A CARLISLE councillor has quit the Labour Party amid criticism of the national leadership - and says he 'cannot understand' why three local candidates who have 'worked hard' for the party have been removed from standing in the MP selection process.

Chris Wills, city councillor and the Upperby representative on the new Cumberland authority, quit Labour last Friday and has joined the Co-operative Party, a party which he says has ‘parallel values’ with his former party.

It comes after he said he was disallowed from standing as the party's parliamentary representative, and amid what he described as a period of 'all sorts of problems' for the party locally.

“If the Starmer team can treat one of their strongest supporters in this way, I don't want anything more to do with the party," Cllr Wills said.

"It's the final straw in a cumulative effect of issues, there's been all sorts of problems with Labour locally.

"I'm not unique in this, some of us have been doing a lot to try and maintain decent standards of behaviour and to support the national effort... it's been a very difficult few years."

A lifelong party member and respected former union rep, Alan McGuckin, recently accused Labour party chiefs of conducting a ‘witch-hunt’ within the party, going after those who openly supported ‘socialist values’.

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Cllr Wills said he can understand why some people may see his resignation as ‘sour grapes’ but said that it doesn’t detract from the fact that the party has done a ‘disservice’ to the people in Carlisle.

“I'm extremely annoyed I didn't get the chance go before my peers and explain to them I wanted to reflect what local people were saying in the candidacy to be the next MP for Carlisle," he said.

"Carlisle and the whole northwest need a better understanding than the candidates I see who come from outside the region,” he said.

Whilst the official announcement of the longlist is yet to be revealed, sources indicate that Julie Minns, Anne Quilter, Hayder Qureshi, and Sarah Williams have made the list.

The Cumberland News understands that Mr Wills, Labour candidate Ruth Alcroft, and prominent Labour figure Louise Atkinson, a Carlisle teacher and city councillor who is president of the National Education Union, all failed to make the candidate longlist.

“I’m really disappointed," Cllr Atkinson said. "I think I’d make a great MP for the city, I’ve worked very hard for the Labour Party for a long time now, and their reasons are not very clear as to why I didn’t even make the longlist.

“It seems a shame not to give the membership in Carlisle the choice."

Cllr Atkinson said she did not even receive an interview to get onto the longlist in the first place, or any sound reasoning as to why she had been omitted.

Cllr Wills has pledged his moral support to candidate Anne Quilter, for her ‘authentic local voice’.

As for his own position, he said: “None of my values and beliefs will change so I will not stand down from my seat, it's purely the brand that has changed.

“Now I will be much freer, in some respects it will be better with constituents because if I identify with something that would clash with Labour policy, now I have a freer voice to say it.

“It will give me the opportunity to put forward issues before party dogma. And that's what people want; issues put before football scarf mentality,” he said.

A spokesperson from the Labour party said: "Working people, families, and pensioners in Carlisle deserve a Labour MP with a Keir Starmer government to deliver a fairer, greener future for Britain.

"We are pleased to be able to confirm that a longlist of strong candidates has now been drawn up and Labour’s candidate to contest the general election will soon be selected by local party members.”

READ MORE: 'Witch-hunt' claims after veteran Labour councillor kicked out of party