Labour’s selection process in Ilford South, which was supposed to conclude today, is set to be reopened after one of the frontrunners in the race was suspended from the party.
Over 500 members, according to local sources, were present at the meeting that had been prepared to select a parliamentary candidate to replace Mike Gapes.
Instead, it was recommended that nominations be reopened and the selection process rerun. The meeting voted in favour of the move.
The other leading candidate in the race, Sam Tarry, whom it is thought by his supporters would have won comfortably today had the vote gone ahead, spoke in favour of the postponement at the meeting.
He tweeted: “I am gutted that the selection process in Ilford South has been suspended today, but it’s absolutely the right thing to do. I am proud to have run a positive, people-powered campaign with hundreds of local supporters. I look forward to winning the vote when it comes back.”
Wes Streeting MP, who backed Athwal, described the events as an “undemocratic stitch up” and the postponement decision as a “victory for members against the machine”.
Other selections are currently suspended and it is unclear whether the new process in Ilford South will be undertaken as a priority. Labour’s ruling national executive committee will set a new timetable.
A member of Labour’s NEC told LabourList that the recommendation to postpone the process resulted from a personal intervention by Jeremy Corbyn.
Local council leader Jas Athwal was suspended from the Labour Party on Friday following a meeting of a panel dealing with sexual harassment complaints, LabourList understands.
A Labour source commented: “Anyone claiming this is a stitch up is dismissing extremely serious allegations against this individual.
“This decision was taken by a panel following a report from an independent investigator from a specialist organisation. The case was anonymised so the panel did not know who the individual was.
“The timing has nothing to do with the selection process. Yesterday was the earliest opportunity for the case to be reviewed following the independent investigator’s report.”
The only disciplinary cases handled by independent investigators are ones concerning sexual harassment.
It is understood that such cases are anonymised and the panel was not told that the individual concerned was Athwal.
Athwal’s case has been referred to Labour’s highest disciplinary body, the national constitutional committee.
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints extremely seriously, which are investigated and any appropriate disciplinary action taken in line with the party’s rules and procedures. We can’t comment on individual cases.”
The Ilford South selection had already become controversial last week when another shortlisted applicant, Sonia Klein, dropped out and endorsed Athwal.
The move surprised many members as Klein is a prominent local activist from the Labour left, whereas Athwal is often considered to be a ‘Corbynsceptic’ on the basis that he backed Owen Smith in 2016.
Update, 1.45pm: A BAME Parliamentary Labour Party statement has been issued on the suspension of Jas Athwal. They have said that they are “very concerned” about the timing of the administrative suspension.
“The party were aware of the complaint against Jas many months ago and despite that decided to allow the selection process to continue,” the statement reads. “We request the Labour Party to suspend the process until Jas has had an opportunity to respond to the complaint.”
Confirming the earlier LabourList report that Corbyn personally intervened, they add: “We are grateful to Jeremy Corbyn for his intervention in calling for the meeting to be suspended.”
The statement was signed by Labour MPs Preet Gill, Dawn Butler, Kate Osamor, David Lammy, Tan Dhesi, Naz Shah, Rushanara Ali, Virendra Sharma, Marsha de Cordova, Clive Lewis, Yasmin Qureshi and Seema Malhotra.
Update, 2.25pm: Jas Athwal has released a statement commenting on his suspension.
“Untrue allegations were made against me on 13 August. I responded in detail to the Labour Party on 20th August, with supporting evidence including witness statements, proving the allegations were untrue. No reply was received from the Labour Party.
“Nothing was heard until late yesterday, my solicitor was emailed at 11pm, advising that I was suspended from the Labour Party. This is not a fair process. It is contrary to natural justice. All I seek is a fair hearing and due process.
“The Labour Party has had every opportunity to deal with this matter properly and fairly in the past seven weeks and chose only to act late yesterday by suspending me when I have no time to challenge that decision. This is why people are so upset.”