Letter sent to NEC as just two make Labour’s West of England mayor shortlist

A letter has been sent to Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) after just two people made it to the shortlist in the process to select the party’s candidate for the West of England mayoral race.

Concerns were raised by members following the outcome of the shortlisting process undertaken by the selection committee, in which Helen Godwin and Dan Norris were shortlisted but others who received more nominations were dropped.

Bristol Momentum tweeted that “it seems they’ve removed all candidates who could be seen as on the left”, and pointed out that three of those who did not make it onto the shortlist have stood as Labour candidates before.

Lesley Mansell, one of the applicants not shortlisted, came within 3.2% of winning the West of England metro mayor election for Labour in 2017. She also received the most overall nominations in the current selection process.

Members have highlighted that Mhairi Threlfall and Mike Davies – contenders also not shortlisted – represented the Labour Party as parliamentary candidates in the 2019 general election.

Threlfall and Davies are also current party representatives, as councillors for Eastville and Ashley wards respectively in Bristol. Threlfall held a cabinet member position previously. Threlfall received three nominations while Davies received two.

Bristol Momentum organising group member Isaac Kneebone-Hopkins told LabourList: “The decision should be overturned and unless there is very specific reasons why those candidates are unsuitable, I think the members should be able to vote on a shortlist of all of those who got two CLP nominations or more.”

He added: “Because it’s not really a choice if all the political difference has been removed from the shortlist.”

The letter, signed by 25 CLP officers from the constituencies in the area, states that “somewhat inexplicably, only two candidates were shortlisted” despite five receiving enough nominations.

The group added: “It is extremely concerning that Lesley Mansell, with the most CLP nominations and, we understand, by far the most nominations overall, was not shortlisted – yet the candidate with the fewest nominations to be eligible, Dan Norris, was shortlisted.”

The procedures issued by Labour state that all candidates who receive “at least two nominations: either from CLPs wholly or partly within the combined area, or affiliates, or a combination of both” will be considered by the selection committee.

The members wrote: “By shortlisting just two candidates, rather than more candidates to represent the breadth of party opinion, the panel has left itself open to accusations of factionalism.”

The West of England metro mayoral election is due to take place next year. Mansell stood for Labour last time against Tory candidate, and current mayor, Tim Bowles and the Lib Dems’ Stephen Williams.

The Labour Party has been contacted for comment.

Below is the full text of the letter sent to the NEC this weekend.

Andi Fox, Chair of NEC
Andy Kerr, Chair of Organisational Committee
Jayne Taylor, NEC member (Unite), Chair of the West of England combined authority mayoral (WECA) shortlisting panel

We are writing to you as lead members of all nine CLP teams that conducted nomination meetings for the West of England combined authority mayoral candidate. Each of us put in a large number of hours to ensure the process was conducted according to the new rules for online nomination meetings and using the new online balloting system, while ensuring that as many of our members as possible were able to participate.

After the nomination process by CLPs, trade unions and other affiliated organisations, five candidates out of 13 had received sufficient nominations to be considered for shortlisting. An additional candidate was the only BAME applicant, so was automatically considered for shortlisting.

Thus six candidates were interviewed and considered for shortlisting. Somewhat inexplicably, only two candidates were shortlisted, with four rejected. We have compiled the number of CLP nominations but have struggled to obtain the numbers of nominations from trade unions and other affiliates, although we believe them to be as follows:

Nominations for Metro Mayor: CLP/ Trade unions and other affiliates/ Total

A. Lesley Mansell: 6/ 4/ 10
B. Helen Godwin: 4/ 1/ 5
C. Mhairi Threlfall: 3/ 2/ 5
D. Mike Davies: 2/ 1/ 3
E. Dan Norris: 2/ 0/ 2
F. Grant Johnson: 1/ 0/ 1 (not sufficient)
G. Mubashar Chaudhry: BAME candidate automatically considered

The candidates who were shortlisted were candidate B Helen Godwin, with (we believe) five nominations in total, four from CLPs and one from a trade union, and candidate E Dan Norris, with (we believe) two nominations in total, two from CLPs and none from trade unions or other affiliates.

It is extremely concerning that candidate A Lesley Mansell, with the most CLP nominations and, we understand, by far the most nominations overall, was not shortlisted, yet the candidate with the fewest nominations to be eligible, candidate E Dan Norris, was shortlisted.

Lesley was the previous WECA Mayor candidate in 2017. This was deemed unwinnable by Labour but, without financial or officer support from the Party, Lesley was able to come just 4,377 votes out of 136,000 behind the Tory, a margin of 3.2%, pushing the LibDems to a distant third. Why would the previous WECA Mayor candidate not even be shortlisted this time?

