Allies of Jeremy Corbyn have been lobbying for a left-wing “rising star” to be selected in a safe Labour seat – just hours after the death of its MP Sir Gerald Kaufman, HuffPost UK has been told.
Corbyn led tributes to Sir Gerald from across the political spectrum following his passing on Sunday evening after a long illness. He was 86.
Sir Gerald, a former Shadow Foreign Secretary under Neil Kinnock, was ‘Father of the House of Commons’, the title given to the longest sitting member.
But the race for his safe seat of Manchester Gorton began on Monday as key Corbyn allies tried to drum up support for Sam Wheeler, a member of the steering committee of left-wing grassroots group, Momentum.
Wheeler, born and bred locally in Longsight in Manchester, won plaudits last year when he made a speech introducing Corbyn at his mass rally in Salford at the start of his second leadership election campaign.
He was the author of the ‘Northern Futures’ document for Corbyn’s leadership campaign and a representative on Unite’s Regional Young Workers Committee.
Trade union officials are understood to have been contacted to urge them to help Wheeler get onto the longlist for the selection to succeed Sir Gerald.
Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) will convene a special by-elections panel to draft any possible contenders, but it is highly unusual for lobbying to begin so soon after the death of an MP.
Manchester Gorton has a rock-solid majority of 24,000 and is seen as impregnable in the coming by-election, which has yet to be called.
Corbyn has come under huge pressure after the Tories took Copeland, which had a 10th of the Manchester seat’s majority, in a by-election.
Kaufman was never a friend of the Left of the party, having famously dubbed Michael Foot’s 1983 election manifesto – with its pledges for unilateral nuclear disarmament, withdrawal from Europe and nationalisation - “the longest suicide note in history”.
In his tribute, Corbyn skated over their domestic political differences to instead praise Sir Gerald’s passion for bringing peace to the Middle East.
Wheeler is seen as a “rising star” by Corbyn allies, who are keen to see at Westminster another left-winger who they feel represents the mass membership who powered both landslide leadership elections.
After growing up on a local council estate, a Sam Wheeler from Longsight won a bursary to attend Manchester Grammar School, the region’s leading private school. He then went on to study at Oxford University.
In 2013 he worked in the House of Commons for Andy McDonald MP, who is now the Shadow Transport Secretary.
In a Facebook post today, Wheeler paid tribute to Sir Gerald.
In other posts, he has made strong defences of Corbyn and his leadership, and attacked Labour MPs seen as disloyal to the leader.
He also urged the Labour party to more strongly defend strikes.
But Wheeler has also consistently attacked the far-left activists such as Peter Taafe, and Trotskyist infiltrators of Labour.
And when the Tories’ published their plans for more grammar schools, Wheeler suggested Labour should not dismiss the idea out of hand.
Commons Speaker John Bercow paid his own tribute to Sir Gerald in the Commons on Monday.
“I was very saddened to learn of the death of Sir Gerald Kaufman, the father of the house and Manchester Gorton’s outstanding representative,” he said.
“Gerald was a passionate campaigner for social justice, here in Britain and around the world. His passing will be mourned by his relatives, friends, constituents and colleagues.”