Labour’s Liverpool situation has become yet more chaotic, which is quite some achievement considering the candidate selection race was sparked by the incumbent mayor being arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation. When Joe Anderson was rebailed at the end of December, he said he was “disappointed” by the police decision and “innocent of any wrongdoing”, but confirmed that he would not be seeking re-election. Having already suspended Anderson, Labour prepared to select a new mayoral candidate, and a panel soon shortlisted three local women for the race.
The selection contest was suddenly suspended last week, on the day that ballots for members had been expected to drop. The three shortlisted candidates – acting mayor Wendy Simon, former deputy mayor Ann O’Byrne and Lord Mayor Anna Rothery – were reinterviewed on Friday, and the selection panel met once again on Monday evening (as candidates found out from my tweet). The party announced yesterday: “After careful consideration, Labour is reopening the selection for Liverpool Mayor.” It is understood that none of the three are being invited to join as Labour is seeking an “alternative shortlist”.
It is a difficult story to report on because the party has given no official reason, either to the previously shortlisted candidates or to journalists, for having started the contest again. LabourList has been told in strong terms that the developments are not related to our interview with Rothery, in which she expressed support for restoring the whip to Jeremy Corbyn, and that this is not a stitch up against the party’s left. Sources have hinted that there are concerns linked to the Liverpool corruption investigations, and it has been said that the causes are “serious”. But kept in the dark, Labour members are suspicious and Momentum has indeed accused the party of a “stitch-up”.
Rothery has said she is “shocked by the party’s chaotic handling” of the selection and intends to seek an injunction if the party does not reverse its decision. She has been encouraged by some to stand as an independent, but I’m told she is first seeking clarity from the party on the present situation. Meanwhile, locals are discussing the possibility of the council scrapping the directly-elected mayor model quickly. The mayoralty was not subject to a referendum when introduced, instead being carried by a council vote, so I’m told the move is seriously being considered.
However, as one source points out, it is unlikely the mayoralty could be binned before the May election. And if there is an election, would a council vote afterwards supersede the mandate of the person elected and cut their term short? Labour councillors in the city are mulling over their options in response to yet more tumultuous events. In the meantime, new nominations for Labour candidates must be in by noon tomorrow. Whoever is selected will have just weeks to get a campaign going against a very messy backdrop that could get angrier still if the new shortlist is not comprised of locals. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.