Sir Keir Starmer faces Wakefield rebellion as local candidates snubbed for Remainers

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Sir Keir Starmer during a visit to a pensioners drop-in session in Wakefield earlier this month - Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Sir Keir Starmer during a visit to a pensioners drop-in session in Wakefield earlier this month - Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Sir Keir Starmer faced a major mutiny in Wakefield on Friday, as local campaigners resigned en masse over him parachuting in two Remainer candidates for the upcoming by-election.

Labour’s hopes of retaking the city from the Tories were plunged into disarray, as the entire executive committee of the local constituency party walked out in disgust.

The rebellion will reignite simmering tensions within the party and comes as its leader faces growing pressure following a torrid fortnight of “beergate” scandal revelations.

Activists were outraged after being sidelined from the selection process to pick who will fight the contest, which they say was stitched up by the leadership in London.

Wakefield, a Red Wall seat seized by the Tories in 2019, faces a by-election after Imran Ahmad Khan, the former Tory MP, quit following his conviction for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.

Imran Ahmad Khan - Peter Cziborra/Reuters
Imran Ahmad Khan - Peter Cziborra/Reuters

It has now become the latest internal battleground between moderate supporters of Sir Keir and Left-wing members still loyal to Jeremy Corbyn, the party's former leader.

A well-placed source told The Telegraph many activists who had campaigned in previous elections across the region now planned to “down tools” for the Wakefield by-election.

They are furious that three respected local candidates were shunned by the National Executive Committee in favour of two picks who do not come from the area.

Jakob Williamson, a local activist, plus Michael Graham and Jack Hemingway, two local councillors, had put their names forward.

But the selection committee - on which the constituency party was given just one seat, rather than the usual three - rejected all three.

Instead, they chose Kate Dearden and Simon Lightwood for the shortlist, with local members asked to choose between the pair during a vote on Sunday.

Local campaigners said both candidates were well-known as having supported Remain during the 2016 referendum, whereas two-thirds of people in Wakefield voted Leave.

“That’s not what local residents want," one told The Telegraph. "We feel very let down. The members are very angry.

“I’m sure there will be some local members that will go out campaigning for whoever is chosen, but I know there’s a lot saying 'I’m not dedicating my life to this'.”

They added that the fury was about the exclusion of local candidates, not animosity towards the shortlisted pair.

‘This is why Labour are struggling’

In a statement published on Facebook, Cllr Graham said: “I submitted my application to be the Labour Party candidate in the upcoming Wakefield by-election, with hope and enthusiasm.

“However, I am disappointed to share that no applicants who live in the Wakefield constituency were long-listed for the candidacy, decided by the Labour National Executive Committee.”

His post attracted almost 100 supportive comments from locals who said they were “disgusted” by the “shocking decisions” from national headquarters.

“This is why Labour are struggling," one wrote in reply. "Unless they listen to local constituents, they won’t succeed. The NEC has a lot to answer for."

Sir Keir Starmer spoke to some pensioners in the constituency earlier this month, but many locals have now turned against him - Molly Darlington/Reuters
Sir Keir Starmer spoke to some pensioners in the constituency earlier this month, but many locals have now turned against him - Molly Darlington/Reuters

Grassroots campaign group Momentum, which was set up to support Mr Corbyn’s 2015 bid for the Labour leadership, attacked Sir Keir over the fiasco.

It pointed to a pledge the party’s leader made in February 2020 to end the parachuting in of candidates and always give local activists the final say.

At the time, he tweeted:

‘Contempt for democracy’

Gaya Sriskanthan, the co-chairman of Momentum, said: “Keir Starmer lied. He promised a more democratic candidate selection process, in which local members would be empowered.

“But once again the leadership has parachuted in its own choices, excluding popular local candidates. In doing so, it has broken Labour's own rules, showing a contempt for democracy.

“Now Labour's campaign in Wakefield is in disarray, and the blame lies entirely with Labour's leadership. They should obey party democracy and give party members a real choice.”

Labour defended the selection of its two shortlisted candidates and insisted it is in a strong position to take the seat back from the Conservatives.

A spokesman said: "We're really pleased to have two fantastic candidates on the shortlist with strong connections to the local community.

"On Sunday, local members will make the final choice on a candidate who will be a strong champion for Wakefield and represent a fresh start against a backdrop of Tory failure.

"Wakefield has been badly let down by the Conservatives and our focus is on winning the by-election and ensuring local people in Wakefield get the representation and the hard working MP it deserves."

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