With Labour on an election footing and processes to select candidates to replace departing MPs in full swing, Labour activists continue to row over all women-short lists (AWS) and BAME underrepresentation.
In a letter to Jeremy Corbyn that was leaked to Buzzfeed and The Guardian last week, Unison general secretary David Prentis expressed concern over women’s representation in parliament. Prentis suggested that instead of designating an all-women shortlist to seats vacated by female MPs, Labour is “trading them around for what appears to be favourite sons taking up the safest seats.”
“It has been the position of the party for many years that where a woman is standing down, that seat remains an all women shortlist,” Prentis wrote. He added: “After all our work over the decades we cannot return to the bad old days of back room stitch ups and women being pushed further away.”
LabourList understands that Vauxhall has not been assigned an AWS despite it being vacated by a female Labour MP and the local party having voted for one. Male BAME candidate Ibrahim Dogus is thought to be seeking selection in the seat. In Stockport, where Ann Coffey quit to join Change UK, a male candidate was selected last week. In four constituencies where the sitting MP is male – Coventry North West, Ealing North, Liverpool West Derby and Rother Valley – there will be open contests. But in Blyth Valley and Poplar and Limehouse, where sitting MPs are also men, there will be an AWS.
In a reply to Prentis posted on Labour Hub, the national executive committee’s Lara McNeill maintained that the NEC was fully committed to achieving Corbyn’s call for 50% women’s representation in the parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) by 2020. McNeill wrote: “The Labour Party NEC took heed of Corbyn’s request and acted swiftly, and less than 8 months later, following a general election, women’s representation in the PLP had risen from 101 to 119, representing 45% of the entire PLP. As for Prentis’ allegation of ‘favourite sons taking up the safest seats,’ of the 30 most marginal of those target seats, 17 have selected women, up from 11 women candidates in the same seats in 2015.”
McNeill went on to say that Unison representatives had supported open contests in both Stockport and Enfield North when they met with the NEC to discuss the selection process in Change UK “defector seats.”
Meanwhile, five Labour Friends groups have sent a letter to the Labour Party expressing their disappointment in the amount of BAME candidates selected thus far, offering several proposals to maximise the chances of selecting BAME candidates moving forward.
“We must dispel the myth that less ethnically diverse electorates will be less favourable to a BAME candidate,” the letter said. “Labour must be as comfortable selecting someone from Kurdish, Somali, Chinese, East European, Pakistani, Indian, or African heritage in Rother Valley and Blyth Valley as we are in Coventry or Ilford. There should be no no-go areas for BAME candidates.”
The letter – signed by Sikhs for Labour, Chinese for Labour, Somali Friends of Labour, Black Labour Movement and Kurds for Labour – calls for the implementation of 50:50 BAME shortlists and diversity training for selection committees, which they argue should include at least one BAME member.
They added: “We have to get serious about ensuring they have a fair chance at being selected, and the coming election is a great opportunity to usher in a transformative Labour Government as well as a diverse parliament. For too long, selections have been the subject of horse-trading and power-broking. If we are the party of fairness, equality and diversity, then we need to ensure our own processes are meeting the highest standards.”