Alice Perry: Tips on how to approach Labour candidate selection interviews

Alice Perry

In August, I wrote a LabourList blog with advice for people considering standing for selection to represent Labour on a local or national level. It was great to hear so many people found this helpful.

As a member of the national executive committee (NEC), I interviewed, shortlisted and selected candidates to be MPs, MEPs, police and crime commissioners, combined authority and directly-elected mayors and councillors. Today, I am sharing my tips for things to consider when approaching candidate selection interviews.

The purpose of the interview

Candidate interviews test people on their local knowledge, understanding of policy, campaigning record and ability to handle pressure. The panel may ask deliberately challenging questions to test how aspiring candidates respond.

Our council candidates and PPCs could face hostile opposition, difficult media and a gruelling campaign. The panel needs to be assured that candidates can stay calm under pressure, cope with difficult conversations and tactfully address politically sensitive issues. If you face a bit of a grilling, it isn’t personal – the panel are doing their job.

Typical questions

Every interview is different, but there are some typical questions you may be asked that you can prepare for in advance. The panel could ask why you are standing and what you would bring to the role. You might be asked about local issues and the biggest challenges facing constituents. There are often questions about your campaigning record and Labour Party and/or trade union experience.

Sometimes the panel asks policy questions to test your understanding of the role or your ability to deal with challenging political issues. For example, a few years ago, we’d ask aspiring parliamentary candidates their views about Labour’s relationship with the EU and how they would speak to voters who voted to Leave/Remain. If you are standing to be a councillor, there could be a question on local government finance and there will almost certainly be a question on collective responsibility.

Personal probity and due diligence

Candidate due diligence can be a controversial topic, but it is essential. Our electoral credibility can be severely damaged if this process fails.

The panel will consider your behaviour online and in person. You may be asked to explain your sources of income, tax arrangements and expenses. Keep in mind the Nolan principles of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership when considering your answers.

Remember it is a job interview

Whatever the position you are being interviewed for, this is essentially a job interview. It sounds obvious, but treat it like one. Dress appropriately, behave professionally and respect the panel and the process. Politics and internal selections can be competitive and stressful, but don’t take out any frustrations on party staff or the panel members.

If you are applying to be on a council panel, there is a good chance that if you meet a baseline, you will be put forward to the next stage. If you are applying for a winnable parliamentary seat, there may be strong competition and not everyone interviewed will be able to be shortlisted. There will always be other opportunities.

The people involved in your interview are likely to have some influence in future selections. If you aren’t successful, remember that if you impress the panel, you will be well placed for any future opportunities. Equally, don’t burn bridges by publicly attacking the process, other candidates or the people involved, as it won’t achieve anything positive.

Building your network ahead of the selection process

Is there anyone you know who isn’t involved in your selection who you could approach for tips and advice? This could be someone who has stood to be a candidate elsewhere or someone who has interviewed people for similar roles in the past. Politics is built on personal relationships, and speaking to people who understand Labour’s selection processes can be very enlightening.

There are also lots of excellent training programmes or events run by Labour, socialist societies, the trade unions and local government. Labour needs candidates and will often run these kinds of activities ahead of elections, so do look out for them. A great way to understand local issues and meet local members is to attend campaigning sessions and party meetings.

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