Calling time on selection shortcuts

11th June, 2012 12:00 pm

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.


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  • Billybob

    Mark – SpAds aren’t the problem, it’s that the system has an inbuilt bias towards activists. The selection process is massively weighted in favour of people who have lots of experience of campaigning and holding positions within their BLP/CLP. Half the bloody application form focuses on how much canvassing you’ve done. So if you’re a Campaigns Officer for Oxfam who is chair of their BLP, you have a much better chance of being selected than, say, a local shop owner who is well known and respected in the community, but hasn’t written a press release in his life and spends his Sundays serving customers rather than knocking on doors. Candidates who have experience in business are blackballed by CLPs while people who have worked for trade unions are hoovered up. The problem is the party I’m afraid. The only solution is open primaries.

    • Chilbaldi

      Absolutely spot on.

      This isn’t about stitch ups – that is a separate problem.

      The issue is the system showing bias to people who get involved in CLPs. Of course these people do a vitally important job, but do the best future MPs come from these groups? Debatable.

      • But there genuinely is no better qualification for being a full-time politician than doing politics as near to full time as you can get. 

        The issue is not that we are selecting unqualified candidates but that the people who get the experience as Parliamentary and party and TU  and think tank research officers, assistants, SPADs and so on now seem to come from a much narrower strata of society than previously. 

        For a start how many are sons, daughters, partners etc of current or former MPs?

        • Quiet_Sceptic

          In many ways politics is about change and how to change things, this doesn’t just require an understanding of the political process, it requires knowledge and experience outside of politics in the areas you want change.

          I wonder if that lack of real world knowledge and experience is why so many of the reforms which roll out of central government are structural.

          To reform and improve organisations and services takes knowledge and experience of that organisation, an ability to pin-point the specific failings and address them. Our politicians don’t have that.

          They don’t know how to manage organisations so whenever there’s a problem they go for the structural route – privatise it, out-source it, get the voluntary sector to deliver it.

        • Redshift

          That I agree with but these people get selected because they are wealthy enough to seat-seek, applying in multiple parliamentary seats. If we built our membership we would be generating enough talent from local areas. 

    • Redshift

      Bollocks. Complete rubbish. 

      a) Open Primaries completely remove any incentive for being a party member. What exactly do you envisage members voting for? Why should people volunteer hours and hours of their free time for someone or something they have absolutely no say over?
      b) We have a membership problem but that needs to be resolved by wider recruitment.
      c) If you’ve done sod all campaigning ever, where is the evidence that your words will be backed up with action? It is a very important part of the application. If you want to be selected in a parliamentary marginal, you must be committed to doing the graft – because you are expecting a load of volunteers who won’t have a 60k+ job at the end of it to put in the work as well. People will respect the fact you have a job, a family, etc – but if you think you can get away with leaving it to everyone else, they’ll get pissed off very quickly. Anyone would. 

  • The issue that receives almost no comment here is that while we held on to most of our ABC1 vote in 2010 we lost 10 points from C2DEs (see table attached as image from Ipsos Mori).

    As a result for the first time in living memory statistically there is no longer any correlation between being working class and voting Labour. 

    And this is an equal issue with our membership demographics: other than generally being much younger the SPAD Parachute Brigade also look very much like a typical Labour branch meeting (and in fact their parents will often be sitting there).

    We for instance have a DC with no Labour councillors at all, but multiple wards that Mosaic data tells us should elect Labour councillors  (at least by pre-2010 standards)  – but as all our active CLP members live in the most prosperous  northern wards of a large rural constituency we have hardly any active members at all in the town down south where our natural voters should be – and so struggle to even nominate paper candidates in wards which we should be representing. 

    As with all-women shortlists trying to find more candidates from a relatively small pool of  members just creates different distortions – Labour needs not just more women members but more working class members. 

    And how on earth can we recruit them when we spent 13 years demonstrating that actually we weren’t their party at all and that any corporate lobbyist had more input to policy formation than our members and unions.  

    While recent polls indicate that we may get those C2DEs back as voters, how much of that is down to the Tories rather than our own efforts?

    Somehow we must also get them back as members and activists. 

    And I really don’t have the first idea about how to go about that – and neither AFAICT does anyone else (other than perhaps Blue Labour whose ideas or at least their presentation of them raised as many problems as they addressed).

    • Chilbaldi

      A lot of sense here = we need to recruit more members from these group. I’ve said this for a long time, AWS are a plaster over a broken leg. We would do better to get more women to join the party. The same goes for other unrepresented groups, but when many branch meetings these days resemble Oxford PPE seminars I’m not surprised that they are put off.

      • treborc

        Labour in my area has been  MP labour with a majority into the 21,000, the Welsh Assembly labour the council labour.

