Starmer denies purge of left and heaps praise on Abbott as he seeks to calm row

Sir Keir Starmer has insisted he is not trying to block left-wingers from standing for Labour after Diane Abbott claimed they are facing an “appalling” cull.

The Labour leader said he wants the “highest quality” candidates to stand for the party after a series of selection decisions sparked anger on the left.

Ms Abbott’s own future remains uncertain after she said she wants to fight to retain her seat “as long as it is possible”.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said “I don’t think there’s any reason why Diane Abbott shouldn’t stand” and the row over her future was “not a great look”.

Labour 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 – will be allowed to defend her Hackney North and Stoke Newington seat.

But Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who was MP for Brighton Kemptown, cannot stand after being suspended by Labour over what he called a “vexatious and politically-motivated complaint” against him.

And Faiza Shaheen said she is in shock and feels she is the victim of a “huge injustice” 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.

In a possible sign she could run as an independent, she said “this is not the end of my story”, and she also revealed she would speak to her legal team about Labour’s decision.

She said: “At 9pm last night, by email, I learned that Labour has removed me as its candidate for Chingford and Woodford Green, less than six weeks before the General Election, after working to win this seat for over four years.”

She had been due to fight former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith in the marginal seat.

“I feel that a huge injustice has been done, not just to me, but to our community,” she said.

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

The row meant that for a second day, Sir Keir’s General Election campaign was dominated by questions about internal Labour Party affairs.

Asked if he is blocking left-wingers from standing, he said: “No. I’ve said repeatedly over the last two years as we’ve selected our candidates that I want the highest-quality candidates.

“That’s been the position for a very long time.”

The uncertainty over Ms Abbott’s position comes because she had the Labour whip suspended in April 2023 pending an investigation after she suggested Jewish, Irish and Traveller people experience prejudice but not racism.

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

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

There has been speculation the return of the whip could have allowed her to retire with dignity, but she appears determined to fight on.

Speaking to broadcasters in Monmouthshire, Sir Keir said: “The situation in relation to Diane Abbott is that no decision has been taken to bar her and you have to remember that she was a trailblazer as an MP, she overcame incredible challenges to achieve what she achieved in her political career.

“She carved out a path for others to come into politics and she did all that whilst also being one of the most abused MPs across all political parties.

“But I’ve always had the aspiration that we will have the best quality candidates as we go into this election.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said “I hope this process is resolved as swiftly as possible”, adding: “Diane is a really important figure in the Labour Party and in the Labour movement.”

Ms Rayner told Sky News: “I don’t think Keir is acting in a factional way. You do have factions in the Labour Party. But you know, our party will only succeed if we’re a broad church.”

She added it was “not a great look with the way Diane was briefed against”.

The Momentum campaign group, which was set up to support Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership, criticised Sir Keir’s comments about candidate selection.

“This is a laughable defence and no-one’s buying it,” a spokesman said.

“Plain as day, Keir Starmer is purging left-wingers for the crime of believing in causes like public ownership and anti-racism.

“He is pushing out independent-minded women of colour, including Britain’s first black woman MP in Diane Abbott, who he rightly called a ‘trailblazer’.”

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’s comments were a disgrace – and the breathtaking arrogance they display to Scotland is a hallmark of Starmer’s arrogant leadership.”

Sir Keir Starmer and Vaughan Gething
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, right, campaigned in Wales on Thursday alongside First Minister Vaughan Gething (Peter Byrne/PA)

Sir Keir was 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.

– 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 launched its campaign in Bristol.

– Reform UK leader Richard Tice ruled out any form of electoral pact with the Tories.