Labour has blocked a sitting mayor from standing for a new role in the North East in a move that has reawakened divisions in the party.
Jamie Driscoll, the serving North of Tyne mayor, revealed on social media that he had been “barred” from running as the Labour candidate to contest the North East mayoralty and that “no explanation has been given”.
Mr Driscoll, who has been described as the “last Corbynista in power, was not included on a longlist to be the next North East mayor – a role that was created as part of a £1.4bn devolution deal for the region.
The decision was immediately criticised by MPs on the left, including former shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who branded the news “staggering”.
Responding to a tweet from Mr Driscoll, Mr McDonnell wrote: “To refuse to allow a serving mayor onto even a selection long list demonstrates that factionalism in the party is completely out of control…There can be no other motive for excluding him.”
Clive Lewis, the Labour MP for Norwich South, said he was “shocked by such sectarian behaviour”.
A senior source on the Labour left told Sky News: “Jamie has said on TV that he hopes the party will reverse this decision, but whether the party machinery will listen is a different matter. Union general secretaries, senior MPs, and mayors are all outraged at this, and wondering who will be next.”
Sky News understands Mr Driscoll’s candidacy was refused because he recently appeared at an event with the film director Ken Loach, who was expelled from the party in 2021 for claiming there had been a “purge” and “witch hunt” of Jeremy Corbyn supporters under Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership.
At the time of the event in March, Mr Driscoll said: “I spoke with Ken Loach as part of the Live Theatre’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Mr Loach has chosen the North East as a location for his most recent film ‘The Old Oak’ as well as his previous films, Sorry We Missed You and I, Daniel Blake. During the event, we participated in a lively and engaging discussion about his critically acclaimed films, work and illustrious career.”
Mr Driscoll also said he shared a platform with Mr Loach because he had just finished filming in the North East and both were invited to an event, which the audience “loved”.
A Labour source told Sky News: “I don’t see how he [Mr Driscoll] can have expected to be a candidate after appearing with Ken Loach. It would have made a mockery of all Keir’s commitments on anti-Semitism.”
Mr Driscoll’s blocking is just the latest controversy surrounding the party’s process for selecting candidates for the next election.
Sky News revealed in March that candidates who are blocked from standing for the party will be given the right to appeal if their bid to become an MP is rejected.
The party introduced the system after it faced accusations of fixing parliamentary selections for candidates who are preferred by the leadership while using “due diligence” checks to bar others for political reasons – a charge the party has denied.
In March, Labour’s ruling body, the National Executive Committee (NEC), voted to block Jeremy Corbyn from being endorsed as the candidate for his current seat of Islington North in a long-running dispute over anti-Semitism.
Mr Corbyn branded the decision “disgraceful” and a “shameful attack on party democracy, party members and natural justice”. He has since hinted he could stand as an independent in his seat, which he has represented since 1983.
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The North East mayoralty is a unique opportunity for the people of the North East to take more control over the way our region is governed, with powers over housing, education, skills, transport and so much more.
“The Labour Party holds its candidates to a very high standard. During this process, some applicants did not meet the threshold required to proceed to the longlist stage. We do not comment on individual applications.
“Local members now have a fantastic longlist of candidates from which they will choose the Labour Party’s candidate to be the very first North East mayor.”