West Midlands Labour Party members will be given just two names from which to choose a candidate to run for the region’s first elected Police and Crime Commissioner, raising fears that a similarly constrained shortlist might be used to select a Birmingham mayoral candidate.
The party’s regional board conducted interviews over the weekend and decided to shortlist local councillor Bob Jones, from Wolverhampton, and Yvonne Mosquito, from Birmingham. Both are long-serving members of the West Midlands Police Authority, and Coun Jones chairs the finance committee.
The decision appears to put paid to the chances of a political comeback by former Birmingham city councillor Mike Olley, who has been campaigning for the Police Commissioner ticket for over a year. He was left off the shortlist.
Mr Olley, who is the manager of the Broad Street Improvement District in Birmingham, said he was “deeply disappointed” at the outcome and intends to appeal to Labour’s National Executive Committee in an attempt to have the decision overturned.
He believes the regional board may have misinterpreted the rule book and was under the mistaken belief that the party nationally was insisting on shortlists of two candidates. Mr Olley pointed out that in the North-west of England Labour has recently approved a shortlist of three candidates for the Lancashire PCC.
The shortlisting process raises obvious questions about Labour’s approach to selecting a candidate to run for elected mayor of Birmingham, a position the party is confident of winning if a referendum gives approval for an election to be held in November.
Mr Olley is a leading backer of the bid by former Erdington MP Sion Simon to become mayor, and counts many of Mr Simon’s influential supporters as his friends including NEC member Tom Watson and Perry Barr MP Khalid Mahmood. He had hoped that having “friends in high places” would help secure him a place on the shortlist.
However, two incidents of questionable publicity will not have helped Mr Olley’s cause with Labour’s regional party board. Questions were asked at the end of last year about digital advertising screens placed on behalf of Mr Olley along the M6 and other prominent sites to promote a weekly column he wrote for the Birmingham Mail. It later emerged that neither the Mail nor Mr Olley paid for the screens.
Mr Olley explained that it was not unusual for billboard operators to place free advertising when they had no paid content, to make their boards appear “current and vibrant”. The advertising was removed and the column was withdrawn as soon as Mr Olley was included on Labour’s long-list for PCC candidates.
And in March, Mr Olley’s appearance in a BBC television programme in which he appeared to sell a vintage Lanchester car to a pawnbroker was pulled from the screens. The series, about the life and times of Birmingham pawnbroker Uncles, has not yet been shown while the BBC undertakes a thorough investigation into the authenticity of each episode.
In a statement, Mr Olley said the episode featuring the car was intended to be a “not for broadcast pilot” and that he had never been a customer of nor received any money from a pawnbroker.
The PCC shortlisting decision comes as Labour faces a national row over the way the party intends to select candidates to stand in mayoral elections in Birmingham and other major cities. It has been claimed that the NEC is considering barring sitting MPs from being candidates in order to avoid potentially difficult by-elections which Labour might lose.
Banning MPs from standing, if it were legally and constitutionally possible, would put paid to the mayoral hopes of Hodge Hill MP Liam Byrne and Edgbaston MP Gisela Stuart, leaving Mr Simon as the sole Labour contender for mayor of Birmingham.
Mr Simon is urging Labour to consider a compromise, where MPs would pay for the cost of by-elections if they were selected to run for mayor.
- Paul Dale has been assisting Mike Olley with the social media side of his PCC campaign since January.
- Labour’s back-room mayoral fixers a ‘cynical kick in the teeth’ for democracy in Birmingham (thechamberlainfiles.wordpress.com)
- Mike Olley: Police commissioner poster boy? (thechamberlainfiles.wordpress.com)