'It's not the kind of party I want to lead': Labour contender Jess Phillips calls for return of powers in Sandwell
A Labour leadership candidate has vowed to restore powers for local party members in Sandwell to select their own election candidates.
Jess Phillips called for her party to "rebuild" in the Black Country, saying she was shocked that the Sandwell Local Campaign Forum (LCF) had been blocked from choosing candidates by Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC).
Senior Labour figures imposed a suspension on the Sandwell LCF 18 months ago but have never given an official reason for the decision.
It has sparked fury among local members, who had candidates imposed upon them in last year's general election and local elections.
The intervention of Birmingham Yardley MP Mrs Phillips comes after more than 100 Labour members in the borough signed a letter calling on the NEC to lift the suspension on the LCF.
Former Labour deputy leader and West Bromwich East MP Tom Watson has also expressed his concerns, recently calling for a complete overhaul of the West Midlands regional office.
Mrs Phillips, who is one of five candidates bidding to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, met with local members during a leadership event at the Mecure Birmingham West Hotel.
She said: "I was shocked to hear that a local Labour Party campaign forum had been suspended for that long, with no reason given and no action taken in the 18 months since.
"Taking away the chance for local members to select their own candidates is not the kind of party I want to lead.
"If elected leader, I would urgently review this to make sure any issues were resolved in time for local members to select their own candidates.
"Labour needs to rebuild in the Black Country and members will be at the heart of this."
The letter, which was signed by Warley MP John Spellar, said: "We strongly believe there cannot be a repeat of the 2019 selections where local hard-working members were completely disenfranchised from selecting their local candidates.
"This led to a significant decrease in votes for the Labour Party in wards where the candidate had been imposed without involvement of local members."
Labour lost five Black Country seats to the Conservatives in the general election, including West Bromwich East and West Bromwich West.
In both instances Labour fielded candidates that were not selected by local members.