Are these Labour’s least transparent (and most open to abuse) selections?

15th April, 2013 10:51 am

A week ago today, the Labour Party announced its candidates for next year’s European elections. Although the process was less than ideal (to say the least), that was largely overlooked, as everyone was focused on the day’s big news story.

But the desperately untransparent selection process shouldn’t pass without comment on these pages.

In many ways the entire process began as it went on, with Jon Worth – who has been diligently cataloging the flaws in the process since day one – noting that the vast majority of party members won’t have had any idea that they could even stand. Despite that, hundreds of candidates put themselves forward for the selection. In one region alone more than one hundred candidates threw their hats into the Euro-ring.

The problem is, the rest of the process remained as secretive as it had been from the outset. For even the most engaged party activists, all they saw was hundreds of candidates being fed into the selection machine, with only a few coming out the other side.

And then the anomalies began to appear.

One candidate told me that they had applied to stand in one region but ended up having their application considered by a different region entirely. Anne Fairweather – who had been 3rd on the London list for Labour in 2009 (and in any election other than that disastrous debacle would have been an MEP now, and therefore practically immune from deselection) wasn’t even given an interview. Jon Worth uncovered evidence that suggests one of the candidates selected in the East Midlands was herself on the selection panel.

And because all we party activists saw of this process was the sausages coming out of the end of the machine (and perhaps – if we were paying particular attention, the candidates being fed into the meat grinder at the start), many of us – being used to party stitch ups – began to cry foul. That is what we expect to happen, that is what appears to be happening – but because the process took place behind closed doors, with little or no transparency, and with slightly different processes in each region, it’s impossible to know whether (or what) misdeeds have occurred. So activists naturally assume that the whole process is a stitch up from top to bottom, and  have started to discuss (some quietly, some more publicly) whether or not they want to campaign for the party in these elections at all.

That would be a mistake – not least because if Labour flops in 2014, the chances of winning in 2015 are substantially hit, but also because there are many good candidates on these lists, who would make good MEPs.

That said, to restore confidence in the process – and ensure that there is some semblance of confidence in the process that selected the 2014 candidates, the party should answer the following questions:

  • What criteria was used to decide which candidates would be interviewed?
  • Were any candidates that were selected also on the selection panel in their region?
  • How many candidates stood in each region?
  • How were the selection panels selected?
  • Why were some candidates good enough to be candidates in past elections, but not good enough to even be interviewed this time around?

In fact, should we not be asking if the current method of selecting MEP candidates is the right way at all? It is evidently the easiest set of selections to stitch up (if one were so inclined), and once shortlisted, a candidate of means can easily propel themselves to the top of the regional list, ensuring a good chance of becoming an MEP.

So would it not be better for the central and regional parties to take a more hands off approach to European selections? A better way of conducting such selections might involve the selection panel drawing up a list of twenty candidates, which could then be presented to the membership to vote on. That way, members would be able to choose which of the shortlisted candidates made the final list, and which did not – rather than being given the current fait accompli of “these are the candidates, what order do you want them in?”.

Surely too, MEPs should be forced to properly fight for selection, rather than retain, in some regions, a job for life.

Such a system (albeit still flawed and open to abuse) would be far more in keeping with Ed Miliband’s professed aim – “leave it to party members to make their decisions” – than the current opaque and distrusted process.

And yet I won’t be holding my breath. There are too many who are invested in the cosy way the current system works, whilst those who every politician professes to be the more important part of the party – the members – are given something akin to Hobson’s choice.

And people wonder why we aren’t invested in European elections…

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  • Daniel Speight

    Again well said Mark.

  • AlanGiles

    You are never going to become Lord Ferguson or Sir Mark, but, as ever, thanks and congratulations for your honesty, Mark, in telling home truths. I wish that more of your sort of person were M.P’s – the public could then have more confidence and respect in them.

    I was just trying to remember what the big news story was last Monday?….. oh yes, that was the day Tony Blair and Frank Field became orphans :-;

    • aracataca

      As the man who said that there was a possibility that Euan Blair might be parachuted into the South Shields seat and then not retracting that ludicrous statement obviously you’ve got no credibility whatsoever in commenting on matters of internal Labour Party selection procedures. Stick to what you’re best at -namely, hurling insults at people.

