Basingstoke and Deane Borough councillor Michael Howard-Sorrell has quit the Labour party in protest over the selection of David Lawrence as the parliamentary party candidate.

Cllr Howard-Sorrell quit the party on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after Mr Lawrence was selected as the Labour candidate for Basingstoke following a husting.

Mr Lawrence defeated Cllr Alex Lee and Holly Hopgood in the husting attended by around 120 Labour members from Basingstoke.

Cllr Howard-Sorrell said he decided to quit as he believes “the candidate the party chose is completely unsuitable to represent Labour locally”.

Two days before he submitted his resignation letter, he was administratively suspended by the party for "speaking out against Mr Lawrence". 

Speaking to the Gazette after sending his resignation, Cllr Howard-Sorrell said: “David Lawrence is not a local himself. He has vastly overstated his connection to Basingstoke.

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“And his entire campaign has felt very unethical from start to finish. There's been a number of concerns voiced by members across the party about him contacting them prior to a point where he shouldn’t have had access to their information. So he's been provided or has managed to get a hold of member details illicitly.

“He has acted in a way that is technically within the letter of the rules, according to several people within the Labour party, but the general consensus is that he's acted very far outside what the spirit of the rules really should be.”

Cllr Howard-Sorrell was also vying for the candidature initially, but only Cllr Lee and Mr Lawrence were shortlisted by the party.

He said this was also taken into consideration while quitting Labour.

“My main concern as a politician is climate change. And my plan was always to try and get into politics and make a difference in that.

“I was hoping to be selected [to the Parliament candidature] myself. Once I no longer was in the running, I did start to think about what else I can do locally. And I feel that there's more that I can do outside of the Labour party than inside because there isn't enough focus from the Labour group locally or nationally on the climate crisis."

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He added that he supported Cllr Lee once the shortlist was announced.

“I think Cllr Lee would have had the best chance of unseating Maria Miller. He is an ex-military man who is respected by everyone.

“The issue I have with David is that he doesn't really have any idea what the local issues are. And when I had a lengthy conversation with him a few months ago, he said that if he were to get elected, his focus would be on things like international development. That's completely the opposite of the sort of MP that Basingstoke needs.

“We have so many people struggling at the moment and we can’t have an MP who isn't focused on local issues like making bills cheaper and making sure homes are more insulated. If he wants to go off and focus on pie in the sky, then he's welcome to do that. But that's not what this town needs.

“I can't support him and I can't support the Labour party for selecting him."

Cllr Howard-Sorrell, who joined the Labour party in December 2018, said he will remain as a standalone independent councillor, but wouldn’t join the Basingstoke and Deane Independents group or any other parties.

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“I don't think that people would appreciate me switching to another party entirely since I was voted on a Labour ticket. But I'm hoping that my residents will appreciate that I've done what I consider to be the best to represent them and their needs.”

Reacting to the resignation, Labour party leader for Basingstoke Cllr Andrew McCormick said he was disappointed at the decision.

“I'm quite upset about it. Mike was a rising star in the party and the group."

Cllr McCormick however supported the selection of Mr Lawrence as the party candidate.

“He's got experience running an MPs office. He's clearly captured the imagination of the local party membership and the members have exercised their right to vote. It was a very well-attended meeting with over 100 people present. 

“The sooner we have a general election, the better because this country is broken. Britain is broken, and the Tories won't fix it.”

Meanwhile, Mr Lawrence said Cllr Howard-Sorrell was suspended from the party even before his resignation.

"He is jumping after he'd been pushed. I don't know the full details of why he was suspended from the party. But clearly, he's taken issue with my selection.

"Obviously, he was a candidate previously looking for the same role I went. So that might have something to do with it."

Mr Lawrence also countered Cllr Howard-Sorrell's argument about his Basingstoke connection.

"I've always been very clear that I lived in Basingstoke as a child. My parents were very embedded in the community. They taught at QMC and BCOT. But then we moved to China, and then to Winchester, which is just down the road.

"And in recent years, I've been living in London because I work there like lots of young people in Basingstoke. I've always been very honest about that."

Mr Lawrence also said there were no rules against contacting members prior to the last stage. There are some rules about canvassing, which I didn't do before the last stage. I didn't have access to any membership. I had a completely ethical campaign that was above board within the Labour Party's guidelines."

He also added that he would focus on both international and local issues if he is elected as an MP.

"The energy crisis has its roots in foreign policy. I don't think that there's competition between international, national and local issues. And we need to have a good understanding of all of them. So I'm not going to prioritise national issues over local issues.

"But I do have experience working in foreign policy. And I think it's also really important that I'm also of Asian heritage. I am half-Chinese. And I think it's really important that we represent internationally as well."