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Progress: the fixers attack the “fixing”

Once again the Blairites are attacking Ed Miliband and Labour’s new direction. No sooner had David Miliband announced his departure from British politics than Blair, Mandelson, Milburn and other assorted “grandees” started to attack his brother, without regard to the impending local elections. Cowardly right-wing shadow cabinet members are briefing anonymously against him on a daily basis too.

There is also a sustained attack, this time from Progress itself, on the European selection process. It is a process we neither like nor would advocate but it is odd that the Blairites who devised the system, who benefited from it for years, are now attacking it. Peter Watt, Labour’s Progress-backing former general secretary, said: “it really is a stitch up, I should know one when I see one after all!” Their hypocrisy knows no bounds.

The candidate whose non-shortlisting triggered the furore is Anne Fairweather who was not shortlisted in London although she had been four years ago. Robert Philpot, Director of Progress talks of the “simmering anger over the apparent stitch-up” and claims that the selection panel “deliberately sought to narrow the choice available to members“. Jon Worth found the fact that Fairweather was not long-listed for the selection process to be “quite astounding“.

Readers will be less astounded than Jon Worth when they hear that there were in fact 98 applicants for the Euro selection in London, 92 of whom were not shortlisted and the majority of whom were not long-listed. The claim that the choice available to members has been deliberately narrowed should be seen against the fact that two of the six candidates who were shortlisted in London, Ivana Bartoletti and Seb Dance, as well as many others throughout the country, are in fact backed by Progress, the organisation funded by over £3m for that and similar purposes by Lord Sainsbury. Ivana Bartoletti has a full-time staffer from Progress running her selection campaign.

Comrade Philpot also complained that Anne Fairweather had been told that the selection of the shortlist was, at least in part, a “political judgement”. Is that not always the case in any selection process? Is it not inevitable in any shortlisting process with 98 applicants that worthy and experienced people are excluded? Given those factors, and the presence of two other Progress-backed candidates on the shortlist, perhaps Comrade Philpot could explain what is so special about Ms Fairweather?

Is it a priority to include someone with the experience of representing bankers or the providers of agency workers? For Comrade Fairweather’s experience does include being Director EU Government Affairs of the British Bankers’ Association, and Head of Public Policy at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation which represents employment agencies. In the last capacity, she advocatedthe flexible resource of agency labour” and warned that “the move towards full employment rights could limit job creation through the hiring of temporary staff.” I suspect most party members would regard such experience, at best, as interesting but non-essential.

Nevertheless, the support of Progress for a review of the process “to ensure that Labour truly does ‘leave it to party members to make their decisions’,” as Ed Miliband has promised, is welcome, especially since it is in such contrast to the unsurprising news that “Tony Blair warns Labour not to pander to party base“. Philpot argues for two reforms:

First, European selection panels should be required to publish in advance the criteria by which they decide who they will longlist and hence who receives an interview. They should also publish the number of candidates who have put themselves forward and the number interviewed. Second, the panels should be required to give party members a choice of candidates to rank which has double the number of names on as there are places available on the regional list. The current zipping arrangement would also be applied to ensure a correct gender balance on the list.

We absolutely agree on the importance of members having a wider choice, but reform should also provide a stronger framework of accountability and inclusiveness. The system — the choice of a closed regional list rather than open STV as well as the selection process — was of course designed to centralise power under Blair and does not lend itself easily to democratic reform. However, we don’t accept the managerial skills-based approach to selections which Blair promoted and Progress seek to retain. It encourages careerism, produces identikit candidates — professional politicians — and devalues politics and diversity. The choice of candidates should be political. With a list system, there can still be a diverse range of politics though this was not what Blair designed it to deliver. I’d suggest the following:

  1. The selection panel should be preceded by a process in which each constituency party and regional affiliate can interview and nominate a male and a female candidate (who are not siting MEPs) on the basis of the criteria they think important.
  2. The panel should then shortlist from those nominated twice as many people as the list to be selected, including any sitting Labour MEPs wishing to stand again. Sitting MEPs would therefore be subject to a mandatory reselection process.
  3. The ballot should be by STV which will ensure a diverse range of candidates, but with a zipping arrangement to ensure gender balance.

That really would give party members the power to decide who represents them. Can we expect the support of Progress?

