A ROW over the dropping as candidates of Blackburn’s first two Asian women councillors has forced Labour to rerun their selection meetings tonight.

In May 2018, the success of Saima Afzal and Maryam Batan in local elections for Blackburn with Darwen Council was hailed as ‘trailblazing’.

But in two ward selection meetings on February 7, both were dropped for other Asian female candidates for May’s borough poll.

Following the decision, Blackburn Central ward’s Cllr Afzal and Audley and Queen’s Park’s Cllr Batan complained the procedure used broke party rules.

They objected to chairman Cllr Zamir Khan holding the shortlisting and final selection meetings on the same night rather than a week apart - a procedure described by one senior Labour source as ‘a dog’s dinner’.

They also told supporters they had been the victim of older Asian men in the party who saw them as independent women who would not ‘toe the line’.

Now Labour has ordered the two final selections to be rerun using the existing shortlists of two candidates in each ward at a meeting tonight at Jans Conference Centre.

Cllr Khan said: “I do not think I did anything wrong. Holding shortlisting and selection on the same night is not usual but does happen.

“Everyone, including the two councillors, went away happy.

“Then I heard they had complained. Some people are sayi`ng it is sour grapes and that they were disappointed at being deselected.”

Cllr Damian Talbot, Blackburn Labour Party’s chairman, who was present at the meetings, said: “Zamir did nothing wrong. After the complaint, it seems right that the selection meetings are rerun in the interests of fairness.”

Labour sources said Cllrs Afzal and Batan believed they were victims of sexism by a group of older Asian men within the Blackburn Labour party because they were independent-minded and willing to speak out against old-fashioned attitudes.

Julian Arnold, chairman of Blackburn Conservative Association, said: “This episode is shameful and embarrassing for Blackburn Labour Party. It shows the turmoil Labour is in nationally and locally.”

Cllrs Afzal and Batan were unavailable for comment yesterday.

A Labour North-West spokeswoman said yesterday: “The selection meeting is being rerun on Friday evening because of procedural irregularities. We have received no official complaints of sexism or bullying.”