To be a candidate for potential parliamentary selection in the Labour Party has been a strange experience. Despite a looming and inevitable election, hundreds of selection processes – almost all outstanding across the country – were inexplicably suspended. Until Tuesday, there was little clarity on when they might resume or what the process would be. We now know a little more, but there is still much to be clarified and determined.
We are two of at least ten candidates so far declared in Vauxhall, already amongst the most competitive selection races in British political history. We are proud to be on that slate – and we want the race to be open, inclusive, comradely and fair. The fact we have not been able to take that for granted is unsettling.
This is the first time either of us have run for public office, but we believe that it is important to show new people from diverse backgrounds can do so. We are standing to help bring the change we want to see, and show that those who look like us can fight our way to Westminster.
If unsuccessful here, we would both hope to stand elsewhere – where things have been no clearer. We now know the plan is for Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) to draw up longlists, and mixed constituency party, region and NEC panels to shortlist ahead of a brief local all-members selection. What criteria will be used to refine those lists we do not yet know.
We believe CLPs should be able to make sure candidates they want are on the NEC longlist – and that those lists should also contain significant numbers from underrepresented groups. Labour has led the way on female representation, with 45% of its MPs now women. The party – and parliament in general – has done much less well when it comes to black and minority ethnic representation, with only 52 such MPs across the Commons compared to 14.4% of the working population.
Our party is now particularly underrepresented by male MPs of African origin, having only two – Clive Lewis and David Lammy, the same number as the much smaller Liberal Democrats, following defections. Our record on disability is even worse. According to the DWP, up to a fifth of the British working age population identify as having a disability or long-term health condition. In parliament, it may be as few as five MPs, with only one currently Labour. (Data on MPs with long-term health conditions is patchy, an example of why accurate and accessible monitoring matters.)
We welcome the call made by Labour conference to set out shortlist slots for BAME candidates across the country, and want a similar step for disabled members. We believe that this would open the door to more selections – and success stories including in unexpected seats. Of those longlisted, we believe the party should strive that more than half are women – and BAME, LBGT and disabled representation is as close as possible to the proportion of those populations nationally.
We were both born in St. Thomas Hospital in Waterloo, but our lives have taken very different paths. Belinda went from an overcrowded flat on Brixton’s Angell Town Estate to Oxford University, then back to South London as a teacher and anti-cuts activist. Peter grew up in Kent and Essex, went overseas for Reuters news agency and broke his neck covering the Sri Lankan civil war.
We know first-hand the toxic costs of prejudice and marginalisation, both unconscious and deliberate. We also both hugely grateful for our opportunities. Without NHS and other support for Belinda’s diabetes or Peter’s almost full-body paralysis, neither could have continued professional, productive lives, let alone joined this race. Such lived experience is important.
As our comrade Joan Twelves reminds us, our constituency has a history of stitched-up selections and sidelining minorities, particularly the last time a new parliamentary candidate was chosen here in 1989. Repeating the mistakes and bitter factionalism of the past lets down all our communities – and deters good people, particularly from already underrepresented groups, from taking part at all.
We know what success looks like. It means more inclusive meetings and decision-making bodies, structures that support mothers, carers, those with disabilities and others current systems often exclude. People of colour and those with health conditions want more solidarity and a tough line against racism, misogyny, bullying and harassment.
There is a lot about. A photo of a campaign session last Saturday was retweeted by right-wing accounts to provoke a stream of abuse. Much was personally directed at Lord Andrew Adonis, the latest unexpected addition to the race here. We believe that kind of targeted trolling is a sign of much of what is wrong in modern politics.
Exactly who will ultimately get to stand here has already been contentious. It’s no surprise that we both favour an open selection. Black women like Belinda have been shown to have a much better chance there than on all-female lists. It is hugely logistically complex and expensive for someone like Peter – with two live-in carers and a wheelchair – to contest elsewhere.
We also remain uncomfortable that a small minority lobbied that an all-women shortlist was specifically “needed” to keep out a particular well-resourced local ethnic minority male candidate. That feels wrong, but these issues are complex, especially given local general committee (GC) votes for AWS. At the very least, the majority of shortlisted candidates must be women, with other protected groups – BAME, LBGT and disability – also represented.
This isn’t about tokenism. We are all more than our characteristics. Neither of us would stand if we did not think it was the right thing to do, that we deserve shortlisting as much as any other and that there is an outside chance that we might win. But this is about more than us. The lack of diversity in parliament, particularly in this government, is harming our society.
Our Parliamentary Labour Party should be “of the many”, not just “for the many”. Constituencies like Vauxhall deserve a proper democratic choice of the best, most representative candidates available. We are running out of time to make that happen this election.
Belinda Washington and Peter Apps are both running to be Labour’s parliamentary candidate in Vauxhall.