US News: Anger at Labour 'stitch-up' over MP candidate

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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives to cast his vote at a polling station in London © PA Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives to cast his vote at a polling station in London

Labour bosses have been accused of a "stitch up" and of trampling over party democracy by rushing through the selection of a candidate for the Lewisham East by-election.

Ian McKenzie, the party's constituency chair, has written to local members urging them to petition Labour's national ruling body for a say in who their candidate should be.

It is understood a shortlist will be chosen at national party level rather than by Lewisham East members.

Top officers on Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC), including party leader Jeremy Corbyn and deputy leader Tom Watson, were understood to be meeting on Thursday morning.

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Heidi Alexander © PA Heidi Alexander

They were expected to set a timetable for the selection of the party's Lewisham East candidate, with the process due to be completed by next Wednesday.

"We have just hours to have our voice heard on who our future MP is," Mr McKenzie wrote.

"Don't let the NEC officers group take away our party democracy. Act now!"

The parliamentary by-election, sparked by Heidi Alexander's resignation in order to work for London Mayor Sadiq Khan, is expected to be held on 14 June - the opening day of this summer's World Cup.

Commenting on the fast-track timeframe for choosing a candidate from an NEC-decided shortlist, which local members will be asked to pick from on 16 May, Mr McKenzie added: "Good luck having your say if you are a shift worker, nurse on duty in the NHS, or a local member of the FBU working at the fire station."

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He insisted members "should have more than six days' notice" and stressed that the significant Labour presence in Lewisham East, a safe seat for the party, means there is "no need to rush".

Representatives of Labour's "moderate" wing also criticised both party bosses and Mr Corbyn, who has frequently promised to boost the engagement of party members within Labour's internal decision-making.

Richard Angell, director of pressure group Progress, said: "In a by-election with little risk of losing, in Labour London, in a seat with a 21,123 majority, why are the Momentum NEC officers drawing up a by-election behind closed doors?"

Matt Pound, national organiser for the Labour First network, said: "The left have complained for 30 years about 'selection stitch-ups', they're not even hiding the fact they plan to stitch up their first by-election since gaining control of the party's structures."

In March, Mr Corbyn's ally Jennie Formby was named Labour's new general secretary, weeks after a slate of Momentum-backed candidates were elected to the NEC.

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