Wakefield Labour executive resigns accusing Starmer of byelection stitch-up

The 16-strong executive of Wakefield constituency Labour party (CLP) has resigned en masse, accusing Keir Starmer of stitching up the selection of a candidate for the forthcoming byelection.

Party members in Wakefield claim the leader’s office has failed to abide by Labour rules, by allowing the local party only one seat of five on the panels for longlisting and then shortlisting candidates.

They argue that neither of the two people who made it through to the shortlist, Kate Dearden and Simon Lightwood, have local roots, and that several other plausible candidates, including the deputy leader of Wakefield council, Jack Hemingway, were passed over.

“These were strong candidates, with a proven track record and local connections,” said one party member who did not wish to be named. One Labour shadow cabinet member described the behaviour of Starmer’s office in handling the selection as “arrogant”.

“We don’t want to legitimise what’s happened,” said one of those who has resigned. In a statement on Friday, the executive members said: “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 longtime member of Labour’s national executive committee, Ann Black, agreed that the selection process – as well as the one used in three other recent contests – did not appear to abide by a motion passed at last year’s party conference, which said that, even for byelections, there should be three local members on the panel.

A separate rule allows the NEC to impose a process in snap selections, such as for byelections, but Black said using this to override the conference motion “smacked of bad faith”.

Some Labour sources suggested Starmer’s office had been keen to keep Hemingway, an avowed leftwinger, off the list.

Hemingway had clashed on Twitter with the chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, Mike Katz, with Katz accusing him of playing down antisemitism and showing support for the former Labour MP George Galloway.

Hemingway replied that he “had never hidden the fact he was on the left of the party” and that comments he had made about antisemitism not being institutional in Labour came before the outcome of the Equality and Human Rights Commission report on the Labour party.

“I along with my local Labour group voted unanimously for the adoption of the IHRA [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] definition of AS to be accepted. I am an anti-racist and firmly believe antisemitism is a scourge that must be defeated.”

A Labour spokesperson said: “The selection process was run in accordance with the guidance issued by the NEC in October 2021. The same panel composition has been used for Old Bexley and Sidcup, North Shropshire, and Erdington. We’re really pleased to have two fantastic candidates on the shortlist with strong connections to the local community.”

Some members expressed concern that Dearden and Lightwood had previously been remainers, like the former Labour MP for the constituency, Mary Creagh, who lost her seat at the 2019 general election. Wakefield voted 63% to leave the EU.

Dearden is a former chair of Labour Students, and is now head of research, policy and external affairs at the Community trade union, while Lightwood formerly worked for Creagh. Their supporters point out that both live either in or near the constituency.

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The closely watched byelection was triggered by the resignation of Imran Ahmad Khan, the former Conservative MP who was convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.