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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