Jared O’Mara should never have been a Labour candidate, says Rachel Reeves

Comments about ex-Sheffield Hallam MP come as key figures in Bolton North East quit over selection process

The disgraced former MP Jared O’Mara “should never have been selected as a Labour candidate” and deserves his four-year jail sentence, the shadow chancellor has said.

Rachel Reeves was talking to the Guardian in the Bolton North East constituency on Friday, hours after key figures in the local party quit in protest at how Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) was controlling the parliamentary selection process for the next general election.

The entire selection committee in Bolton North East resigned after they were not allowed to choose the shortlist, an increasingly common practice in Keir Starmer’s Labour party, saying: “Yet again, it appears that the Labour party is seeking to promote the views and attitudes of a clique in London, rather than local members in the north.”

They added: “This goes against the attitude necessary to win back the red wall, which is so desperately needed to deliver a Labour government.”

Reeves said: “I don’t know what the circumstances are of what has happened in Bolton, but I do know that those being selected are strong candidates, often with very strong roots in their communities.”

There has been particular unhappiness that Leigh Drennan, the chair of Labour North West and aide to the Jeremy Corbyn-supporting Warrington North MP Charlotte Nichols, was not longlisted to try to win the seat back from the Conservatives, despite garnering nominations from four big trade unions.

Reeves said she had nothing to do with candidate selection, but added: “I do know that it’s really important that we have rigorous processes for who can be longlisted and who can be shortlisted.”

O’Mara was imprisoned for four years this week after a jury found he had submitted fake expense claims totalling £52,000 in an attempt to fund his cocaine and alcohol abuse.

Many people have suggested he was not properly vetted by Labour when he was selected to fight Nick Clegg, the former Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister, in Sheffield Hallam in 2017’s snap general election.

Asked if the O’Mara debacle was looming large in the minds of Labour’s NEC, Reeves said: “I don’t want to suggest in any way that anyone not on a shortlist is a cocaine user. But Jared O’Mara was a terrible case. He should never have been selected as a Labour candidate; he should never have been an MP. He used public money, it’s absolutely right he’s received his sentence.”

The O’Mara circumstances were “pretty exceptional”, said Reeves, but she acknowledged: “There are important lessons to be learned for the Labour party and all political parties on the selection of candidates. But I would also say, in this parliament we have seen the constant undermining of standards in politics, not least by a succession of prime ministers and fines and parties and standards falling well short of what you could expect.”

She added: ‘“One thing I would say about the Labour party is that when people do wrong, they lose the whip. And that’s just not the case in the Conservative party.”

Reeves was in Bolton to meet apprentices at a training centre for Openreach, which provides the UK’s broadband network.

After watching apprentices climb up pretend telegraph poles at the £1.7m site, Reeves discussed Labour’s plans to overhaul the apprenticeship levy, which forces larger firms to put aside 0.5% of their payroll to fund apprentices.

Businesses complain the levy is too inflexible. For example, said Reeves, Openreach “wants to retrain people who work on copper to work on fibre, but the apprenticeship levy doesn’t have that flexibility around retraining”.

Reeves said Labour would change the levy so companies could use the money to retrain employees in industries such as the automotive sector and those currently fitting gas boilers.

“We need them as part of the energy transition to net zero to be learning the skills to work on electric vehicles or fitting heat pumps or hydrogen boilers. We want those people to be retrained to get the skills that they need to succeed. And yet the apprenticeship levy is stacked up against them. Businesses want greater flexibility and young people starting off in life or older people who want to retrain to make sure that their skills are relevant for the future,” said Reeves.


Helen Pidd North of England editor

The GuardianTramp

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