12 Comments

  1. John p Reid says:

    The hypocrisy knows no bounds,have read this claim I read the rest of this article only to find no examples of hypocrisy, all I read is th view that unions have picked the EURO candidates and have got th clout to do so, as th pay for the Labour Party, what this has to do with ,the Blairites positing out that appealing to a core got does to win elections (ask William Hague) or progress

    magazine and alleged bitterness, that David M is leavi g when he three main progress supporters Peter wheeler, Ellie reeves and Luke Akehurst backed ed miliband I’d don’t, know

    It’s not only progress magazine that have shown anger, there’s non Blairites M.P.s who questioned this, and as for lord Sainsbury having his own favourite candidate, well that’s not a progress plot is it,

  2. Ed says:

    At the last selection Anne Fairweather was the most popular choice amongst ordinary party members – that’s why her exclusion, even from the interview list, this time is so unfair. Since that election Anne has campaigned tirelessly for the Labour Party across the country not least in my own ward in Lambeth. We really must resist this factionalism and try and work together to get the best most hardworking Labour candidates from all wings of the movement.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Since when does doing well in one selection process entitle someone a place on a shortlist in another 4 years later?

  3. Campaigning tirelessly for the Labour party should be a prerequisite for short-listing, not a guarantee!

  4. John p Reid says:

    Jon lansman, as ken Livingstone ,on why he should have been labours choice in 2012′ then

  5. Rod says:

    It’s very odd how Labour’s Right want to mimic* Tory policies given that the Tories couldn’t manage to achieve a majority at the last General Election.

    Labour failed at the last G.E.

    The Tories also failed at the last G.E.

    To believe in the perennial viability of failed solutions is an indication of political bankruptcy.

    If they can’t move on they should do us all a favour and throw in the towel.

    * Link in above article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/ed-miliband/10009012/Ed-Miliband-right-but-unpopular-on-welfare-MP-says.html

  6. John p Reid says:

    Well said rod, probably people who were dismissive of the righ t of the Labour Party in1980 , were saying thatcher never got z50%+ of the vote,

  7. Tom Blackburn says:

    Rod: Blairites are in a bit of a pickle at the moment. The collapse of the Lib Dems has effectively reunited the centre-left vote, so winning Tory swing votes is nowhere near as important as it was. The problem for Blairites is that politically, many of them are closer to the Tories than ex-Lib Dem social democrats. Hence the bleating about welfare and spending.

    Basically, Blairites have a vested interest in maintaining the illusion that the Tories are some sort of all-conquering electoral machine, rather than a bit of a shambles (which is what they actually are these days) because it drags the Labour party further to the right.

    There are sections of the PLP who seem to see winning elections as an end in itself. But what’s the point in having power without principles? What’s the distinctive purpose of a Labour government? It seems to me that there are a lot of Labourites who really need to consider these questions.

  8. John p Reid says:

    Tom ,I can see how your first two paragraphs, would make sense, but look at the 1974 result, the Tories were a sham, Labour won votes from the liberals, and within 4 and 1/2 years, the Tories had reunited, the liberal vote was even worse and the liberals who had the tores as their second choice went ove to the Tories, it also exulted in the Labour view that winning want everything, and principles were more important and that view is history, As for the view on getting not the liberal vote, Remeber that 2/3 rds of people who voted Liberal in the 80’s had the Tories as their second choice ,2/3rds of people who voted liberal during the Blair years had labour as their second choice,, the days of majority gov’ts are over, and if the overall hold the balance of power, if they look at their fan base and see who they most would like to work with, it’s still the Tories,I believe that it was50/50 as to who Libdems voters had as ear second choice on the 2010 election, between us and the Tories,

  9. Matty says:

    This is the hypocrisy John
    “It is a process we neither like nor would advocate but it is odd that the Blairites who devised the system, who benefited from it for years, are now attacking it.”
    I remember how Shaun Spiers (a very good MEP in South-East London) was shunted down the list with no say from Labour members because he was not a Blairite. Richard Balfe was preferred by the leadership. So Spiers was out, Balfe in and a few years later Balfe joined the Conservatives.

  10. John p Reid says:

    Balfe joined the GLC in 73 and s chums with Livingstone, I recall him being anti Blair in 1994′ and years later still criticised him, some of the people criticising this structure at the independent, are definitely not Blairites,

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