Fresh Selection Row As Corbyn Ally 'Parachuted' In To Vaz's Seat

(Photo: EMPICS Entertainment)

Jeremy Corbyn is facing a fresh selection row after Labour picked one of his key allies to replace Keith Vaz in a normally safe seat.

Claudia Webbe, an Islington councillor and long-time friend of Corbyn, was selected by a party panel on Tuesday to contest Leicester East.

The four-strong panel included two members of the ruling National Executive Committee (NEC), the ruling body on which Webbe has sat since 2016.

Webbe was born and raised in Leicester, but critics swiftly warned that the party was taking a huge risk in not selecting a candidate who was representative of the Asian population.

Nearly half of the residents of Leicester East, which had a massive 22,000 Labour majority in 2017, are from an Asian background.

A third of them are Hindu by religion and Labour is facing a major challenge from a Tory candidate, Bhupen Dave, who has been exploiting a recent party conference motion that denounced India’s conduct in Kashmir.

Dave is a former Labour deputy council leader who defected to the Conservatives and has campaigned hard in recent weeks in Hindu temples in the city.

“Everyone was expecting a Hindu Labour candidate. There is local astonishment at the stupidity and ignorance of the NEC,” one former MP told HuffPost UK.

“It’s going to be chaos. The Kashmir stuff is already causing huge anger. This is a gift to the Tory candidate, he’s very well known and serious and they’ve played right into his hands.”

Some local Unite trade unionists expressed their dismay too, claiming Webbe had been ‘parachuted’ in from London.

And one local activist complained that the decision laid bare ‘nepotism’ and was “a slap in the face for the Indian community in Leicester and across Britain.

Leicester East last went Tory in 1983, when the SDP split the Labour vote. Vaz became its MP four years later.

Labour’s chair Ian Lavery has written a letter distancing the party from its recent conference vote, as other MPs warned of “foreign interference” by Indian nationalists in the general election.

Other internal party critics also highlighted Webbe’s record on anti-Semitism, pointing to a tweet from 2018 when she defended Corbyn by saying the “combined machinery of state, political & mainstream elite” were pushing “false allegations & pretend claims”.

Webbe, who staunchly defended Ken Livingstone when she worked with him as Mayor of London, has insisted there is no place for anti-Semitism in Labour.

She said this year that as chair of the disputes panel since July 2018, she has “worked tirelessly to develop fair and efficient processes”.

In a statement issued through the party, she said: “I feel honoured to have been selected as the Labour candidate for Leicester East and I will seek to build on the immense contribution Keith Vaz made during his 32 years as an MP for the people of Leicester East.

“Leicester is where I was born and grew up. The city is rich in its diversity and potential but it has suffered as a result of Conservative cuts to our vital services.”

In an interview with HuffPost after the 2017 election, she said: “I accept theoretically we didn’t win. But in a way we won an awareness. We won the opportunity for our manifesto to be heard.

“Jeremy, in a sense, didn’t lose, the Labour party didn’t lose. And the Conservatives didn’t win.”

Her supporters point to her long record in local government in London and her role in helping the police draft policy on gun crime.

Shadow cabinet minister Richard Burgon praised her last year.

Last month, Vaz was suspended from parliament for six months after the publication of a three-year investigation into a late night encounter with male escorts.

The Committee on Standards concluded he had damaged the reputation of the Commons by expressing a willingness to buy Class A drugs for others to use.

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.