Fury at callous Labour

PUBLISHED: 12:23 25 October 2001 | UPDATED: 10:43 03 March 2010

SOME Labour Party members have been branded as "weak" by the family of Jamie Cann for not trying to prevent selection of his successor on the day of a civic memorial in his honour.

By Lynn Abbott

SOME Labour Party members have been branded as "weak" by the family of Jamie Cann for not trying to prevent selection of his successor on the day of a civic memorial in his honour.

The decision by the Labour Party to select the potential successor to the late Ipswich MP within hours of a service in his memory is also accused of being "callous and heartless" by others close to the family

"Is the Labour Party frightened that if a by-election is not held quickly they will lose the seat," they added.

And in an official statement from the family, Mr Cann's son, Andrew, said: "It is with bitter disappointment we have noted that the Labour Party intends to select the next candidate for Ipswich on the day of the civic memorial service.

"This is doubly disappointing as the family has tried and continued to try to get this date changed. Representations have been made at regional level with Peter Watts and at the House of Commons with Hillary Armstrong (chief whip) – to no avail.

"Both have said they care for the family views but actions speak otherwise.

"It has also been noted by the family that a minority of local Labour Party members have let this pass – how weak.

"This is not about politics it is about respect," he added.

The Labour Party fell foul of sensitivity by announcing that a snap by-election was being planned for the end of November and that party members were to meet on Wednesday to choose their candidate.

The selection meeting at Chantry School starts at 8pm and comes hours after a memorial service is due to be held for the late politician at St Mary-le-Tower starting at 12.30pm.

Today a family friend told The Evening Star that more consideration should have been shown to Mr Cann and that there was "absolutely no reason why the selection process and a by-election could not have been delayed.

"The family is desperately trying to accept their loss while at the same time having to hear of a rush to fill the vacant seat.

"There is absolutely no reason why this has to be all cut and dried before Christmas. Is the Labour Party frightened that if they don't hold the by-election quickly they will lose the seat?"

Mr Cann died at the age of 55 on October 15. The proposed by-election date would be a mere six weeks afterwards.

The regional office of the Labour Party surprised any would-be candidates yesterday by announcing the move to fill the vacancy left by Mr Cann's death, who had been the town's MP for nine years.

Details of the procedure was finalised between the party's National Executive Committee (NEC) late on Tuesday night – and even Downing Street was caught on the hop, with Prime Minister's office "unaware" that the selection process was under way.

The deadline for potential Labour candidates, most of whom had thrown their hats in the ring even before Mr Cann's funeral, to enter the contest is this Friday and they will then be interviewed by the NEC over the weekend before a shortlist goes before the party's selection meeting.

Labour Party officials from the constituency met last night to express their "shock and dismay" at the recent loss from their ranks.

Members also stood for a minute's silence during proceedings in memory of Mr Cann.

Phil Smart, chairman of the Ipswich Labour Party, paid his own tribute to Mr Cann during the scheduled event, which also discussed the forthcoming selection process.

"The party regulations have been adhered to and have been applied with as much sensitivity as possible in light of the circumstances," he said after the meeting.

"Strong feelings were expressed as to the need to be mindful and respectful of Jamie's memory and legacy at every stage of our procedures.

"The meeting agreed to abide by the conduct which Jamie had so often exemplified, of unity to face the future even in the face of tragedy and distress."

But Richard Spring, Tory MP for West Suffolk, who joined the Commons at the same time as Mr Cann said the party should change the date as mark of respect for the late MP and was being unduly hasty in its decision.

"If on the same day they are seeking to choose a prospective parliamentary candidate they are taking insensitivity to a grotesque level, and I urge the Labour Party to show some respect and delay this process as a matter or urgency," he said.

Justifying the almost unprecedented haste in instigating the selection process, Peter Watt, Labour's regional director for the East of England, said it was essential that Ipswich had an "effective, strong MP" as soon as possible

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