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10 February 2023

Labour’s Bolton selection row puts Rayner and Starmer allies at odds

There is outrage over the exclusion of Leigh Drennan, an ally of the party’s deputy leader, from the Bolton North East selection race.

By Rachel Wearmouth

An internal Labour row has erupted after a key ally of the deputy leader, Angela Rayner, was blocked from a parliamentary selection race. Leigh Drennan, the chair of Labour North West, was campaigning to become Labour’s candidate for the marginal Conservative seat of Bolton North East.

He had significant union backing, having been nominated by Unite, Unison, the GMB and the Communication Workers Union, but was told earlier this week that he had failed to make the shortlist.

Drennan is from Labour’s left wing and stood for a position on Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee in 2020 with support from Momentum. All members of the local party’s selection committee have now resigned in protest, saying they “lack confidence in the integrity of the Labour Party’s selection process”. In a joint statement they also said they believe the omission was driven by “the attitudes of a clique in London, rather than local members in the North. This goes against the attitude necessary to win back the Red Wall, which is so desperately needed to deliver a Labour government.”

Labour has declined to comment on why precisely Drennan did not make the shortlist. MPs have repeatedly criticised the party’s decision to abandon longlists of candidates for local members to choose from. Few from the party’s left, with the exception of Faiza Shaheen in Chingford and Wood Green, have succeeded in becoming parliamentary candidates since Keir Starmer tightened selection rules in 2021.

The party insisted the new rules were aimed at excluding candidates who could embarrass the party but some claim the left is being marginalised. Many close to Rayner, who has strong backing among Labour members in her native north-west, see the exclusion of Drennan as a hostile act.

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The Warrington North MP Charlotte Nichols tweeted that it was “one of the most blatantly factional examples of abuse of the process”. Infighting among the local party could hinder Labour’s attempts to make gains in Bolton, which is a battleground borough, in May’s local elections.

The shortlist for Bolton North East is composed of the constituency Labour Party treasurer Kirith Entwistle, the Bolton councillor Rabiya Jiva and the Bolton mayor Akhtar Zaman.

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