It is sad that Labour’s election bonanza yesterday at Corby, Manchester Central, Cardiff South and many Police Commissioner elections is once again tarnished by selection shenanigans.
Rotherham CLP two days ago selected their candidate to succeed Denis McShane, or rather were prevented from selecting candidates whom they might well have selected if they had been given the opportunity to do so.
Labour’s NEC in its wisdom decided, as is usual at by-elections, to set up a panel to determine the short list of candidates who it regarded as ‘safe’ to put to the local party for selection. The panel of 5 included Harriet Yeo, the party chair, UCATT’s Jim Kennedy, Tom Watson MP, Keith Vaz MP and Ellie Reeves (though she withdrew and was replaced by another MP, Angela Eagle).What followed may bring about the damage to Labour which the whole fix behind the scenes was designed to avoid.
The panel decided by 3-2, with Kennedy and Yeo opposing, to reject the Rotherham town Concillor, Mahroof Hussain, who was thought to be the preferred candidate of local party members, on the grounds that the child sex grooming case involving Pakistani Muslims had affected not only Rochdale but Rotherham too, and a ‘clean break’ was therefore needed from any association with this scandal.
That was a judgement call that some might take issue with in view of the obvious popularity of Hussain. However, the panel then went on to reject another candidate, Richard Burgon, who was on the parliamentary A list and had the support of all the 9 unions with links to Rotherham. It is very difficult to see how such a bumping off of such a candidate with such a strong Labour party history behind him could be justified.
As a result the NEC panel then presented the local party with a short list of just 2 persons. When this was discovered at the selection meeting attended by 120-130 local members, all hell broke loose. There was such disgust at the party’s tactics that up to a hundred members walked out. The rump of the meeting that was left then selected one of the two candidates, the chief executive of a children’s hospice rather than a former wing commander who had served in Afghanistan, by 13 votes to 11.
The lesson from this sorry tale is that local parties should be allowed to select their own candidates. The Labour Party proudly proclaims itself a democratic party, and should behave as such. The NEC panel has not exactly excelled itself, in this as in previous cases, and the convention that at every by-election it should be the NEC, or a small clique within it, that in effect chooses the candidate by keeping off the shortlist those likely to win should now be quietly dropped.