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Selection shenanigans

big ben with no war protest camp in foregroundAs the race (amble?) for the Labour Party leadership gets under way, the composition of the new PLP is beginning to come into focus.   The PLP accounts for a third of the electoral college and any intending candidate must secure public signatures from at least an eighth of all its members (therefore 32 in the present case) in order to be officially confirmed as a candidate.   This matters when last time round the Left was unable to challenge Gordon Brown for the leadership because the selection system for parliamentary candidates had been so bent and manipulated to favour the preferred candidates for the Establishment for the 1997, 2001 and 2005 elections that there weren’t even 45 PLP members (the relevant number then) who were willing to sign up to a Left candidate.

This time round the figures are slightly (but not much) more favourable for a Left challenge.    Preliminary analysis of the PLP suggests there are some 40 Left-leaning MPs (out of the total of 251), about 160 Right-wing (Blairite, Brownite or simply loyalist), plus a further 50 new Labour MPs whose affiliations are not yet precisely known.   At the last election a week ago about 80 Centre-Right members either stood down or lost their seats, plus about 10 Left members.   What this analysis indicates is that a Left challenger, even if one did emerge, would only get a low percentage of PLP votes, but could get a much higher tally of CLP and union votes.

The reason for this discrepancy, and why the PLP remains (as it has been for a decade) an isolated bubble unrepresentative of the wider Labour Movement, lies in the devices which have been honedto fix parliamentary selections in favour of candidates selected by the leadership and to keep out any effective challengers.   Such devices include giving the preferred candiate a head start through prior access to the membership list long before the others, getting regional staff to ring round members to rally support for the preferred candidate, and manipulation of the short-listing and postal vote systems.

By such means well-known personalities have regularly been parachuted into seats just before an election (when the NEC, which the leadership also controls, takes over full responsibility for late allocations), even though the electorate itself has often registered its distaste for such manoeuvres.   At this last election two of the candidates parachuted in not long before 6 May only just squeezed in, with swings against them of 17.2% and 10.4%, two to three times the national average.

Because such practices need to be stopped, the new Centre-Left website Left Futures is inviting any party members who have had experience of such machinations to share them with other party members by posting them to this site.   There is a great deal of pressure building up within the Labour Party to clean up the whole system of parliamentary selections, and any verifiable material that can be supplied to strengthen this campaign would be very helpful.

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