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Labour may block parliamentary selections

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At Labour’s National Executive yesterday, it was revealed that the party does not intend to allow constituencies parties where Labour narrowly lost in May to select parliamentary candidates as many are clamouring to do. NEC sources suggest that “boundary changes are what is killing progress on selections”. Many activists will be dismayed by this disastrous stance, since there is no guarantee that the Coalition will last five years and they are keen to promote their candidates in marginal areas now.

The Coalition may yet encounter difficulty in getting through aspects of its Parliamentary Reform Bill, which makes provisions for a referendum on AV and for fixed term parliaments, as well as triggering a process of boundary reviews. Opposition to electoral reform (or support for more proportional voting) and concerns about gerrymandering combine with straightforward insecurity from MPs many of whom will be affected by major boundary changes.

Assuming the bill does complete its passage more or less intact, there is no guarantee that the boundary commission will complete its review in time for the election. The fact that the number of seats is to be reduced by 50, and that the reviews will have to be conducted across much bigger areas than usual in order to achieve the Coalition’s stated objective of greater equality in the size of each constituency, will make this review the most contentious for many years. Dr Stuart Wilks-Heeg, Executive Director of Democratic Audit, for example, says:

There can be little doubt that the objective of equalising constituencies by 2015 will prove deeply problematic and will provoke much controversy once the lines start appearing on maps.

Party officials suggest that constituencies may wish to appoint a “lead campaigner” or “parliamentary spokesperson” who may be their recent parliamentary candidate or former MP. This would bound to cause difficulties and disputes when selections do happen since they would not have undergone a proper selection process yet party officials may well be keen to smooth the path to selection of those they favoured when the time comes.

Party rules do provide detailed arrangements for new selections to occur where there are boundary changes. Surely the interests of existing members of parliament should not take precedence over those of people willing to campaign unpaid as candidates in the areas Labour most needs to win?

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