Labour candidacies for key vacant seats in the general election have been carved up under a secret plan agreed between Jeremy Corbyn, Tom Watson and leading trade unions, HuffPost UK has been told.
The agreement ensures that each of the wings of the party and its union backers get their share of plum constituencies where MPs are standing down.
Key figures set to benefit include Sam Tarry, director of Momentum and Corbyn’s former leadership campaign director and Stephanie Peacock, GMB political officer.
Mark Ferguson, the former LabourList editor and aide to Liz Kendall, and Ellie Reeves, sister of Labour MP Rachel Reeves and wife of Labour MP John Cryer, are on course to get to Westminster too.
Tarry is now expected to win the selection battle for the safe seat of Hull West and Hessle, and Peacock is set to triumph in Barnsley East.
Reeves looks unstoppable in Lewisham West while Ferguson, backed by Unison, is now favourite to take Blaydon. Katy Clark, a key aide to Corbyn, is now being pushed in Leigh.
But with the polls suggesting that Labour faces a possible Tory landslide, some of the 12 seats vacated have been left out of the deal as they are seen as “unsafe”.
Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Slough and Birmingham Edgbaston are not facing a clamour for candidacies as they are viewed as highly likely to be won by the Conservatives.
In a further clue to the party’s worries, 2015 candidates in formerly marginal seats such as Hastings, Harrow East and Elmet have decided not to stand.
Within days of Theresa May announcing the June 8 general election, 12 MPs decided to step down including former Cabinet minister Alan Johnson in Hull, former No10 aide Michael Dugher in Barnsley and ex Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham in Leigh.
Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Dave Anderson quit in Blaydon and veteran backbencher Jim Dowd stepped down in Lewisham West and Penge.
With just weeks to the election, Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee and regional boards decided to seize control of the selections for the plum seats, avoiding the lengthy process of having local parties decide.
In a bid to smooth the emergency procedure, the Leader’s office, Labour’s general secretary Iain McNicol and key unions GMB, Unite and Unison have hammered out a rough draft of which seats will go to which candidates, sources said.
The classic behind-the-scenes maneouvre is aimed at giving different wings of the party and different unions their ‘fair share’ of safe seats, multiple well-placed party sources have told HuffPost UK.
Although Corbyn and Watson have clashed repeatedly in recent months, it is claimed that both have agreed that they cannot waste time on internal battles for the vacated seats.
The GMB union is one of the big winners, as it is said to be backing Tarry in Hull West, Reeves in Lewisham West and Peacock in Barnsley East. Ferguson has the support of Unison.
Unite also favours Tarry (who is also counted as a leader’s office selection), and sources said it was pushing key Len McCluskey aide Dan Carden for Liverpool Walton, where Steve Rotheram, the sitting MP and Liverpool Metro Mayor candidate has yet to decide when to quit.
Unions have given way in other seats as part of the deal. In Oxford East, local South East MEP Anneliese Dodds is expected to win the selection, in recognition of the seat having a strong Remain vote.
Two big-majority seats, such as Durham North West and Nottingham North, have yet to be finalised but it is expected that female candidates with Unite backing are being pencilled in. Northumberland councillor Laura Pidcock is being lined up for the Durham seat.
Because of the need to campaign in the election, Corbyn and deputy leader Tom Watson have agreed to ‘pair off’ over the selections, leaving the remaining seven members of the NEC’s officers to decide the outcome in coming days. Five unions and two independents sit on the officer group.
One source close to Watson insisted he had not spoken to Corbyn about any selections or taken part in any “deal”. “If there had been a deal, David Prescott, who works in the leader’s office, and the man who ran Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign [Tarry] wouldn’t be going for the same seat [Hull West].”
Tarry, who was director of communications and strategy for Corbyn’s 2016 leadership campaign, is a founder of Momentum. A political officer for the TSSA transport workers’ union, he is seen as one of the brightest stars of the Left.
In an interview with HuffPost UK last year, he said that a “huge amount” of Labour MPs were “intellectually bankrupt” and had “no strategy for winning a general election”.
“I do happen to think we need to hugely increase the calibre of people that are in Parliament. I think we are lacking,” he said.
Peacock, seen as one of the GMB’s most promising future MPs, was until recently partner of deputy leader Tom Watson. Reeves, who has sat on the NEC, has been backed by Watson and many in the PLP as well as the GMB.
In the safer of the 12 seats, longlists have been drawn up and candidates will be selected this week after interview by a NEC panel. In the less winnable seats, the party has decided to select on the basis of CVs without any interviews.
Some local battles have already been the subject of controversy. Joe Riches, a Hull-born regional organiser, has been left off the longlist for Hull West.
In Leigh, the local favourite has been Jo Platt, who is backed strongly by Burnham. But her perceived lack of union support at national level could cost her the candidacy and Clark is the ‘leader’s office candidate’.
Under party rules, a retiring woman MP has to be replaced by another woman, meaning Birmingham Edgbaston (Gisela Stuart), Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and North West Durham (Pat Glass) will select female candidates.
The party has also decided that half of the 12 seats have to go to women, ensuring a further three on top of those where female MPs are stepping down.
Other seats could crop up in coming days, with Rochdale still undecided. Simon Danczuk is still technically suspended from the party and cannot formally stand until the NEC decides to drop a disciplinary case against him and instead issue a formal warning, sources said.
Although the party gave MPs until last week to decide to step down, they have until the close of nominations to decide whether to quit. It is thought possible Rotheram could still stand aside in Liverpool Walton.
UPDATE: Reeves has been selected in Lewisham West, Peacock in Barnsley East. But Tarry lost out in Hull West to councillor Emma Hardy.
Leigh and other seats are expected to select candidates on Thursday.