It takes quite a lot of gall to be accusing the unions of trying to fix Labour parliamentary selections when you yourself have been engaged on doing exactly that for the last 20 years. When I first joined the PLP in the 1970s, it was composed very broadly of 40% on the Left and 40% on the Right, with the remainder not particularly one or the other. Once Blair had established New Labour after 1994, he and Mandelson set about consolidating their parliamentary base by using every device in the book – and quite a lot outside it – to ensure that members of the New Labour faction overwhelmingly predominated in the PLP.
By the end of the 1990s some 60-70% of the PLP could be classified as part of the Blairite faction, with the Left confined to only some 10-15%. Corresponding to this the composition of the PLP changed from a rough balance between working class and middle class representatives to one which has become overwhelmingly middle class. The working class represents half the population, but only 10% of the PLP.
This gross imbalance was brought about by the rigging of selections which went on for at least 15 years. The methods used included getting party staff in the regions to get behind the preferred candidate and quietly canvass support for him/her in the constituency, ensuring that the preferred candidate got the membership list weeks or even months before any of the other candidates, using various devices to keep undesired challengers off the final short list, and even some shenanigans over postal votes. Since 2010 the Progress faction has used the Sainsbury money, more than £3 millions, to train, network and generally push forward their own New Labour candidates whilst at the same time denying this money to the Labour Party as a whole.
For Peter Mandelson now to complain that the unions are trying to rebalance the wholly unrepresentative PLP is pretty rich when half the population is at present largely disenfranchised at Westminster and when the unions are certainly not breaching the party’s rules as happened repeatedly in the New Labour heyday. The truth is that Labour are not going to win the next election unless it regains the huge swaths of the D and E classes who abandoned Labour in 2005 and further again in 2010 because they believed that Labour no longer represented them at Westminster. The unions should be complimented for helping to achieve this essential role and thus significantly improving Labour’s chances of success in 2015.