The ongoing parliamentary selection process in Ilford South was always going to be contentious. Incumbent MP Sam Tarry won selection in 2019 after one of the frontrunners Jas Athwal was suspended from the Labour Party the day before the process was due to conclude over complaints of sexual harassment. MP for neighbouring Ilford North Wes Streeting, who backed Athwal, described the events as an “undemocratic stitch-up”. Athwal, who has served as leader of Redbridge council for eight years, was later cleared of wrongdoing by Labour’s highest disciplinary body, the national constitutional committee (NCC), after a year-long suspension.
Commenting following his reinstatement, Athwal described the complainant as “someone with a political axe to grind” and declared: “There must never be a repeat of this kind of corruption.” Tarry said claims that the selection process had been a stitch-up were “not only farcical but insulting to the alleged victim and their family”. The Labour MP added: “Mr Athwal is well aware that I was the clear choice for Labour members in Ilford South and that it was only my intervention in the room that led to the postponement of the original selection.”
In July, it was confirmed that Tarry had been ‘triggered’, meaning an electoral college of local party branches and organisations affiliated to the Ilford South Constituency Labour Party (CLP) had voted against him being automatically reselected as the Labour candidate and in favour of a full selection process. The electoral college voted 57.5% to 42.5% in favour of holding a full selection process, with all ten local party branches voting to trigger. Allegations of voter fraud made by Tarry were dismissed by Labour’s general secretary David Evans as an “isolated incident”.
Athwal announced in August that he would stand again for selection in the seat. As an incumbent MP, Tarry is automatically included on the shortlist. Branch nomination meetings commenced yesterday, with both of the first two branches voting to back Athwal. Following the meetings, Tarry released a statement revealing that he had instructed his supporters not to attend the meetings and instead to support him at hustings later in the process. Tarry noted that he did not need any branch nominations as he would be automatically included on the shortlist as the sitting MP. But he also stated that, after the “painful” trigger process, he has “no faith” that the meetings would be carried out fairly, adding that none of the issues he raised about the trigger process had been resolved.
With the context of Tarry’s sacking as shadow transport minister following his appearance on a rail strike picket line, the selection contest becomes not just a bitter local grudge match but also a significant battle between the left and right of the Labour Party. Following the trigger ballot result, Tarry argued that there is “now a clear pattern of factional elements of the party machine targeting socialist and trade union backed candidates”. Left-wing MPs including Barry Gardiner and Kate Osborne have made the trip to Ilford to canvass for Tarry, while Athwal has again been endorsed by Streeting. All Labour eyes will be on Ilford South following conference for the latest showdown between the party leadership and the left of the party. Shortlisting is scheduled to take place on September 30th, followed by hustings on October 10th. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.