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My concerns were ignored': retiring MP

PUBLISHED: 10:28 23 April 2009 | UPDATED: 16:34 25 August 2010

ANGRY: Outgoing MP John Austin.

ANGRY: Outgoing MP John Austin.

A VETERAN MP is furious with Labour HQ for hijacking the selection process to find his successor.

A VETERAN MP is furious with Labour HQ for 'hijacking' the selection process to find his successor.

MP for Erith and Thamesmead John Austin wrote to the police on Monday demanding a criminal investigation into the tampering with a ballot box containing postal vote papers last Friday - a day before the hustings meeting was due to take place.

But police confirmed on Tuesday they would NOT be investigating the matter as internal party selection is not represented by the Representation of the People Act.

Mr Austin said: "Prior to the tampering, I had written to the Party General Secretary about my concerns of alleged irregularities in the postal vote process. My concerns were ignored.

"The running of the selection process was hijacked by the national party, who removed local party officers from the procedures, cancelled, without any consultation, a meeting of the local Party's General Council that had been properly convened to interview all nominated candidates and draw up a shortlist.

"The national party then sent out a letter to all members of Erith and Thamesmead Labour Party stating that the General Council had drawn up a short-list of all eight candidates when it had not.

"The shortlist was imposed by the Labour Party's General Secretary.

"The whole procedure was under his control. All postal votes were delivered directly to the Labour Party HQ in Victoria and were supposed to be held in a secure place.

"Those ballot papers were the property of the members of the Erith and Thamesmead Labour Party. I have no confidence in an internal inquiry, especially not one involving anyone who had responsibility for security of the ballot and nor will the general public."

He also said that there were widespread concerns about the ability of the national party to run a free and fair election and has called for a new process overseen by an independent body such as the Electoral Reform Society.

A spokesperson for the Labour Party said: "Until the ballot box seal was found to have been broken, there was no evidence of any breach of the selection rules or any postal voting irregularities. Immediately the broken seal was discovered, the process was suspended and an investigation is now underway."

marina.soteriou@archant.co.uk

SELECTION SHAMBLES

-August 1 2008: Current MP John Austin tells his constituency party members assembled at the Abbey Wood Community Centre he will retire at the next general election.

-March 23: It is revealed that Georgia Gould is one of the candidates to be selected as Mr Austin's successor. Some local activists say she is being "parachuted" into the safe Labour seat.

-March 25: On his blog Alistair Campbell (pictured) denied allegations that he was canvassing votes for his friend's daughter Miss Gould or that he was "masterminding her campaign".

-March 27: The longlist of eight is confirmed and was due to be whittled down to four but it is announced that all eight candidates will go forward to the hustings meeting.

-April 16: At 6.45pm it was discovered that the seal on a ballot box containing previously received ballot papers for the selection was broken. The next day's hustings meeting to decide the candidate is postponed.

-April 10: It is discovered that John Austin has complained to the Party General Secretary about alleged irregularities in the postal vote process. He claims his concerns were ignored.

-April 18: Hustings meeting due to take place but postponed the evening before.

-April 20: Mr Austin writes to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner demanding a criminal investigation into the tampering with the ballot box and postal vote papers.

-May 16: A new hustings meeting is due to take place in the afternoon, to select the candidate. Local Labour members will vote on a on a one-member, one-vote basis.

-May 2010: The next General Election?

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