The Birmingham Labour Party has been dogged by in-fighting and bitter recriminations over the enforced selection of five candidates for the city council elections.
In the rushed run up to the election, the sitting councillors in Handsworth Wood, East Handsworth and Lozells, Sparkbrook, South Yardley and Springfield were selected to stand again following the intervention of the party’s National Executive Committee.
And Labour Party apparatchiks seem delighted that in Birmingham at least the party’s fortunes improved with increased majorities all round.
Councillor Waseem Zaffar in East Handsworth and Lozells and Councillor Tony Kennedy in Sparkbrook both won with majorities of more than 7,000 votes – many MPs would be delighted with that level of support. The other three – Paulette Hamilton (Handsworth Wood) , Nawaz Ali (South Yardley) and Habib Rehman (Springfield) – also won comfortably.
But this has not stopped the trading of insults and allegations of corruption from internal rivals.
So much of this seems to be a result of personality politics – that one group’s candidate was preferred to another’s and they cry foul.
Depending on the seat in question there are claimed divisions along ethnic, religious, ideological or family lines. It is claimed in Sparkbrook that former Respect Party members, following the resignation of their local hero Salma Yaqoob, have joined Labour and pushed their favoured candidate.
A further complication is that the system is, as you would expect from the Labour party, unbelievably bureaucratic, with branches and various committees at the city, regional and national level all playing a part.
In several cases the losing parties are claiming corruption or at least manipulation by the West Midlands Labour Party, and the official in charge of selections Keith Hanson, to get the ‘right candidates’ into these safe seats.
Actually what seemed to happen is that with a general election going on, diverting time and resources, it was easier to call in the NEC and impose the sitting candidate than waste time separating the sides and fuelling the in-fighting.
Already the gossips are talking about the 2016 elections and who might be in for a selection battle – respected former Lord Mayor of Birmingham Anita Ward recently tweeted about ‘a little plotter’ working to undermine her selection in Hodge Hill later this year.
Now the National Executive Committee have asked for a report from the West Midlands Labour Party on the selection processes and will be coming to Birmingham to cast their eye over preparations for next year’s selections.
Regional organiser Ian Reilly said that in Birmingham they could hardly have been happier with the outcome – with majorities increased and the Labour group reinforcing its grip on the city council with an extra seat. But he said that, having been called in five times in recent months, the NEC have asked for a report on what happened. “Undoubtedly they will be keeping a close eye on things,” he said.
And the Labour party needs to get this right because in 2018 we have all out elections in Birmingham, meaning that anything from 100 to 120 candidates will need to be selected from a completely clean slate. And they certainly won’t have the time to sift through all the disputes.
Labour regional organiser Ian Reilly has also been at pains to deny another rumour doing the rounds – that he is about to retire. The political rumour mill has even lined up his successor in the form of Lynda Waltho, who was defeated as Stourbridge MP in the 2010 election and narrowly missed out on a seat in the European Parliament last year.
But Mr Reilly, who has been fighting campaigns for the Labour Party since the 1970s, insists that despite reaching a mature stage in life he ‘has no plans to go’.