The huge Labour general election row brewing in Wales which has left people furious

-Credit: (Image: Resolution Foundation)
-Credit: (Image: Resolution Foundation)

Labour can now boast of having a candidate standing in every one of Wales' 32 constituencies for the general election on July 4. But the way the party has reached that decision has taken over any excitement over hitting the target.

As the election was called by Rishi Sunak on May 22, there was one gap on Labour's list - Swansea West. That's because the incumbent, Geraint Davies, was suspended from the party, pending an investigation into claims he had harassed staff. He had served for Labour in the constituency since 2010.

Then, last Tuesday, a panel to decide what to do in Swansea West met to shortlist candidates, with a decision expected on Wednesday. But Mr Davies announced via a statement on X that he would not stand again, because there was not time for a fair conclusion to any investigation into his alleged conduct. That freed the path, and all the noises from Welsh Labour were that Rob Stewart, the Swansea council leader, would get the nod.

But then another seat became available too when Kevin Brennan, who has been Cardiff West MP for 23 years, announced he too was standing down. Labour now had two spots to fill with the calendar days to the election ticking away. In Cardiff West, candidates like the former council cabinet member Ramesh Patel, the office manager to Mark Drakeford MS and Mr Brennan, put his name in the hat. Jen Burke, a current cabinet member in Cardiff, did too.

But then at 2pm on Friday, May 31, Welsh Labour sent a press release out announcing the "final two candidates completing Labour's team for change". They said that an "expedited decision" was made "by a panel comprised of Welsh Labour’s Welsh Executive Committee and representatives from the local Labour parties".

It named Torsten Bell as the Swansea West candidate and Alex Barros-Curtis as the Cardiff West candidate. Neither have connections to Wales. That is something opposition candidates always try to make a point of telling voters whenever someone has either moved to a constituency recently, or as we believe in these cases, lives hours away.

The reaction from its members to the selection of two people with no connection to London has prompted real rage amongst members. "Why is the need to put candidates who have absolutely no clue what's the life of people living in those areas. London think-tank bloke for Welsh people, great!" wrote one, in response to Labour's announcement about Mr Bell. "Does he have any connection to Swansea West, or even South Wales? Were there no local candidates? This stinks," another said. "I thought Starmer promised to end imposing candidates on constituencies. What happened there?" said a third.

About Mr Barros-Curtis, responses to Labour's selection announcement were equally as plentiful with one quipping: "'Selected' is doing some heavy lifting here" "What does he know about our constituency exactly?" another asked. And another asking: "Another parachuted non Welsh, non local candidate. Labour are treating Wales with utter disrespect and contempt".

The infamous Edstone election gimmick was Mr Bell's campaign idea -Credit:PA
The infamous Edstone election gimmick was Mr Bell's campaign idea -Credit:PA

It allows a free hit to political rivals. The Swansea West Lib Dem candidate has managed, offering Mr Bell a tour of his new constituency via X.

"Congrats on your selection as Labour's #SwanseaWest candidate. I know you’re not from Swansea so I’d be willing to show you around our amazing city. Reply or DM and we’ll set up. I’ll even buy you a Joe's. Am looking forward to a fair fight. Good luck."

The two appointments, to seats which barring a miracle Labour will win hands down, has angered local campaigners and Welsh Labour members because it is not only overlooking local talent, but showing UK Labour is interfering with local matters.

And it isn't just in Wales. What's been billed as the "march of the Starm-troopers" by the right wing UK media, candidates who are centre-ground politicians are being given safe seats to make sure they get MP jobs, while left wing candidates are being barred. Lloyd Russell-Moyle, as well Faiza Shaheen, who had been selected as candidate for a London seat, have found their paths blocked. The row over exactly what Diane Abbott had been told is still unclear, although the party has said she is now eligible to stand.

Sir Keir has said he is cleaning up the party, and his whole campaign is about change. At this week's launch of the Welsh campaign "change" and "newid" were the two words on the branding behind the speakers. He wants to rid it of the accusations of anti-semitism that have dogged the party for years with the equalities watchdog finding serious failings in the way the party had tackled anti-Semitism. and left-wing candidates loyal to Jeremy Corbyn, who the party has barred from standing. He will instead stand as an independent.

