Labour mayoral hopefuls complain selection is ‘blatantly rigged’
Labour has been accused of "rigging" the process of choosing their next London mayoral candidate, after a rushed timetable for the selection was announced.
One leading potential candidate told Politics.co.uk that the process had been "blatantly rigged" by the party.
"The timetable is expressly designed to stop the membership having a proper debate and scrutinising the candidates," Diane Abbott told Politics.co.uk
"It's ridiculously short. Blatantly rigged."
Labour had promised a 'revolutionary' new open process for selecting their candidate, including a public primary.
However, the primary will now take place over a short period and be restricted to fee-paying registered supporters, alongside current Labour members and trade union affiliates.
Nominations for Labour's London mayoral candidate will open on May 18th – within days of the general election – with the first hustings taking place just a month later on June 20th.
The whole process will be wrapped up by the end of July, two months earlier than previous mayoral candidate selections.
"I was surprised and shocked that the NEC [National Executive Committee] settled on that dateline," leading candidate David Lammy said last week.
"My experience for the general election is that there's huge deflation at the end of it.
"People are knackered, they're tired. they've worked really hard. Many party members go on holiday they want a breather."
The rushed process means Labour are now facing accusations of trying to "stitch up" the selection for the benefit of one leading candidate or candidates.
Several prospective candidates have spoken privately of their dissatisfaction over the whole process.
There is particular disquiet about the role of shadow London minister and close Miliband ally Sadiq Khan.
Khan is a leading member on Labour's ruling council the NEC, which decided on the short timetable for the selection.
There is no suggestion that Khan was personally involved in limiting the selection period.
However, Khan's closeness to Miliband has caused persistent complaints.
One Labour source told Politics.co.uk that there was now a "smell hanging over the selection."
"Questions need to be asked about how this was decided on and why, especially if Khan does end up being a candidate," they added.
Khan regularly sends emails to all London members as part of his London brief. Other potential candidates have no similar access to membership lists.
David Lammy, one of only two candidates to officially announce their candidacy alongside Christian Wolmar, was not even told about the final details of the selection process, having to read about them later on Labourlist.
Despite officially denying plans to stand, friends of Khan say he is almost certain to announce his candidacy next May.
However, the shadow justice secretary is currently lagging behind his rival Tessa Jowell according to several opinion polls commissioned by the Evening Standard.
The YouGov polls show Jowell clearly ahead both among Labour supporters and supporters from other parties.
Bookmakers also make her favourite to be next London mayor on 3/1, ahead of Khan on 5/1.
Supporters of Jowell believe that only she has the ability to win over crucial swing voters from other parties.
"We need a candidate who has cross-party appeal and can win over second preferences," one senior figure in the London Labour party told Politics.co.uk.
"It would be a mistake to select a candidate who couldn't do that," they added.
However, Khan's supporters remain confident that he will win the selection and the mayoralty, believing that Jowell has pitched herself too far to the right to win.
"Tessa has made a big mistake by allying herself so closely to Progress and the right of the party," one friend of Khan's told Politics.co.uk.
"Some of the things she's said on the mansion tax and other issues have been a big mistake. If she had come out and pitched herself more to the left then she could have won, but we're confident Sadiq can beat her now."
Labour's candidate will be selected through an electoral college consisting of three different types of voters – Labour members, trade union affiliates and registered supporters who will have to pay a fee of £3 to vote.
A fee of up to £10 had originally been proposed, but was reduced after candidates complained that the process was being "stitched up".
A Labour spokesperson today denied there had been any attempt to rig the process.
"The Labour Party in consultation with the London Regional Board has agreed a selection timetable which is rigorous and fair to all candidates," they said.
"For the first time, all Londoners on the electoral register will be able to choose Labour’s candidate for London mayor, not just Labour members.”
Complaints of "stitch-ups" have a long history in the London Labour party. Former mayor Ken Livingstone was famously prevented from standing as Labour's candidate for mayor in 2000 after a personal intervention from Tony Blair.
Livingstone then stood and won as an independent with his replacement, Blair ally Frank Dobson, coming in a poor third.
In 2004, Labour selected London Assembly member Nicky Gavron as their candidate, only for her to be later replaced by Livingstone after Blair negotiated his return to Labour.
Livingstone himself was later accused of a stitch-up in 2012 after the selection process for Labour's mayoral candidate was timed to coincide with the Labour leadership election.
Livingstone won the selection easily, but went on to lose for the second time to current mayor Boris Johnson.
The Conservatives have yet to announce their process for selecting a mayoral candidate.
In 2007 all Londoners were able to take part in an open phone-in primary to choose the Tory candidate.
However, despite calls costing just £1.50, only 20,000 Londoners took part in the vote which selected Johnson.
No candidates have officially announced their intention to stand for the Tories. However, current TfL board member and businessman Michael Liebreich has expressed an interest in standing.
Leading backbencher Zac Goldsmith has also been widely touted as a potential candidate for the race, but has so far insisted he wants to remain as an MP.