Plus Labour’s peculiar response to SKWAWKBOX enquiries to MPs
The SKWAWKBOX can exclusively reveal the panel that barred Anna Rothery from the selection process to decide who will stand for Labour in May’s Liverpool mayoral contest – and selected the shortlist of two to replace her and two other women candidates.
And SKWAWKBOX can also show the links that three out of five have to both:
- well-known north-west fixers with a track record of influencing selections and was involved in the campaign of one of Rothery’s rivals and;
- the Liverpool MPs who on Wednesday evening both tweeted ‘twin’ statements that have been attacked for both failing to show solidarity with Rothery and for calling for a return to a system in which the city’s members would be deprived of any say in who would represent them at the head of the city’s council.
According to Labour sources, the panel of five who decided to bin the current shortlist and start the process again – leading to the shortlisting of a close associate of a local MP and a 25-year-old right-wing councillor – were:
- Leigh Drennan
- Lotte Boumhela
- Tom Warnett
- ‘centrist’ National Executive Committee (NEC) member Alice Perry
- Wendy Nichols, a Unison member of Labour’s NEC and considered on the right of the party
Three of the five panellists have close links to the same group of MPs and fixers.
Manchester councillor and north-west regional chair Drennan is said to be close to ‘fixers’ Alex Halligan and Damian Bailey, who have been heavily involved in securing the selection of a number of north-west MPs, including several on Merseyside. According to Labour insiders, the MPs in whose selection Halligan and Bailey played a pivotal role include Liverpool members Paula Barker and Kim Johnson, who both tweeted statements failing to condemn Rothery’s deselection.
Both Halligan and Bailey now work for MPs whose selection they helped secure. Bailey works as a senior staffer for Liverpool Wavertree MP Barker.
The pair also unsuccessfully backed Liverpool councillor Angela Coleman for selection as West Derby’s 2019 parliamentary candidate. The selection was won by Ian Byrne, now one of the stars of Labour’s back benches. Coleman now also works for Barker.
Boumhela is reported to be close to Damian Bailey, who works for Paula Barker and is believed by Labour insiders to have been linked to the campaign of Ann O’Byrne, one of Rothery’s rivals. Boumhela’s sister works for Liverpool Riverside MP Kim Johnson.
Warnett, like Nichols, is a union NEC member. He was campaign manager for Sam Tarry MP, who until recently worked closely with Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner and is said to still be a close associate. Warnett also previously worked for Nick Parrott, Rayner’s chief of staff. Rayner was close friends with Salford and Eccles MP Rebecca Long-Bailey, who used to employ Alex Halligan.
Alex Halligan and Damian Bailey are well known in Labour and union circles, especially but not exclusively in the north-west of England. They have been accused of a ‘no holds barred’ approach to getting their preferred candidates selected for parliamentary and other seats and to eliminating rivals.
Although Manchester-based, both were involved in securing the selection of candidates who are now Labour MPs in Liverpool – and have been said to have supported O’Byrne’s bid to be selected as Labour’s mayoral candidate.
Bailey now works for Paula Barker, whose selection he helped secure. Halligan worked for Rebecca Long-Bailey but is now employed by Nav Mishra, the Stockport MP whose selection Halligan and Bailey promoted.
The MPs’ tweets
Both Paula Barker and Kim Johnson pitched in on the mayoral debate last week with very similar tweeted statements in response to the scrapping of the original shortlist. Both were heavily criticised for a failure to show solidarity with Rothery. Johnson’s statement said that she didn’t know why the candidates had been barred, but also claimed to be certain that racism was not a factor – and advocated scrapping the mayoral model altogether, which supporters of former mayoral candidate Ann O’Byrne tried and failed to do last weekend. Such a switch would not only mean that the council leader would be chosen only by councillors, depriving local members of a say in who leads the city, but would have essentially ruled Rothery out and favoured the well-connected Ann O’Byrne.
O’Byrne failed to answer questions about her links to a company involved in questionable cash transactions and investments, including £20,000 to an organisation that was used to employ her daughter. Ironically, these unanswered questions were used by Labour as the excuse for re-interviewing all the mayoral candidates, leading to the widely-condemned scrapping of the shortlist.
Barker is a former official and Johnson a former shop steward of Unison, the union that selection panellist Wendy Nichols represents on the NEC.
New selection, old panel
Labour has replaced a shortlist of three women councillors, with half a century of experience among them, with a new shortlist of two councillors. One shortlisted candidate is a black woman councillor who was about to step down in May after only becoming a councillor in late 2019, having told local figures that she was taking a job in the office of ‘metro mayor’ Steve Rotheram.
She is close to Kim Johnson MP, who employs one of the shortlisting panellists, and attacked Jeremy Corbyn after he endorsed Rothery to become the party’s candidate.
The other shortlisted candidate is a male councillor, 25 years old, from the right of the party.
According to Labour sources, the selection panel for the new shortlist was the same as the one that decided to scrap the previous shortlist and bar the shortlisted women from re-applying, including favourite Anna Rothery, who would have been set to become the first elected black woman mayor if selected. Labour’s regional director was also in attendance.
Labour’s peculiar intervention
Last week, before the new shortlist was published, SKWAWKBOX contacted the north-west figures named above for comment, including the two MPs, who were sent a draft of the article as it stood. No comments were provided by any of those contacted.
However, last Thursday an email was received from Labour’s ‘legal queries’ email account requesting reconsideration of the publication of this article. The full email reads:
We’ve been made aware of an article you intend to publish today relating to the Liverpool Mayoral selection. In it, you make gratuitous innuendos and assertions about various Party members, as well two Labour MPs.
We would request that you reconsider publication of this article.
The Labour Party
SKWAWKBOX wrote back the following day:
Thank you for your very interesting email. Please provide a list of what you consider ‘gratuitous innuendos and assertions’, along with detailed reasons why you consider it so.
I sent both MPs a full draft of the article, so I know the party is well aware of what it says. I await your response by return.
Otherwise, I’ll be making my own decision on publication without regard to your nebulous assertion.
No response has been received by the time of writing, almost a week later.
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