One of Labour’s shortlisted candidates to become Mayor of Liverpool has warned the party ‘doesn’t have a divine right to rule’ in the city - amid continuing unhappiness among some members and MPs about the fallout from the selection process in the city.
Anthony Lavelle told ITV Granada that if the party doesn’t unite it faces the prospect of losing the May election, with the saga causing ‘a lot of reputational damage to the party in this city’.
Joe Anderson, who had led Liverpool City Council for a decade, stepped aside after being arrested as part of a police investigation into bribery and witness intimidation in December 2020. He has been released on bail and maintains he is innocent.
In the following weeks the Labour Party announced a shortlist of three female candidates, who were all later reinterviewed and deselected.
Following a 48-hour application window and a re-run of the shortlisting process, councillors Anthony Lavelle and Joanne Anderson were announced as the new Labour candidates.
But some Labour MPs have written to Keir Starmer saying they have ‘serious concerns’ about the way the process has been handled.
Lord Mayor Anna Rothery took the party to the High Court, but lost her case and was ordered to pay £65,000 in legal costs.
She went on to release a statement saying it is ‘disappointing’ that there won’t be a ‘truly Socialist candidate’ on the ballot paper for members to choose.
Jon Tonge, professor of politics at Liverpool University, says the tension is in part caused by a divide between the national Labour party and Labour in Liverpool.
He adds: “I think nationally Labour is quite wary of Labour in Liverpool because they see it as some sort of left wing citadel.
"So there are political tensions, local versus central tensions, and there are individual tensions between some who sit on the city council. It’s a pretty lethal cocktail.”
On social media, both Anthony and Joanne have been subject to abuse for putting themselves forward, with one councillor saying applying for the role at this stage is ‘like crossing a picket line’.
They acknowledge the selection process in the aftermath of Mayor Anderson’s arrest has been ‘difficult’, saying the party now needs to ‘rebuild trust’ among the electorate.
Labour hasn’t commented on why the shortlist was changed at the last minute.
A party statement says: “Labour members in Liverpool have the choice between two excellent candidates who are both rooted in their communities and have outstanding campaigning and organisational skills.
"They offer the city a new leadership, which is proud of its strong values and diverse communities."
Ballots start going out to Labour members this week.