Labour candidate applications reopen in safe seat after front-runner suspended

Labour has reopened candidate applications for a safe London seat after a front-runner was suspended by the party hours before a selection decision was due to be made.

Jas Athwal, who was running to stand in Ilford South, said “untrue allegations” were made against him in August, but he was only advised that he had been suspended on Friday night.

Party members were due to select their preferred candidate at a meeting on Saturday.

A Labour source denied accusations of a “stitch up”, saying “extremely serious allegations” had been made against Mr Athwal, the leader of Redbridge Council, and the timing had “nothing to do” with the selection process.

The source said: “Anyone claiming this is a stitch up is dismissing extremely serious allegations against this individual.

“This decision was taken by a panel following a report from an independent investigator from a specialist organisation. The case was anonymised so the panel did not know who the individual was.

“The timing has nothing to do with the selection process. Yesterday was the earliest opportunity for the case to be reviewed following the independent investigator’s report.”

Mr Athwal said in a statement posted on his Facebook page: “Untrue allegations were made against me on 13 August. I responded in detail to the Labour Party on 20th August, with supporting evidence including witness statements, proving the allegations were untrue.

“No reply was received from the Labour Party. Nothing was heard until late yesterday, my solicitor was emailed at 11pm, advising that I was suspended from the Labour Party.

“This is not a fair process. It is contrary to natural justice. All I seek is a fair hearing and due process.

“The Labour Party has had every opportunity to deal with this matter properly and fairly in the past seven weeks and chose only to act late yesterday by suspending me when I have no time to challenge that decision. This is why people are so upset.”

Labour MP for Ilford North Wes Streeting thanked those who had raised objections to what he described as an “undemocratic stitch up” in his neighbouring constituency.

He tweeted: “Members have been able to vote to reopen the process. A victory for members against the machine!”

A Labour Party spokesman said: “NEC officers have decided to reopen the applications to allow for other candidates to put their names forward.

“The meeting supported this course of action.

“The Labour Party takes all complaints extremely seriously, which are investigated and any appropriate disciplinary action taken in line with the party’s rules and procedures.

“We can’t comment on individual cases.”

Ilford South has been held by Mike Gapes since 1992, but he quit Labour earlier this year and is now a member of the Independent Group for Change.

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