Labour has been accused of attempting to parachute Ed Miliband’s director of strategy and planning into the safe seat of Coventry North West.
Sources in the local Labour party say that the constituency’s MP, Geoffrey Robinson, told senior branch members on Thursday that he would be standing down after 39 years – just six weeks before the general election – and that he would be recommending that Greg Beales replace him.
Local party members said that they were hurt that the decision appeared to have been taken without their consultation, and that they were worried they would be denied the opportunity to select a candidate in the normal way because it is so close to the general election.
An email leaked to the Coventry Observer, purportedly sent by Beales to Robinson earlier this week, seems to show him planning to come to Coventry to meet local members before a vote for a new candidate in less than two weeks’ time. Local party members say they were unaware of any plans Robinson had to resign at the time the email was sent.
Robinson could not be contacted and a spokesperson from the West Midlands Labour party described the story as speculation, adding: “In every seat we ensure there is strong shortlist of prospective candidates from which local Labour party members will select their candidate to fight the Tories at the general election”.
If Robinson resigns as MP, the local party will have until 9 April to select a candidate, the deadline for the submission of candidate selection papers.
The Coventry Telegraph reports that a notice has been circulated by the Coventry Labour party north-west secretary, and Robinson’s parliamentary aide, Ed Ruane, calling members to an emergency meeting on Saturday evening.
It reads: “I’m sure you may have heard the news that Geoffrey Robinson will be standing down as the member of parliament for Coventry North West at the forthcoming general election.
“Several local party members have requested an emergency constituency meeting to fully understand the process for the local constituency party in shortlisting and selecting a future Labour party parliamentary candidate in Coventry North West.
“So as to ensure that all local party members have an opportunity to take part in a local democratic process.”
Members of the local party fear that the national Labour party could impose an emergency shortlist of only two candidates.
“We’ve been very loyal to Geoffrey and always backed him,” said one member. “We wouldn’t have had a problem if he’d just said he was retiring earlier.”
The member argued that anybody who is elected to the safe seat could well represent the constituency for the rest of their working life.
“There are some really good young candidates who have been working in the area ... It needs to be somebody who is good for Coventry,” they said.
Geoffrey Robinson will turn 77 shortly after the general election and he has MP for Coventry North West since 1976. He served as paymaster general under Tony Blair, resigning in 1998 after it was revealed that he lent then trade and industry secretary, Peter Mandelson, £373,000 to buy a house.
This article was written by Frances Perraudin, for theguardian.com on Saturday 28th March 2015 11.15 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010