Left Watch

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Will Stoke-on-Trent Central be Labour's next Blaenau Gwent?

Remember how Labour lost Blaenau Gwent, one of its safest seats in the country, at the last general election after a revolt by activists and locals opposed to a favoured candidate being foisted on the constituency by Labour HQ through an all-women shortlist? A Labour majority of over 19,000 was overturned and Peter Law, formerly the Labour Assembly Member for the constituency, was elected.

It now looks like Labour risks losing Stoke-on-Trent Central (notional majority: 9,717) in similar circumstances, where Mark Fisher is retiring at the election.

Last night the TV historian Tristram Hunt was selected to be the Labour candidate at the general election from an (unusually for Labour in safe seats) all-male shortlist of three imposed by Labour HQ. Hunt is an outsider and neither of the others on the shortlist had any local links - and this has caused the revolt within the ranks.

Gary Elsby, constituency secretary of the Stoke-on-Trent Labour Party, announced on Radio 4's World at One today that he will stand as an Independent, in protest at the fact that neither he nor any other local candidate was given the chance to be considered.

He accused the Labour Party's special selections panel of having "their own chosen few people who they want into Parliament because there could be a meltdown in the Labour Party at the higher end after the general election". He added that the selection in Stoke-on-Trent Central had been a "shoo-in for Lord Mandelson's friend" with the aim of boosting David Miliband's support in a future leadership election. 

He said:

“We have not been allowed to compile a longlist, we have not been able to compile a shortlist. We want a view from Stoke-on-Trent. We want our view to go to London, not have their view imposed on us from outside... This is our city and we must defend it from the ambitions of a certain few to carve up these seats and use Stoke-on-Trent of all places as a plaything...  I'm going to stand as an Independent candidate for Labour and give the people of Stoke-on-Trent a real choice."

Hear his interview via the BBC iPlayer, 15 minutes and 40 seconds in (and available for a week)/

Jonathan Isaby