Councillor blocked from selection argues working-class women “aren’t welcome”

Katie Neame

A councillor who was prevented from standing for parliamentary selection has said her experience sends a “loud and clear” message that working-class women “aren’t welcome in politics”.

Lauren Townsend, a councillor in Milton Keynes, revealed in a statement on Saturday that she had been excluded from standing to be the next Labour candidate for Milton Keynes North, which she described as “devastating news”.

Speaking to LabourList, Townsend said: “I’m incredibly emotional about the whole thing. I’m disappointed that local members are being denied the choice of their parliamentary candidate through a fair, democratic process.

“We have a wonderful local CLP [Constituency Labour Party] in Milton Keynes, and behaviour like this just causes tension and division where there’s no need for it.”

She added: “I wish I’d never put myself forward. I’m clearly too politically naive for all this. I just wanted to represent my local community and take the work I do as a councillor and cabinet member to the next level, to be able to make more of a difference for residents who are struggling every day.

“But the message is loud and clear after this, isn’t it? People like me aren’t welcome in politics and aren’t good enough to stand for parliament. I feel like I have a greater understanding now of why younger working-class women like me are such a rarity in politics.”

Townsend – who currently serves as the council’s cabinet member for the public realm – had received endorsements from several trade unions including ASLEF, the FBU, the CWU, UNISON and the TSSA. She noted in her statement that the support of affiliated trade unions “should have secured my place on the longlist”.

Townsend said the reasons behind her being blocked included an article she had written advocating for campaign group green new deal and having liked a tweet from Nicola Sturgeon saying she had tested negative for Covid.

“I understand that in other places people have rightly been blocked from standing for social media posts that are racist or antisemitic. I therefore want to place firmly on record that the accusations against me do not involve any such material,” she said in her statement.

She added: “I feel gutted not just for me but for what this says to the wider membership of our party and especially to other young women and/or mothers who desperately want to get more involved in politics but find it an impossible and somewhat intimidating prospect.”

Momentum said the decision to prevent Townsend from standing was “disgraceful” and accused the party of blocking her from the selection process “so the leadership can stitch it up for a right winger”.

Ex-MP for Kensington Emma Dent Coad was excluded from the longlist in her former constituency earlier this month. She declared in a statement that it was “plain as day” that the selection process being run by the party is being “factionally abused” and is “not for for purpose”.

LabourList understands the reason cited for her exclusion was concern over past social media activity. Dent Coad apologised in November 2017 after being accused of being a “racist” after writing a blog post in which she described Conservative London assembly member Shaun Bailey as a “token ghetto boy”.

Wandsworth councillor Maurice Mcleod made similar allegations about having been “blocked by the party machine” after he was not longlisted to be the next Labour candidate for Camberwell and Peckham. He said the decision to prevent him from standing was “plainly a factional intervention”.

Dent Coad and Mcleod’s campaigns had also both received trade union endorsements – with the former MP being endorsed by Unite and the CWU and Mcleod receiving the backing of Unite and ASLEF.

13 members of the Sedgefield CLP executive resigned earlier this month following the announcement of the longlist for the constituency’s next parliamentary candidate. CLP chair Paul Daly alleged that there had been a “stich-up” in the process when he was left off the longlist.

The Labour Party has been contacted for comment.

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