        They lost the council, they lost the Assembly and now the MP is down to 4,000 majority, they are losing the working class voter, do they care I’m not to sure any more.

    • Paulwray,Leeds

      Well said. Some great points. We need real people not just talented. There seem to be a conclusion that these two thinks can be together. Very wrong

    • Mike Homfray

      Roger – yes. I think another problem is that the party has almost disappeared in some areas. I was born on the Bucks-Berks border and in the most recent local elections we didn’t stand in over half the seats in Wycombe, Chiltern and Aylesbury. And shamefully only two wards in South Bucks. I know these are not easy areas for us but we have let the LibDems become the non-Tory alternative in so many areas just because we don’t stand candidates locally.

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  • Unbelieveable

    Love the irony in 3 white middle-aged, middle-class men from the Labour party suggesting to the GMB (all of whose senior staff are men I believe) that there’s a need to better reflect the country in selections/PLP etc ….. you couldn’t make it up!!!

  • Mr Chippy

    The SpADs system is a protected labour scheme for Oxbridge educated dimwits. I say this to get my revenge in first because whenever I make this point I get Oxbridge types stating they are obviously the brightest and best and the rest of us are obviously not as good.

    Now a story which I have told before but like telling. I was invited to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Anti-Apartheid Movement at No10 under the Brown premiership. Getting bored and drunk because they offered an undifferentiated extract of grape made by peasants from Europe instead of a subtle manufactured product made by British artisans called beer, I started asking all the SpADs present where they were educated – Oxbridge to a man. I then said how did they get their job because I did not see it advertised in the public appointments page of the Guardian and they all looked at me genuinely perplexed how to answer.

    The SpADs may have had a good education but are they suitable advisors? I believe they articulate ‘received’ advice no doubt spoken in received English. I worked at the MSF Union. When we argued for an industrial policy, defence diversification, an end to short-termism investment and investment in science and R&D we were no doubt dismissed by these same advisors as dinosaurs or producer interests or picking winner.  Charlie Leadbetter who advised Blair wrote a book living on air – an argument for a post industrial economy.

    Now we know where all this advice from the brilliant educated of Oxbridge has got us. An economy which leaves us at the beck and call of financial services. Even the Tories talk of re-balancing the economy.  What a wasted opportunity as Labour had links with the trade unions and we could have done something good on this.

    Now on the issue of the post we should have non- Oxbridge short-lists (25% of MPs went to these institutions). Impractical I know but at least we will have the joy of former advocates of diversity turning somersaults as they realise that this card no longer suits in getting a seat. 

    • Redshift

      Unite’s strategy looks genuinely exciting. As well as all the problems with the party policy wise, I think the unions need to make a concerted effort to get their members involved in CLPs at ground level – inherently changing the make-up of their activist base. 

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  • James Jacobs

    I’m sorry to raise the spectre of AWSs in this conversation, but it is an issue. To have breath in a party, I think we do need to afford to more local candidates in seats. I hear in Redcar they are imposing an AWS – a seat like that need a local man/woman who can beat a libdem, and its no use giving the impression that the selection’s a stich up.
    At some stage perhaps we need “All Local Shortlists”, where only those from the constituency concerned are aloud to apply.

    • Mr Chippy

      I have my sympathies but I will be provocative and ask why? My Dad hails from Balham, my Mum from Woolwich. I was born in Germany and then lived in the following places Canterbury, Wembley, Edgeware, Germany, Ballykinlar, Tidworth, Merton, Morden, Colechester, Wivenhoe, Balham, Harlesden, Willesden, Streatham and now reside in Wrexham. Where should I apply to be a local candidate?

      • James Jacobs

        Apart from the fact that you seem to have lived in more places than many would do in a liftime (i’ve only lived in nottingham and hull); I should say that when I say ‘local’, I mean candidates specifically from the CLP that are selecting. So, if there was vacancy in Wrexham, you are free to apply for that seat.
        Of course, my idea is simply that, and I have no  problem with ‘outside’ candidates (Dan Jarvis is an excellent example), but sometimes people vote on how well you know local issues, and living in the area is a good indicator for this.

    • Redshift

      Well said!

  • Guest

    The Crewe and Nantwich (remember that) shortlist has been made. No Spads in that! Four excellent candidates. Only Oxbridge educated happens to be an NHS Doctor, the others include a prison governor (who was instrumental in clearing the Wintertons out), and two successful people who have done well and defeated Tories at Council elections. The winner will take C&N back for Labour from a lightweight Tory (and accidental MP). None were privately educated . And this shortlist was chosen by local members with no intervention by the “management”.

    • Mr Chippy

      This is good news but you should also realise that members of the Oxbridge lodge aren’t interested in working a seat or being a Cllr first but wish to be allocated dead certs.

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