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.