Letter backing Owen Smith for Labour leader sparks row with Northampton’s pro-Corbyn members

Andy Sawford.

Andy Sawford.

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A letter from senior Labour party members in Northampton voicing their support for Owen Smith has drawn criticism - because their own local party members voted overwhelmingly in favour of recommending Jeremy Corbyn.

Former Northampton North MP Sally Keeble, parliamentary candidate Kevin McKeever and former Corby MP Andy Sawford have signed a letter sent to members in the county, which urges them to cast their vote for leadership challenger Smith.

Labour leadership contender Owen Smith at Corby Urgent Care Centre NNL-161208-170334001

Labour leadership contender Owen Smith at Corby Urgent Care Centre NNL-161208-170334001

But only two weeks ago, during a meeting at Northampton Working Men’s Club, the town’s Labour party agreed it would “recommend” Jeremy Corbyn as the candidate of choice to all its members, voting 73 to 13 in favour of the 67-year-old.

But the letter sent out this week from the three senior members stating his rival, Owen Smith, would make a “Great, radical, Labour leader”, has drawn ire from local Corbyn supporters.

Councillor Gareth Eales (Lab, Dallington and Spencer) says the letter implies the local party backs Smith.

He said: “The letter contains the Labour party logo and I am troubled by that, as it implies the authors act with local party authority, which cannot be the case given the emphatic and democratic decision made by the Northampton membership to recommend support for Jeremy Corbyn.

Kevin McKeever.

Kevin McKeever.

“Naturally, some searching questions are being asked now among local members in respect of this communication.

“Questions such as, ‘who gave authorisation for the use of the party logo?’ And ‘who provided access to contact addresses of local members?’”

Mrs Keeble, who lost her seat to Michael Ellis in 2010, but has remained an active voice in the party, said the three who signed it are entitled to back who they want.

She said: “That meeting wasn’t a mandating meeting, it was purely a nomination meeting, party members can vote for whoever they wish.

“It is perfectly open and right for people to campaign for their candidate of choice.”

Though Northampton Labour voted to back Corbyn, it is also understood their nomination was not sent to the party’s central office and therefore it did not appear as a supporter of Mr Corbyn on ballot paper literature.

Mrs Keeble says she has made no secret of her support for Owen Smith.

Prior to supporting Smith she had helped on Angela Eagle’s campaign to oust the incumbent boss.

Kevin McKeever and Andy Sawford, also both prominent Smith campaigners, have been contacted for comment.