A rift has widened within the Labour party over the selection of its local councillors, after the Momentum chief Jon Lansman called for a rerun of every candidate selection in London, claiming that sitting Jeremy Corbyn supporters were excluded from shortlists “for no good reason”.
Lansman, 60, the founder of Momentum, provoked anger after he signed an online petition by the Ealing branch of the grassroots group and promoted it on Facebook.
The petition, which has more than 580 signatures, said “Labour party members across London have significant and serious concerns regarding the fairness, inclusivity, transparency and therefore validity” of recent selection processes. It demanded that potential candidates excluded from selection “on spurious grounds” be reinterviewed and reassessed for suitability for selection.
Lansman said he signed the petition “because I support free and open selection processes where people aren’t excluded because they support Corbyn or oppose a particular policy, and to make sure the membership get a choice in who they select to represent them”.
In local council selections, appointed selections committees decide which candidates local members get to choose from. “The problem across London is that many of these committees have decided to exclude sitting Corbyn supporting councillors from shortlists for no good reason,” Lansman said.
“In Redbridge the selections committee decided that Barbara White – a sitting councillor of many years, a former mayor and a Corbyn supporter – should be excluded from the shortlist.
“The reason they gave is because she didn’t attend enough branch meetings while she was receiving treatment for a serious illness. Some have managed to challenge and overturn these undemocratic rulings, such as Raj Gill in Dagenham, but many have not.”
White, who is battling cancer, said she is “seriously considering” legal action against the Labour party over unfair treatment.
She said she was forced to miss some meetings due to her illness but felt able to carry on representing her constituents. “If somebody has cancer and is undergoing treatment that should be understood, in fact they should have had a duty of care towards me, but nobody made any adjustments for me.
“The last thing I ever wanted to do was take the Labour party on,” she said. “I’ve been a very active member for well over 40 years, it’s been my family, my life, my everything, but to be treated this way is making me very upset.
“My overall attendance report was 79%, which was the same as the chief whip’s.”
Another councillor in Redbridge is also planning legal action.
Under current rules, council candidates need to have been a Labour member for at least 12 months to be eligible to stand. Leftwingers in the party want this reduced to six months to allow for newer supporters of Corbyn to stand.
But both the left and right of the party have claimed that their candidates were being blocked, with reports last week that Momentum activists were mounting an “aggressive purge” of centrist councillors. In Haringey, north London, where the local party has come under scrutiny over its plans to privatise vast amounts of public property, about 10 Labour councillors decided to stand down.
On Saturday, the former deputy leader Roy Hattersley said Labour was facing the biggest crisis in its history due to the so-called “purge”.
On Tuesday, Matt Pound, the national organiser for the centrist group Labour First, said Lansman was “prepared to jeopardise Labour’s electoral prospects in the capital simply to get a few more of his Momentum acolytes selected as council candidates”.
Richard Angell, director of the centrist Labour pressure group Progress, said: “Jon Lansman only seems to support party democracy when it goes his way. Rather than throwing the London Labour 2018 into chaos he should be focused on making gains and winning for Labour.”
But a Momentum source said that to describe thousands of new members getting involved at the local level and selecting candidates as an “an aggressive purge” was “a new level of hyperbole”.
“Empowering and enfranchising new, often younger members who felt alienated by the Labour party of the past can only be a good thing, and we’re at a genuinely exciting point where a new, member-led, vibrant Labour party is beginning to emerge,” the source said.
“It’s clear Labour members and the general public – with who Labour is polling 8 points ahead – don’t want to see a return to the Blair years, and I wish those on the right of the party would find something more productive to do than insulting the membership and briefing red scare stories to certain parts of the press.”
Lansman, who is standing for a place on Labour’s national executive committee, emphasised that he signed the petition in a personal capacity and it did not reflect the position of Momentum nationally.