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 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.

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

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

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

The CLP executive – elected by local members – has decided to resign, rather than play any further part in the selection process. A formal statement is expected to be issued later on Friday. The final selection decision will be made on Sunday.

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 it deserves.” Candidates for by-elections are often chosen using a truncated selection process.

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, who 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.

Labour will be keen to win to show that after promising results in last week’s local elections the party can regain parts of the former “red wall” that forms a key part of Boris Johnson’s governing majority.

Starmer’s predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, also faced accusations of stitching up local selections in order to place favoured candidates in winnable seats.