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Congratulations Sarah: now let’s learn the lessons of Rotherham

Congratulations to Sarah Champion, the new Labour MP for Rotherham (full results below). She will no doubt do a great job in the role – we hope better than her predecessor Denis MacShane.

So can we all breathe a sigh of relief? Well, of course, in that Labour won. Respect may be capable of delivering reality-checks to Labour, as in Bradford West, but only Labour can deliver a government that works in the interests of working people. And that’s not to mention the appalling judgment calls made by George Galloway – and candidates who have refused to distance themselves from him – in recent months. It’s welcome to see those rejected – and of course, Yvonne Ridley appeared on the ballot paper as “Respect (George Galloway)”.

But the result is hardly a vindication of the selection process that saw local candidates kept off the ballot paper by the party machine. With a turnout of 33 per cent and an unheard-of second place for a party that capitalises on disillusionment, it is clear that voters have been turned off by the political process that disenfranchised the people of their town.

You might think that most people wouldn’t be bothered about the selection process – only a small proportion are eligible to take part, after all. But when the London political establishment stamps on the local choices in full public view, it leaves a sour taste.

That’s not to mention the still-reasonable showing for Respect – which made the Labour selection process a key part of their campaign. 8.34 per cent is a considerable dent.

Fundamentally, however, Labour has been lucky. We were let off by the distraction of the Rotherham fostering scandal – which UKIP have made considerable capital out of – and the simple fact that Respect and Yvonne Ridley hardly presented a credible left alternative.

We cannot expect that to be the case all of the time. Just look at what happened in London in 2000, when the selection process was stitched up against Ken Livingstone.

And aside from all of that, having transparent and democratic processes must be about more than winning at the polls. As it says on the back of our membership cards, we are a “democratic socialist party”, and that should extend to the selection of candidates. The very fact that half the members walked out of the selection meeting in protest demonstrates the strength of opinion among activists. If we’d won by 10,000 or more tonight, that would be still be significant.

The by-election is over now – and the government are firmly beaten. With the Tories and Lib Dems in fifth and eighth place, we should be glad that the electorate saw fit to punish the incompetent and ideologically-bankrupt parties of government. There will, of course, be much soul-searching to do as to how UKIP and the BNP took second and third place.

Jon Lansman wrote of members’ self-restraint on the subject of the Rotherham selection in the run-up to the poll. Now we must properly talk about it – and make sure it is not brushed under the carpet. No doubt the argument will be made that the electorate weren’t bothered. But this is hardly a conventional set of results, is it?

Now is the time for Labour members to demand an end to NEC-imposed selection shortlists. If Ed Miliband and general secretary Iain McNicol are serious about making a break with the fixing culture of the New Labour years, they should support this move. But we cannot expect top-down structures to be removed via top-down reform. If anything demonstrates the need for Labour activists to organise for party democracy, it is the Rotherham debacle.

Let’s make sure this never happens again.

The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy argues for more power for Labour’s rank and file members. This includes CLPs having the right to decide on their own shortlists for parliamentary selections. Membership is open to individuals and to Labour and trade union branches. Join here – and find out more on the CLPD website.

FULL RESULT (thanks to LabourList for uploading this fairly early-on):

  • Sarah Champion, Labour: 9,866 (46.25%, +1.62%)
  • Jane Collins, UKIP: 4,648 (21.79%, +15.87%)
  • Marlene Guest, BNP: 1,804 (8.46%, -1.96%)
  • Yvonne Ridley, Respect: 1,778 (8.34%)
  • Simon Wilson, Cons: 1,157 (5.42%, -11.32%)
  • David Wildgoose, English Democrat: 703 (3.30%)
  • Simon Copley, Independent: 582 (2.73%, -3.58%)
  • Michael Beckett, Liberal Democrat: 451 (2.11%, -13.87%)
  • Ralph Dyson, TUSC: 261 (1.22%)
  • Paul Dickson, Independent: 51 (0.24%)
  • Clint Bristow, no description: 29 (0.14%)

6 Comments

  1. Rick Vale says:

    I think I echo the sentiment of a lot of voters when I say that whilst I genuinely hope Sarah Champion does do a good job for Rotherham, it’s important to understand what this really means.

    Rotherham as seat is safe labour territory, yet she is the first candidate in history to achieve less than 10k votes. Whilst this isn’t necessarily a damning indictment on her ability to represent Rotherham, it’s vital that the lessons are learned – not only by labour but the entire political establishment.

    When all is said and done, politics is about represntation. Denis MacShane made a massive play on his commitment to Europe, but it didn’t exactly help to create jobs or do anything constructive for the town.

    I do hope that Sarah Champion doesn’t make the same mistakes and force an unwanted, but party-led agenda upon the people that put her in power.

    People need to be engaged, not disenfranchised by the system we have in place and although it’s going to take time, this can be achieved.

    I’d love to see a new wave of politics, whereby people can have a say on the issues that matter – not just leaving it to the cheap political point-scoring that is prevalent in politics.

    It’s going to take time to achieve this, but it can be done, the entire political infrastructure needs to be reviewed.

  2. Gary Elsby says:

    We know that Sarah Champion represents Ed Milband and the NEc in Rotherham, but who represents Labour members in Westminster?

    I thought the idea of Parliamentary democracy (UK democracy) was that local areas sent their spokesperson to Parliament so that Parliament knew what was being asked of them?

    Ed already knows.

  3. Dave says:

    “demand an end to NEC-imposed selection shortlists.”

    That won’t happen. The influential Progress party is already trumpeting the success of current selection arrangements.

    Instead, candidates should be requested, by the grass-roots membership, to sign-up to an ‘integrity clause’ – requiring that they refuse any candidacy derived from stitched-up/parachute dependent selections.

    This ‘shame or proclaim’ option should separate the self-seeking careerists from the public servants.

  4. Tom Blackburn says:

    Totally agree with the OP. The NEC might have got away with it on this occasion, but this has to be seen as a tipping point – the NEC’s interfering could have risked derailing the whole campaign and members have to organise to take control of the selections process. Credit has to go to Mahroof Hussain for reacting with such dignity to what was a blatant stitch-up, though.

    Waiting for a benevolent leadership to bestow proper internal democracy upon us is futile – particularly, as Dave points out above, when the Progress party-within-a-party is constantly manoeuvring behind the scenes to parachute its placemen into position.

  5. Gary Elsby says:

    Dignity?

    Dignity is what cheats thrive on.

    Your dignity and silence for their cheating and blatant, draconian ignoring of the popular membership.
    You lose, they win, everytime.

    If you can persuade all that the popular view, Country-wide, is that Rotherham was a correct decision, then I am just plain wrong.

  6. Susan Brown says:

    Hi Sarah

    I was Jimmy Boyce’s pa from his election until his death. We had a great rapport with Rotherham’s constituents, who loved Jimmy and respected me. If you need any advice about what makes Rotherham people tick please contact me on 01709 54740

    I am very dubious as to whether you view this site but we shall see.

    Sue Brown

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