Interim mayor Wendy Simon, former deputy mayor Ann O’Byrne, and lord mayor Anna Rothery have been barred from standing in the race to replace Joe Anderson as the party’s mayoral candidate, sparking fury and confusion in the city.
The Labour party announced on Tuesday it was restarting the process of selecting a candidate and that the three-women shortlist had been scrapped, but it gave no reason for the decision.
A party spokesperson said: “After careful consideration, Labour is reopening the selection for Liverpool mayor. We are committed to ensuring members are able to choose the right candidate to stand up against the Conservatives, lead Liverpool out of the coronavirus crisis and fight for the resources that the city desperately needs.”
Ballots with an alternative list of candidates will be sent to Liverpool Labour party members from 8 March, the statement added.
Theories about why the women have been removed from consideration have circulated online since the announcement, and several commentators have suggested the process was restarted to prevent socialist-leaning Rothery winning.
Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott tweeted: “Faced with the possibility of a black, female socialist winning, [Labour] party bureaucrats have scrapped the selection process and barred Anna from standing. Appalling abuse of party democracy.”
Meanwhile, former shadow chancellor John McDonnell said: “This fiasco leaves the Labour bureaucracy wide open to charges of sheer incompetence or a political stitch-up or both. If there was a problem with any candidate it should have been dealt with earlier, or is the problem the socialism of a possible winner?”
In a statement, Anna Rothery slammed the handling of the election process as “chaotic”. Rothery, whose campaign was backed by former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the Unite union, added: “Instead of a positive, unifying campaign for our city, we are faced with what looks like an undemocratic failure of process.
“I hope party HQ sees the outrage its decision has caused and the harm it is doing to our city and changes course. If the decision stands, then I will be left with no choice but to challenge it legally.”
Meanwhile, O’Byrne, who stepped down as deputy mayor in 2018, described Tuesday as a “tough day for the Labour movement in Liverpool”, but sent a rallying cry to girls and women thinking about getting involved in politics.
“Do not let this moment stop you,” she said. “Stand for election, put yourself forward, raise your voice and know that there are other women who will be there to take you by the hand, pull you up and stand in solidarity with you.”
Wendy Simon, who took over as mayor after Joe Anderson was arrested in December, is yet to release a statement but Place North West has contacted her for comment.
Following Anderson’s arrest as part of Merseyside Police’s ongoing corruption investigation last year, the Government ordered an inquiry into procurement practices at Liverpool City Council. The results of the inquiry are expected at the end of March.
The police investigation, named Operation Aloft, is probing allegations of corruption relating to development projects in the city.
Anderson denies any wrongdoing but stood down from the Labour Party and confirmed that he would not stand for re-election as the city’s mayor, prompting the need for the party to find a new candidate to put forward in the election.
The Merseyside Police investigation, coupled with the ongoing mayoral fiasco, has led some commentators to question whether the people of Liverpool, a Labour stronghold, may change their political allegiance and vote for a different party.
Howard Beckett, Unite’s assistant general secretary for politics and legal, said: “Whatever message Labour is trying to send to the people of Liverpool, they can expect to get one back.”