It was over in a flash: Labour’s selection process for picking its candidate in the upcoming Hartlepool by-election concluded just two days after sitting MP Mike Hill resigned with immediate effect. The result will not have come as a surprise to most LabourList readers: successful ex-MP Dr Paul Williams was the rumoured favourite and, as we revealed yesterday, was the sole candidate ‘longlisted’ by a panel of three national executive committee (NEC) members. The way that the party went about this selection is controversial and has led to accusations of a “stitch-up”.
Keir Starmer did, after all, promise in his leadership campaign to address concerns over the high number of candidates being directly decided by the ruling body ahead of both the 2017 and 2019 snap general elections. It was point four of his plan for internal reforms: “Make the selections for Labour candidates more democratic and end NEC impositions of candidates.” Neglecting to put more than one applicant on the list of potential candidates and to hold a vote of local members would not seem to fit with that pledge.
Those defending the process are keen to point out that the local executive committee was in favour of it, however. We know from the leaked letter by the local party secretary that they were organising ahead of Hill’s resignation to install Williams via a one-candidate shortlist. Indeed, following the candidacy announcement last night, a Hartlepool Labour spokesperson said: “Paul Williams was the standout choice of the CLP and we are delighted with this decision.” They also refer to specifically wanting a candidate in place early for Labour’s electoral benefit.
Opposition from the left of the party to the process was already factored in: the local leaked letter predicted that some would “call foul”. Laura Parker, the former Momentum co-ordinator who backed Starmer for the leadership last year, described the selection process as “an absolute joke”, concluding: “We deserve to lose”. Perhaps less likely to have been foreseen was a reaction from women in the parliamentary party.
“Loads of women MPs are pissed off,” a Labour frontbencher told LabourList last night. “All this talk about banning all-male panels, and now an all-male shortlist of one.” The MP thought it sent the message that “it’s risky to put a woman in a tough-by election”, adding: “Basically everyone is a feminist when it’s convenient.”
The Labour Women’s Network tweeted that it has written to Labour general secretary David Evans “to ask for assurances that solo male shortlists will not become a feature of by-election selections going forward, and that due consideration is given to ensuring that Labour Party processes are as inclusive as possible”. Others are highlighting an old tweet by Williams, still up, that talks about having “a favourite Tory MILF”.
Labour members will all appreciate the value of having a family doctor who has been working in a Covid clinic locally as the parliamentary candidate for Hartlepool, especially as the party’s key message in the May elections is centred on rewarding NHS workers. But the point around women’s representation feels particularly pertinent to many in this situation and at this time due to the circumstances around Hill’s resignation and the events of the past week.
I will be making an appearance at the Open Labour conference on Sunday (readers can use the discount code LabourlistOL21 for tickets), but then I’ll be taking a few days off as I move home and have another lockdown birthday. Elliot will be in charge. Hope you all have a great weekend.Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.