By Alan Gibbons
In the latest twist of Labour’s Liverpool Mayoral selection saga, the Party has produced a shortlist of two candidates which has satisfied few and provoked renewed uproar among many. The pair are Croxteth councillor Anthony Lavelle and councillor for Princes Park in Liverpool 8, Joanne Anderson. At a heated Labour group meeting, many greeted the news with dismay.
According to the Liverpool Echo’s political reporter Liam Thorp, the idea of tabling a motion of no confidence in the selection process was discussed and some councillors even talked about voting for an independent rather than the newly announced Labour candidates. Still others stressed party unity.
This new controversy followed the suspension of the original Mayoral selection and the blocking of three candidates, Acting Mayor Wendy Simon, former Deputy Mayor Ann O’Byrne and Lord Mayor Anna Rothery. To cap a day of high emotion and much frustration, renewed pressure has been applied to the Labour leadership to explain its reasons for blocking the three candidates and reinstate any found to have been treated unfairly.
MPs and other labour movement figures warn in a letter that Labour could be doing “irreparable harm” to the party’s reputation in Liverpool. The letter welcomes fair scrutiny of the candidates, but argues “that should not mean carte blanche to remove all transparency, fairness and accountability from the process.”
It criticises the Party’s “attempt to railroad through a new candidate before we have answers about why the previous shortlist was scrapped.” Noting the reported legal action being taken against the party by Anna Rothery, it continues: “If Anna’s legal case proves that she was treated unfairly, she must be reinstated to her rightful place on the ballot. The party’s actions would otherwise appear discriminatory and further damage the party’s reputation and its standing with BAME communities.”
Support from the letter has come from members of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, including Liverpool MPs Dan Carden and Ian Byrne, councillors, leading trade unionists and civil rights campaigners and a range of organisations representing black and minority ethnic communities.
The letter ends by saying that any new shortlist of candidates imposed by the party in the meantime “will not have the confidence of the Labour membership or the wider Liverpool public” and warning that the Party’s actions risk causing “irreparable harm” to its standing in its most loyal city.
Judging by the many angry and concerned comments by Labour members on various social media platforms, if the Party leadership thinks it has put this controversy to bed with the new shortlist, it is sorely mistaken.
The letter in full:
Dear Sir Keir Starmer, General Secretary, NEC Chair/Secretary
We are writing to express our serious concerns about the way in which the Liverpool Mayoral Selection process has been handled, and to express our alarm at what looks like an attempt to railroad through a new candidate before we have answers about why the previous shortlist was scrapped.
Reopening the selection on the eve of ballots arriving with members, and preventing all 3 shortlisted candidates – Wendy Simon, Ann O’Byrne and Anna Rothery – from reapplying, is unprecedented.
Thorough fair scrutiny of prospective candidates, especially in consideration of the unique context in which this election is taking place, is welcome. That should not mean carte blanche to remove all transparency, fairness and accountability from the process.
The party must immediately provide clarity and transparency about why this has happened and why each of the 3 originally approved shortlisted candidates has been blocked, and those decisions must be open to scrutiny and challenge.
The previous shortlist included Councillor Anna Rothery who never held a Cabinet or executive role under the previous leadership and, if elected, would have become the first black woman mayor of a UK city. We are aware of reports that she is pursuing a legal challenge to the party’s decision to exclude her. Justice must be allowed to take its course before any replacement shortlist of candidates is imposed and, if Anna’s legal case proves that she was treated unfairly, she must be reinstated to her rightful place on the ballot. The party’s actions would otherwise appear discriminatory and further damage the party’s reputation and it’s standing with BAME communities.
As you will know, the Liverpool Labour Group and a number of Merseyside CLPs have carried motions criticising the way the process has been handled and calling for immediate transparency and accountability. This fiasco has caused extreme consternation in Liverpool, demotivating our members ahead of a crucial election.
Any decision taken on Labour’s candidate, while previously shortlisted candidates remain excluded without due process afforded to challenge those decisions, will be wide open to charges of a political stitch-up and therefore will not have the confidence of the Labour membership or the wider Liverpool public.
We fear that this would cause irreparable harm to Labour’s standing in the city and have a severe detrimental impact in the local and mayoral elections. We are therefore asking the party to change course as a matter of urgency and restore unfairly treated candidates to the ballot sheet for distribution on 8 March.
We look forward to your early response in advance of any further steps being taken in the selection process.
Dan Carden MP
Ian Byrne MP
Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP
Clive Lewis MP
Zarah Sultana MP
Apsana Begum MP
Ian Lavery MP
Nadia Whittome MP
Richard Burgon MP
Claudia Webbe MP
Patrick Philip Vernon OBE
Lord Simon Wooley, Operation Black Vote
Jacqueline McKenzie, human rights lawyer
Lee Jasper, BAME Lawyers 4 Justice
Zita Holbourne, National Chair, Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) UK
Sunny Lambe, Black Labour Movement UK
Jennie Formby, former General Secretary of the Labour Party
Howard Beckett, Assistant General Secretary, Unite
Sarah Wooley, General Secretary, BFAWU
Ian Hodson, National President, BFAWU
Jane Stewart, Unite National Women’s Committee
Sohayalla Wilson, Vice Chair, Unite North West BAME Committee
Pete Pascal, CWU North West BAME Lead & Equalities Officer for Mersey Branch
CWU Greater Mersey Branch
CWU Warrington Mail Centre
Merseyside BLM Alliance
Calderdale Against Racism
Merseyside Caribbean Centre
Labour Party LGBT+ Network
Cllr Sarah Morton
Cllr Alison Clarke
Cllr Tim Jeeves
Cllr Lena Simic
Cllr Gerard Woodhouse
Cllr Ahmed Ali
Cllr Majid Dar
Cllr Azra Ali
Cllr Nasrin Ali
Cllr Amna Abdullatif
Cllr Amanda Pinnock
Cllr Munsif Dadd Hyndburn
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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