Now that may seem a strange question for a Party that has both Chuka Umunna and Sadiq Khan in its Shadow Cabinet but something troubling is emerging from the current round of Parliamentary selections.
Of the 100 constituencies where Labour hopes to make gains or when Labour MPs have announced their retirement/parliamentary by-elections since 2010 so far just three have selected a BME male candidate. And this is from a section of society which is immensely loyal to the Labour Party and where many recognise a need to provide national role models for Afro Caribbean and Asian young men. It’s not as if other people haven’t noticed (‘Labour losing Sikh support’ Times 28/8/14).
It is part of a wider trend that is occurring with the selection of Labour Parliamentary Candidates and one that should concern those who want to see a more representative Parliament.
For Labour – a party that believes in social justice and planningseems to have a strangely ‘lassiez faire’ attitude to the outcomes of its parliamentary selection process. As a consequence it has created a ruthless free market with considerable advantage to those who have insider knowledge of the process and networks built up over years at university and within parliament and favoured think tanks.
Whilst this has been apparent for years the assumption was that this set of selections following the 2010 General Election was going to be different. The Trades Unions, and in particular UNITE, made it very clear that this time they were going to use their political influence and considerable financial resources to ensure more working class candidates who have real life experience of the occupations represented by these unions.
Whatever the good intentions the reality is that, with very few exceptions, many of the union backed candidates selected so far are – in terms of professional backgrounds – similar to the existing Parliamentary Labour Party. Not much chance of a Dennis Skinner, Bessie Braddock or Ernie Bevin from this process
Part of the wider problem is that with the Labour Party membership itself. Those with professional backgrounds make up an increasingly higher percentage of its membership and they have a strong preference to select in their own image.
We live in an age of political cynicism and the wider population is used to the political elite looking after their own. Clearly there are exceptions to the general trend. Amina Lone, Labour’s candidate in Morecombe and Lunsdale, is a good example of a working class woman who will be a fantastic advocate in Parliament. But Labour can and should do more.
So is there a solution? Well there could be but it needs a complete change of attitude for all those involved.
Firstly and most importantly the Trades Unions have to return to their original purpose in establishing the Labour Party and ensure that working class men and women are represented in Parliament.
Secondly the Labour Party membership has to grow up and stop thinking they are picking candidates as potential son or daughter-in-laws. We need the whole range of talent and experience in Parliament and not just so called ‘high flyers’.
The Parliamentary Labour Party is increasingly a group of politicians whose awareness of the challenges and struggles of the average family is one gained by proxy rather than personal experience. If we want to break the cycle of cynicism that feeds a UKIP vote and disillusionment amongst our natural voters in groups such as BME men we need to change and change quickly.