatives and their disgraced MP Imran Ahmad Khan have failed us,” he said. “Times are much tougher than they should be for hardworking people across our constituency. We are in a cost of living crisis, and in Wakefield, real wages will fall by £1,100 this year on average because of spiralling inflation.
“It’s time we sent a clear message to Boris Johnson that enough is enough, because Wakefield and the country deserve so much better.”
After the walkout, 120 local members – about a quarter of the total local membership – continued with the vote. Sources in the room said the atmosphere had been “nasty”, and that several officers appeared to be uneasy about the walkout.
In a statement, the party’s executive said: “Today’s meeting should have had a good range of candidates to choose from, including quality Wakefield-based aspirants. Instead they had just two, with all the Wakefield options already stripped out.
“We had a longstanding objective of an early selection – not least to avoid all the problems of a last-minute rush – and a local Wakefield candidate to meet the well-known aspirations of our communities.”
The executive accused Labour’s NEC of having “dragged its heels till we’re up against the byelection” and said that the shortlist excluded all local candidates.
“The executive committee – including all the officers bar one externally appointed individual – is resigning in consequence, and it will be for the full constituency general management committee to receive our resignations and take matters forward.”
A senior Labour official hit back at the claims, saying: “A small clique of Corbynites had held the local party to ransom. Lots of members there today aren’t just confident and looking forward to the campaign, but also the fresh start it provides.
“We’re seeing this across the country in the party: under Corbyn, many of our longstanding campaigners were bullied out or just had enough. They are coming back and new people are getting involved.”