Frontbencher McGovern beats left-winger Whitley in Birkenhead selection

Katie Neame
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Frontbench Labour MP Alison McGovern has defeated her fellow MP Mick Whitley in the selection contest for Birkenhead, in another significant blow for the left of the party.

The final results of the selection contest were confirmed this afternoon, with McGovern – Labour’s shadow employment minister and former chair of Progress – beating her backbench rival, a member of the Socialist Campaign Group.

Two sources told LabourList McGovern won selection contest for the seat on Merseyside, north-west England, by more than 250 votes to 186.

Proposed boundary changes are due to see McGovern’s seat of Wirral South scrapped, reducing the number of seats on the Wirral peninsula from four to three. The plans would see part of her constituency merged into the existing Birkenhead seat, which Whitley has represented since 2019. Most of the new seat is Whitley’s current seat, however.

The selection race faced an early twist when fellow Wirral MP Margaret Greenwood publicly announced her intention to stand down at the next election on May 23rd – notably only a day after McGovern had confirmed her intention to contest Birkenhead. Greenwood subsequently told LabourList she informed the party leadership on May 22nd, however.

A source close to Whitley had then urged McGovern to “avoid a Labour MP on Labour MP contest” in the party’s interest and run for Greenwood’s seat of Wirral West instead. But both McGovern and Whitley began their campaigns to be Labour’s candidate for Birkenhead in the days following Greenwood’s announcement.

McGovern previously chaired Progress, a think tank widely seen as on the right of the party and now rebranded as Progressive Britain following a merger. By contrast, Whitley is a member of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs on the left of Labour.

The members’ vote marks the latest in a long line of setbacks for the left of the party since Keir Starmer became leader. Whitley’s fellow Socialist Campaign Group member Beth Winter was also recently defeated by frontbencher Gerald Jones in another MP-versus-MP contest triggered by boundary changes.

Commenting following the result, McGovern said: “When this contest started, I told Labour Party members that I had been representing my hometown in parliament for 13 years, and I wanted to continue to do so.

“I am so grateful that Labour Party members have chosen me to continue to do that in the new Birkenhead constituency at the next general election.

“When the ballot closed, I told members that our new CLP deserves to be a united and welcoming group determined to make change for our area, whatever the outcome. I am committed to that promise, which must include those who voted for me as well as those who didn’t.

“I want to pay tribute to Mick Whitley, who is a committed trade unionist and hardworking MP on the Wirral. I know that Mick, like myself and all those who voted for us today, share one overriding ambition for both of our current constituencies and for the future Birkenhead: a Labour government.”

Progressive Britain tweeted that McGovern was a “ champion of progressive values and both a huge asset to the parliamentary Labour party and next Labour government”.

But Whitley spoke of his “great sadness” at the result, and “disappointment” that a “needless contest [that] has sowed division” occurred at all, given the vacant neighbouring seat.

The former union official also warned trade unionists and “industrial working-class” voices must remain an “integral” part of Labour. He thanked local members, and Greenwood, and said his “enthusiasm and dedication” would remain until the election.

“I have been proud to represent my town in parliament, keeping the promise that I made to members in 2019 to be Birkenhead’s voice in Westminster and not the other way around.”

A spokesperson for left-wing campaign group Momentum also called Whitley a “working-class champion” and the contest itself “unnecessary, foisted on Birkenhead by a party machine intent on driving out socialists”.

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