Why has Ed allowed the unions to stitch up the euro candidate selections? What happened to the new politics?

by Peter Watt

There has been a lot of retrospective going on recently.  Obviously the death of Baroness Thatcher has meant that we have all been reflecting on the politics of the 1970’s and 1980’s.  And politics has changed a fait bit since then and Labour politics in particular; long gone are the days when Labour ripped itself apart with splits and division.

Beaten time after time by the Tories, Labour finally realised that it needed to change if it was to win.  First Neil Kinnock, then John Smith and finally Tony Blair and Gordon Brown gradually enforced a degree of central control and discipline within the party.  There was an understanding that controlling process meant controlling the party.  Conferences, policy making and of course selections were all ruthlessly managed.

On the whole the party welcomed it, even if reluctantly at first.  There was a significant minority who always complained of course, but most were prepared to overlook what they didn’t like as we kept winning.

Working for the party throughout this period, we were loyal to the Leadership and we worked hard to keep control.  Centralisation was the name of the day.  But the world moved on and the time for command and control was over.

But at the centre we were slow on the uptake and so the culture of control was hung onto longer than it should’ve been.  As the rest of society was opening up and more open sources of information were becoming the norm in business, online and in the media, the Labour party stubbornly refused to change the way that it ran itself.  Keeping control meant keeping order.

But then we lost a general election and rightly our new Leader demanded a new approach to our politics.  There was talk of reaching out beyond our closed ranks: of allowing creativity and innovation and welcoming the possibilities that there may well be differences in tone and approach in different parts of the country.

As an old school control freak you would expect me to be sceptical.  But no; I am hugely supportive of an approach that begins to break down the barriers to our politics.  I can see just how remote and closed our politics actually is and how unattractive it is to most voters.  I wholeheartedly agree with Ed when he says:

“It’s not just about winning elections… It’s about constructing a real political movement. It’s a change from machine politics to grassroots politics.”

So I welcome the opening up of the party; except that is not what is happening.  The words are all well and good but the reality is that nothing has changed.  Actually that isn’t true.  If anything it is getting worse.

Just take the debacle of the European selections currently concluding.  It may not be the most exciting thing going on politically right now but it is instructive.

A quick lesson in case you aren’t a selection anorak.  MEPs are elected regionally from a list of party candidates.  Sitting MEP’s are in effect automatically re-selected at the top of the list.

The selection system for new candidates is that they are chosen regionally by a panel of the regional board (bear with me here) consisting of three reps from the trade unions and three from the local parties plus a representative of the NEC.

The panel undertakes a long listing process by CV and then interviews potential candidates before choosing candidates.  The total list of potential candidates, sitting MEP’s plus new candidates, can be the same as the number of candidates to be elected as MEPs or there can be up to two more so that those ranked in the bottom two become reserves.

The choice is the regional panel’s to make.  There is also a gender quota applied to ensure that there is a balance in the gender of elected MEPs.

The result is a list of sitting MEPs and a separate list of new candidates that are offered to members to rank in order of preference in a ballot of all members in the region.  The end product is a gender balanced and ranked list of euro candidates that has sitting MEPs at the top of the list.

Now it is always a bit of a clunky process but this time around there have been cries of foul!  People have claimed that there were no NEC reps on the panels and that the NEC hadn’t even seen the full list of candidates before they were released.

There are complaints that panels chose to only select the same number of candidates as there were MEPs in the region and not have reserves thereby limiting the choice for members in the ballot.

In the East Midlands it has been claimed that one of the selection panel has actually ended up being selected!

But most of all there have been fierce complaints that there has been a good old fashioned political stitch-up in the operation to deliberately exclude certain candidates and include others.

Take Anne Fairweather in London.  She was a Labour euro candidate in London last time and in fact topped the member’s ballot, coming within a whisker of becoming an MEP at the poll.

She applied to the regional panel this time around and wasn’t even long listed – not even interviewed.  The feeling is that as she has a pro-business background she was blocked by the trade unions.  I am not sure what her local MP Chukka Umunna will make of that following his recent calls for more pro-business Labour MPs.

Another potential candidate in the north west visited over 30 local parties to drum up support and has ended up on a reserve list.  In the south west another blocked candidate has established a Facebook page to focus anger.

And twitter is full of stories of the “I can’t believe that x isn’t on the list” ilk.

At the same time one particular faction appears to have got a lot of their favoured candidates selected.  Apart from anything else, all of this concern about the process is a shame for the many excellent members who have made it to the lists of candidates.

