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Machine politics alive and well in Labour leader’s office

red rosette with question markLabour’s national executive met today with a row brewing over a handful of parliamentary selections where the current MP is retiring.  It’s a row that exposes the continuing machine politics tendencies of Labour’s leader’s office whose fixers are still are work even if their leader says he wants an end to machine politics. And it also reveals their willingness to smooth the path to Westminster of their favoured candidates – in this case right-wing NEC candidate Peter Wheeler. Wheeler may not have needed a parachute to replace departing Hazel Blears in his home constituency of Salford and Eccles, but he certainly did need the improper assistance of his influential friends to ensure that it didn’t have an all-women shortlist.

There were five selections in all up for decision today: two in Wales, two in the North West and one in Yorkshire & Humberside. In Great Grimsby, where Austin Mitchell is retiring,  there is no great  controversy over having an all-women shortlist (AWS). There are a number of interested local candidates in Grimsby including former Labour staffer and now Unison official, Melanie Onn.

In the North West, there was some opposition to having an AWS in Salford and Eccles. There is often a feeling in a constituency where the retiring MP is a woman that the next selection should be open. However, that is not an accepted justification – indeed there is a frequent presumption that there should be an AWS in order to ensure that we do not lose a woman in a safe seat. However, that did not suit the interests of former Amicus official, Peter Wheeler, who, having saved the skin of Hazel Blears after her home flipping scandal, fancied the seat for himself. Last time he was on the NEC, he was parachuted onto the lastminute shortlist at Stalybridge & Hyde but lost the selection to Jonny Reynolds, now the leader’s PPS and also parachuted in thanks to the intervention of his mentors Mandelson and Purnell.

According to our sources, the initiation of the Salford selection was deliberately delayed until after the last NEC so that it could be considered alongside Ashton-under-Lyme where David Heyes had announced his retirement. We understand regional officials had previously been minded to recommend an open shortlist based on the member consultation process – there was a unanimous vote against an AWS. Claire Reynolds (a Tameside councillor, Progress strategy board member and wife of the same Jonny Reynolds) was reputed to be interested in the seat though she has since denied it.

This gave the party establishment some cover in order to present a recommendation of one open shortlist (in Salford where an AWS would have been more acceptable) and one AWS (in Ashton which opposed one). Fortunately a number of NEC members led by Organisation Committee chair, Jim Kennedy, were not prepared to back this sort of skullduggery, a recommendation for an open shortlist was not carried at that committee and the national executive today rejected the whole stitch-up by 17 votes to 6. Peter Wheeler is now far from the most popular person on the NEC but you can be sure that he will not hesitate to try to use his influence and contacts to influence the outcome of the Salford contest.

The remaining two constituencies both have retiring women MPs – Ann Clwyd in Cynon Valley and Sian James in Swansea East. Although there is great pressure to have more women MPs from Wales (only six of the current 26 are women and two of these are retiring), it might have been possible to recommend a single open shortlist (say in Cynon Valley) were it not for the skullduggery in Salford and Eccles.

Now an almighty row has emerged: The BBC quotes local CLP secretary Alun Williams as saying their views had been “ignored” and “‘taken for granted”, and “the constituency needed the best candidate, regardless of their gender. In 2005, Labour lost the “safe” Labour seat of Blaenau Gwent to an independent candidate in just such circumstances. The NEC were mindful to avoid such problems arising again by being more sensitive to local opinion. 

There are two possible explanations: one is that the Welsh General Secretary is guilty of incompetence. The other is that people at party HQ (or more likely down the road in the leader’s office) are allowing their desire to get their favoured candidates selected by fair means or foul interfere with their obligation to listen to the views of party members and ensure we have more more women MPs.

 

