Wakefield by-election: 14 Labour officials resign en masse over 'stitch-up' selection process

Fourteen officials running the local Labour party in Wakefield have dramatically quit in protest at a “stitch-up” selection process for the city’s Parliamentary candidate.

Paul Jowitt, constituency secretary, confirmed to The Yorkshire Post that all 14 current members of the Wakefield Constituency Labour Executive have decided to stand down. Their resignations will take effect from Sunday.

In an official statement on behalf of the executive, Mr Jowitt said that for the past year, the local Labour party has repeatedly asked Party HQ to select a local candidate and choose someone in advance "to avoid a rushed job".

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He said: "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 simply haven’t kept to them.

Keir Starmer was in Wakefield recently ahead of the local elections.

"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’."

Labour said today it had "two fantastic candidates on the shortlist with strong connections to the local community" and that the party was focused on winning the by-election.

The by-election is due to take place as a result of the conviction of Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan, who was convicted of sexual assault in April following a long-running legal process.

The party’s rulebook states three members of a Constituency Labour Party should be on the selection panel for the process of choosing a candidate but emails seen by The Yorkshire Post show regional party officials said only one local CLP member would be allowed onto the panel of five.

Labour has shortlisted Simon Lightwood and Kate Dearden for the position, with a final candidate selection due to take place this weekend.

But there has been unhappiness at how the selection process has been conducted, with no locally-based candidates making the longlist. Among those to miss out were Wakefield Council’s deputy leader Jack Hemingway.

Michael Graham, another Wakefield councillor who put his name forward as a candidate, said today on Twitter: "On Monday, I submitted my application to be the Labour Party candidate in the upcoming Wakefield by election, 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 local Labour source told Sky News: "There is immense anger among the local membership at what they perceive as a stitch-up."

Emails seen by The Yorkshire Post show that on Monday, Labour regional director for the North West Liam Didsbury sent an email saying there was only "one place available to the CLP to decide upon the longlist and the shortlist".

This was queried with him on the grounds that the Labour rulebook states that in such by-election processes, three of the five panel members should be from the local party.

The rulebook states: "In the event of a by-election, snap election or any other Parliamentary selection where there is insufficient time for a normal selection process, a five person panel shall be formed to undertake the shortlisting, comprised of three representatives of the CLP to be appointed by the CLP Executive, one representative of the REC to be appointed by the Chair and Vice-Chairs of that REC, and one NEC member. The composition of the panel shall take into account equalities considerations."

It is understood the selection process did go ahead with only one CLP member, in line with other recent by-election selections in the seats of Old Bexley and Sidcup, North Shropshire and Erdington and following procedural guidance issued by Labour's National Executive Committee in October 2021.

LabourList reported that the guidance said while the NEC recognised "the frustration party members feel following two General Elections at which candidates were imposed on local parties", the party had received legal advice suggesting it should "implement supplementary guidance to clarify the process for selections going forward" due to concerns about wording of the rules.

The guidance guaranteed local parties "a say in the shortlisting process, with the final selection going to an all-member ballot".

Of the two shortlisted candidates, Kate Dearden works for trade union Community, while Simon Lightwood is an NHS worker who is also a member of Labour's national policy forum and Yorkshire Labour's regional board. A vote will take place on Sunday.

Mr Jowitt said: "The rules say a shortlist should be drawn up by a five person panel, three chosen by the local Labour Party, plus one each from the NEC and the Yorkshire region. 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.

"A shortlist of four was requested by our representative on the panel to give members some choice but the NEC members insisted on just two.

"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."

A Labour 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."

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