So how has this happened?  How come in the age of Ed’s new politics have we had such a clumsy and potentially biased selection?  The answer is actually quite simple.  It really is a stitch up.

I should know one when I see one after all!  The regional panels are supposed to be balanced between local parties and trade unions but in reality many of the local party reps are really trade union place men and women.  So, many of the panels are pretty much controlled by the trade unions.

And of course, “trade union” generally means Unite, GMB and Unison.  The trade unions have then used their power to select who they want and block those that they do not.  So if you are pro-business for instance – sod off!  Easy really.

We shouldn’t be surprised; it is what the trade unions have been saying that they would do.  Unite have a political strategy that explicitly says that they will operate on this basis; get onto local committees, selection panels and regional boards and then wield power to get sympathisers selected.

If you really are going to build a new politics then you can’t just say that you are and then sit back assuming that it will happen.  You can have all the community organising you like but if the party is still operating a closed shop then the community will notice.

The sad truth is that the warm words from the leader are naïve.  It may seem counter-intuitive but if you want new-politics then you need to understand where power lies in the old.

You then need to be prepared to do something about it.  And Ed and his office need to wise up to this fast because right about now the trade unions are quietly running rings around them and soon will control much of the party.

At some point, it will be more than just favoured sons and daughters on euro candidate lists that they are securing.

Peter Watt was general secretary of the Labour party

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32 Responses to “Why has Ed allowed the unions to stitch up the euro candidate selections? What happened to the new politics?”

  1. John Reid says:

    To be quite honest ,he probably didn’t want the fight and assumes that labour will come third at the euro election, with UKIP winning

  2. Clr Ralph Baldwin says:

    The only stunning event currently is that the gullable members and prominant people within your sad dead derelict farce of a “Party” can’t even see it, and when they get glimpses of the reality that is occuring how swiftly they retreat into an amusing bubble of self-denial. The real question is how big do the lies have to get, how blatent do they have to be before they have start wheeling you all out and sectioning you all? Because with such tremendous and blatently transparent deceit being committed right in the face of such amazingly dumb people you wonder if it is safe to let you all out during the waking hours of the day!

  3. Felix says:

    The south west candidates is a local joke figure with delusions of grandeur who didn’t have a chance in hell of being selected and is now running a campaign of sour grapes. There would have been no end to the uproar from the likes of Watt had they been selected.

  4. Ultra_Fox says:

    What is the point behind this anti-union scaremongering?

    The process for selecting European Parliamentary candidates has been flawed for the past 15 years (ie since the move to PR). Throughout that time applicants have been ruthlessly vetted by the party hierarchy and excluded if deemed “unsound” on certain issues. Meanwhile the influence of members in the process has steadily declined.

    Why are sitting MEPs automatically placed highest on the regional lists? Shouldn’t this be a decision for local members to make? At present there is no effective mechanism for evaluating the performance of MEPs or holding them to account for it.

    The allegations about the perceived undue influence of unions are not only disingenuous, but also not consistent with the experience of parliamentary selections where would-be candidates with significant backing from local union branches have frequently failed to meet the shortlists drawn up by the NEC.

  5. Mouth of the Umber says:

    How many Euro candidates are there, approximately 40? And there seem to be 3 annomylies.
    There’s always sour grapes after a selection process. You should hear the complaints after AWSL.
    They all have the right to appeal the process, as you know. And if the NEC finds malpractice I’m sure they will take the appropriate action.

  6. swatantra says:

    Its about time that Labour tore up the old agreement with the Unions and discussed a fresh relationship with them, one that reflects modern politics today. The power of the Unions in determining the affairs of a Party is really quite disproportionate, leaving out the embarassing factor that the Unions part fund the Party.
    I’ve always favoured a OMOV solution, basically that means only Labour Party members can determine what happens in the Labour Party, and if you feel so strongly about something then you’re quite entitled to put up Union candidates or Coop Party candidates whatever, and see where that gets you.
    We’ve got to get back to the principle that its the Party that decides, not various pressure groups, and fellow travellers, hanging on the coat tails of the Party.

  7. paul barker says:

    One point which Mr Watt doesnt make absolutely clear is that those major Unions are themselves controlled by an alliance of Communist groups. These groups have no real interest in whether Labour wins or loses Elections, they dont dig “Bourgois Democracy”.

  8. Chilbaldi says:

    They could have not been selected because they turned people off personally? There are a couple who I think that may apply to.

  9. I was a member of the old Glasgow Hillhead CLP when Galloway was forced on us as MP not once but twice by TGWU and other trade union votes, to their eternal shame and disgrace. The Labour Party has had a long time to sort this out but never has.