12 Comments

  1. Bernie Evans says:

    Labour are getting too many things wrong at a crucial time. John Harris in Guardian today writes about useless slogans and inability to speak with confidence. As for Ukip…
    Labour can do all the in-party arguing and handwringing over the Ukip threat it likes, but if it continues with its policies of apeing the current austerity policies, and refuses “to undo the coalition`s cuts in the next government”, election victory can be little more than a pipe-dream! (Labour cannot afford to reverse coalition`s cuts,says finance spokesman,Guardian,30/05/14) After so much ideologically inspired austerity, where the Tory-led coalition has used the excuse of having to repay debt to carry out its wish to shrink the state, it`s time to buck the trend. Does Labour intend to take government interference back to 1948 levels, like the Tories have admitted? According to tax expert Richard Murphy, a more sensible approach is to “run a deficit equivalent to GDP multiplied by the rate of inflation and effectively stand still in budget terms”. By all means Labour should “emphasise commitment to fiscal responsibility”, but unless there is an end to this enforcement of poverty on the most vulnerable in our society, there can be little point in voting Labour. Even the IMF has suggested that the rich should be paying more tax, and that there is more economic growth in countries where a reduction in inequality is a priority.
    Many recent studies, like the one by Godwin and Ford, have revealed, if the election results weren`t clear enough, that many of Farage`s supporters are ex-Labour voters, white, working-class and “dispossessed”. Does the Labour leadership really believe that the policies listed in the article, like rent caps and GP appointments within 48 hours, are radical, fundamental and different enough to win them the next election? How many people, who have seen their real incomes reduced significantly by this government, believe austerity is essential, when billions can be spent on an unwinnable war in Afghanistan, the unnecessary Trident renewal, HS2 railway, and third runway, billions wasted in cheap sell-offs of our taxpayer-owned assets and tax reductions for the very wealthy, billions more in subsidies to private companies to run public services, and yet billions more not going to the Treasury because of the government`s feeble efforts to rein in tax avoidance and evasion? For all of us to be told that there will be little change if Labour is elected is probably not the best slogan for 2015! In fact, it smacks of cowardice.

  2. Peter Wheeler says:

    Dear John

    Bit disappointing this and if you felt I was up to something you could have done me the courtesy of a call to check your facts. You didn’t have a problem doing that when we were working together ( I thought) to do what we could save the trade union link with the party a few months ago.
    The question of right/ left labels is up to you-all I can say is that I was the earliest and loudest voice on the NEC calling for a commitment to scrap the Bed room Tax when one of your “left” colleagues was saying he had no problem with people having to work for their benefits. Left? Right?
    I suspect we will see some “left” candidates in Salford supporting the transfer of our Council House Stock which I have been actively campaigning against.

    When it came to the decision at both the org sub and the NEC I absented myself as I had an interest-not always the practice in the past.

    As some one who comes from Salford and an active trades unionist I don’t think there is anything wrong in wanting to stick up for your people in parliament and let our members decide
    who they want. And you can rest assured I will be doing my best to ensure Salford and Eccles get a Labour candidate who will listen to our people and fight for them in Parliament.
    But I do wish you had given me a ring to clarify your facts.
    PS In case you have lost it-07880 790182
    Peter

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Dear Peter

      I am not sure what facts you wanted me to check with you. It was no secret that you wanted to stand for selection in Salford & Eccles – and your absence when both decisions were taken on it was confirmation. Other matters referred to about you are a matter of public record. The criticisms in my piece primarily related to party fixers who were prepared to cast aside precedent and the wishes of local party members in Ashton-under-Lyme & Cynon Valley in order to make the recommendations which were, at least in the case of Salford, so decisively rejected by 17 votes (an absolute majority of the NEC) to 6.

      I accept that there is an implied criticism of you in spite of the fact that you were absent because of your conflict of interest. I think that is justified. An elected member of the NEC has obligations to those they represent. One of those is the obligation is to ensure that party officials, including those funded by the taxpayer who work in the Leader’s office, do not subvert the rules and established practices of the party.

      One such established practice is that there is normally an AWS in the constituency of retiring women MPs, to ensure that there is no reduction of women representing safe seats. That may not be the right principle but no-one challenged it. Your absence because you had a personal interest in one of the seats is not a good enough explanation, in my view, for you as an NEC member to allow precedent, the agreed objective of getting more women MPs and the unanimous wishes of members of Ashton-under-Lyme to be ridden over roughshod to allow you to be able to contest Salford & Eccles even though its members were fairly evenly divided (16 to 12). It is even more remarkable given that Ashton is in your own region and it is where you work for the Labour Group in one of the two district councils covering the CLP. I am also disappointed that the other Labour First NEC member, Ellie Reeves, voted that way.

      I am always happy to work with Labour Party members on something important on which we agree. You and I did on many aspects of the debate about the Union link, and I have no regrets about that. You on the other hand, together with your fellow members of Labour First are happy to support the NEC candidates backed by Progress (who wish to end any collective affiliation or influence for the trade unions in the Labour Party) in spite of the fact that they are not willing to support you!

      1. Peter Wheeler says:

        Dear John,

        Thanks for replying and you should be the first to acknowledge that just because things are a matter of public record doesn’t make them true-according to The Daily Mail and others I was being parachuted into Stalybridge and Hyde by UNITE as part of a red campaign to take over the Labour Party-nonsense but put about for a purpose.
        The facts of the matter is that when dealing with all women short-lists we have two conflicting “goods”-the right of party members to have an untrammelled choice of candidate with the need to increase the number of women candidates and MP’s. I would love for CLP’s to have complete freedom but the plain fact is that when that happens we don’t get women picked-and that is not because we don’t have very good women candidates. That’s why we have the AWS mechanism and the day that someone can come up with a better system that achieves more women I will support it but no-one has yet.

