Selection process unclear as Labour opens Old Bexley and Sidcup applications

Sienna Rodgers
©️ Jakub Junek/

Labour has opened applications for the Old Bexley and Sidcup candidate selection after the death of Conservative MP James Brokenshire, but there are unanswered questions over the process that will be used for the contest.

The party told members on Friday afternoon that applications to be Labour’s candidate in the upcoming by-election are now open. Applicants must have at least 12 months continuous membership as of today to be eligible.

The following selection timetable has been set:

  • Friday 22 October 2021 – Applications open
  • Sunday 24 October 2021, 23.59 – Applications close
  • Wednesday 27 October 2021 – Shortlisting interviews
  • Thursday 28 October 2021 – Online selection hustings

It allows one day between shortlisting and selection hustings. This goes against the rule change passed at Labour conference last month on by-election selections, which said there must be at least one week between the two stages.

The conference change also means the rulebook now states that in a by-election, snap election or other selection “where there is insufficient time for a normal selection process”, a five-person panel dominated by local members is responsible for shortlisting.

Specifically, the shortlisting panel would comprise three local party representatives, appointed by the local executive committee; one regional executive committee representative, appointed by the chair and vice-chairs of the REC; one NEC member.

LabourList can reveal that an emergency meeting of the Labour national executive committee (NEC) officers’ group this week discussed a paper from the party on Wednesday that criticised the “inexpert drafting” of the conference rule change.

The paper said the amendment approved at conference “does not override the NEC’s general powers to intervene or cancel selection arrangements or to impose candidates” and determined that Labour could effectively ignore the rule change.

The party’s reasoning for being able to overlook the change in the paper was that the Labour rulebook also states:

“The NEC has the authority to modify these rules and any procedural rules and guidelines as required to meet particular circumstances or to further the stated objectives and principles of these rules. Further the NEC has the power to impose candidates where it deems that this is required by the circumstances”.

It is understood that deputy leader Angela Rayner raised specific objections to the NEC guidance put forward in the paper, and that NEC officers did not approve it. But whether the conference rule change will be followed in terms of the shortlisting panel is so far not known.

Momentum co-chair Gaya Sriskanthan said: “Just four weeks ago Labour conference voted overwhelmingly to end the national imposition of candidates in parliamentary selections.

“Starmer stood for Labour leader on this very same promise, and he must stick by it and respect party democracy.

“The new rule is very clear on how we should proceed: the shortlisting for this selection should be done by a panel that includes a majority of CLP members.”

Update, 8pm: LabourList has learnt that the following statement was agreed by NEC officers on Thursday:

NEC supplementary guidance in respect of selections of Westminster parliamentary candidates

NEC Statement

The NEC recognises the frustration party members feel following two General Elections at which candidates were imposed on local parties. In particular, the situation in the run up to the 2019 General Election – where local parties were prevented from selecting candidates, in some cases despite the vacancies being apparent for many months and only to have an NEC imposed shortlist or candidate at the last minute – was unacceptable.

The NEC, therefore, understands the spirit in which the “Selection of Parliamentary Candidates” constitutional amendment to Annual Conference was made and the reason it was subsequently approved by Annual Conference. However, due to the way that the constitutional amendment has been drafted, it leaves open the possibility that it may not be implementable at all.

The NEC has received legal advice advising that we should implement supplementary guidance to clarify the process for selections going forward. The NEC has, therefore, issued guidance guaranteeing – wherever the statutory timetable for nomination of candidates allows it – CLPs and the Regional Executive Committee a say in the shortlisting process, with the final selection going to an all-member ballot (none of which is currently guaranteed by the constitutional amendment).

The NEC wants to reiterate that the best way of ensuring maximum member involvement in selections is to begin the process as soon as possible. Proposals to select parliamentary candidates will therefore be brought to the full NEC in January 2022.

James Brokenshire died aged 53 of lung cancer. MPs held a minute of silence to mark his passing in the chamber this week, when the former cabinet minister was described as “unflappable, earnest, sincere” by Boris Johnson.

He first won the seat of Old Bexley and Sidcup in 2010, with a majority of 15,857, and by 2019 his majority had increased to 18,952. The constituency has been held by the Conservatives since its creation in 1983.

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