Starmer says candidate selection process in Wakefield “handled well” by party

Elliot Chappell
© Elliot Chappell

Keir Starmer has told LabourList that the candidate selection process in Wakefield was “handled well” following accusations from some local members that the party had broken its own rules on picking its representatives in by-elections.

Discussing the process, which concluded last week with the selection of Simon Lightwood, the Labour leader argued: “The process was handled well. I think we had a very big meeting… And we came out with an excellent candidate in Simon.”

LabourList reported last week that the party had been accused of breaching its own rules by limiting the number of local party representatives allowed to participate in the longlisting and shortlisting for the selection process.

According to a rule change passed at the annual Labour conference in 2021, a five-person panel including three reps from the local party should undertake shortlisting when there is no time for a normal process. LabourList understands that one local rep had input on the Wakefield process.

Labour determined late last year, however, that the rule change passed at conference was “inexpertly drafted” and required national executive committee guidance to clarify. According to a statement by NEC officers, the guidance stated:

“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”

The executive committee of the Wakefield local party later shared a statement with LabourList on its unanimous decision to resign following the move to shortlist the ultimately unsuccessful Kate Dearden and Lightwood.

“[Simon has] lived here for ten years, bought his first house here, joined the Labour Party here, worked here – that is incredible roots here. So I don’t buy this argument that we don’t have a local candidate. We have a very local candidate, with very, very deep roots in Wakefield,” Starmer added.

“I want the best candidates and we got the best candidate and what Simon will give Wakefield is their voice back because the Tory MP has been absent for a year.”

Wakefield had been held by Labour for 87 years until the 2019 general election when Mary Creagh was ousted by Imran Ahmad Khan, who took the seat with a 3,358-vote majority. He had the whip suspended after allegations of sexual assault emerged before being convicted of assaulting a child and resigning last month.

Lightwood told LabourList: “I’ve lived here for ten years, I studied here, I worked here, I bought my first home here, I met my partner here, met my partner here, fell in love here. I have family here in Wakefield and I’ve been campaigning in Wakefield now for the past 20 years. I know the people and the place very well.”

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