Mick Whitley loses Labour selection contest to Alison McGovern

Alison McGovern has been nominated as the Labour candidate for Birkenhead at the next general election.

Ms McGovern, who was previously the MP for Wirral South, stood for Birkenhead after boundary changes meant that her home joined the expanded Birkenhead seat and her current constituency will no longer exist.

This put her on a collision course with current Birkenhead MP Mick Whitley as the number of MPs across the Wirral goes from four to three.

Ms McGovern won with 59% of the vote with Mr Whitley getting 41%. The votes were 266 to 186.

Both sides have been campaigning hard in recent weeks and gathering endorsements. Ms McGovern welcomed former PM Gordon Brown to the constituency recently and shared support from ex-leader Neil Kinnock. Mr Whitley was keen to stress his local roots and union background.

Matters were complicated when Wirral West MP Margaret Greenwood later stepped down opening up that seat. Mr Whitley’s team urged Ms McGovern to aim for Wirral West instead.

Writing for the Labour List website, Mr Whitley appeared to take a swipe at Ms McGovern, who is currently a member of the shadow cabinet and could be in line for a position in a future Labour government.

He said, “No two constituencies are the same. The issues facing Birkenhead are different to those facing more affluent areas in the south and west of our borough, and require a fundamentally different approach.

“As the MP for Birkenhead, I’ve worked constructively with Labour’s frontbenches but I’ve never aspired for ministerial office myself. I know that Birkenhead needs a constituency MP who can dedicate all of their energy towards the needs of their constituency and constituents.”

He also said is ‘surprised and disappointed’ to see Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) allow the contest for Birkenhead to take place. He added: “My friend Margaret Greenwood’s decision to stand down at the next election means there is no reason for two sitting Labour MPs to be pitted against each other in Wirral.”

Reacting to her win on twitter, Ms McGovern said, “When this contest started, I told Labour Party members that I had been representing my hometown in Parliament for 13 years, and I wanted to continue to do so. I am so grateful that Labour Party members have chosen me to continue to do that in the new Birkenhead constituency at the next General Election.

“When the ballot closed, I told members that our new CLP deserves to be a united and welcoming group determined to make change for our area, whatever the outcome. I am committed to that promise, which must include those who voted for me as well as those who didn’t.”

She praised Mr Whitley as a ‘committed trade union and hardworking MP’, adding: “I know that Mick, like myself & all those who voted for us today, share one overriding ambition for both of our current constituencies & for the future Birkenhead: a Labour government.

She added, “I am sorry the Boundary Commission abolished our Wirral South constituency for the next election. But I do I want to again reassure my constituents that I remain their MP & will continue to represent their interests until the moment they are included in their new constituencies.

“It has been an enormous privilege to represent the place and people that brought me up, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to continue to do so as we look to the future, which will hopefully include the next Labour Government.”

A North West Labour spokesperson said, “Congratulations to Alison McGovern on her selection today. Thanks to Alison, fellow candidate Mick Whitley and all members across the new constituency of Birkenhead for taking part in the selection process.”

“It is regrettable that the boundary review meant two sitting Wirral Labour MPs have been forced to stand against one another. The selection procedure was designed to give all members across the new seat a chance to take part in selecting their candidate and as a result we saw a very high turnout.”

Mick Whitley in a statement expressed “great sadness” that he was not reselected, adding, “It wasn’t personal ambition that led me to first stand as Birkenhead’s Member of Parliament.

“I was driven – as I have for the entirety of my life in the labour movement – by a desire to serve the community to which I owe so much as well as by an unwavering conviction in the immense potential of the Labour Party to make meaningful change in the lives of those who need it most.”

He further criticised Labour’s NEC adding, “I do not believe that anyone who has our party’s best interests at heart could agree with a contest that pitted two sitting Labour MPs against each other, especially considering that the neighbouring seat of Wirral West will be vacant at the next general election.

“I am disappointed that this needless contest has sowed divisions in Birkenhead Labour Party at a time when all of our efforts should be focused on laying the foundations of a future Labour government.”

Drawing on his industrial working class roots, he added: “I am afraid that our public life will be immeasurably poorer without the contributions of those of us who have invaluable experience of working life outside the rarefied world of Westminster.”

He also said he fully intends to continue serving the remainder of his term, adding, “I also want to express my deep and enduring gratitude to everyone who voted and campaigned for me during this selection for the process.”

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