Labour’s selection process – a word of praise, a word of caution

8th November, 2012 9:37 am

Labour Party selections have been a bugbear for party members for as long as I can remember. That’s not surprising really. Imagine being a member in a safe Labour constituency, with a retiring MP. Your best opportunity to influence Parliament comes a round only every 20/30 years by selecting the next Labour MP in an open ballot.

Now imagine having that choice taken from you, either by having the party impose a candidate against your wishes, or by giving you a shortlist that doesn’t really give you a choice at all.

I see why people would be angry.

I’d be angry.

But things do seem to bemimproving, albeit incrementally. The way that the party has gone around selecting candidates recently has much to recommend itself. The party now – shock horror – advertises selections to all Labour Party members, rather than relying on those in the know discovering the selections by some sort of insider, Westminster osmosis. That means that some party members who may have never before considered standing for selection – because they had no idea that standing was an option – might put themselves forward. That’s an unambiguously good thing – Iain McNicol and the party staff should be applauded for making that change.

But are party selections – especially by-election selections – perfect? No. Not even close. They still rely on patronage, and a healthy dollop of who you know not what you know. They involve undue
advantages for those who have played what’s left of the system, through endorsements or other means of contacting influencers. They allow major party players to rule certain candidates in or out of the race. Or in the case of next week’s selection in Rotherham, they don’t provide for a proper selection campaign by having the short listing meeting just one day before the final hustings.

Of course I know why expedited selection processes are necessary for by-elections. In the case of Rotherham, the candidate will have only a few weeks to win the support of a constituency let down by Denis MacShane. But can there ever be an excuse for a selection that affords most members no real opportunity to meet the candidates before the hustings? Of course not.

Labour Party selections are clearly becoming more transparent, open and accountable. But they are not yet where they need to be if we are to expect a proper choice for all CLPs. The best way to ensure that choice is for transparency in selections to be absolute. The party should produce a selection transparency report after every parliamentary selection, stating who was long listed, who was shortlisted and what the final vote in the selection was. Additionally, the names of those who conducted the longlisting and shortlisting should also be made public, so we know who is responsible when things go awry.

Only by opening up the process to a higher level of scrutiny will we cut out the fixing and the stitch ups for good. And it’s important to get this right, not just for our party, but for the good of politics as a whole.

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  • Couldn’t really agree more with (all of) this. The way things are being conducted now are much, much better, though in a way it only goes to show how much further they need to improve – and transparency is pretty much where it’s at in that respect.

    How refreshing it is though as a member to get emails saying that everyone is welcome to put their name up and apply to these seats. This is precisely the way to encourage non-insiders to apply and feel they have a chance.

    • Definitely agree with that. But contacts and resources do still make a great deal of difference

      • Hi Mike, yes I agree. There is a level on which that is inevitable and not altogether nefarious, but it is the case that people who are wired into the Labour Party’s interest groups have a distinct advantage for the resources they gain as a part of that. Labour’s sub-institutions like the unions, Fabians, Co-Op Party and Women’s Network serve to a large extent as routes of patronage. Many people who are members of them seemingly have no reason for being members but for the career advantages it brings. To an extent, that is just life, and there is nothing wrong with being ambitious per se. And it is the way the Labour Party operates, so that is the route the ambitious take. Without interest group support an individual doesn’t amount to much…

        • Though it does mean some people have an advantage over others. A London base, no family, the sort of job which allows you to participate in these activities, often some sort of private resource with regard to income. A working woman with a family living in Wigan would have far fewer opportunities.

  • Chilbaldi

    I agree with all of this. Above all we need a process that is more like a completely meritocratic job interview, rather than an insider fudge as it has been for decades (with a few exceptions).

    I agree that it is fantastic that all the selections are now advertised, and that this will encourage people who are not insiders, and people with less typical PPC backgrounds to apply.

    There is still a long road to travel however. There will undoubtedly be a hangover from the old ways.

    • And a literal long road to travel too – to apply for Rotherham, you’d have to be able to get time off work at short notice, get down to London on Monday and then back up to Rotherham for Tuesday, and we all know how the price of last minute train fares has sky-rocketed… 

      It may be advertised across the party now, but I can still see many barriers to entry for atypical PPC candidates.

  • Great piece, I agree.

  • Great piece, I agree.

  • All sensible things. Not being open just re-inforce the idea something dodgy is taking place.

    If for by-election, the shortlisting by the NEC is difficult to avoid (actually it’s not that difficult. It’s obvious that the timetable should be pretty tight but there’s nothing to prevent to enlarge the shortlisting panel to include both NEC members and a couple of CLP officers); something must be down to discourage late retirements by MPs. Thinking about 2010, in some cases, the late retirement was justified by new circumstances, but in many cases it was a sort of  “play with the system” situation (“I retire because in 2020 I would be 70”. Thanks a lot, you knew it last year too, eh!)

  • Daniel Speight

    I’m suspicious that the call for more working class candidates and candidates that aren’t from the SPAD/Westminster/Oxbridge pool isn’t being heeded, or was it just spin all along?

    • AlanGiles

      I agree Daniel. Actions speak louder than words, and can anyone doubt that Will Straw and Euan Blair will be found a safe seat if they decide they fancy having a go, however good any other candidate in the selection process might be.

