Wakefield councillor suspended over selection meeting disagreement

A Labour councillor in Yorkshire has been suspended by the party after a disagreement over a meeting where an election candidate was being chosen from an all-woman shortlist.

Pontefract South councillor George Ayre. Photo: JPI Media

The Yorkshire Post understands that George Ayre, a councillor in the Pontefract South ward on Labour-run Wakefield council, has been administratively suspended from the party pending an investigation.

His conduct is being investigated after he sent an email to local Labour members claiming that a meeting to choose a new party candidate to replace an outgoing councillor in his own ward had been cancelled.

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The meeting went ahead and a female candidate was chosen.

Pontefract South councillor George Ayre (centre). Photo: JPI Media

But when contacted Coun Ayre said he was not aware of any suspension, however he said any disagreements about the recent selection meeting were over “when the meeting was supposed to be and not supposed to be” and “bad communication”, rather than any dispute over shortlists.

A month earlier, he threatened to resign from the Labour Party over its decision to have an all woman shortlist rather than an open selection in the ward.

The meeting at Pontefract Sports and Social Club on March 10 was to choose a Labour candidate to replace Celia Loughran, who was planning to stand down at the May elections which have since been cancelled due to coronavirus.

In an email seen by The Yorkshire Post, sent a few hours before it took place, Coun Ayre wrote: "I have been informed that the meeting tonight has been cancelled.

"Unfortunately no one from 'Yorkshire Election Team' has been in contact to confirm this and as there is no name attached to this account it is difficult to understand who has been sending these emails."

After a Labour official sent an email out confirming that the meeting was going ahead, Coun Ayre then sent a second email insisting it was cancelled.

He wrote: "Unfortunately I have delivered the notification of cancellation of tonight’s meeting to those members not on email.

“This would now be unfair to proceed to those that will no longer be able to come.

"As there has been a miscommunication and still no conversation with branch officers. The meeting is still cancelled. Until further notice."

When asked by The Yorkshire Post why there had been a disagreement over the meeting he said: “I think it was more around the booking of the room to be honest.”

The meeting went ahead, with an all woman shortlist in place, and Melanie Jones, who stood for Labour in the Horbury and South Ossett ward in last year's local elections, was chosen as the Labour candidate.

A month earlier, Coun Ayre announced in an email sent to his fellow councillors that he was resigning from the Labour Party over its selection policy in Pontefract South.

The message, also seen by this newspaper, said: "As the decision is absolute and the reasons for this are clear, that no ward should have all male councillors as it does not represent the community to which we serve, yet three women can serve in a ward as that is representative, I have taken the decision to resign my Labour Party membership."

He said that by resigning from Labour and becoming an independent councillor, Pontefract South would no longer have two Labour male councillors and could move to an open selection process.

It is understood he did not follow through on his threat to leave the Labour Party and remained a member until being suspended this weekend.

A Labour spokesman said: "Labour is proud of the invaluable role that all women shortlists - which we introduced - have played in increasing women's representation in politics."

Coun Ayre, who won his seat in 2014, beating Tory group leader Geoff Walsh, is listed on the Wakefield council website as being deputy to Darren Byford, the authority's portfolio holder for regeneration and economic growth.

In 2018 he resigned as a cabinet assistant at the authority in protest over then-leader Peter Box’s position on the council. Coun Box survived a vote of no confidence after a damning Ofsted report into the council's children's services.

And at the last General Election he stood as Labour's candidate against Tory David Davis in the East Yorkshire seat of Haltemprice and Howden, losing by more than 20,000 votes.