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Eyes Left: Election Special The cream of Starmer’s crop

ANDREW MURRAY gives the lowdown on the Labour rightwingers – selected with zero democratic input – attempting to parachute themselves into seats up and down the country

KEIR STARMER, struggling to justify the racist axing of Faiza Shaheen as the selected Labour candidate for Chingford and Woodford Green in the general election, said that the party wanted only the “highest-quality candidates.”

The implication was that Shaheen, an acknowledged expert on inequality, was substandard. Of course, everyone understands that the real problem was her vocal pro-Palestinian views which attracted the ire of the ineffable Jewish Labour Movement.

But it raises a question — who does meet the quality threshold for Starmer? 

Here are some of the standard-bearers for Labour on July 4. They have two things in common. They are all loyal champions of the party’s right wing, many of them serving on the national executive (NEC) which has just parachuted them into what for many will prove jobs for life.

The second is that absolutely no-one, neither party member nor workers’ organisation, has voted for them to be a Labour candidate. They are purely creatures of the Starmer faction and nothing else.

Many of them would struggle to come first in a one-horse race on their merits. Let’s take a look.

Luke Akehurst in North Durham. A veteran hard-right factionalist, he has also worked as a paid lobbyist for Israel, as director of the We Believe in Israel group.

He has described the United Nations as anti-semitic and posed for a photograph in a shirt declaring himself to be a “zionist shitlord.”  

He was described as “one of the best on the inside” of Labour by Israeli embassy employee Shai Masot when he was covertly filmed describing his political influence operations.

A member of the NEC, since being selected, he has divided his time between trying to delete his Twitter history and avoiding pro-Palestine supporters in the constituency.

James Asser in West Ham and Beckton. A Newham councillor and another NEC member firmly in the Starmer camp, he was actually serving as the committee’s chair when he parachuted himself into an ultra-safe seat.

Alex Barros-Curtis in Cardiff West. Labour’s top legal honcho under Starmer he was at the centre of several controversial decisions, including payouts to former staffers who took part in a Panorama programme attacking the Corbyn leadership and candidate selections in Liverpool.  

Described as “unknown in Wales” he was deeply involved in Owen Smith’s failed leadership challenge to Jeremy Corbyn in 2016.

Torsten Bell in Swansea West. A think-tanker and former Ed Miliband aide again described as having “no real connection to Wales,” he was responsible for the notorious “Edstone” of granite-engraved pledges which finally sank Labour’s 2015 campaign.

Nesil Caliskan in Barking. Replacing the disgraced Darren Rodwell, whose alleged sins, some of which he firmly denies, in the end proved too much even for his political allies, Caliskan is the controversial leader of Enfield council, a post she secured after considerable shenanigans and has since held with a rod of iron. And — surprise, surprise — she is a member of the NEC.

Heather Iqbal in Dewsbury and Batley. A special adviser to Labour’s do-nothing shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves.

Mark Ferguson in Gateshead. A member of the NEC from Unison, where he has worked in the political department. He ran Liz Kendall’s 2015 leadership bid which secured just 4.5 per cent of the vote, which may have put him off contested elections.

Georgia Gould in Queen’s Park and Maida Vale. The long-time leader of the Blairite Camden Council, she is the daughter of New Labour architect and strategist Philip Gould.

Gurinder Singh Josan in Smethwick. A long-standing right-wing factionalist and — another NEC member! He will succeed veteran right-wing trade unionist John Spellar in the seat. On the panel which voted to remove Faiza Shaheen on a trumped-up basis. Unlike most of the others on this list it is at least conceivable that he might have won a democratic selection.

Praful Nagrund in Islington North. A local councillor imposed on the local party to take on Jeremy Corbyn, he has made his money in the private healthcare sector.

Josh Simons in Makerfield. The director of key Starmer faction Labour Together, he was parachuted into the Lancashire constituency despite having insulted the whole of Scotland on TV earlier this year by suggesting people-smuggling gangs should be shipped off there. He later apologised. Described to the Star as temperamentally a “ticking time bomb” he had been called a “fringe” figure by Scottish Labour. No longer.

Shama Tatler in Chingford and Woodford Green. Known as “Tower Block Tatler” from her record of work with private developers in Brent, where she is a councillor, she was parachuted into an area where she has no association to replace Faiza Shaheen. A member of the Jewish Labour Movement, which initiated the moves against Shaheen.

Chris Ward in Brighton Kemptown. A former Starmer aide, he had, according to journalist Owen Jones who knows him well, long dreamt of being a Labour MP in Brighton. Lo and behold, opportunity knocked when serving left MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle was dropped overnight following the mysterious resurrection of previously investigated eight-year old allegations.  

Ward is now within touching distance of turning his dream true — and all without a vote, to which the local party has vigorously objected.

Michael Wheeler in Worsley and Eccles. Usdaw’s political officer and, yes, an NEC member, he served on the panel which axed Faiza Shaheen following the Jewish Labour Movement’s complaints.  

He had his screen off throughout the hearing on Zoom, in contravention of best practice, and did not as much as speak during Shaheen’s hearing.

The above are just a selection. Many of them of course have personal qualities and some may perhaps become diligent constituency representatives.

But they are all the product of a lack of democracy, the abuse of authority and mendacity.

The lack of democracy is evident — their constituency parties were not offered any choice. Even the Tories, facing the same election schedule as Labour, have endeavoured to give local parties some say. 

The imposition of these candidates is not a bug in the system, it is the system. Not for them the messy struggle to convince local members and trade unionists that they are the best candidate.  

Instead, they are parachuted straight into safe seats, in many of which a cheese sandwich with a Labour rosette could traditionally get elected.

The abuse of office is clear too. Six of the above list are members of Labour’s national executive, which axed Shaheen and Russell-Moyle, and has rigged selections up and down the country over the last few years in the Starmerite interest.

Now they are simply giving themselves and each other key jobs with no effective oversight at all.

And the mendacity? Here we must turn to their leader, of course.

“We should end NEC imposition of candidates,” Starmer said in 2020 when running for the party leadership, assuring local parties they would always get a vote. 

Like everything else he promised then, it was a lie.

Eyes Left is normally a fortnightly column on Wednesdays. In the run-up to the election, Andrew will be providing extra analysis and commentary as events unfold, so keep an eye out for more Eyes Left in the days to come.

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