Revealed: Member anger as around 100 Labour candidates still not unveiled

Keir Starmer

Labour has approximately 100 general election candidates left to publicly announce, LabourList can reveal, despite the party twice accelerating its selection process.

The fact around one in six Constituency Labour Parties has no candidate, dozens more have only been recently announced and some CLPs have felt left in the dark have all sparked controversy.

Many members have voiced their frustration, given the lack of a focal point for campaigning and attacks by the Lib Dems in what Labour has called its “non-battleground” seats.

The recent top-down selection of candidates in a string of recent non-battleground seats has also prompted criticism, with some arguing fewer delays would have allowed more time for contests.

A party spokesperson said that Labour has been “prioritising selecting candidates in seats we need to win at the next general election” and that it “will have a full suite of fantastic candidates in place for the election”.

Others highlighted the need for due diligence, thrown into stark relief by the Azhar Ali saga, and strain on resources from competing in a high number of parliamentary by-elections.

Around 100 to 110 candidates yet to be publicly announced

Our analysis suggests the total number of seats without a publicly confirmed candidate is in the range of around 100 to 110.

One activist who keeps a tally told LabourList that some of those seats had selected but not yet unveiled candidates, however, and estimated the figure of outstanding selections at around 80.

LabourList keeps a rolling list of selected candidates. We calculate that around 340 newly-selected candidates had been publicly announced as of Tuesday afternoon, with selections speeding up in recent months as the party moves on to picking candidates in its so-called “non-battleground” seats.

We found that the party has approximately 520 candidates in place for the coming election when including sitting MPs.

A total of 19 Labour MPs have so far announced that they will stand down at the next election, according to the Institute for Government, and one sitting MP has been deselected, leaving 185 of Labour’s 205 current MPs to potentially restand.

Some further retirement announcements are widely seen as likely, however, meaning further candidates will have to be found.

A LabourList analysis based on MPs’ public announcements of reselection and the party’s own tracker of its candidates gave a slightly lower total for the number of sitting MPs restanding – around 177.

Readers in ‘non-battleground’ seats hit out at delays in selections

We asked our readers in Labour’s “non-battleground” seats about their experiences of the party’s selection process.

One claimed that their Constituency Labour Party (CLP) has been requesting permission to select a candidate since 2022 but has had “not one single response” from the region director “nor any contact from anyone in the Labour Party to explain why we now cannot select”.

They wrote: “I question whether I really want to continue as a member, as over these past two years, those in ‘executive’ positions in [the region] have shown nothing but disrespect for the members…

“I know we… have a [double-digit] Tory majority to try and overturn, but our members are so disillusioned with the leadership in [the region] that motivating them now will be nigh on impossible.”

A reader in a different constituency claimed that they had faced a similar experience, with the CLP “pressurising” the regional office “for well over a year” but still without a candidate. “The lack of a candidate is having a really depressing effect on our ability to campaign.”

Another reader said two local candidates in their area had applied but claimed that neither had heard anything from HQ and that “the word is HQ are now going to impose a candidate on us”.

‘Total lack of communication’

One member of Labour’s national executive committee, Ann Black, told LabourList: “I have a large collection of comments on this, nearly 100% dissatisfied with the process and more than half also dissatisfied with the outcome, though those happy with the outcome may have been less likely to mail me.”

She claimed there had been a “total lack of communication”, suggesting insufficient information was passed on to either CLPs or candidates after the first 94 non-battleground contests were advertised but not progressed last July, provisional shortlists for all 211 remaining seats were drawn up earlier this year, and again after the Ali case prompted fresh due diligence.

“A couple of emails apologising for delays and explaining the reasons – must-win by-elections, the need for thorough due diligence checks, the May elections – would have been widely understood,” she said.

“Also, exercising unprecedented central control of all selections without sufficient resources has led to unnecessary delays and fewer CLPs getting a choice, with many having candidates imposed for the third successive general election. This is very hard to justify.”

Some readers claim their candidates have been imposed

One reader in the South West said their local candidate was imposed, and claimed one of their first acts was encouraging members to canvass in the nearest target seat 90 minutes away. They said it felt like the subtext on their own seat was “do everything to allow the Lib Dems to win the seat”.

Another person said members are “unhappy” in their constituency. They claimed “at least five people applied locally but none were contacted or interviewed”, with the candidate “selected and appointed with no vote or local party involvement”.

One South East member whose local candidate was chosen centrally also told LabourList: “The Labour Party is as far as I am concerned no longer a democratic organisation but a wholly-owned fiefdom of the small group around the leadership.”

But one member in a non-battleground seat said they were “content” with having had their candidate “selected by default from a shortlist of one”.

They said: “The party needs to ensure that even in non-winnable seats, candidates are capable, credible and willing to put in the work in twinned battleground seats as well as their own.

“We need to focus our attention and resources on battleground seats in order to achieve a Labour government. To my mind, this extends to candidate selection.”

Akehurst: ‘Delays are about staff getting due diligence right’

But another NEC member Luke Akehurst told LabourList: “It’s understandable and indeed commendable that CLPs are anxious to get candidates in place, as that’s a game changer in terms of motivating members to campaign.

“If we had understood in 2020 that we would be able to move from the 2019 catastrophe to being 20 points ahead of the Tories, then in retrospect all selections would have started a year earlier.

“But at the start of this process, when we were behind in the polls, we would have been twisting people’s arms to stand as paper candidates in most of these seats.

“I’d urge people to be patient because the delays are about staff getting due diligence right – there’s no point announcing a candidate then they have to resign as soon as they come under media and opposition scrutiny.

“And because we only have one set of regional staff and it’s right that their first priority has been the local elections, by-elections and the campaign in the battleground seats that we must win to form a government, which we mustn’t fall into the trap of assuming are in the bag.”

‘We will have a full suite of fantastic candidates,’ party says

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The Labour Party has run a rigorous selection process, prioritising selecting candidates in seats we need to win at the next general election.

“This process is ongoing, and we will have a full suite of fantastic candidates in place for the election.”

Labour’s governing NEC did approve a quicker selection process at the end of last year, arguing that “continued political volatility” and “uncertainty” about the date of the next election required the party “to increase the pace”.

A document stated that a new selection process had been introduced for “non-battleground and non-notionally Labour-held seats” in England from November, “in anticipation of a general election in spring 2024”.

There had been widespread speculation that the election might be called in May, but a ballot coinciding with the local elections earlier this month was ruled out by Rishi Sunak. The Prime Minister said last week the election would be “at some point in the second half of this year”.

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