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Thurrock selection: stitch-up or not, Labour’s process stinks

Labour’s parliamentary selection process comes under the spotlight again as criticisms are made of the process in Thurrock, Essex. Sarah Mackinlay, the daughter of Andrew Mackinlay who lost the seat last year retired at the general election, has been kept off the shortlist of two but Polly Billington, a close aide to Ed Miliband, has made it. Although there is no evidence of any improper interference by Ed’s office or regional staff, there is undoubtedly resentment around. Not surprising since, so far, the process has given no role to any party member (let alone local trade unionist) who isn’t on the small selection committee (which can have no more than ten members). There is no nomination process and the only chance party members will get to influence the choice is, on 3 December, to choose between just two candidates who have been shortlisted, neither of them with any local connection.

Back in January, Labour’s national executive gave the go-ahead to 26 parliamentary selection processes, all in southern England and the Midlands. They were carefully chosen marginal seats, well away from Labour seats whose MPs might be displaced by boundary changes and the reduction in the number of seats from 650 to 600. It was recognition by the executive of the advantage of having candidates in place in marginals, subject to the constraint of saving the jobs of existing MPs. The most marginal of all was Thurrock, with a Tory majority of 92, who were to have an all-woman shortlist.

However, at the same time, the executive decided to try out a new selection process. Even though there was no urgency about these selections, there was no nomination process. Indeed the selection procedure in the old, pre-Refounding Labour rulebook which included a proper nomination process involving members branches and affiliates has now been deleted entirely, along with the requirement to shortlist at least six candidates and anyone nominated by branches involving more than half the membership. All that’s left about selection procedures in the new rulebook concerns protecting sitting MPs. The shortlist is entirely decided (subject to the approval of the “NEC’s representative”) by the six to ten of the selection committee.

We don’t have anything against Polly Billington but there is no doubt that the two months off she was granted by Ed Milliband gives her a considerable advantage even without any manipulation of the process. However, she is by no means alone amongst political insiders in getting such advantages. What we do wish is that Ed Miliband would give greater priority to ensuring that working class candidates get real assistance in overcoming the disadvantages of political outsiders, and to ensuring that party members (and even trade unionists) get some real say in who represents them. The elitist process we have now is just not fit for purpose.

Sarah Mackinlay may or may not be who the majority of party members in Thurrock want as their candidate. On the whole, we’re not enthusiastic about political dynasties. But Thurrock members certainly deserve one local candidate and a wider choice. The NEC or Ed Miliband should stop the process and ensure they get it.

4 Comments

  1. Susanna Bellino says:

    Great article – but Andrew Mackinlay did not loose the seat – he retired and wasn’t even the candidate in 2010!!

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Thanks for the correction, Susanna. I have adjusted the text.

  2. Phil C. says:

    ” The elitist process we have now is just not fit for purpose.” – this indicates a shocking state of affairs!

    The fundamental raison d’etre of the Labour Party is to give political representation to millions of ordinary people.
    And, rightly, it has to be so.
    In a democracy, Labour has to be a strong and effective representative, both in govt and in opposition.

    Yet there are too many who deny or ignore the primary purpose.
    The vocal Labour Right drone on about being electable.. how to win the next election.. marginals blah.. swing voters blah.. focus groups blah.. etc.
    The subdued and quiet Centre & Left segments of the Labour Party really do need to shed their counter-productive and outdated fear of losing elections.

    Since May 2010 the folly of New Labour ‘triangulation’ has been fatally exposed and it’s been painfully obvious how enfeebled the majority of the PLP is : they cannot oppose the Tories on policy or principle; they can only quibble about managerial competence. And the careerists self-centredly feel bad about being ignored by the govt and not being listened to by the public.

    Some individual Labour MPs are working hard and well, and doing what’s right, but as a whole the PLP isn’t protecting the people it should be standing up for.

    It seems pretty clear the make-up of the PLP is, at best, drawn from too narrow a base and, at worst, out of touch with the wider Labour movement. Therefore, it sounds shrewd and sensible to actively facilitate and encourage a number of new PPCs of a different character/ class/ background. Also, it sounds eminently sensible to include a local candidate in each CLP’s short list.

  3. Gary Elsby says:

    Why do public schoolboys running Labour feel the need to disregard their privileged education and abuse it further by cheating working class people out of a fair hearing in a hustings battle?

    I expect this behaviour from the Tories and I expect it from public schoolboys but I don’t expect it or accept it from the Labour Party.

    The truth is sad though.

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