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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Severin Carrell Scotland editor

Palestinian charity CEO to stand for Labour in Fife in boost for Starmer

Melanie Ward, chief executive of the Medical Aid for Palestinians charity
Melanie Ward, the chief executive of the Medical Aid for Palestinians charity. Photograph: PA Images/Alamy

The chief executive of the aid charity Medical Aid for Palestinians has been chosen as a Labour candidate to fight a key seat in Scotland, after the original candidate was suspended.

Melanie Ward, who was born in Helensburgh, west of Glasgow, has been parachuted in to compete for the Westminster seat of Cowdenbeath and Kirkcaldy in Fife after a row over allegedly racist tweets led to the previous candidate standing down.

Her appointment will delight Keir Starmer’s allies after repeated criticism over his stance on the Gaza crisis, which has led some Muslim voters and councillors to desert the party and caused tensions with Labour MPs and shadow ministers.

It may also highlight previous differences between Starmer and the Scottish Labour leader, Anas Sarwar, over calls for a ceasefire in Gaza. Sarwar was highly critical of Starmer’s initial failure to condemn Israel’s tactics after the Hamas attacks last October.

Medical Aid for Palestinians has repeatedly called for Israel to stop attacking hospitals and civilian areas; it backed demands by aid charities and Labour parliamentarians for a full ceasefire while Starmer was proposing a “humanitarian pause” to the violence.

Wilma Brown, a trade unionist who won the first selection contest for the seat and who chairs Unison Scotland’s health committee, was suspended by Labour last month.

It emerged that she had liked tweets describing the former first minister Humza Yousaf as “first minister of Gaza”, and one that told a man from India he would “never be an Englishman”.

Ward, who previously worked as an executive director for David Miliband’s global aid organisation, International Rescue Committee, was recently chosen as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential health workers worldwide.

“Melanie Ward has an impressive and proven track record in fighting injustice and delivering change in politics and the third sector,” said a Scottish Labour spokesperson. “At the coming general election, Scottish Labour is standing to deliver the change that Scotland needs.”

Cowdenbeath and Kirkcaldy is a significant target for Labour.

Renamed after a boundaries review, it is largely based on the Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath seat held by Neale Hanvey, who defected from the Scottish National party in 2021 to join Alex Salmond’s fringe nationalist party, Alba.

He won the seat, once held by the former prime minister Gordon Brown, by 1,243 votes in 2019. Labour needs a swing of just under 1.5% to regain it.

Ward stood in the neighbouring constituency of Glenrothes in 2015. Labour lost the seat in that election by nearly 14,000 votes when a resurgent SNP led by Nicola Sturgeon nearly wiped the party off the electoral map in Scotland, leaving it with a single Westminster seat.

She also stood to be the Labour candidate in the south London seat of Beckenham and Penge last November, but lost out to Liam Conlon, the son of Starmer’s chief of staff, Sue Gray.

Formerly with Christian Aid and ActionAid UK, Ward is also the chair of The Circle, a charity set up to empower women and co-founded by the singer and songwriter Annie Lennox.

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