The word ‘unprecedented’ has been flying around a lot in Liverpool - after the Labour Party decided its three previously shortlisted candidates to become city mayor weren’t up to the job.
Acting Mayor Wendy Simon, former Deputy Mayor Ann O’Byrne, and Lord Mayor Anna Rothery had still been campaigning in the hours before the statement dropped.
It says the party is reopening the selection process because it is ‘committed to ensuring members are able to choose the right candidate.’
Previous candidates will not be invited to apply. The Labour Party has spoiled its own ballot paper.
The voting papers had been due to go out to Labour members last week, when the party decided instead to re-interview all the candidates.
ITV News understands the selection panel (made up of regional board and NEC members) had concerns about the fact that all three women are all long-serving councillors, who’ve been part of the Labour group under Joe Anderson. Two of them - Wendy Simon and Ann O’Byrne - served in senior roles in the former mayor’s cabinet.
Mr Anderson stood aside after being arrested as part of a police investigation into bribery and witness intimidation in December 2020. He maintains he is innocent. A Government investigation into whether the council has been delivering ‘best value’ for taxpayers is still ongoing.
Corruption allegations have continued to emerge since the selection battle began, but some in Labour believe the current situation could have been avoided had the party taken longer to assess the fallout from Mr Anderson’s arrest before ‘steaming ahead’ with the process.
Labour at a national level is proud to say that it is ‘under new management’. There’s clearly a hope it will be the same in Liverpool as well.
In Liverpool, that amounts to a break from the Anderson decade. Party sources insist this is all about finding the ‘right candidate’, who can’t be sullied by the outcome of investigations into the past.
But in a city where Jeremy Corbyn still holds a strong appeal, some members are suspicious of Labour under its new leadership, who they perceive to be swooping in and removing their preferred candidate on the left of the party.
Anna Rothery had been endorsed by Jeremy Corbyn himself. Since the announcement, she has vowed to challenge what she calls the ‘undemocratic failure of process’, stating she is ‘firmly rooted in our trade union and community groups’. She wasn’t part of the previous ruling executive on the council.
Away from the internal politics there is huge concern about the image this gives to the electorate about the Labour Party’s competence.
In a city where the council has been under Labour control for a decade, where all of the MPs are from the same party, whoever eventually wins this candidacy remains the favourite to get the job.
They’ll be in charge of a multi-million pound budget and the third biggest city in the North. Yet the selection process will be open for less than 48 hours.
Unsurprisingly, opposition parties are keen to make this their moment - the Green Party calling for a ‘clean hands Cabinet’, while the Liberal Democrats say they are ‘ready to be the new broom which Liverpool so desperately needs to clean up.’
But it is the criticism from within that is all the more stark. One Labour MP said the process has been ‘disgraceful’ and smacks of ‘utter incompetence’. And Labour MPs from other parts of the region are concerned about the reputational damage in places where the election fights might be tougher.
As for what this says about the party’s track record in Liverpool, some of the comments given to ITV News by Labour sources are so damning we aren’t able to publish them.
The election in May is an opportunity for a fresh start, but the selection process shows how messy that can be. One Labour source said they wouldn’t wish the job on their worst enemy.