Promoting gesture candidates should be none of Labour’s business

by Kevin Meagher

It seems gesture politics is alive and well, although the latest outbreak has popped up in an unexpected place.

We learn today that the Labour party wants more candidates for elected office to come from a business background. It wants to extend the future candidates programme and get sitting MPs to mentor potential applicants from business. They won’t even need to be party members, just sympathetic to Labour’s ‘values’.

Of course the days when Labour candidates overwhelmingly came from trade unions, local government, universities or public sector management are disappearing. The last decade has shown that people who support Labour now work everywhere.

We should embrace that plurality. It is a success for Labour’s ambition to be a true ‘one nation’ party. And ‘business’ covers everything from executives of blue chip companies through to one-man band start-ups.

All oppositions have to reach out to build goodwill and support and it is right to do so. And Labour’s business reception in the City tonight is a good and useful thing to do.

But the announcement about candidates feels like a piece of crude brand positioning – an attempt to counter the charge that Labour is somehow anti-business. If that’s the real motive then there are better ways of going about responding to it.

If we need a concrete message for tonight’s business reception, how about promising that missives from HM Revenue and Customs will be written in plain English? That would be greeted with hosannas from every small business in the land. Or perhaps reverse the closure of HMRC front counter offices? Or how about a dedicated account manager for each small business?

Meet, talk and discuss with business by all means, but offering special access into the party’s selection processes is as abasing as it is pointless. Abasing because it sends the signal ‘we don’t – cannot – understand business without you’ and pointless because the take-up will be so low.

Do we really think there will be a rush from the executive corridors of Britain to spend evenings in residents’ association meetings or to take pay cuts to serve as MPs?

The focus should instead be on policy. By all means involve more business voices in how Labour looks at regulation, promoting exports, or developing a better skills framework, but reaching for gimmicks is not the way to convince the business community that the party is on their side.

And even if we viewed ‘business people’ as one homogenous bloc – and we accepted the dubious logic that they wanted to move into politics – then surely they would have skills and capabilities they could deploy to help them with their ambition?

The idea that they are helpless in becoming candidates because pinch-faced Marxist party apparatchiks will never countenance supporting anyone from the evil private sector is contemptible nonsense. And where does it lead us? Perhaps we should have a set percentage of benefit claimants in the House of Commons to counter the influx of sharp-suited Apprentice wannabes?

Indeed, what about more disabled people? Or provincial women from ordinary backgrounds? If the ambition, as Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna put it today, is to reflect “what Britain looks like and the jobs which people do”, then I await the glitzy reception for shopworkers (who are also private sector) or building labourers.

They are under-represented in parliament too Chuka.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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3 Responses to “Promoting gesture candidates should be none of Labour’s business”

  1. swatantra says:

    Even more interesting is Jim Murphy finally coming out for Open Primaries … all be it for Mayors and Police Commissioners. But I say, why not for PPCs as well?

  2. clumsysod says:

    The bit of this announcement that stuck in my craw was that these potential fast-tracked candidates do not even have to be party members.This really does discriminate against those of us who are and indeed have been for decades or more.They should be members of the party first,not after they have been selected.I hope,though, this does attract small capitalists rather than those hangers-on attracted by Lord Mandelson when the Labour party was extremely “relaxed” about very rich people getting very richer.

  3. Mike Homfray says:

    I think the ‘pay cut’ comment is probably very accurate.

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