Ilford South MP goes up against council leader

Sam Tarry’s future as an MP is to be decided tonight in a vote between himself and Redbridge Council’s leader Jas Athwal.

Redbridge-raised Tarry has been MP for Ilford South since 2019, when he won the safe Labour seat in controversial circumstances which saw Cllr Athwal suspended shortly before the final selection meeting.

Tonight, Ilford South’s Labour members will choose either Corbynite Tarry or Cllr Athwal following a sometimes bitter selection campaign.

At a hustings at the Coliseum in Ilford, Mr Tarry and Cllr Athwal will both make opening statements before 300-450 Labour members before taking turns to answer five questions chosen by a panel.

At the end of the hustings, votes will be counted at the venue with full results expected late in the evening.

Two female candidates who were also shortlisted for tonight’s vote, Redbridge councillor Niki Chahal and Slough’s deputy leader Pavitar Mann, have both pulled out, with Chahal complaining of intimidation.

Since Cllr Athwal’s suspension from the Labour party for sexual harassment in October 2019 – an allegation he was cleared of almost a year later – there has been public speculation about the involvement of Tarry’s supporters.

The MP maintains that his campaign has been “clean and positive” and has categorically denied any involvement in the 2019 selection process.

Over this summer Ilford South’s ten Labour branch committees voted to “trigger” an open selection process, meaning Tarry would not automatically be the local Labour candidate in the next general election.

Mr Tarry has repeatedly made allegations of “rule breaking” and “voter fraud” within the branch committees.

However, when asked to comment or provide evidence his team declined, saying only that he is “confident” about tonight’s meeting.

A spokesperson for Labour said that all selection meetings this summer have followed a “fair and robust” process under the supervision of party staff, although it is understood that a small number of complaints were received.

Mr Tarry said his campaign for reselection has been “based firmly in the communities of Ilford South”.

He added: “As the sitting MP I did not need branch nominations, and am backed by 8 unions and socialist societies, as well as the vast majority of Labour members and residents in Ilford South.

“I have lived in the area for the majority of my life, and still do. I am recognised and welcomed by homes and businesses across my constituency. It is my home.”

Mr Tarry, whose partner is Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner, describes himself as a “socialist MP” who stands by his principles and has a track record of delivering “real change”, such as an extension at King George Hospital.

Cllr Athwal, who has been leader of Redbridge Council for the last eight years, argued his track record includes enforcement hubs, “ending holiday hunger” and bringing a branch of Queen Mary’s medical school to Ilford.

He added: “Today is about the future and choosing an MP who is local, vocal and visible, not using Westminster to raise their own profile but to bring about change for our community.

“I am proud of the huge support I’ve had, being nominated by all 10 local branches and leading trade unions like Unison, Usdaw and Community.

“Tonight will show I have the vision, passion and determination to win for Ilford and help Keir Starmer win for Labour.”

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter