Today I’m at the GMB conference in Brighton, where later one of Labour’s biggest affiliates will be discussing its relationship with the party. Disafilliation isn’t on the agenda (for now), but there has been a passionate debate on the future shape and size of the GMB’s financial commitment to the Labour Party.
Completely coincidentally the conference has brought some of Labour’s big guns down to the south coast. Ed Balls, Tom Watson and General Secretary Iain McNicol are all addressing delegates today on subjects as diverse as the economy, the future of the Labour Party and the Jubilee stewards.
The party is taking this seriously.
The key message so far (Watson and McNicol spoke this morning, Balls will be here this afternoon) is that Labour understands the need to not only represent, but also reflect, the people we seek to serve. At present the PLP doesn’t do that. You all know the depressing statistics so I won’t rehash them here. Parliament, and the PLP is disproportionately white, middle class men.
To be frank, the PLP is full of people who look like me.
To get a party membership that is even slightly representative of Labour voters will be a Herculean task. To get a representative PLP may well be an impossible task, but the party must nonetheless at least try to make that a reality. The future candidates programme, which trains potential candidates, is a start. But if that’s all the party has in its locker then it’s woefully inadequate.
The problems with our selection processes are legion – and I would be the last person to suggest they’re easy to fix – but there is something that could be done relatively quickly and easily to improve matters.
Stop the selection shortcuts.
Stop shoehorning in friends and SpAds into safe seats. Leave the parachutes at home. Stop the stitch ups. It won’t cost any money (and money plays too great a part in selections, but that’s for another day). And it would begin to have a positive impact on the diversity of our PLP.
Not because SpAds and the like are not talented and wouldn’t get selected (often they are spectacularly talented and knowledgable, that’s why they have the jobs they do). But because they don’t need the favouritism, the early warning of safe seats, the time off to campaign (none of which can be afforded to most potential candidates) – they can and will get selected under their own steam.
The playing field is already slanted away from potential working class representatives – those who already look like the parliamentary party don’t need any more help.