Exclusive: McDonnell 'Furious' After Ex-Corbyn Aide Simon Fletcher Rejected For Safe Seat

Rachel Wearmouth

A Labour Party rift between John McDonnell and party chiefs has deepened amid claims a controversial selection battle was “fixed”. 

Kate Osborne, a Unite official said to be favoured by digital campaigns chief Karie Murphy, has been imposed as candidate for the safe seat of Jarrow.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell

HuffPost UK understands Jeremy Corbyn and shadow chancellor McDonnell wanted ex-political advisor Simon Fletcher on the shortlist but it is thought they were overruled by Murphy and general secretary Jennie Formby. 

Officials decided from a shortlist of three, but one source told HuffPost UK it was a panel “loaded” with Unite officials likely to support Osborne. 

Osborne came under fire on Friday after it emerged that in 2017 she posted an image of Theresa May at gunpoint. 

 

Kate Osborne

Murphy and Formby are said to be risking a split amid claims they “simply ignored” McDonnell in a bid to “ram through” Osborne’s selection. 

Rival unions to the UK’s most powerful union, Unite, are also believed to be unhappy after Mark Ferguson, a long-standing Unison activist from Gateshead, was also excluded from the race. 

Osborne revealed on Twitter that she had been selected to contest the seat, which in 2017 saw Labour record a 17,263 majority. 

The battle is thought to have reignited a dispute on Labour’s left, which burst open during Brexit policy rows, over how the party is managed. 

Labour sources have told HuffPost UK that McDonnell, who is believed to have been behind top-level moves to move Murphy, is said to be “absolutely furious”. 

Karie and Jennie have have simply ignored the politicians. The unexpected collateral of this is that McDonnell is absolutely furious and it has reinforced his massive dissatisfaction with the party’s operation.Labour source

Fletcher, Corbyn’s chief of staff before Murphy, now lives in Gateshead with his partner Marie Nixon, a former member of Sunderland’s Kenickie band.

He ran Corbyn and Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard’s and Corbyn’s successful leadership campaigns and held the role of director of campaigns and planning. He has also worked for former leader Ed Miliband and was Ken Livinstone’s chief of staff during his time as London Mayor. 

It is also understood members of Jarrow Constituency Labour Party (CLP) are annoyed that Tracey Dixon, deputy leader of the local South Tyneside Council and Margaret Melling, also a local councillor, applied and were rejected. 

The panel, described as a “stitch-up” is understood to have included Unite’s Jayne Taylor, Unite’s Mike Routledge and Aslef’s Mick Whelan, which is thought to give Osborne a clear advantage. 

Simon Fletcher

The seat was previously held by Stephen Hepburn, but he was barred from being Jarrow’s candidate after HuffPost UK revealed he was subject to a sexual harassment complaint. 

Osborne was forced to apologise on Friday after the post she shared about May was made public. 

Almost 40 ex-MPs fighting for re-election wrote to Formby and party chiefs to ask she be rejected as a candidate, while shadow education secretary Angela Rayner called the posts “totally unacceptable”. 

The letter read: “The impact of such images are clear - they incite intimidation and violence against female politicians.” 

One North East Labour source said Fletcher would have been a popular choice with other candidates in the region, adding: “It’s particularly dismaying when a good left candidate of high calibre isn’t put on the shortlist for no good reason, and to see such strong regional candidates denied even an interview.” 

A Labour source close to the leadership said: “There is an almighty stink going on at the top of the party over Jarrow. 

“Karie and Jennie have have simply ignored the politicians. The unexpected collateral of this is that McDonnell is absolutely furious and it has reinforced his massive dissatisfaction with the party’s operation. 

The image Kate Osborne shared on Facebook during the 2017 election campaign, which recently emerged, sparked a complaint by almost 40 female candidates. 

“As further collateral it has done additional damage to the relationship with Unison who wanted Mark Ferguson to get a shot at it.” 

Another Labour source told HuffPost UK that Osborne has lived in the North East for 30 years, and referring to Hepburn’s suspension, added: “Given the circumstances in which this seat became available, it’s right that Labour’s candidate is a woman.

“The panel’s decision was unanimous and the panel included CLP and regional representation, which has nothing to do with Unite. Kate worked for Royal Mail for twenty five years, she’s a councillor and she’s self-identifying LGBT+ woman and an active campaigner for LGBT+ rights.

“She deleted the parody image of Theresa May two years ago as soon as she was made aware of the offence it had caused.”

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