It seems that Labour's bid to recapture Wakefield isn't off to the best of starts. The resignation of Tory MP Imran Ahmad-Khan last month over historic sex offences gave Sir Keir Starmer's party a chance to take back the seat it lost in 2019 and prove that Labour is on track to make gains in the Red Wall at the next election.
Unfortunately, a row has now broken out over attempts to 'parachute' favoured candidates into the constituency. The entire executive of the local Wakefield branch has this week resigned after party HQ shortlisted two members in its process to pick Labour's candidate in the forthcoming by-election. Quite something, given that Sir Keir ran on a pledge in 2020 to 'end' central imposition of candidates if he was elected leader.
You'd have thought that after the party's disastrous effort in Hartlepool, Labour would be keen to avoid having a prominent Remainer fighting a Leave-voting seat. But both Kate Dearden and Simon Lightwood – the two candidates put forward – supported Remain during the 2016 referendum, in which 63 per cent of Wakefield voters backed Leave. Dearden and Lightwood will both take part in a hustings tomorrow, after which there will be a vote among those (remaining) Wakefield Labour members as to which candidate should represent them.
Brexit isn't the only issue with Labour's choice of candidates. Neither Dearden nor Lightwood are from the local area, with three respected local activists including councillors Michael Graham and Jack Hemingway being rejected in favour of the two 'carpet baggers.' Indeed Graham took to Facebook to complain that he was 'disappointed to share that no applicants who live in the Wakefield constituency were long-listed for the candidacy.'
And that's not all, for Mr S has done some digging and it seems that the local links of Simon Lightwood – a former staffer for local MP Mary Creagh who lost here in 2019 – are indeed somewhat tenuous. Twitter posts show him reminiscing about living in South Shields, Tyneside (most certainly not Wakefield, Yorkshire) while his failed candidacies in previous years suggest he is more than happy to stand for wherever has an opening including Loughborough in 2011 and Bradford in 2012.
Labour has already begun running a very hard-hitting campaign in Wakefield, with election leaflets that claim: 'Your Conservative MP Imran Ahmad Khan been convicted of sexual assault of a child. The Tories knew about the allegations and did nothing. Why would you ever trust them again?' If the local party do adopt Lightwood tomorrow, Mr S suspects Labour will be facing its own questions about how invested its candidate is in the local area.