      PS Before trotting out the ‘Lickspittle’ line- check what I’ve said above in relation to this process.

      • ToffeeCrisp

        Good grief man, give it a rest. You’re only succeding in tying yourself in knots and making yourself look ridiculous.

  • John Ruddy

    Another disappointing aspect is the fact that members arnt voting to decide who will be candidates in many regions – they’re simply voting to decide the order on the ballot paper.
    Members should have been given a minimum of 10 candidates to vote for the 7 slots available.

    • aracataca

      Correct John.This process needs a wider internal debate within the Party.

  • aracataca

    A better way of conducting such selections might involve the selection panel drawing up a list of twenty candidates, which could then be presented to the membership to vote on. That way, members would be able to choose which of the shortlisted candidates made the final list, and which did not – rather than being given the current fait accompli of “these are the candidates, what order do you want them in?”.

    This looks like the correct solution Mark. I noticed that a regional officer is one of the candidates for my region. As it happens I think she’ll be a good candidate but I did ask myself ‘How did she get selected?’ At the very least we need to know what the process actually is before the selection process begins.

  • itdoesntaddup

    It is good to see some debate on the state of democracy in the Labour Party, even while it ignores the need for debate on the same topic in relation to the Unions.

  • FMcGonigal

    The first I heard of this was when a former MP e-mailed announcing he had been chosen as a candidate and inviting my support. This puzzled me as I had not heard about the selection process so I delved further. He was of course asking for my support in getting him high on the list. So members cannot choose WHO the candidates are, only their order on the list (which is of course important in determining which are elected).
    There is no reason why members could not have been given a much wider choice.
    In future Open Primaries should be considered.

  • Mark says: “There are too many who are invested in the cosy way the current system works.”

    I think it’s about time we should start naming names and holding those who are using the system for self-interested ends to account. If the system works to incentivise bad behaviour (as it patently does) then we should be shaming people into behaving in a decent way. That is surely what this interweb thing and all the transparency it brings to us is all about.

  • Daniel Speight

    The fact that if anything the stitch up has worked against the right wing of the party shouldn’t be a reason not to cry foul. The important thing is that the party should not be run top down, but instead bottom up. It must be transparent and fair. The NEC has proved itself to be anything other than either of these. Those on the right that find themselves on the receiving end of this in London should remember that they did little to fight against the system that has now worked against them. It’s the system that needs fixing.

  • $6215628

    And Labour wonder why paid up card carrying embers don’t even vote in Euroelections

  • Great article, but if we are naming names, I’d like to add my good friend Carole Tongue. Charismatic MEP for 15 years. Won 3 London elections doubling her majority each time.Speaks 4 languages and highly effective as an MEP. Dropped out of day-to-day politics to raise a special needs child. Was she offered an interview in London? Of course not. Duffed over to give the Unite candidate an easy run. We need objective selection criteria, fairly applied.

  • Well said,

    Also just received an e-mail from a candidate apologising for not e-mailing me sooner but explaining that they had to use free mass e-mailing sites that strictly limit the number of e-mails per day (i.e. mailchimp or similar).

    Is it really beyond the capacity of regional offices to supply fair, equal, free and timely e-mail communications to what are generally no more than ten or so candidates e-mailing what can’t be many more than 5,000 to 15,000 members per region.

    Or are as we’ve become used to happening some candidates getting preferential treatment?

    The cost and the admin required to do this properly and fairly would actually be quite trivial.

  • *Nobody* cares about Euro elections.

    • AlanGiles

      Alex, you are right in a way, but this gives me a chance to clear up one part of the hagiography that has been concocted this past week for Mrs Thatcher, who is credited as being the “first enviromental PM”. The only reason this occured was not through her “conviction” politics, but because at the 1989 EU elections she, and many other politicians of all parties, were worried because 15% of the vote had gone to the Ecology Party as the Green Party was then called, so to try to leap aboard the bandwaggon she started to (appear) to take an interest of the concerns of this group of voters. She later rescinded her “Green” views in her 2002 book, the title of which temporarily escapes me (well it is only 0430 in the morning!).


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