Labour's candidate uncertainty overshadows campaign as Starmer accused of purge

Updated

Labour’s General Election campaign has been overshadowed by internal chaos as Sir Keir Starmer was accused of trying to purge the party’s left.

Questions about whether Diane Abbott will be barred from standing again remain as the party suspended one candidate and declined to endorse another.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer insisted no decision has yet been taken about whether Ms Abbott – who in 1987 became the first black woman elected to Parliament – would be allowed to defend her seat.

Meanwhile, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who was MP for Brighton Kemptown, said he has been suspended by Labour over what he called a “vexatious and politically motivated complaint” against him, and that he cannot stand under the Labour banner at the election.

And the PA news agency understands that Faiza Shaheen has not been endorsed to be the Labour candidate for Chingford & Woodford Green in north-east London after she allegedly liked a series of posts on X that downplayed antisemitism accusations.

All three are on the left of the party.

Former party leader Jeremy Corbyn, speaking at a rally to launch his own independent election campaign in north London on Wednesday, said he was “disturbed” by the way Ms Abbott has been treated.

Asked whether he believed Sir Keir was trying to purge the left of the Labour Party, he said: “It looks like it.”

Ms Shaheen told BBC Newsnight that she had “thought” she was the Labour candidate for the constituency but got an email on Wednesday evening that she said claimed she would “frustrate Labour’s purpose”.

She said that “everyone said I was the one socialist that was running, you know, it was a surprise that I wasn’t blocked earlier, everyone knows that”.

Ms Abbott told a crowd who came out to support her outside Hackney Town Hall, in her Hackney North and Stoke Newington seat, that Labour want her “excluded”.

She promised she would be the MP for the constituency “as long as it is possible”.

Backbencher Mr Russell-Moyle said he was “gutted” after receiving an “administrative suspension letter” and being told he could not stand as a Labour candidate.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle suspension
Lloyd Russell-Moyle said he has been suspended by the Labour Party (Yui Mok/PA)

In a statement sent to the PA news agency, he said: “Someone (who remains anonymous to me) has made what I believe to be a vexatious and politically motivated complaint about my behaviour eight years ago. This is a false allegation that I dispute totally and I believe it was designed to disrupt this election.

“There isn’t enough time to defend myself as these processes within the party take too long, so the party have told me that I will not be eligible to be a candidate at the next election.”

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints extremely seriously and they are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures, and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken.”

Ms Abbott had the Labour whip suspended in April 2023 pending an investigation after she suggested Jewish, Irish and Traveller people experience prejudice but not racism.

The whip was restored on Tuesday but Ms Abbott said she was “dismayed” by reports that she had been barred as a candidate.

Sir Keir however told reporters: “The process that we were going through ended with the restoration of the whip the other day, so she’s a member of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and no decision has been taken barring her.”

The decision on whether she can stand will ultimately be taken by Labour’s ruling national executive committee (NEC).

Parliament was dissolved as of 00.01 on Thursday, meaning every House of Commons seat has become vacant and all MPs have stopped representing their constituencies.

Parties must nominate their General Election candidates by June 7.

Labour former frontbencher Jess Phillips and six unions affiliated with Labour – Aslef, TSSA, Unite, NUM, CWU and FBU – were among those who called for Ms Abbott to be allowed to stand.

On Thursday, Sir Keir heads to Wales, where he will appear alongside Vaughan Gething.

Mr Gething is due to face a confidence vote in the Welsh Senedd on June 5 after a series of rows, including over donations to his leadership campaign.

In other developments:

-Rishi Sunak told The Times that a vote for the Tories is a vote for cuts to interest rates

-Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper is pledging to boost neighbourhood policing and said she would run a “hands-on Home Office”

-The Liberal Democrats said they want to treble taxes for search engines and social media firms to fund putting a mental health professional in every primary and secondary school

-The Green Party is launching its campaign in Bristol

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