Perhaps the leadership thought no one would notice? That no one would care about the fixing involved in selecting Labour’s European election candidates?
Well, the evidence is that they were wrong. Very wrong.
The lightning rod for emerging discontent in London is Anne Fairweather. Ahead of the 2009 European elections she was the top choice for Labour members, securing almost 3,500 votes, comfortably ahead of the rest of the field.
In the past week anger has been rising across London with a slew of motions about the London selection being passed at grassroots level.
Anne’s branch in Brixton Hill passed a motion calling on the regional board to explain their decision. Bloomsbury ward in Camden passed a motion condemning the selection process,
This branch expresses its disappointment that Anne Fairweather has not been placed on the long list of candidates for the London Labour European election. As the third-placed candidate on the Labour list in London in 2009 she worked hard to increase Labour’s vote share at a difficult time for the party, and would have been elected as the third London Labour MEP after Claude Moraes and Mary Honeyball had the region of London not had its tally of seats reduced to eight. For 2009 she topped the ballot of London Labour members which decided the order on the list, winning more than 3000 personal votes. Denying members the ability to choose whether or not to vote for her again is undemocratic and this branch calls for this decision to be explained in full and reviewed by the national party.
Moreover, we will need strong and experienced advocates for a pro-EU reform agenda in what will be a very tough campaign next year. More strong campaigners are needed in leading positions if we are to return a Labour government in 2015.
Thornton and Clapham Common branches in Streatham CLP have passed similar motions with branches in Southwark, Islington and Redbridge expected to back motions calling on the regional board to explain their rationale.
In each motion, the central questions are the same: how does someone go from Labour’s leading European candidate to not even meriting an interview? What has changed?
Based on the evidence, it seems that while Anne Fairweather remains very much the same candidate so strongly endorsed by Labour members at the time of the last European election, control of key decision-making posts is now in the hands of the resurgent left.
Her crime seems to have been to work in business and not be one of the chosen candidates of the unions and the left.
Out of seven members of the London European candidate selection panel, five are either serving officials in the unions or have been backed by Labour Briefing – a hard left publication committed to establishing the most left-wing policy platform for the party since 1983.
Three panel members in particular are understood to have been influential over the selection approach: Gary Doolan, Steve Hart and Joy Johnson.
Gary Doolan is national political liaison officer at the GMB and was the chair of the panel. The GMB is very clear about its intention to maximise its influence in selecting candidates that share its views and exclude those from other wings of the party. The GMB political strategy states,
“We want to provide support to those who share our values politically and this should be done at the expense of those who seek our financial and organisational support yet fail to grasp the need for social justice in any context other than words in a game of scrabble”
Steve Hart is the extremely influential political director of Unite, lest we forget, Labour’s largest donor. Unite are just as clear as the GMB about using their influence to pick specific types of candidates. Last year, Dave Quayle, chair of Unite’s national political committee set out their priorities in an interview for the website of Marxist fringe group, the Alliance for Worker’s Liberty,
“We want a firmly class-based and left-wing general election campaign in 2015… We want to shift the balance in the party away from middle-class academics and professionals towards people who’ve actually represented workers and fought the boss.”
Joy Johnson is Ken Livingstone’s former director of communications. She is close to the cabal of long term Livingstone advisers that are members of Socialist Action (motto: “Kick out the Tories, prepare to fight the Labour right.”) Although not a member herself, the closeness of her association with Socialist Action stalwarts and the warm backing Labour Briefing gave Johnson when she ran (successfully) for a seat on London Labour’s regional board is indicative of her political allegiances.
The clear political imperative of the unions and Labour’s left is to recast Labour’s political representatives in their own image. In this context, the exclusion of Anne Fairweather is eminently predictable. Noone involved has hidden their agenda or their objectives.
The real question is: why was Ed Miliband’s team happy to let this happen?
Note: Piece was updated 1230 16/04 to reflect Joy Johnson’s comment below