Exclusive: Wakefield local party executive resigns over selection process

Elliot Chappell

The executive committee of the Wakefield Constituency Labour Party has shared a statement with LabourList on its unanimous decision to resign after the party shortlisted two members in its process to pick the party’ candidate in the by-election.

Labour narrowed down the candidates on Wednesday to a longlist of four: Kate Dearden, Simon Lightwood, Sam Howarth and Rachael Kenningham. Dearden and Lightwood, neither of whom live in the constituency, were shortlisted on Thusday. Both are due to take part in a hustings on Sunday, after which members will vote.

One member of the local executive, who announced that they are resigning their membership of the party, said they “felt totally disenfranchised from the selection process”. They described the shortlisting of the two candidates as “jackboot diplomacy” and warned that the party is becoming an “enemy to local democracy”.

“I am not a typical left-wing antagonist. I voted for both Keir and Angela and stand by that vote. However, my name will not be attached to what is happening now,” they added.

A member of the CLP told LabourList that following the start of the selection process the local party is “very fractured”, and another reported that they would be resigning their membership and will not vote for the party in the upcoming by-election.

Journalist Owen Jones reported this morning that “the entire executive” had resigned in protest at the national Labour party breaking its own rules and refusing to allow local members to freely choose their own candidate”.

LabourList reported this morning that the North West regional Labour Party has been accused of breaching party rules for managing the choice of parliamentary candidates by limiting the number of local representatives allowed to participate in shortlisting for the Wakefield selection process.

In an email seen by LabourList, the regional director of the North West Labour Party can be seen telling a member of the Wakefield Constituency Labour Party (CLP) executive that “there is one place available to the CLP on the panel to decide upon the longlist and the shortlist” in the process to select the candidate.

According to a rule change passed at the annual Labour conference in 2021, a five-person panel including reps from the local party should undertake shortlisting when there is no time for a normal process – in the case of a by-election, for example.

The panel should comprise: three reps from the local party, appointed by the local executive committee; one representative from the regional executive committee, appointed by the chair and vice-chairs of the REC; and one national executive committee member. A NEC source heard that, despite members of the party’s national governing body asking, they were not told who else was on the panel.

LabourList understands that the selection panel comprised three NEC members, an REC member and a CLP rep in line with procedural guidance issued by the NEC in October 2021 and other recent by-election selections: Old Bexley and Sidcup, North Shropshire and Erdington.

LabourList understands that some members of the REC not on the panel for the longlisting and shortlisting panel received no notification of or invitation to join the process, with members only finding out about developments in the press.

Labour determined late last year that the Momentum-backed rule change passed at conference was “inexpertly drafted” and requires NEC guidance to clarify it. According to a statement by NEC officers, the new guidance states:

“wherever the statutory timetable for nomination of candidates allows it – CLPs and the regional executive committee a say in the shortlisting process, with the final selection going to an all-member ballot”

A Labour spokesperson told LabourList: “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 they deserve.”

Below is a statement from the Wakefield executive committee.

Wakefield constituency Labour executive to resign en bloc over NEC conduct of by-lection candidate selection. Over the past year the Wakefield Labour Party has repeatedly put two requests to party headquarters:

1. To do an early selection to avoid a rushed job and get a candidate in place early
2. We wanted a local candidate

The Labour Party has a special set of rules when it comes to by-elections, updated as recently as last year, but the national executive committee (NEC) simply haven’t kept to them.

The rules say a shortlist should be drawn up by a five-person panel, three chosen by the local Labour Party, plus one each from the NEC and the Yorkshire Region. The NEC simply reversed this, with three from the NEC itself plus one for region and one local (which had to be female).

The rules say there should be a week between publication of shortlist and the vote, so members can find out about the candidates and a chance to think about their choice. The NEC have given two clear days.

We asked for local candidates, but there are none. Three prominent council and local Labour candidates, including the deputy council Leader didn’t even make it onto the ‘longlist’.

A shortlist of four was requested by our representative on the panel to give members some choice but the NEC members insisted on just two.

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.

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