A FORMER employee of Ashok Kumar has been selected to replace the MP as Labour’s candidate for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland.

Tom Blenkinsop, a campaign manager with steel union Community, was chosen on Saturday afternoon at a hustings meeting in Guisborough.

The 29-year-old, who worked in Dr Kumar’s constituency office for six years, takes over the candidacy following the MP’s death last month.

Mr Blenkinsop said: “As a local man brought up in Marton, and now living in Saltburn, it’s an absolute honour to be selected by my friends.

“Over the next few weeks, I’ll be working every single day, knocking on doors to earn the support of my community.

“I hope I am able to win the seat for Labour and that I’m able to serve it as well as Ashok did.”

The appointment of a local candidate was welcomed by Joan Guy, chairwoman of Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Constituency Labour Party, who said: “I am delighted.

“In Tom we can see the future of the Labour Party.

“I am confident we can retain the seat with him as our candidate as he is someone who has his finger on the local pulse.”

Vera Baird, Labour’s MP for Redcar, added her support, saying: “This is fantastic news.

“We have a young, local lad who underwent his political upbringing learning from Ashok Kumar.

“I know that Ashok would have been very pleased.”

Also on the shortlist for Labour candidate were: Matthew Syed, 39, from Surrey, a Times sports writer and former England table tennis number one; Kath McColl, 41, a parliamentary assistant to Darlington MP Alan Milburn; Andy McDonald, 52, chairman of the Labour Party local government committee; James Grugeon, 37, from Brighton, founder and director of The Low Carbon Enterprise; Middlesbroughraised Oxford graduate Rick Muir, 32, who works for the Institute of Public Policy Research think-tank.

Following claims that candidates were “parachuted”

onto the shortlist for the seat, the Labour party has found itself under the spotlight again.

Activists in Stoke-on-Trent Central are angry that First Secretary of State Lord Mandelson’s friend, author and broadcaster Tristram Hunt, was selected to contest the seat after no local candidate was shortlisted.

As a result of the decision, constituency party secretary Gary Elsby has confirmed he will stand as an independent Labour candidate.

However, Mark Fisher, who is standing down at the election, says the division within the party could let in the Conservatives and BNP.