OPEN warfare has broken out over who will take over one of London’s safest Parliamentary seats when the sitting MP stands down at the next election.

Accusations are flying in Erith and Thamesmead, where John Austin, 64, the current Labour MP for the constituency, holds a majority of 11,500.

In January, Labour Party chiefs imposed an all-women shortlist requirement on the constituency party, despite local protests.

They have also removed John Pegg, a former Bexley councillor who would normally run the search for a new candidate, from his post.

The London Labour Party has taken over his role, claiming there had been a complaint from a candidate.

But insiders say the complaint was not about Mr Pegg’s conduct.

Now there are claims old rivalries between the camps of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are being played out in Erith and Thamesmead, as would-be MPs jostle for the nomination as the next prospective Parliamentary candidate.

A constituency insider, who would not be named, said: “It has been a very bitter few months.”

One candidate in the running for the shortlist is Georgia Gould, 22, currently a Masters student at the London School of Economics and daughter of Philip, now Lord Gould, who was one of Mr Blair’s leading political strategists.

Pitched against her is Rachel Maskell, a national officer with the Unite union backed by Mr Brown’s former press secretary Charlie Whelan, Unite’s political director.

Both have received two nominations from ward parties in the constituency.

There are several other candidates, some with local connections and more local nominations, who are also in the running for the shortlist.

This will be drawn up by the constituency’s general council, made up of trade union delegates, Co-op members and local party members.

There will be a general meeting of members on April 18, when the shortlisted candidates will each make a presentation and the winner will be chosen by a secret ballot.

Inquiries to the constituency about the issue are being directed to the London Labour Party, but an insider confirmed attempts are being made by Labour chiefs to “parachute” a candidate into the seat.

The insider also confirmed attempts to tap into the sizeable number of Nigerian voters in Thamesmead to persuade them to vote for Miss Gould.

Ahead of the April 18 meeting, members are receiving personal phone calls from Mr Blair’s former press secretary Alastair Campbell, urging them to support Miss Gould’s nomination.

Mr Austin, who is currently in Paris on Parliamentary business, said the selection of a new candidate for the constituency should be made locally.

He warned there would be very strong local resentment if there was any interference in the process.

London Labour Party spokesman Phil Dilks said: “Nominations from the local wards and affiliated organisations closed on Monday.

“Eight potential candidates are on the ‘long list’ and they will now go forward to a shortlisting process.”

Mr Dilks said the all-women shortlist was there “to achieve a fairer balance of men and women in Parliament as quickly as possible”.

He added: “The regional party is working closely with John Pegg to ensure the process runs as smoothly as possible.”

Mr Dilks said the process would be supervised by the London Labour Party “to ensure every member, and every potential candidate, is treated fairly”.