Labour’s campaign to win a crunch by-election has been thrown into chaos after a backlash over the party’s choice of candidate.
Party bosses have drawn up a shortlist of two candidates in Wakefield, but the local party’s executive quit today in protest at what they perceive to be a “stitch-up” by Keir Starmer’s office.
And in a separate blow, the powerful GMB union regional branch also refused to endorse a candidate.
The by-election is taking place following the resignation of Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan who was convicted earlier this month of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.
HuffPost UK revealed on Thursday that Starmer’s office had been accused of blocking the deputy leader of Wakefield council’s deputy leader, Jack Hemingway, from being the Labour candidate over his previous support for Jeremy Corbyn.
The two hopefuls chosen to battle it out to be Labour’s candidate are Kate Dearden and Simon Lightwood, who are not from the local area.
The move prompted the entire executive of the Wakefield Labour party to resign in protest.
In a statement, they said they had asked the central party to plan for the selection early to “avoid a rushed job” and that they had made it clear they wanted a local candidate.
HuffPost UK also understands that shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh, who is leading Labour’s by-election campaign, warned party bosses there would be a “robust response” locally if the shortlist did not include candidates from Wakefield.
In a statement on Friday afternoon, the GMB said that despite having a “proud tradition of campaigning across Yorkshire” it would not back a candidate in the by-election.
“This afternoon we concluded interviews on who to endorse as part of the upcoming selection for Labour candidate in Wakefield,” the union said.
“Both candidates performed well but we have on this occasion decided not to endorse a candidate.
“We wish the candidates well in the upcoming selection and look forward to campaigning for a Labour victory in the upcoming by-election.”
Following the announcement a Labour source said: “Not sure the Leader’s Office saw that coming.”
They added: “GMB are generally supportive of Starmer, but they’re also not going to let their own people get done over so that one faction or another can win — they’re not really into that.
“It’s not how they do things, and there’s a big feeling that this just isn’t really in the spirit of fairness.”
On the issue of the CLP executive resigning, another source said it “showed the strength of feeling” and that “working class voters are basically just collateral in political games”.
“Could you really say, as a Labour Party officer in Wakefield right now, to the people you live alongside, that the party is doing the right thing for people in Wakefield?” the source said. “Or is it doing the right thing for a certain group of people inside the Labour Party?”
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “We’re really pleased to have two fantastic candidates on the shortlist with strong connections to the local community.
“On Sunday local members will make the final choice on a candidate who will be a strong champion for Wakefield and represent a fresh start against a backdrop of Tory failure.
“Wakefield has been badly let down by the Conservatives and our focus is on winning the by-election and ensuring local people in Wakefield get the representation and the hard working MP it deserves.”