EXCL Crunch Labour vote to pick Lewisham by-election candidate delayed after 'stitch-up' claims
A crunch Labour vote in the fight to succeed outgoing MP Heidi Alexander has been delayed amid claims of a “stitch-up” by supporters of Jeremy Corbyn.
The selection meeting to pick the Labour candidate for the Lewisham East by-election was due to be held on Wednesday 16 May but will instead go ahead three days later.
Local party members had been left outraged after Labour announced a remarkably tight timetable in the race for the nomination - with concerns some activists might be unable to attend the showdown meeting.
But in an email sent out to members today, acting regional director Neil Fleming said the ruling National Executive Committee had “taken the decision to delay the selection meeting”.
“This decision has been taken after listening to feedback from members and in a desire to ensure members get more time to consider who our candidate should be once the shortlist is published,” he said in the memo seen by PoliticsHome.
“This means that the scheduled selection meeting due to be held on Wednesday 16 May has been cancelled.
“Eligible members should therefore disregard information about this meeting in yesterday’s email and in letters arriving through the post today or on Monday.”
It came after Labour general secretary Jennie Formby irked candidates by blaming the original selection date on the local council - despite the Labour party holding full control over the process.
In an email she said the returning officer deadline for nominations was set to be 17 May. But last night the council announced the deadline would be 21 May.
One hopeful for the selection told PoliticsHome: “Many local members have been telling me it would have been impossible to make an early evening on a week night with such short notice.
“That would have been an unfair removal for many people of the most important choice they get as Labour members. So I welcome this small delay and hope we get a big turn-out.”
Ian McKenzie, chair of the Lewisham East constituency Labour party, had written to local members during the week urging them to make their feelings about the selection date known to senior officials.
He said: “Good luck having your say if you are a shift worker on duty in the NHS or a local member of the FBU working at the fire station.
"The Executive Committee thinks that the shortlist should be developed locally and members should have more than six days notice of the most important decision this seat will make for a generation."
Richard Angell, director of the Progress campaign group, had said: "It is a total stitch up: treating one of the safest seats in country like it is the swing marginal Copeland.
“Pathetic really. Factional interest over public interest. A shameful way to take advantage of local voters and bulldozes local party members. So much for party democracy."
RUNNERS AND RIDERS
Former Shadow Health Secretary Ms Alexander stood down as an MP on Tuesday to become London mayor Sadiq Khan's deputy mayor for Transport.
PCS union official and UK Black Pride founder Phyll Opoku-Gyimah has fast been positioned as a front-runner in the contest.
Islington councillor Claudia Webbe and newly-elected Lewisham councillor Sakina Sheikh are also in the running.
The Labour NEC is set to reveal its shortlist for the nomination early next week - amid expectations it will be an all-women, all-BME choice.
The winner of the Labour selection process will go on to defend a majority of more than 21,000 at the by-election on 14 June.