Candidate C Mhairi Threlfall had the same number of nominations overall, we believe, as candidate B Helen Godwin, yet was not shortlisted. Mhairi was the PPC for Kingswood in 2017 and for Filton and Bradley Stoke in 2019, both in South Gloucestershire and in the WECA area. These are the crucial areas we need to win to tip the balance and win the WECA mayoral contest in 2021. Mhairi is also a councillor in Bristol and was a cabinet member; Helen is a current cabinet member. Why would a current councillor and PPC at the last two elections not be shortlisted? Is it appropriate to shortlist only one woman?

Candidate D Mike Davies had more nominations overall, we believe, than candidate E Dan Norris, yet was not shortlisted. Mike was the PPC in Bath in 2019, also in the WECA area. A strong showing in Bath could make the difference to win the WECA Mayoral contest in 2021. Mike is also a councillor in Bristol. Why would a current councillor and PPC at the last election not be shortlisted?

In addition, the two shortlisted candidates are both white, with the only BAME applicant, candidate G Mubashar Chaudhry, not being shortlisted.

By shortlisting just two candidates, rather than more candidates to represent the breadth of party opinion, the panel has left itself open to accusations of factionalism. Three candidates have been removed at shortlisting despite them having previously been deemed suitable to be selected as Labour’s 2017 Metro Mayor candidate (Lesley Mansell) or 2019 Parliamentary Candidates (Mhairi Threlfall and Mike Davies).

We find it unacceptable for a panel to overrule a clear intention of the members by removing the most nominated candidate without clear and legitimate explanation as to why. The members must be given a REAL choice when it comes to selecting our representatives.

We wish the relevant NEC officers to consider the following points:

1. There appears to have been a blatant disregard for members’ opinion and efforts:

a) The candidate with the highest nominations from CLPs and overall was not shortlisted; we need to know whether the panelists saw the list of nominations or not.

b) CLP EC members, all unpaid volunteers, spent huge amounts of time and energy organising the nomination meetings, including in-depth preparation for the new system of online meetings and ballots; this now appears fairly pointless.

c) Members who participated in this process so far – reading candidate statements, nominating, seconding, or speaking in support of candidates and voting – will question why they bother to participate at a local level if their preferences are ignored.

2. Two candidates is not really much of a choice:

a) We need a diversity of opinion to choose between.

b) Keir Starmer has pledged to: “Recruit a truly representative set of candidates for future elections”; that hasn’t happened here: the only BAME candidate, the LGBTQ candidates – one of whom is disabled – and another woman candidate were eliminated to leave a straight white man and a straight white woman.

c) STV has been raised as a potential voting system because some consider it promotes unity and allows for a plurality of voices; having only two candidates nullifies this system.

3. It is not transparent how candidates were selected nor which trade unions or affiliates nominated them:

a) Keir Starmer has pledged to: “Make the selections for Labour candidates more democratic and end NEC impositions of candidates.”

b) It is important for members to know which organisations nominated each candidate as being suitable for this Mayoral position.

c) It is helpful if members understand and have faith in the process that candidates have gone through and criteria used for selection so they feel the candidate finally selected was properly chosen.

d) Candidates who were eliminated at this shortlisting stage have been selected for public office quite recently. Why have they now been deemed unsuitable?

e) We note the failure to send out the candidate applications to CLP Secretaries in accordance with procedure 6b of the guidance: “At the close of applications, a copy of each application together with the statement shall be sent to each Constituency Labour Party and each affiliated organisation eligible to nominate.” This is a question of professionalism and trust; we are aware that last time the applications of some candidates were poor. It is important that we see these applications. We also need to know whether the panelists saw the applications.

We have written to the regional director, copying in the shortlisting panel with queries and concerns – please see the email forwarded below.

In conclusion, we demand:

  • The regional director responds sufficiently and promptly to the questions that have been put to him; and
  • The NEC commit to:
      • Enacting Keir Starmer’s pledge to: “Recruit a truly representative set of candidates for future elections.”
      • Enacting Keir Starmer’s pledge to: “Make the selections for Labour candidates more democratic and end NEC impositions of candidates.”
      • Ensuring a more transparent process for all selections.
      • Investigating whether the shortlisting for this position was conducted properly and impartially as should be expected.
      • If this is found not to be the case, taking appropriate action to rectify the situation, including shortlisting additional candidates if they were unfairly eliminated.

    </ul

    We are receiving a high level of communications from our members about the candidate shortlisting and would appreciate a prompt resolution of this issue.

    Thanking you in advance,

More from LabourList