Row over all-female shortlist for Labour candidates to stand for election for Wigan Council seat

Outgoing councillor John Hilton
Outgoing councillor John Hilton

Community activists have been barred from standing as Labour council candidates because they are men in a move which has sparked fury.

An all-women shortlist will be used in Aspull New Springs and Whelley to decide who will wear the red rosette in next year’s local election after long-standing representative Coun John Hilton steps down.

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However, the candidates who will be considered at tonight’s meeting are all from elsewhere in the borough.

At the same time several community stalwarts and experienced activists from the ward have been barred from standing due to being male.

One of them, One House admin secretary John Hulme, is so unhappy he is even considering crossing the floor to stand as an independent next May.

Outgoing politician Coun Hilton said he did not like the situation either but national Labour Party rules, which say there cannot be three male Labour councillors in the same ward, must be followed.

The idea of a candidate being parachuted in to represent Aspull New Springs Whelley has gone down extremely badly, with a post criticising the situation on social media garnering dozens of comments, the majority of them negative.

The post’s author Pete Ashcroft, who is also chair of the One House community hub on Haigh Road, said: “I completely understand that women are underrepresented in the local council and understand the need for more female councillors.

“However, when it comes to local elections I firmly believe in choosing a person who is from the area and passionate about it.

“Female candidates are being chosen from outside the area, who have never lived in the area or done any work for our community. They are simply being shipped in because they are female.

“How can bringing in a candidate from outside our area just because she is female be right? Especially when we have a local gentleman who has served our community and the Labour Party for years being rejected for his gender.

“If there was a female candidate from the ward I would support them.

“It’s also frustrating they are trying to do it quietly.”

Mr Hulme said he was not the only potential candidate who has been rejected and is now considering standing against whoever ends up wearing the red rosette.

He said: “It’s not just me, there are other male candidates who have passed the panel. They are just as disgusted.

“I think this Labour Party rule is nonsensical. The only thing we can do is drop out and go independent. At the moment I am contemplating that, I must be honest.

“I don’t want to do it but if I have to I will do. It’s a shame.”

It has been suggested that Mr Hulme could stand elsewhere in the borough where women are already in the chamber.

However, he has a long association with the ward, founding the Friends of Haigh Country Park group and chairing the Forum of Aspull Whelley and New Springs.

Former mayor of Wigan Coun Hilton, who is one of the longest-serving councillors in the chamber, said the selection process had to stick to party rules but nevertheless expressed concern about a tight-knit community such as Aspull having someone without links to the place standing to be a councillor.

Coun Hilton said: “We’ve had all-women shortlists before in the borough, it’s Labour Party policy, and we have to abide by the rules.

“I understand the reasoning behind it, if we had sufficient women in the branch and were keen to stand as a councillor.

“However, we like people from Aspull to represent Aspull. I call it the principality of Aspull. When you are imposing candidates from other areas it doesn’t go down very well.

“We’ve got an excellent male candidate who ticked all the boxes at interview and he has been barred from standing. I feel it’s a bit demeaning.”

Mr Ashcroft’s post on social media produced a storm of condemnation from Aspull residents.

One person wrote: “I’m all for equality but this is downright sexist. As a woman I would want to get a job because I was the best not because I’m female.”

Another said: “It should be the right person for the job irrespective of gender.”

Wigan Constituency Labour Party said it did not comment on internal affairs.