Manchester’s first ever openly gay lord mayor has been blocked from standing in May’s council election by Labour members, as Momentum gain ground in the city’s party.
Carl Austin-Behan lost a crunch vote that effectively saw him de-selected for his Burnage ward.
Insiders said the decision was partly the result of growing support for the pro-Corbyn Momentum faction of the party, which is backing Burnage branch secretary Ben Clay for selection instead.
Coun Austin-Behan’s term as lord mayor – in the year to last May – had made headlines around the world after he became the first openly gay person to hold the ceremonial position.
The former Mr Gay UK had described in 2016 how much taking on the position meant to him, having been kicked out of the air force in the 1990s because of his sexuality.
He said he was ‘hurt, upset and gutted’ after a packed meeting of Labour’s Burnage branch – part of a wider re-selection process across the city triggered by ward boundary changes – decided not to back him to stand again.
Instead they picked three people to go on a shortlist ahead of a vote next week, with Momentum activist Ben Clay the clear frontrunner.
In a statement Coun Austin-Behan said: “Unfortunately, due to the new city council ward boundary changes which take effect from May 2018, I failed to gain the majority of support from the ‘new’ Burnage members of the Labour party.
“It has been a pleasure serving the residents of Burnage since I first stood in 2010, just missing out on 183 votes, but then winning in 2011 with a majority of over 1,500 and then again in 2015 with a majority of 2,775.
“I have loved every minute of being a local resident and councillor and I leave with my head held high, knowing that Burnage is in a much better place.”
He said his term as lord mayor was the ‘best year ever’, adding that he was ‘proud, honoured and privileged to have had such a surreal opportunity – which would never have happened without being on the council’.
All Labour councillors across the city have had to go through a re-selection process as part of alterations to Manchester’s council boundaries.
The vast majority were successful, but Coun Austin-Behan and Coun Ollie Manco, who represents Ancoats and Clayton, both failed to secure the necessary support.
Numerous Labour sources all pointed to a swell in Momentum support – and more effective organisation – within Burnage in particular, adding that Coun Austin-Behan was not seen as a Corbyn supporter.
One described the situation as a ‘coup’ within the Burnage branch.
However several also said the decision also lay in dissatisfaction about his visibility within the ward.
Ultimately more than 50 people turned out to the meeting – a large number for a ward selection – and ‘the anti-Carl people got more bums on seats’, according to one pro-Momentum member.
In an apparent swipe at the current direction of the party, Coun Austin-Behan said: “The Labour party I knew and loved was democratic and I genuinely wish the best for the person who will replace me,” adding that they would work alongside ‘tireless’ councillors Bev Craig and Azra Ali, who were both selected to stand again.
“I will still be a councillor for the next six months. Although I feel hurt, upset and gutted at the moment I’m sure this will pass – I will continue to work hard and represent the people who voted for me, put their trust in me and believe in me to represent them.”
Thanking everyone who had supported him during his time as both councillor and lord mayor – including his mum and his husband Simon – he said this was ‘just the end of one chapter and the start of a new one’, before adding: “Onwards and upwards.”
Most of Manchester’s Labour re-selections ran relatively smoothly for sitting councillors, but in Ancoats and Clayton Coun Manco also effectively got de-selected in favour of a Momentum candidate, Majid Dar.
The council’s veteran city centre spokesman Pat Karney – secretary of the council’s Labour group – said he was sure both retiring councillors would return to the town hall, however.
“Carl’s ground-breaking mayoral year will have an impact on future generations of LGBT people,” he said.
“I am totally confident that he and Ollie Manco will be back on the council.”