        In terms of Salford, on the criteria we usually use- history of picking women candidates, women’s representation in the local area-Salford scores well. In the 10 seats around Salford and Eccles there are 8 women MP’s and in Salford itself, as well as Hazel we have Barbara Keeley in the seat next door and Eccles in the past had Joan Lestor as it’s MP.

        Given the arguments being used the position now would seem to be that any area that has a woman MP can never have a male candidate until we have gender equality. Men who live in Sunderland, for example, will never have a chance to represent their home town. That doesn’t seem to be a great thing to me.

        You also seem to be arguing that NEC members can’t stand for Parliament as they are part of the decision about seat allocation. According to you I was wrong not to take part in the decision but if I had I would have been accused of doing so to further my own interests. Bit of a no win situation! Perhaps it would be better if NEC members couldn’t stand for Parliament but if that’s so it would have to apply to everyone-not just me.
        Personally I believe we should resolve the situation by deciding at the start of a Parliament which seats should be AWS and which seats open by zipping them-safest seat AWS, second safest open, third safest AWS.
        It would remove the horse trading and allow people to know just where they stood. transparency I think they call it but I seem to be in a minority of one on this.
        Any way what we need to do is concentrate on winning the next election and to do that we need the maximum unity against the Tories and Lib Dems ( and UKIP). o be honest that’s why I found the tone of your original piece depressing.
        In that spirit of unity-best wishes
        Peter

  3. John reid says:

    For a start HS2 and the third runway aren’t unnecessarily or unpopular, as for whether Wheeler becomes a nominee or not, I take it you feel that Livingstone is wrong to want t stand for parliament again in Brent

  4. John reid says:

    Surely your not denying labour did lose the Welsh seat by putting a AWS list in the way, and gender shouldn’t have come in to it.

  5. Mike Homfray says:

    Starting to think that the AWS approach has passed its sell-by and is too open to abuse.

  6. Mick Hall says:

    Jon

    The only way this will be stopped is for all LP candidates must have lived in the constituency for the previous four years. In Thurrock an all woman short list was used to bring in a carpetbagger when there were perfectly adequate local party members.

    What this means is there will be fewer working class LP MPs after 2015 that there are now and today’s numbers are a bloody disgrace.

    The likes of Bevan and Bevin would not get within a mile of a selection list today.

    1. John Reid says:

      O.k Penny, is an associate of Ed miliband, but surely she has spent the last 4 years ,canvassing the area,

      It’s also factually incorrect to say progress want o end the Labour ,union link although admittedly a few do,

      What of Trade unions who are keen to un affiliate with Labour,

      A Mckluskey after the election if labour lose, for instance,

      1. Mick Hall says:

        John

        Good for her but she does not live in the area, I note you fail to respond to my point about the lack of working class candidates and hence MPs.

        Anyone who has lived in the area would have advised Miliband to deal with the problems of immigration in a much more measured way. The overwhelming majority of the people of Thurrock are immigrants or incomers of one sort or another, few can trace their families back more than four generations.

        I could amplify this point in more detail but no one is bloody lisening

  7. John reid says:

    Although there has been a vat amount of immigration in a thurrock, parts of Basildon and tilbury, I wouldn’t say it’s vast amounts, those who’s parents come from other countries,wouldn’t care about Working class, are you really saying that those who are working class who voted atory last time, not just those from Chafford hundred or Grays,couldn’t care less of people define themselves as working class,

    1. Mick Hall says:

      I do not understand what you are asking me, what I said was Miliband needs to take a more measured approach on immigration and not ape UKip’s stance, especially after the recent election. His recent trip to thurrock went down as crass opportunism which it undoubtedly was, I would guess it did more harm than good.

      I spoke to my postie yesterday and he was telling me how the mix of people on his round have changed in recent years, he is a decent fellow not racist by any means but when I asked him if the poles, whom he mentioned, living on his round are here to stay he replied not if UKiP get in.

      The issue of more working class Mps is imperative, the UK claims to be representative democracy and people wish to be represented by people like them and in a place like thurrock that is the working class. (even today over 50% of the UK population see themselves as working class, in Thurrock it is much higher)

      Thurrock has always experienced waves of immigrants, but the big difference today is the previous generations did not come in times of austerity and for Miliband to claim if elected there will be more austerity is the road to disaster.

      By the way to hold his meeting in the Opera premises sums up the whole sorry fiasco.

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