A DAMAGING rift is opening in Labour in Islwyn after four councillors left the party yesterday amid allegations potential candidates for Don Touhig's seat are being 'parachuted' in from outside the area.

Caerphilly councillors Dave Rees and Phyllis Griffiths, who represent Risca West, Pengam's Jonathan Wilson and Ynysddu member Jan Jones announced their resignations from the party in a scathing letter to Gordon Brown.

Cllr Rees will now fight the seat as an Independent in the forthcoming general election and try to overturn Labour's majority of 15,740.

The four, who have been party members for more than 54 years between them, will stand as Independents under the name Islwyn First in a protest about the shortlist which includes potential candidates like Tamsin Dunwoody from Pembrokeshire and four prospective candidates from London.

Cllr Wilson, a party member for ten years and a councillor since 2006 put himself forward for the Islwyn shortlist, along with Andy Whitcombe from Newbridge, and said the lack of an Islwyn candidate was "the straw that broke the camel's back" for the group.

Cllr Rees, a party member for more than 20 years and ward member since 2008, said: "We had two local people and they've been excluded - it's unacceptable, this has got to stop and someone has got to take a stand."

The pair were joined by Cllr Jones, a councillor since 2004 and a Labour Party member for seven years, and Cllr Griffiths, a party member for 17 years who was elected in a by-election two years ago following the death of her long-serving councillor husband Keith from cancer.

The four claimed no lessons were learned from Blaenau Gwent when the Labour Party ignored the views of the local membership and imposed an all-female shortlist.

Peter Law left Labour and took the previously safe seat as an independent by more than 9,000 votes - leading to dozens of previously-loyal Blaenau Gwent Labour party members quitting or being forced out. Labour then lost the Assembly seat and council to the independents.

In the letter to the Prime Minister, the four also said the expenses scandal "disgusted" them and criticised the government's handling of the banking crisis.

The resignation letter concludes by saying: "We look at the situation as being not us having left the Labour Party, but the Labour Party having left us."

The Islwyn shortlist was drawn up following interviews held by a panel made up of members from the party's National Executive Committee and Welsh Executive Committee. The final selection will be made by a postal ballot.

A Welsh Labour spokesman said it had not received anything directly from the four, adding it was "clearly disappointing news."

Other candidates for Islwyn are: Daniel Thomas (Conservative), Steffan Lewis (Plaid Cymru) and Asghar Ali (Liberal Democrat).

The shortlist

Tamsin Dunwoody - AM for Preseli Pembrokeshire 2003 - 2007 and daughter of Gwyneth Dunwoody. Lost Crewe and Nantwich by-election to Conservative Edward Timpson in May 2008.

Christopher Evans - A researcher for Don Touhig and party member for 20 years. From Bridgend.

Dan Jarvis - From London - Has military background, served in Afghanistan and worked as an assistant to a Nato commander in the Balkans.

Melanie Smallman - Finished behind Conservative Greg Hands in the 2005 general election in the Hammersmith and Fulham seat.

Nick Thomas-Symonds - A lawyer who is secretary of the Blaenavon branch of the Labour Party, secretary of the Torfaen constituency Labour Party. Chairman of selection panel for Torfaen's Labour council candidates in 2008 elections.

Angela Wilkins - From London and worked Harriet Harman's office and former administrator of Labour's '1,000 Club' listing major donors.

Nathan Yeowell - From Griffithstown, Pontypool, now based in London. Head of Labour group office at Local Government Association.

EDITORIAL COMMENT: Déjà vu as Labour stirs hornet's nest

IT was with a sense of déjà vu that we read the shortlist of potential Labour Party candidates to fight the Islwyn seat in the forthcoming election.

For anyone who remembers anything of what happened in Blaenau Gwent five years ago, the situation is uncanny.

At that time New Labour tried to impose an all-women shortlist on the local party, only for the plan to backfire in spectacular fashion when Peter Law then stood as an independent and overturned one of the largest Labour majorities in the country.

The seat remains independent today.

Don Touhig's decision to stand down from a seat he held last time around with a majority in excess of 15,000, vacates what should be another safe seat for Labour.

But it is astonishing to see the party repeating its policy of imposing an external shortlist on a traditional heartland seat.

It is not for us to tell the Labour Party how to run itself and although this time it is not an all-women shortlist, it is one which is being seen as an imposition by local party activists.

Already one loyalist, Councillor Dave Rees, has vowed to stand as an independent candidate after he and three colleagues announced they are to resign from the party in protest at the shortlist.

This newspaper is non-political and will remain so, but we are as amazed as the four resigning councillors that the Party has chosen to impose a shortlist that contains not one Islwyn politician.

We publish the claims by those councillors that decisions are being taken away from the heartland of Labour support and we can see their point.

In our view politicians should have a good working knowledge of, and preferably local connections with, their constituency.

In this way they can be seen to truly represent the area.

If not, there is a very real danger that the selection process is perceived as a career stepping stone for a favoured few and a sort of political chess game for the Labour Party masters.

We will be amazed if the current shortlist for Labour Party candidates is unchanged following the outcry with which it has been greeted.