by Atul Hatwal
New guidance from party bosses has transformed the basis of Labour’s parliamentary candidate selections. Previously, candidates and their campaign teams had operated on the basis of a strict limit of three mailings to party members during a selection contest.
Now, it seems there is no limit on the number of times a candidate can mail members, as long as the mailings are supplied by endorsers. These endorsers could be unions, businesses, voluntary groups or individuals.
The Labour party’s rules governing parliamentary candidate selection were apparently water tight,
“2.4 Each candidate may produce for general distribution
one printed leaflet or letter no larger than A4, delivered plain or in an envelope two items, each no larger than a double sided A3 page. If any item is delivered in an envelope it may consist of (at a maximum) 2 A4 sheets of paper rather than a single A3 sheet.”
Third party endorsers were allowed to supply mailings to the candidate for distribution to members, but these were previously thought to count as one of the three candidate mailings.
However, a clarification from Alan Olive, regional director for the London Labour party reveals that the strict limit on mailings is not so strict after all.
Queries were raised by candidates in a recent selection on the numbers of mailings allowed, following one candidate sending four mailings.
Uncut has seen e-mail correspondence with the London Labour regional director which makes clear that the number of mailings is unlimited, as long as they are from an endorser. The key part of Alan Olive’s e-mail states,
“That’s correct. A third party may produce whatever they like although they don’t have the membership details to enable delivery. Candidates cannot pass membership data on but of course a third party could give you their mailing including stamps, for you to attach membership labels and post.”
The revelation that candidates can have de facto unlimited mailings would seem to contradict the intent of Ed Miliband’s recent speech on one nation politics. As well as announcing a reform of Labour’s relationship with the unions, Miliband dealt with fairness in the parliamentary candidate selection process, stating,
“So we will have a new code of conduct for those seeking parliamentary selection…we cannot have any part of the Party being able to stack the odds in favour of one candidate over another simply by the spending of money…That is why we will also urgently agree new spending limits for Parliamentary selections to include for the first time all spending by outside organisations. “
One organiser, with several years’ experience of parliamentary selections in constituencies across the UK, spoke to Uncut off the record about the impact this will have on the remaining selections,
“I’m gobsmacked. This means big money is going to play a massive role in future selections. Everyone I know had always taken the three mailings rule as the gospel. Now we are going to have some candidates putting out mails every week, if not more often. It will give candidates with deepest pockets a real advantage.”
High quality all-member mailings can cost several hundred pounds. Assuming a 90p cost per individual mail (including design, colour print, paper and mailing) and a weekly mailing to members; an 8 week selection contest in a constituency with 500 members would cost £3,600. In comparison, 3 mailings would cost £1,350.
This doesn’t take into account the potential cost of applying Obama style “big data” techniques, to micro-target sub-groups within the constituency on the basis of ethnicity, personal interest and lifestyle, with targeted niche mailings.
Although direct mail alone will never be enough to win a selection, where the race is close with a margin of victory likely to be in single or low double figures, a quality mail campaign could make the difference between success and failure.
At minimum, it is expected that this new guidance will trigger a financial arms race in those winnable constituencies’ that are yet to select candidates. The result could be a significant disadvantage to those candidates without access to several thousand pounds of funds to fight their campaign.
Atul Hatwal is editor at Uncut