When is a local candidate not a local candidate?

The race to succeed Shaun Woodward as Labour MP for St. Helens South and Whiston is rapidly hotting up, following the decision of the NEC to designate the seat as an all-women shortlist last month.

Candidates are starting to emerge for the plum Labour seat, vying for the chance to inherit Woodward’s 9,309 majority.

But carpetbaggers should beware. A poll in yesterday’s St Helens Star found 74% of readers wanted a candidate with‘strong St. Helens ties.’

Step forward two contrasting ‘local’ candidates.

The first is former Labour council leader Marie Rimmer, who has dominated public life in the town for thirty years. At 66, she is the grand dame of Merseyside Labour politics, but is said to be “energised” by the prospect of running for Parliament.

Although ousted as council leader last year she remains, in the words of local Police Commissioner (and former Labour minister) Jane Kennedy, “one of the most important and influential women on Merseyside and a source of inspiration to me.”

The second ‘local’ is Catherine McDonald, a St. Helens-born former special adviser to employment minister Jim Knight, who is now Southwark Council’s cabinet member in charge of health and social care.

Confirming her candidacy this week, McDonald says that: “St Helens never leaves you. When I heard that Shaun Woodward was stepping down I knew I had to go for that.”

The former auditor reckons that she has “long been thinking that I would like to come home” and hopes she brings “some fresh ideas” back with her.

“I strongly feel that this government has launched an onslaught on those on low income and I want to direct this fight in parliament” she told the St Helens Star.

At least three other local women are also said to be in the running. Knowsley councillors Sandra Gaffney and Denise Allen and Warrington council officer Eleanor Blackburn.

But the formidable Rimmer is making her long years in the town count for her. Woodward, together with current council leader, Barrie Grunewald, are both publicly backing her, with Woodward’s endorsement particularly emphatic:

 “Working with Marie has been a privilege and I believe no one is better qualified. Marie’s experience means that from day one, she is ready to serve the town as best as the town could hope for. With Marie’s commitment, dedication and experience, I know Marie will serve St Helens with distinction and achieve what is now needed. I urge all Labour members to support Marie’s candidacy. Marie is truly ready to serve.”

They are not alone, with Rimmer assembling a list of endorsements any candidate would kill for.

As well as Woodward and Kennedy, she is also backed by shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle, who describes Rimmer as a “doughty fighter,” while public accounts committee chair, Margaret Hodge, says she is “just the sort of woman we need in Parliament”. The neighbouring Labour MP, Eddie O’Hara, adds that Rimmer is “quite simply the best person for the job.”

The selection process is likely to formally begin later this month.

So when is a local candidate truly local? Although McDonald was born in the town, she will no doubt be seen by many – fairly or unfairly – as a blow-in from London. That might not be a problem in some selections, however the sheer weight of Rimmer’s contribution to the town over so many years, together with memories of Woodward’s controversial selection back in 2001, make it likely that “Mrs St. Helens” will be very hard to stop.

Perhaps all are local, but some may be more local than others.

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5 Responses to “When is a local candidate not a local candidate?”

  1. swatantra says:

    I don’t think Woodwardwardward, was very local. But that is the point about Parliamentary selrctions: you don’t necessarily have to be local; people have to jump all other the country just to find a seat. But even if you are from Bognor Regis and get elected to St helens, then at least you could buy a house there and marry one of the local girlsboys, and go native. So don’t let that local bit fool you; the best candidate will get selected.

  2. Tafia says:

    If you wish to be the MP for a constituency then you should have lived there for a certain period of time first – say 2/3 years, and if you have children they should go to school there.

  3. Ian says:

    I have been a Labour Party member in St Helen’s for many for over 20 years – I have seen Marie Rimmer protesting against thr Poll tax, then on the front line during pit closures in St Helens. Time and time again her tenacity and grace shine through.
    St Helens needs Marie ; The Labour Party needs people like her. The country needs people like her.

  4. Fanny Bhatta says:

    Rimmer has achieved nothing for St Helens and as Council Leader oversaw the massive decline of this once proud town.

    The people of St Helens should wake up to realise that Labour has done nothing in the town and fresh blood is desperately needed. Ideally, that will be an MP from an alternative political party. If not, anybody other than the failed geriatric former Council Leader who wishes to board another gravy train at the expense of local people.

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