Regular visitors may have read here that the Labour Party is piloting a revised and truncated procedure for the selection of prospective parliamentary candidates. This has been operated in 26 seats identified by Labour’s national executive as ‘early bird’ marginals. The executive’s Organisation Committee has undertaken to properly review this pilot lot this year in time for party conference. A thorough review is vital because the pilot has major deficiencies.
There has already been disquiet amongst Party members in several of the ‘early bird’ constituencies (such as over the Thurrock Selection). The pilot was never flagged up in the Refounding Labour documents, but it seems that it is being swept up under that general heading. Indeed, senior party officials took advantage of the cover provided by the numerous rule changes introduced as part of Refounding Labour to delete absolutely illegitimately and without the knowledge of Labour’s executive the whole of the procedure for selecting parliamentary candidates from the Rule Book. Clearly some officials have already made up their minds about what will happen.
Many party members supported the general thrust of Refounding Labour because it promised more of a role and influence for the grassroot foot soldiers. Unfortunately this pilot is not the only one of these developments that actually take the party in the opposite direction. Take a look at what’s happening to borough, district and county parties for example. But the selection of a parliamentary candidate is probably the most important decision local parties and members ever have to make. And in some cases it is a decision that will not be made again for some twenty or thirty years. It is therefore a decision that needs thorough consideration and full involvement by the membership. Unfortunately, the pilot is rather the opposite of this. It is a classic case of ‘act in haste, repent at leisure’.
The way it works is this:
The recommended advertising period is ridiculously short at only 2 weeks. And, for the first time since the Party was formed, member branches and trade unions are denied the right to nominate. It was always the case that branches could properly interview and then make nominations. This is the procedure to which we need to return. It is only recently that we’ve had the nonsense of branches nominating simply from CVs passed round at the meeting.
Under the pilot the experienced EC of the CLP no longer draws up the short list. Rather this is handed over to a small “Selection Committee” of 6 to 10 members, which can include members of other CLPs with “interviewing skills”. There is then self nomination direct to the Selection Committee which draws up the shortlist. It is perhaps hardly surprising that in at least one section this system has produced a shortlist of only two, neither of whom came from the CLP. It seems to me that the pilot arrangements will tend to benefit the ambitious thrusters.
The situation is already bad enough. A recent survey of the occupational background of MPs, shown to the NEC, revealed that 27% of Labour MPs had a “politics” background (those who are unkindly referred to as ‘bag carriers’) and only 9% a “manual” background. As Iain McNicol, party general secretary, pointed out on a recent canvassing visit to Oxford, if this breakdown reflected occupations in society at large, then over 6 million people would be working for MPs!
Iain, the NEC, and the unions are committed to addressing this politically dangerous gulf between our elected representatives and our voters. Fundamentally revising the pilot would be a good start.
Peter Willsman is Secretary of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. He is currently seeking nominations for the Labour Party National Executive Committee.