Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram have accused the Labour party of being undemocratic, opaque and unfair after a fellow Labour mayor was blocked from standing for election.
They demanded Jamie Driscoll – often described “the last Corbynista in power” since becoming the first mayor for North of Tyne in 2019 – be allowed to appeal against the decision to keep him off the longlist to be Labour’s mayoral candidate for the new north-east region.
Their intervention came after the trade union Unite said Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) had made a “major error” in blocking Driscoll’s candidacy, which it said was motivated by his support for the renationalisation of utilities.
Driscoll, a black belt in jiu-jitsu who ditched his car as part of a personal commitment to carbon reduction, told the Guardian he was not given any reason for being blocked from standing, but suspected it was “because I would have won” and because “my political positions have fallen out of favour with the current party leadership”.
He cited his support for a wealth tax and common ownership of utilities – a Labour party policy under Jeremy Corbyn, which has been ditched by Keir Starmer. Like Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, Driscoll also supports proportional representation, another departure from national Labour party policy.
On Sunday, Burnham and Rotheram, the mayor of the Liverpool city region, wrote to Johanna Baxter, the NEC chief executive, saying: “Whilst we appreciate the NEC’s important role in upholding standards within the party, and rooting out any form of antisemitism, racism and discrimination, it also has a responsibility to ensure decisions are democratic, transparent and fair. To exclude a sitting mayor from a selection process with no right of appeal appears to us to be none of those things.”
They praised his “constructive, non-partisan approach”, adding: “At the very least, we believe Jamie Driscoll should be entitled to a process of appeal with the ability to put his case to an NEC panel.”
In an interview with Times Radio on Sunday, Jonathan Reynolds, the shadow business secretary, suggested Driscoll’s candidacy had been blocked because he had taken part in an event with the film director Ken Loach, who was expelled from the party in 2021.
Reynolds said: “Where a person has shared a platform with someone who themselves has been expelled from the Labour party because of their position on antisemitism, for opposing the necessary and essential action the Labour party has taken under Keir Starmer to correct the shocking position we were in on antisemitism, that would preclude them from going forward as a Labour candidate unless they could have a good account of why that significant event has taken place.”
Driscoll interviewed Loach at the Live Theatre in Newcastle upon Tyne in March, and said the two discussed the films he had made in the north-east, including I, Daniel Blake and Sorry We Missed You.
Asked whether he thought Loach was antisemitic, Driscoll said there was “a lot of smoke but very little fire” but acknowledged that a lot of people did not like the director’s views on Israel and Palestine.
Driscoll said it was “Orwellian language” to suggest that talking to a controversial figure automatically meant you shared their views. “I shared a platform with [Conservative Tees Valley mayor] Ben Houchen the other week. Does that make me a Tory?” he said.
He contrasted his own treatment with that of Christian Wakeford, the MP for Bury South, who defected from the Conservatives last year “and was welcomed with open arms by the Labour party, despite voting for many terrible Tory policies”.
He added: “Labour is shooting itself in the foot here. To get elected, the Labour party needs to prove economic competence. In me, they have a Labour mayor who has created 4,800 jobs … What’s the worst that could have happened? I could have repeated this success on a wider scale.”
Sharon Graham, the general secretary of the Unite union, also criticised the move to block Driscoll’s candidacy, saying: “What is emerging from Labour is a pattern of behaviour to literally take out any MP or mayor who backs key manifesto demands on the renationalisation of energy, action on rampant profiteering and investment in UK steel.
“If Labour remains intent on only selecting nodding heads, then it will continue to make serious policy mistakes. These actions by Labour are a major mistake and have serious consequences.”
In December last year, Driscoll signed a devolution deal to create a new north-east mayoral combined authority, which would swallow up his North of Tyne patch.
Starmer’s preferred candidate for the £100,000-a-year mayoral role is widely viewed as Kim McGuinness, the police and crime commissioner for Northumberland. Sharon Hodgson, Starmer’s parliamentary private secretary until March, attended McGuinness’s campaign launch on Saturday, tweeting she would be “outstanding as the first mayor for the north east on all aspects!”
The Labour party would not comment on why Driscoll had been blocked from standing, but said it held “candidates to a very high standard” and “some applicants did not meet the threshold required to proceed to the longlist stage”.
A party source said: “Holding events with someone kicked out of the Labour party for antisemitism and then refusing to apologise is clearly incompatible with our promise of zero tolerance of antisemitism. We’ll be moving forward with excellent Labour candidates for the new north-east mayoralty.”2023-06-04T16:01:35Z dg43tfdfdgfd