Gender row over Labour council candidate in Wigan sees community party stalwart announce his resignation

A community stalwart has torn up his Labour membership card after years in the party following a row over council candidate selection.
John HulmeJohn Hulme
John Hulme

John Hulme, who has a role at the One House in Aspull, chairs the Forum for Aspull Whelley New Springs and founded the Friends of Haigh Country Park, was ruled out of wearing the red rosette in next year’s local elections due to an all-female shortlist in Aspull, New Springs and Whelley.

He has now walked out over the Labour Party rules which state there cannot be three male councillors in a ward, saying he believes a connection to the community is more important in grass-roots politics.

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He is also “seriously contemplating” standing in opposition as an independent next May for the seat in the chamber vacated by the departure of Coun John Hilton.

Laura Flynn, the women’s officer from the Wigan Constituency Labour Party (CLP), was selected on Tuesday night to wear the red rosette.

After her victory she spoke of her links to the area and promised to work hard for the community alongside the two Labour councillors already representing the ward.

She said: “I am honoured to have been chosen by local Labour members to be the Labour Party candidate for Aspull New Springs Whelley in next May’s local election.

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“It would be a privilege to be elected to succeed Coun Hilton who has given over 30 years’ service to Wigan Council and was an inspiration to me as my local councillor growing up.

“If elected, I will be a strong voice for the ward in the council chamber. I will work closely with Coun Ready and Coun Conway to support community groups, improve and maintain the local environment, and ensure that the communities of Aspull, New Springs, Whelley, Haigh, Worthington and the east of Standish remain places where residents are proud to live.”

Mr Hulme said the whole process of picking the candidate had left a bitter taste and he was not the only one who had been excluded.

He said: “I disagree with what has gone on. I just have the idea in my head that people who work in the community shouldn’t be overlooked.

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“I can understand it being used to get MPs in but on a local level I don’t think it should go on gender. Because I’m a fella I got knocked back.

“I’ve done a tremendous amount of work in my own community. I don’t want to blow my own bugle, though, others have done a lot as well and have been overlooked.

“In essence I think the rule as it is now is wrong. I wouldn’t have minded a fair fight and if I had lost that I would have put my hand up, but this wasn’t a fair fight. It was a one-horse race.

“I’m seriously contemplating running as an independent. I’m in discussions with a few people about it. We will see what happens now and work it from there.

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“It’s a shame because I’ve been a Labour Party member for many, many years.

“The morning after resigning I was back at The One House where we had 30 kids kicking a ball about and making Rice Krispie cakes. This is what community is all about: getting stuck in, not being parachuted in because you are a female.”

Labour Party rules state there cannot be a male councillor occupying every seat in a single ward.

That meant a female candidate had to be found when popular former mayor of Wigan and long-serving elected representative Coun Hilton decided to bring his long stint in the chamber to a close.

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However, tensions erupted when a candidate living in the ward who was also a woman could not be found, leading to a race between budding politicians from other parts of the borough to represent Aspull New Springs Whelley.

That caused a significant backlash from people, particularly from Aspull, who thought a connection to the area and direct involvement in the community was more important than the gender of their elected representative.

The row went public after a post outlining dissatisfaction with the selection process was put on a local social media group by One House chairman Pete Ashcroft.

Dozens of comments, the majority of them criticising Labour’s rules and backing Mr Hulme and the other snubbed candidates, were posted.

Wigan CLP said it would not comment on internal party affairs.