For months, left-wing members of the party have said they are being "purged". However, Sir Keir has repeatedly said what the ruling body, Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC) decides is nothing to do with him. In Wales, there is also a Welsh Executive Committee (WEC). However, it is widely acknowledged leaders can appoint their people to the respective committees, and the NEC is widely seen as having a pro-Keir majority. With the general election timing taking all by surprise, the "expedited" process Labour acknowledged in its selection for Cardiff West and Swansea West, involved WEC.

When we asked for interviews with either candidate, and to meet them on the campaign trail this weekend in Wales Tor at a later date, we were told by Welsh Labour it wasn't possible.

Who is Alex Barros-Curtis?

Mr Barros-Curtis is executive director of legal affairs at the Labour Party, which he describes as meaning: "I provide general legal advice and support on a wide range of issues to the leadership of the Labour Party. In addition, I continually assess the Labour Party’s compliance with legal, statutory and regulatory requirements." He has also been Keir Starmer's head of legal, finance and compliance for his election campaign. He did the same for Owen Smith when the Welsh MP tried to become Labour leader in 2016, a role he says he was "headhunted" for. He was a senior parliamentary assistant to Andy Burnham when he was an MP. He lists his specialisms as "public affairs, governance, policy advice and legal and strategic matters".

Away from politics, he studied law at LSE and the College of Law in London and is chair of governors at Grafton Primary School, which is in Islington in London a role he is due to hold until 2027. He has also been described as a former marketing consultant at the Good Campaigns company. For the latest politics news in Wales sign up to our newsletter here.

In 2023, The Jewish Chronicle published a profile of Mr Barros-Curtis saying he was the man Keir Starmer had put in charge of dealing with tackling anti-semitism in the party. The publication said Mr Barros-Curtis "had been at the centre of high-profile decisions to recommend the suspension of Labour members and councillors over recent weeks – including over complaints about antisemitism that had previously not been acted upon".

"Mr Barros-Curtis was handed the power to manage the existing disciplinary complaints team - many of whom were appointed under Jeremy Corbyn," the Jewish Chronicle wrote.

Who is Torsten Bell?

Torsten Bell, Labour's Swansea West candidate for the general election -Credit:Resolution Foundation
Torsten Bell, Labour's Swansea West candidate for the general election -Credit:Resolution Foundation

The 42-year-old Swansea West candidate for Labour has, since 2015, been the chief executive of the Resolution Foundation, an economic thinktank. He was previously head of policy to Ed Miliband and a civil servant at the Treasury, later working with Alistair Darling as a special advisor.

The Oxford graduate is an honorary professor at UCL Policy Lab. The number of online profiles of him in publications like the FT, New Statesman and Daily Mail, show what a central player in UK politics he has been. In May 2023, the New Statesman put him tenth on a list of the "50 most influential people shaping Britain's progressive politics". The profile called him "a ubiquitous media presence". "Bell’s think tank heavily influenced the two biggest government interventions in recent times: the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Energy Price Guarantee. The Anglo-Swede served as Labour’s director of policy during Ed Miliband’s leadership and has long been linked with an eventual move to parliament. His identical twin, Olaf, is EU director at the Foreign Office."

In a profile in Politics Home, it quotes a story from Labour’s former head of communications, Tom Baldwin, about the "proper brilliance" of Torsten was recognised when he was around 21, when he left Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling "open mouthed" after telling them where "they were going wrong and what they needed to do to fix it". From that, he was hired as a special advisor.

As Ed Miliband's head of policy, he came up with the "EdStone" gimmick where pledges about tax, the NHS and immigration were carved onto a 8ft 6in stone in Mr Miliband's failed attempt to get into Number 10. The plan was to put the EdStone in the rose garden at Downing Street when Mr Miliband became Prime Minister as a reminder to the new PM to keep its promises. Instead it is a PR folklore of embarrassment. As David Cameron moved into Downing Street, the stone was dumped in a warehouse, Mr Miliband quit as Labour leader and returned to the back benches.

According to another profile, senior Labour figures have long asked him to secure a safe Commons seat. In the statement released by him via Welsh Labour, he said: "This election is our chance to turn the page on 14 years of stagnation. I’m excited to be Welsh Labour’s candidate for Swansea West and to be campaigning for a changed Labour Party with Keir Starmer."