By Alan Gibbons
The Labour Party may well have done what some observers considered impossible, to unite the various bands of the Liverpool Party’s often fractious rainbow.
The selection race to be Labour’s candidate for Liverpool Mayor was sparked by the sitting mayor, Joe Anderson, being arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation. Labour started the process to select a new mayoral candidate, and a panel shortlisted three local women for the race. Indeed, all three took part in two hustings for city members.
So far, so good, you might think. Suddenly however, on the day ballots were expected to drop, the contest was abruptly suspended. The three shortlisted candidates had to attend second interviews last Friday, and the selection panel met again on Monday evening. The all-women shortlist, former deputy mayor Ann O’Byrne, acting mayor Wendy Simon and Lord Mayor Anna Rothery have half a century’s experience as councillors between them.
Then came the bombshell. Astonishingly, Labour List editor Sienna Rodgers has revealed that the candidates only discovered from her tweet that: “After careful consideration, Labour is reopening the selection for Liverpool Mayor.”
It is understood that none of the three are being invited to reapply. The reason was given in an email to Liverpool members on Tuesday. “The role of Liverpool Mayor,” it read, “is a high profile and hugely important figure. The people of Liverpool deserve a Labour Mayor and the Labour Party needs to select the right candidate who can deliver an election win, stand up against the Conservatives, lead Liverpool out of the coronavirus crisis and fight for the regeneration and the resources that the city desperately needs.”
This has caused considerable concern among Liverpool’s six thousand members. After all, Rothery and O’Byrne are members of the Walton constituency, Labour’s safest UK seat with 84.7% of the vote and Simon is a member of the Wavertree party with a vote share of 72.2%. These are figures many local Labour parties can only dream about. It might be thought that Liverpool already knew a thing or two about winning elections.
There are, of course, rumours that Labour’s actions have something to do with investigations related to the arrest of Joe Anderson, but no such concerns have been made public – and it wouldn’t explain why Anna Rothery, who never held a cabinet or executive position under the previous leadership, was also excluded.
Some members have different explanations. Some are suspicious that Anna Rothery, supported by former leader Jeremy Corbyn and other prominent left-wing figures, who would have made history as the first black woman mayor of any UK city, had unnerved the party establishment with a strong campaign.
Other members highlight another equality issue, that the party has chosen to remove three women candidates. Ann O’Byrne references this in her statement: “I want to say this to any girl or woman who is thinking about getting involved in politics, do not let this moment stop you.”
Anna Rothery strikes a different note, saying that she is “shocked by the party’s chaotic handling” of the selection and may to seek an injunction if the party fails to reverse its decision. There are even rumours that the position of City Mayor, an unpopular one with many local people, may be speedily scrapped with the council reverting to a leader/cabinet model. This would take the decision away from members altogether, with the Labour group of councillors choosing the Leader.
At the time of writing, some of the city’s Constituency Labour Parties are considering emergency motions, condemning the alleged lack of transparency, U-turns and failures of process involved in the selections. Coming in the wake of the removal of the whip from Jeremy Corbyn and the suspensions of dozens of party members across the country, Liverpool Labour members are unlikely to take kindly to the idea of having a Mayoral candidate imposed on them. One of the commonest phrases doing the rounds is: “They have taken on the wrong city.”
Alan Gibbons is Secretary of Liverpool Walton Constituency Labour Party, candidate for Warbreck ward and a member of Momentum’s leading body, the National Coordinating Group. His suspension from the Party for permitting a motion supporting the return of the whip to Jeremy Corbyn was recently lifted.
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