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Labour cancels Shoreham hustings as row over candidate deepens

3 min read

A hustings for potential Labour candidates for the Shoreham constituency has been cancelled after a row broke out between warring factions of the party.

Labour's National Executive Committee, which is dominated by Momentum members, vetoed a plan by the local selection panel to drop a candidate from the shortlist.

Sophie Cook was one of three candidates shortlisted for the East Worthing and Shoreham seat but claims about financial irregularities from her past have forced party officials back to the drawing board.

Sources told the Guardian Ms Cook had not declared the irregularities during interview and Labour party officials were not satisfied with her account when they confronted her.

Ms Cook would have been Labour’s first trans female candidate to stand in a winnable seat and had the backing of the Unite union.

She stood for election in the south-east seat in the 2017 general election and cut Conservative incumbent Tim Loughton’s majority by 10,000.

The decision to overrule the local panel caused outcry among activists in Worthing and Shoreham, sources said, prompting the two other shortlisted candidates, local councillors Beccy Cooper and Catherine Arnold, to drop out of the selection in protest.

“With all talk of party democracy, yet again the Momentum-dominated NEC is ignoring local members,” said one party source.

Unite’s Jim Kennedy, who chairs the NEC organisational subcommittee which deals with selections, wrote to local members on Friday night saying Sunday’s hustings could now not take place, given Cooper and Arnold had dropped out.

“Following the withdrawal from the process of two of the three shortlisted candidates, there is now only a single shortlisted candidate,” he said.

“As a result the process is now cancelled and tomorrow’s selection meeting will not take place. The regional office will be in touch regarding arrangements for the new process early next week.”

The cancelled hustings has again brought tensions between the Corbyn supporting Momentum and more centrist side of the Labour party to a head.

Ivor Caplin, former Labour MP for nearby Hove, said: “I think it’s always important that the views of members locally are properly taken into account and, in this particular case, they clearly were, because the selection panel made its decision — and that is also how the NEC should operate in making its final decisions.”

Ms Cook sais she had been “overwhelmed by the positivity” of most Labour members: “I was proud to contest East Worthing and Shoreham in the snap election, and to increase the Labour vote by 114%. 

“During my campaign to be selected as the candidate I have been overwhelmed by the positivity of the majority of members and their determination to return a Labour MP. I look forward to campaigning with them to do just that.”

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