Labour uncertainty over candidates as Abbott accuses Starmer of ‘cull’ of left

Labour veteran Diane Abbott accused Sir Keir Starmer of an “appalling” cull of left-wingers as she faced continued uncertainty about her own political future.

Ms Abbott said she wanted to fight to retain her seat “as long as it is possible” but she criticised decisions made by Labour to exclude candidates from the party left.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir insisted no decision has yet been taken about whether Ms Abbott – who in 1987 became the first black woman elected to Parliament – would be allowed to defend her Hackney North and Stoke Newington seat.

But Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who was MP for Brighton Kemptown, said he has been suspended by Labour over what he called a “vexatious and politically motivated complaint” against him, and that he cannot stand under the Labour banner at the election.

And Faiza Shaheen said she was in a “state of shock” after not being endorsed as the Labour candidate for Chingford and Woodford Green.

In response, Ms Abbott said: “Appalling. Whose clever idea has it been to have a cull of left wingers?”

Ms Shaheen was blocked after liking a series of social media posts on X, formerly Twitter, that allegedly downplayed antisemitism accusations.

She told BBC’s Newsnight: “On top of Gaza, on top of Diane Abbott and now this to me, when there’s such clear double standards of how other people have been treated when stuff has happened … what message are you sending my community? What message are you sending the black community?”

The Labour Muslim Network said the treatment of Ms Shaheen was “unacceptable”.

Shadow cabinet minister Darren Jones denied there had been a “purge” of the left, telling Times Radio: “I don’t think that’s true. I mean, there are many colleagues of mine in the Parliamentary Labour Party who would define themselves as being on the left who are endorsed Labour Party candidates standing in their constituency.”

A member of Labour’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) said ultimately it would be a decision for Sir Keir whether Ms Abbott was allowed to defend her seat.

Ms Abbott had the Labour whip suspended in April 2023 pending an investigation after she suggested Jewish, Irish and Traveller people experience prejudice but not racism.

The whip was restored on Tuesday but Ms Abbott said she was “dismayed” by reports that she could be barred as a candidate.

Mish Rahman told Times Radio: “Keir Starmer hides behind technicalities. He’s been hiding behind the independent process technicality for a while when actually, as we’ve now discovered, the independent process ended in December.

“Now he’s hiding behind the NEC.”

Mr Rahman said the NEC “will rubber stamp” a list of candidates during the General Election process, but claimed “it will be the leadership’s decision” whether to include Ms Abbott on the list, because the leadership “holds a majority on the NEC”.

He added: “So when Keir Starmer says, ‘oh, the NEC will decide’, at the end of the day, it’s more lawyer talk. It’s him and his action which will actually decide whether Diane Abbott is a Labour MP or not.”

Labour’s General Election campaign has been overshadowed by the internal chaos over selections.

Mr Russell-Moyle said he was “gutted” after receiving an “administrative suspension letter” and being told he could not stand as a Labour candidate.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle suspension
Lloyd Russell-Moyle said he has been suspended by the Labour Party (Yui Mok/PA)

In a statement sent to the PA news agency, he said: “Someone (who remains anonymous to me) has made what I believe to be a vexatious and politically motivated complaint about my behaviour eight years ago. This is a false allegation that I dispute totally and I believe it was designed to disrupt this election.

“There isn’t enough time to defend myself as these processes within the party take too long, so the party have told me that I will not be eligible to be a candidate at the next election.”

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints extremely seriously and they are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures, and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken.”

Other decisions made on candidates include Luke Akehurst, an influential figure on the Labour right, being selected in North Durham.

Josh Simons, director of the Labour Together group which has backed Sir Keir, was selected in Makerfield.

Earlier this year he apologised after suggesting that people-smuggling gangs could be put on a barge and “shipped to the north of Scotland”, adding: “Who cares?”.

SNP candidate for Glasgow North Alison Thewliss said: “Mr Simons’ comments were a disgrace – and the breathtaking arrogance they display to Scotland is a hallmark of Starmer’s arrogant leadership.”

Sir Keir is campaigning alongside Welsh First Minister Vaughan Gething, who is facing his own difficulties including a no confidence motion due to be debated next week in the Senedd.

In other developments:

– Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves ruled out increasing VAT following a claim from Jeremy Hunt she had a secret plan to hike the tax.

-Rishi Sunak told The Times that a vote for the Tories is a vote for cuts to interest rates, despite that being a decision for the independent Bank of England.

-Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper is pledging to boost neighbourhood policing and said she would run a “hands-on Home Office”.

-The Liberal Democrats said they want to treble taxes for search engines and social media firms to fund putting a mental health professional in every primary and secondary school.

-The Green Party is launching its campaign in Bristol.