Yesterday we reported on changes to Labour’s parliamentary candidate selection procedures. We did so on having spoken to members of the executive about the meeting and the content of the papers they had received. Unfortunately, we got it wrong in some respects — and fortunately the changes turn out to be better than we’d understood (though improvements are still needed). However, the reason we got it wrong is that executive members were not provided with updated papers agreed by its organisation committee. If they are not members of that committee, or if they were not physically present when the updated papers were tabled, they were not made aware of what they were agreeing — such is the low status of the national executive in the management of the party. Yesterday we reported that:
The greatest innovation (at least for Labour held and target seats) is the reintroduction of nominations …. This is welcome. However, these can only be made on the basis of candidate statements and they will be considered alongside “self-nominations”. Nominations close within three weeks from the meeting of the selection committee which agrees the timetable, giving a distinct advantage to “insiders” and careerists.
In fact, the amended paper did require that the shortlist comprise only those candidates who had received at least one nomination from a party branch or affiliate, and the timetable was extended by three weeks to accomodate that. Though this is only a return to the process that existed until 2010, it is nevertheless much more significant. The fact that it was only included in a late amendment tabled at the organisation committee shows that some party officials are still fighting a rear-guard action against the commitments made by both Ed Miliband and Iain McNicol to re-democratise the party.
Nevertheless, several crucial deficiencies remain:
- Branches should be entitled, indeed encouraged, to interview whichever candidates they choose on the basis of their CVs prior to nomination. The procedures still imply that nominations should be made only from CVs although there is now sufficient time in the process for branches to interview potential candidates.
- The selection committee is too small and there is no reason why the constituency executive should not fulfil this function, perhaps with the power to co-opt additional members if it feels it necessary.
- It should be possible for the shortlist to be overturned by local party members. The purpose of a shortlist is to make the selection process manageable, not to exclude popular candidates. It should be possible for either the GC or an all-members meeting to reject the shortlist if they are not satisfied with the choice they are offered.
- There is no reason for the national executive to deprive local parties from choosing their own candidate in late selections – the most frequently used technique for “parachuting” the favoured candidates of the well-connected into parliament – though there may need to be an abbreviated process.
- Nor, in by-elections, is there any reason to wholly exclude the local party from nominating or from the shortlisting process. And there should be a transparent and fair process that selects those who do comprise the shortlisting panel.