A civil war has broken out between Yorkshire Labour MPs and Jeremy Corbyn-backed party bosses over Dan Jarvis’s bid to become the county’s first directly elected mayor.
In a letter obtained by The Yorkshire Post, the region’s group of Labour MPs described as “undemocratic, unfair” and “an insult” a decision by the party’s left-leaning ruling body to force Mr Jarvis to choose between running for Sheffield City Region mayor or continuing in post as Barnsley Central MP.
The MPs, Mr Jarvis and South Yorkshire’s four local council leaders have all written to party chiefs to oppose the decision after members voted last week to nominate the former soldier as Labour’s candidate for the mayoral election on May 3, which he is widely expected to win .
The row broke out after Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) ruled days before the nomination was announced that MPs should not hold more than one full-time elected public office.
But Mr Jarvis has always said he wanted to combine the two roles while sacrificing his mayoral salary, as the devolved post will initially have “no power and no resources" and he wants to maintain influence in Westminster to get a good deal for the area and push for a Yorkshire-wide agreement that could make the Sheffield City Region job redundant in 2020.
A heavily critical letter to Labour's national PLP chair John Cryer, copying in Mr Corbyn and the NEC, was agreed by MPs who attended a meeting of the Yorkshire and Humber Parliamentary Labour Group on Tuesday.
It was circulated among all 36 members with “no dissent” expressed today, according to group chair Kevin Barron, despite the presence of Corbyn-backing MPs such as Richard Burgon and Fabian Hamilton in the region.
A spokesman for Fabian Hamilton, Leeds North East MP and Shadow Minister for Peace and Disarmament, today said he did not see the letter until after it was sent to the NEC and was not at the meeting where its contents were discussed.
But a spokesman for Kevin Barron said a message setting out the position was sent out via the messaging service WhatsApp to all the MPs in the group before the letter was sent, with no objections received.
The letter raises the prospects of a high-stakes battle in which the NEC could strip Mr Jarvis of Labour's nomination and appoint another candidate, in which case it is understood the MP will back out of the race.
The letter said: “We want to argue strongly that Dan Jarvis should be our candidate for Mayor of the Sheffield City Region in the forthcoming May election whilst still retaining his position as Labour MP for Barnsley Central.
“Dan has been open from the beginning that if elected as a mayor, he would continue as an MP. He was shortlisted on that basis and elected by the members of South Yorkshire on that clear understanding.
“For the NEC to change the rules at this stage and only days away from the close of the ballot is unfair, undemocratic, and an insult to all members who have so recently taken part in the selection process. We also believe that this decision is almost certainly unconstitutional.
“It would be completely unacceptable if Dan were to be put in a position of not being able to be the candidate and if someone else were to be imposed.
“This is hardly an example of empowering and involving our membership in party decision making”.
Separately, South Yorkshire's four council leaders have written a letter to the NEC, copied to Mr Corbyn, in which they say they are "gravely concerned" at the NEC decision.
It points out that Mr Jarvis was chosen by a clear majority of local Labour members and with the support of his own local Labour Party in Barnsley.
It says he has been clear throughout the process about his intention to take both roles, meaning neither local Labour members nor the people of South Yorkshire could be in any doubt.
It urges the NEC to "reflect the will of the membership" and endorse Mr Jarvis's candidacy so that local leaders in South Yorkshire can move forward.
Rotherham council leader Chris Read signed the letter along with Sheffield's Julie Dore, Barnsley's Stephen Houghton and Doncaster Mayor Ros Jones.
Mr Read told The Yorkshire Post: "At the moment, until we have ratified the Sheffield City Region devolution deal, the role of the mayor is just to chair the combined authority.
"That is the role I have been doing for the last few months and Steve Houghton did before me. No-one has questioned whether we can do that and lead the council at the same time.
"In that sense it is a relatively small time commitment."