Labour factionalism row after mayor blocked ‘over Ken Loach discussion’

Labour is embroiled in a fresh “factionalism” row after a left-wing regional mayor had his candidacy blocked in a decision linked to an onstage appearance with director Ken Loach.

Jamie Driscoll was barred from standing to be the first North East mayor because he declined to apologise for speaking at an event with the expelled Labour member, a senior party source told the PA news agency.

The serving North of Tyne mayor said on Friday that he had been “barred” from running for the new mayoral authority without explanation.

Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell blamed “out of control” factionalism in Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party for the decision to exclude the supporter of former leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Mr Driscoll, described as the “last Corbynista in power”, was omitted from a longlist including rival Northumbria police and crime commissioner Kim McGuinness.

Ex-MEP Paul Brannen and Newcastle city councillor Nicu Ion also feature.

The Labour source said Mr Driscoll’s appearance at the event with Mr Loach and “then refusing to apologise” is “clearly incompatible with our promise to have zero tolerance of antisemitism”.

Mr Driscoll spoke with Mr Loach at Newcastle’s Live Theatre in March in an event the Jewish Labour Movement called “hugely upsetting” for the Jewish community.

Mr Loach, celebrated for films including I, Daniel Blake, was expelled from Labour in 2021 during what he called a “purge” of Corbyn allies.

Labour has never confirmed why Mr Loach was kicked out of the party, but it came amid allegations of playing down antisemitism.

The director had claimed “exaggerated or false charges” of anti-Jewish racism had coincided with Mr Corbyn’s leadership, adding: “Discredit his supporters and you weaken his leadership.”

Mr Driscoll has said he decided to share the platform with the director because he has chosen the North East for film locations, adding that “the audience loved it”.

Mr McDonnell said omitting Mr Driscoll from the list despite him being “widely credited with doing a great job” was “staggering news”.

“To refuse to allow a serving mayor onto even a selection long list demonstrates that factionalism in the party is completely out of control,” he said.

“There can be no other motive for excluding him.”

The decision came in the wake of Sir Keir blocking Mr Corbyn from standing for the party in Islington North at the next general election.

Labour said the party holds “candidates to a very high standard”.

“During this process, some applicants did not meet the threshold required to proceed to the longlist stage.

“We do not comment on individual applications,” a statement said.

“Local members now have a fantastic longlist of candidates from which they will choose the Labour Party’s candidate to be the very first North East mayor.”

Senior Conservatives were among those backing Mr Driscoll.

Former levelling-up secretary Simon Clarke said he feels “very sorry” for the mayor he described as “knowledgeable, passionate about the NE and refreshingly non-partisan”.

Having worked with him as vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi said Mr Driscoll “was always professional and didn’t play politics, just wanted to protect the people he represents”.

“Sorry to hear this Jamie. You are a good man. Stay strong,” the former chancellor added.