Keith Vaz denies claims he plans to stand again as MP for Leicester East

‘That ship has sailed,’ says disgraced former minister in wake of conviction of sitting MP Claudia Webbe

The disgraced former minister Keith Vaz has denied claims he plans to stand again as the MP for Leicester East after Labour officials imposed new controls upon candidate selection procedures in the city.

Amid growing speculation that the former head of the home affairs select committee is poised to make a comeback after the conviction of the sitting MP Claudia Webbe for harassment, he told the Guardian: “That ship has sailed.”

Last week, Labour introduced rules over the city’s constituencies so that the party’s ruling national body will choose council candidates instead of leaving the decision to local members.

The move has provoked anger among Labour’s 49 city councillors, 37 of whom have signed a document demanding the proposals are urgently withdrawn for being undemocratic.

But the move has also been praised by some local activists as the first step towards wresting control of Leicester East Labour party away from Vaz who represented the constituency for 32 years.

Vaz stepped down as a candidate in 2019 after being caught in a tabloid sting offering to acquire cocaine for sex workers, and after being found guilty of bullying staff.

Webbe was elected that year but was suspended by the party after a court ruled that she had harassed another woman. Webbe maintains her innocence and is appealing against the party ruling.

Several constituency sources said Vaz had maintained control over the constituency and worked closely with a cadre of councillors. They claim he could still attempt to stand for parliament again or handpick another candidate for the next general election.

In a rare public utterance since he stepped down, Vaz indicated he would not stand again. “I am glad to say that ship has sailed – a few years ago,” he said in a text message.

Senior party figures said Vaz’s tightening grip over Leicester East, where he remains an honorary president, had become a concern as they geared up to selecting the next parliamentary candidate.

An email sent to three constituency parties – Leicester East, West and South – from the regional director, Richard Oliver, said the party had decided to rip up existing plans to allow constituencies to pick their own council candidates.

It said: “The campaign improvement board had a number of concerns about the process and they have asked for an NEC panel to be convened to interview and select all candidates across the city. This recommendation has been accepted by the NEC.”

The plans were given a mixed reaction last Saturday at a campaign meeting of the local activists to discuss the manifesto for May’s city elections. Some activists said the move was crucial to ensuring Vaz did not stand again.

A leaked email sent from a named party party member, who has asked for their identity to be withheld for fear of reprisals, asked MPs and other party figures to support the proposals.

“When the NEC intervention in Leicester was announced, I thought: ‘This will be about Leicester East’ – and it was. The NEC is providing a chance to lance the boil that has been Keith Vaz. Please take it,” the party member said.

Vaz declined to comment on claims that he controls the Leicester East constituency party.

A Labour Spokesperson said: “We will take all steps to deliver the highest level of candidates and look forward to working with them to ensure Labour can continue to deliver for residents in Leicester.”


Rajeev Syal Home affairs editor

The GuardianTramp

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