    However, it was inevitable that the TUs would exercise this sort of influence when their power elsewhere was diminshed: they might say that their memberhip demands as much in return for affiliation.

    There is a real need for Labour now to define a progressive and supportive role for trade unions – not only in industrial relations but also in society and in the party itlsef. Otherwise we are unlikely ever to see an end to the arbitrary misuse of power like you describe.

  10. Andrea says:

    Are you calling for a stich up of the stitch up?

  11. LondonStatto says:

    The answer to “why” is painfully obvious. One needs consider only the manner of his own election.

  12. Ben Cobley says:

    The Labour Party is principally a battleground for various self-interest groups now. I’ve only been a member for three years but haven’t seen an even vaguely satisfactory election process conducted: they are all decided in advance for the most part, helped by the general non-participation of many members.

    The different self-interest groups. of which the big unions and the Labour Women’s Network are the most powerful, compete to control parts of the machinery which they then use largely to promote their own interests – often presented in more general interest terms (‘working class’ for the unions and ‘women’ as a whole for the women’s lobby).

    This is how the machinery of power works in the Labour Party. It ain’t very democratic, and it ain’t very socialist either in my view.

  13. Alexsandr says:

    How is this relevant? Labour will be shredded at the elections anyway. liblabcom will be rejected as all being the same in favour of UKIP or coronation street.

  14. t reynolds says:

    whats new about the unions running labour, didn’t ed get the top job that way…

  15. Mike says:

    Really? This is pretty poor. The sheer number of stitch ups for former special advisors that are organised by a small elite at the top of the party and this is what you choose to moan about.

    During your tenure as general sec were any popular local candidates blocked because they were not “politically sound”?

    You are moaning because your friends didn’t win in the stich up.

  16. PitPony says:

    Why not have open primaries to select the list?
    You would have to sacrifice “on message” candidates in exchange for the chance of actually winning.

  17. Wooah! says:

    And union members have a lot of time and financial and other resources available compared to for example company employees or those within unionised sectors with a real job about which they care, like nurses, rather than middle managers.

  18. Mickey says:

    It is a disgrace that the Party has allowed Len McCluskey and his far-left Unite colleagues to manipulate this process. I have written to Iain McNicol asking for the selection criteria that were used by the London selection board, that resulted in outstanding candidates like Anne Fairweather and Carole Tongue (charismatic and highly effective ex-MEP) from even having the opportunity to put their case at an interview. I received a dusty reply about politics being largely “subjective” and no detail whatsoever.

    In London, at any rate, there is a suspicious whiff of age discrimination, in my view, plus outright manipulation to keep the strongest potential opponents to the Unite-preferred candidate off the ballot altogether. I know this has happened in at least 2 other regions.

  19. Peter Watt says:

    To be clear, I am supporting a move from ‘machine politics’ and the stitch-ups. I support Ed in this very strongly; but he needs to actively make this happen and not be passive.

  20. Johnnydub says:

    I don’t normally comment on Labour blogs being a UKIP’per, but felt I had to chuck my tuppence in.

    All three major parties have long since stopped trying to represent the people. THe agendas (in actions , not words) are broadly similar, pro-big state, pro-EU, pro-mass immigration.

    We the people are simply not going to be listened to.

    Now please don’t get into Tory this and UKIP that… Look at the big picture and realise that the professional political elite are all friends with each other and are more interested in protecting each other than they are in serving the country’s needs…

    The question is- what are you going to do about it?

  21. Ex-Labour says:

    “He who pays the piper calls the tune” as they say. Labour have been infultrated yet again by looney left unions who are funding the party and therefore want their pay back. This is one example and there will be more before the election.

  22. Jon Lansman says:

    The whole system was designed for command and control and I won’t defend it. Why should sitting members automatically be at the top? Even if they lose the trigger ballot which is a complete joke of an attempt at accountability, they go into the ballot for the remaining places and would probably end up at the top of it! Peter, however, is just showing sour grapes. The unions do not dominate the process in any way – if they’re represented on the panels, they’re put there by some process (though who knows what that is?) and why shouldn’t they support their favoured candidates – isn’t that what everyone does on selection committees? But most of the candidates can’t be regarded especially as union candidates anyway.

    I’d scrap the current system. Have a nomination process (CLPs & affiliates) and then an STV ballot with a gender-balancing “zipper”. That way the final list will be balanced in gender and politically representative.

  23. Geoff Hallett says:

    What has happened to Labour since Blair is a Shakespearean tragedy. I could weep. For the first time in 50 years I will not be voting Labour.

