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2 November 2015updated 03 Nov 2015 1:06am

Who’s Jeremy Corbyn’s candidate in Oldham West and Royton?

The Labour left will throw its weight behind Mohammed Azam to prevent a candidate from the right triumphing.

By Stephen Bush

Labour will move the writ for Oldham West and Royton in parliament today, triggering a by-election on 3 December. For the second successive occasion, Labour has triggered a by-election before waiting for the deceased MP’s funeral. Now, as last year in Heywood and Middleton, it is a tactic born from fear: of Ukip.

In Heywood and Middleton, Nigel Farage’s party proved those fears to be well-founded: with most of Ukip’s resources focussed on the Clacton by-election – which took place on the same day – they still came within a few hundred votes of taking the seat from Labour. Oldham West – which borders Heywood and Middleton – is less fertile territory for Ukip, but comes at a time when Labour nationally looks more vulnerable to Ukip than it has ever been. 

But the early indications are that a short, sharp campaign should see Ukip off, if not by the big margin achieved by Michael Meacher in May, certainly more emphatically than Labour managed in Heywood last year. That means that minds are turning away from the battle for the seat – and towards the battle to get selected.

A three-person panel comprising Leicester East MP Keith Vaz (representing the parliamentary party), Jennie Formby, Unite’s political director (representing the trade unions), and Ellie Reeves (representing the membership) interviewed candidates from a longlist of seven, in order to whittle that down to a four-person shortlist for members. They are: Jim McMahon, the leader of Oldham Council and widely regarded as the frontrunner, the defeated former MP for Derby North, Chris Williamson, the defeated parliamentary candidate for Colne Valley, Jane East, and Mohammed Azam, a former councillor and bus driver.

McMahon is regarded as the frontrunner for the seat, in what would be something of a setback for Corbyn and the Labour left. McMahon is identified with the party’s right. Meacher was one of the few Labour MPs to wholeheartedly support Corbyn’s bid for the leadership. Williamson, who lost his seat in May, was one of Corbyn’s most vocal supporters, and would, ideologically, be a close replacement for Meacher. 

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It is Williamson who is most exciting the Labour left and many of that wing’s activists. However, harder heads are likely to push for Azam as the left’s standard-bearer. His politics are near identical to Williamson’s, but his local connections are impeccable, while Williamson’s time as an MP in the Midlands risks making him look like “a carpet-bagger”, in the words of one insider. Many of the local party’s activists are keen for an ethnic minority candidate, but it remains to be seen if that is enough for Azam to overcome McMahon and keep the seat not just for Labour but the party’s left.

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