A Labour councillor was barred from the party’s candidacy for the Stoke-On-Trent Central by-election because of tweets criticising Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, HuffPost UK has learned.
Michael Payne, the deputy leader of Gedling Council in Nottinghamshire, was interviewed for the selection and was seen as a strong contender to defend Labour’s 5,000 majority.
But he was later told he had not been shortlisted for the Potteries marginal because his Twitter feed could be interpreted as attacking Corbyn.
The winner of the Labour selection contest, Gareth Snell, has come under fire for a string of sexist and abusive tweets in recent days as the party tries to fend off a challenge from UKIP leader Paul Nuttall.
Snell, who appeared not to have his own social media vetted in great detail, has been forced to apologise for describing various women on TV as “sour-faced ladies”, “bitchy”, “stupid” and “fucking annoying”.
He had also tweeted that Coronation Street character Deirdre should be given “a good slap”.
But with Stoke one of the strongest pro-Brexit voting areas in the country, perhaps most damaging was Snell’s tweet after the EU referendum that Brexit was “a massive pile of shit”. He mocked some Leave voters as “confused” and believers in a “white Brexit”.
Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) received 41 applications for the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election, which was triggered when MP Tristram Hunt quit to take up the post of Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The applicants were whittled down to a ‘longlist’ of 11 contenders, including Snell and Payne, who is still seen by many in the party as a rising star in local government and a future MP.
Labour’s candidate in the Newark by-election in 2014, Payne is chair of the respected Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) that this week warned of hikes in council charges due to funding cuts.
However, it is understood that a member of the NEC arrived at the key shortlisting meeting armed with a sheaf of Payne tweets, backed up by the party’s West Midlands Region.
One tweet in particular - criticising Corbyn’s decision to give a peerage to Shami Chakrabarti - was cited as grounds for barring him.
His candidacy hopes were then swiftly ended, despite having been close to being shortlisted after his presentation to the NEC by-election panel.
Payne‘s tweets – described as ‘mild’ by one insider – show he was a strong supporter of Corbyn’s rival Owen Smith last summer.
He had also pointed out Corbyn was not upholding party policy during the Parliamentary debate on renewing Trident last year.
And he had re-tweeted several critical tweets by others about Corbyn.
A party source said it was surprising that the NEC had not appeared to conduct a thorough social media trawl before shortlisting Snell. “Gareth’s tweets make him a completely unsuitable by-election candidate,” they said.
Labour’s candidate in Copeland, Gillian Troughton, also supported Owen Smith’s leadership bid.
Snell has in recent days apologised for his tweets about ITV’s Loose Women and Coronation Street and BBC’s The Apprentice.
Referring to his TV-related tweets, he said on Wednesday: “They are 10 years old. You do a lot of growing up in your Twenties.
“I regret these tweets. They were from years ago when I was tweeting along with TV programmes but nevertheless, I shouldn’t have tweeted those comments and I apologise for the offence they have caused.”
Labour insiders believe that despite Snell’s controversial candidacy, the row over Nuttall’s remarks about the Hillsborough football tragedy have undermined his bid to take the seat.
When contacted about the claims by HuffPost UK, Payne refused to comment.