Labour bosses accused of candidate 'stitch-up' as Lewisham East by-election set for 14 June
Labour bosses have been accused of a "stitch-up" designed to ensure a left-wing candidate will be chosen to stand in the forthcoming Lewisham East by-election.
The row broke as the party prepares to officially fire the starting gun for the contest to take place on 14 June - barely a month after previous MP Heidi Alexander quit to take up a job with London mayor Sadiq Khan.
Senior members of Labour's national executive committee - including Jeremy Corbyn - will meet this morning to agree the timetable for the race, including which if them will make up a panel to decide the shortlist of candidates.
But that has sparked an angry backlash from local activists in the south London constituency, who say they should get complete control over who stands for Labour in next month's by-election.
They have insisted there is no need to rush the process, given that Ms Alexander retained the seat at last year's general election with a majority of more than 21,000.
Ian McKenzie, chair of the Lewisham East constituency Labour party, wrote to local members last night urging them to make their feelings known to senior officials.
He said: "Without consulting a single member of the Lewisham East Labour party, the officers' group of the national executive is meeting at 10.30am tomorrow to decide the selection process for deciding who replaces Heidi Alexander as our MP, a position someone could hold for decades.
"The Guardian is reporting that the shortlist will be drawn up not by we, the local members, but by NEC officers, none of which lives in Lewisham East. We will be called to a meeting next Wednesday, the evening of 16 May, to rubber-stamp the process and pick from their NEC-decided shortlist.
"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, 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."
Former Shadow Health Secretary Ms Alexander stood down as an MP on Tuesday to become Mr Khan's deputy mayor for Transport.