In the middle of a leadership election and in the first weeks of what could be a five-year fixed term parliament, it may seem too early to be talking about parliamentary selections. But it’s not. Not if you want to change the party rules to make sure they’re not rigged.
Last week, Michael Meacher blogged on this site about the shenanigans in the recent round of selections. He described:
the devices which have been honed to fix parliamentary selections in favour of candidates selected by the leadership and to keep out any effective challengers. Such devices include giving the preferred candidate a head start through prior access to the membership list long before the others, getting regional staff to ring round members to rally support for the preferred candidate, and manipulation of the short-listing and postal vote systems. By such means well-known personalities have regularly been parachuted into seats just before an election (when the NEC, which the leadership also controls, takes over full responsibility for late allocations), even though the electorate itself has often registered its distaste for such manoeuvres. At this last election two of the candidates parachuted in not long before 6 May only just squeezed in, with swings against them of 17.2% and 10.4%, two to three times the national average.
NEC member, Peter Kenyon, has documented some of the offending selections here. In many cases the time taken to organise the NEC selection or shortlisting process was no quicker than would have been possible at a local level by reducing the time allowed in the normal timetables for selection. In 2010, decisions were taken by the NEC Special Selections Panel without even the presence of local observers.
The fact that it is easier for selections to be manipulated this way when the NEC is in active control of the process, actually encourages MPs to announce their retirement late in a parliament, eager for whatever reward the whips and the leadership might throw their way, but much to the disadvantage of the party’s effective campaigning. This was worse than usual in the last parliament because the number of retirements was boosted by the MPs’ expenses scandal and the perception by many MPs that Labour would lose.
The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy has come up with the answer: to restrict the imposition of candidates to the most extreme circumstances, and in the case of the imposition of either candidate or shortlist, to ensure that decisions are taken jointly with local representatives. This applies not only to parliamentary selections but all selections – councillors, directly-elected Mayors, MEPs, MSPs, AMs too. The proposed rule change is set out below. All CLPs are entitled to propose a rule change. The closing date for submission is Friday 30th July.
RULE CHANGE: Right of members to select candidates
The Labour Party Rule Book 2010, Section B, Chapter 5 ‘Selections for elected public office’, A ‘General rules for selections for public office’, 5A2 reads:
Party units shall act in accordance with guidance that shall be issued by the NEC in the application of these rules. The NEC has the authority to modify these rules and any procedural rules and guidelines as required to meet particular circumstances or to further the stated objectives and principles of these rules. Further the NEC has the power to impose candidates where it deems this is required by the circumstances.
Replace the words (lines 5/7): “Further the NEC has the power to impose candidates where it deems this is required by the circumstances.”” with:
However, the NEC shall not override the general right of party members who reside in the electoral area concerned to participate in any selection unless the party finds itself for any reason without a duly selected candidate within two weeks of the close of nominations. In such cases, the NEC may appoint a selection panel of members drawn by lot from those of its members available (or, in the case of candidates other than for the UK or European parliament, available members of the NEC or appropriate Regional Board or party officials), plus the same number of members appointed by the appropriate party body for the electoral area concerned. In other cases where the need arises, the NEC may draw up a shortlist of not fewer than six candidates for selection by appointing a shortlisting panel drawn by lot from those members available (or, in the case of candidates other than for the UK or European parliament, available members of the NEC or appropriate Regional Board or party officials), plus the same number of members appointed by the appropriate party body for the electoral area concerned.