Labour members call for election powers to return to Sandwell
More than 100 Labour Party members have signed a letter demanding election powers are returned to Sandwell.
Local branches were mysteriously stripped of their powers 18 months ago by the party's National Executive Committee.
It meant outside candidates were parachuted into Sandwell during the last local and general elections - such as Lambeth's mayor Ibrahim Dogus, who competed for Tom Watson's former West Bromwich East seat.
But ahead of May's local elections, 127 Sandwell-based Labour members have signed a letter calling on the NEC to lift a suspension on Sandwell's Local Campaign Forum, which is responsible for choosing candidates.
The letter - addressed to senior party figures including Jeremy Corbyn and Jennie Formby - has warned this could lead to a "significant decrease in votes" at the next election.
It comes after Tom Watson, former West Bromwich East MP and deputy party leader, blamed failings at Labour's West Midlands office for Labour's slump in the general election; where two Sandwell seats were lost to the Conservatives.
He also called on Sandwell Council leader Yvonne Davies to resign as he claimed she lacked the skill and "humility" to guide the authority away from its scandal-riddled past.
The letter said: "We are concerned at the extended length of time the Sandwell LCF has been suspended and the consequent disenfranchising of members in the selection of candidates for the 2019 local elections.
"We are further concerned at the apparent lack of any process that would lead to the reinstatement of the Sandwell LCF [or lack of progress of any such process] and the consequences this has for selection of candidates for the 2020 local elections.
"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's Warley MP John Spellar, who has signed the letter, said: "The NEC have never come clean as to the reason for them doing that and why it has taken so long (to lift the suspension). Justice delayed is justice denied.
"It is absolutely vital that the Labour Party restores democracy to Sandwell and local government.
"It was appalling last year when hardworking councillors were cleared off the panel and outside NEC representatives decided who to elect with no reference to local party members. This is not the Labour Party.
"A new leader will want an active member-led party across the country and they should start in Sandwell."
The Labour Party was approached for comment.