      It also helps, if you are left off a selection list to have Peter Mandelson “putting in a word” for you, as at least two of the 2010 intake know….

    • AlanGiles

      I agree Daniel. Actions speak louder than words, and can anyone doubt that Will Straw and Euan Blair will be found a safe seat if they decide they fancy having a go, however good any other candidate in the selection process might be.

      It also helps, if you are left off a selection list to have Peter Mandelson “putting in a word” for you, as at least two of the 2010 intake know….

    • AlanGiles

      I agree Daniel. Actions speak louder than words, and can anyone doubt that Will Straw and Euan Blair will be found a safe seat if they decide they fancy having a go, however good any other candidate in the selection process might be.

      It also helps, if you are left off a selection list to have Peter Mandelson “putting in a word” for you, as at least two of the 2010 intake know….

    • AlanGiles

      I agree Daniel. Actions speak louder than words, and can anyone doubt that Will Straw and Euan Blair will be found a safe seat if they decide they fancy having a go, however good any other candidate in the selection process might be.

      It also helps, if you are left off a selection list to have Peter Mandelson “putting in a word” for you, as at least two of the 2010 intake know….

    • AlanGiles

      I agree Daniel. Actions speak louder than words, and can anyone doubt that Will Straw and Euan Blair will be found a safe seat if they decide they fancy having a go, however good any other candidate in the selection process might be.

      It also helps, if you are left off a selection list to have Peter Mandelson “putting in a word” for you, as at least two of the 2010 intake know….

    • AlanGiles

      I agree Daniel. Actions speak louder than words, and can anyone doubt that Will Straw and Euan Blair will be found a safe seat if they decide they fancy having a go, however good any other candidate in the selection process might be.

      It also helps, if you are left off a selection list to have Peter Mandelson “putting in a word” for you, as at least two of the 2010 intake know….

      • Chilbaldi

        Will Straw has been running a pretty obvious selection campaign since about 2009 – he best hurry up and get selected by 2015 or he risks being one of those forgotten hopefuls.

        Euan Blair – I’ve seen no suggestion that he wants to be an MP other than a mischief making article by that famously pro Blair newspaper the Daily Mail.

        •  Straw was reported as camvassing for support in Rossendale and Darwen (a Tory marginal with no selection timetable decided yet).

      • It would also help if so many members weren’t ‘star-struck’ and easily bowled over by a well known dynastical name

    • Chilbaldi

      Candidates will continue to come from these circles for quite a while. The current political generation mostly come from these circles, and it is a well known phenomenon that people are more likely to hire in their own image. As a result people from similar backgrounds will continue to network successfully and have selections skewed in their favour – it is human nature.

      Perhaps over time however this can change.

  • I’m not convinced that it’s necessary to release the vote at the hustings. I don’t think much is gained by that – it just lets our opponents attack a candidate who wins narrowly, and gather opposition research on people who do badly but might later be selected for a different seat. Nor do I think we necessarily need to publish the long-list, for much the same reasons. Publishing who was responsible for short-listing is a good idea, however.

    But the most important change would just be to stretch the clock out for by-elections in seats we hold. Does anybody seriously believe we aren’t heavily favoured in Rotheram, Croydon North and Middlesborough and that waiting a month or two to call it would be a disaster? If we held them after Christmas, it’d allow a longer selection campaign, allowing potential candidates to interact more with members. In addition, we’d have more time to canvass these areas, and as we have small memberships and partial canvass records in a lot of safe seats, it’d help to shore ourselves up against the possibility of future collapses and to draw in new members.

  • MarkHoulbrook

    Well said. Very truthful

  • markfergusonuk

    But not publishing the result means many members don’t trust it, and not publishing the longlist means it’s impossible to tell who has been excluded – and why…

  • disqus_NRDWBTt0wo

    I recently took part in a selection process (didnt win it) but unlike previous experiences it was open & fair with comradely behaviour from all candidates. The only issues I would raise are that participation was 1/2 of the previous selection process (I ran in the same place twice – very keen I guess) which might be explained by other factors but I would be interested to know if other CLPs are having the same problems of participation especially in difficult seats, the other issue is the cost. If you are not supported by an affiliated body who can afford to fund your campaign or are not wealthy then you have a problem which is not as the Labour Party with its values of equality of oppotunity should want to see. I calculated that each vote I received cost me over £30 which to be fair would be better spent on campaiging and engaging with the wider electorate. Maybe there should be a fixed sum levied for admin for each candidate participating allowing only the CLP to distribute materials and all candidates should be encouraged to get out & campaign to meet members & activists on the street. I know of one candidate who did not do the mass mailings phonings etc & still faired quite well (beat me – must have been a great speech) but there are also cases where very significant resources are deployed making the playing field very unequal. We are getting better at selections but as was said in the main article we still need to improve & transparancy from NEC downwards will help members have a better understanding & belief in the process. I do not condone making actual results public unless all the candidates and the CLP agree as it can be used as a devisive tool by some. Members are the Labour Party’s best resource and all sucessfull candidates should be known by all & accountable to their CLP – this makes for top notch campaigns & also hopefully avoids any PPC or MP from operating in isolation – this has led to problems in the past. “Things can only get better” (how old am I ???)

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