  24. Chilbaldi says:

    I see a bit of a sense of entitlement to selection by some people here. I dont think this process was done properly, but theres nothing we can do about that now. We all know what happened. So why are certain candidates going round in person and on the internet demanding an official explanation?

    It seems to me that this is actually a clash of multiple interest groups. Number one the unions. Number two, Labour Womens Network. Number 3, Progress.

    Just all of you behave. Nobody ‘deserves’ or is entitled to selection.

  25. Grindelow says:

    Jobs for the boys. A well established political ploy.

  26. Karen Jones says:

    More info on the mess in the East Midlands. The fact is we can’t seem to do the simple things right.


  27. Geraint says:

    Yea, doesn’t Ed know it is Progress’s job to stitch up elections!

  28. As usual anti-trade union rhetoric from Peter Watt who conveniently forgets that a) we exist to represent the working classes, not business and b) the selection process for all candidates (local, Westminster, Euro) is heavily controlled by the central leadership. Prospective candidates have to jump through so many hoops before the central party will let them anywhere near a shortlist for us members to vote on. The process for selecting candidates has been controlled for years to the benefit of the ‘pro-business’ candidates that Peter wants to see more of. Now that the Trade Unions have finally got their act together and are organising to ensure better representations of pro-worker candidates he cries foul.

    And let’s not get onto Progress stitching up selections with well-funded magazines promoting ‘their’ candidates etc.

    Finally, an aside. Peter, like many New Labour-ites, keep making this distinction between ‘pro-business’ and ‘trade union’ candidates. The reality is that ‘trade union’ candidates are also ‘pro-business’ (logically, workers need businesses to provide employment), yet few (if any) ‘pro-business’ candidates are also ‘pro-worker’. So, for a balanced party that represents the interests of the working class we need more ‘trade union’ candidates.

  29. Mike Mason says:

    MEPs are utterly unaccountable in any meaningful way to the people they purport to represent. These candidates are simply starting as they mean to go on.

  30. John says:

    Can I raise as an issue the election system for the European Parliament. Let us give more choice to the individual elector. So let us say the south east has 12 MEPs. Then allow the elector to have up to 12 votes, although he may not use all 12. But it does allow the elector to the chance to judge candidates by their individual merits and not party labels.

    For example in on Labours south east list there is an Usdaw member called Maggie Hughes. Her campaign for victims of crime has enormous cross party appeal. So many people who may mainly vote Tory or Liberal would have to use one of their votes for this wonderful lady.

    So I say power and choice to the individual elector.

  31. Stefan Fisher says:

    I am not particuarly concerned about the election pricess as a whole and believe that the Trade Unions actually fund a lot of the Labour Parties expenses and lieterature at election time .

    What I am horrified by is the shere lasiness of the Majority of Trade Union Mmebers at election time and furthermore the astonishing lack of effort by Labour Party Mmebers as well.

    Before people can really criticise the way the party opperates they need to become involved in campaigns , meetings and the dull but essential business of Canvassing , Campaigning and delivering leaflets until then I suggest that a lot of people should remain silent or actually do something to help and then change the party from within to make it more accountable and refelect democratic processes and choose the so called correct candidates.OMOV will only work if people in the Labout and Trade Union movement are prepared to get their hands dirty and actually do some real political work!

    As for UKIP they represent a nasty , right wing , little England minority that ar getting an appalling leval of coverage form the right wing press which supports their proactive racism.Certainly in Hertfordshire where I an fighting County Seat they are just promising the electrorate the earth because they are irresponsible and wont be held accountable.

  32. Stefan Fisher says:

    I am not particularly concerned about the election process as a whole and believe that the Trade Unions actually fund a lot of the Labour Parties expenses and literature at election time.

    What I am horrified by is the sheer laziness of the Majority of Trade Union Members at election time and furthermore the astonishing lack of effort by Labour Party Members as well.

    Before people can really criticise the way the party operates they need to become involved in campaigns , meetings and the dull but essential business of Canvassing , Campaigning and delivering leaflets until then I suggest that a lot of people should remain silent or actually do something to help and then change the party from within to make it more accountable and reflect democratic processes and choose the so called correct candidates .OMOV will only work if people in the Labour and Trade Union movement are prepared to get their hands dirty and actually do some real political work!

    As for UKIP they represent a nasty , right wing , little England minority that are getting an appalling level of coverage form the right wing press which supports their proactive racism. Certainly in Hertfordshire where I am fighting County Seat they are just promising the electorate the earth because they are irresponsible and won’t be held accountable.

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