Just not good enough – a story of Labour selection

by Paul Wheeler

I had an interesting conversation with a well connected Labour councillor recently. We both had an interest in a recent Parliamentary selection contest.

His preferred candidate won and it was clear why. He had the better website, he had been full time contacting members for months, he was bright, articulate and union sponsored. In fact he was so well organised he even got his supporting union to provide a breakfast to ensure his supporters turned up for the early morning selection meeting. As my new friend put it cruelly but accurately my preferred candidate ‘just wasn’t good enough’

And he was right. He ran a slip shod campaign with a pretty poor website and relied on old contacts and promises. All he had going for him was that he was born and bred in the constituency and as a leading councillor had helped turned the town around when everyone else had written it off.  Critically for a lot of new members to the area he hadn’t been to university and was therefore not ‘quite up to the job’ of being an MP.

Now that the process of selecting candidates for the next general election the evidence is clear that selection process was not unique for Labour. Our candidates are overwhelming professional, university educated and well connected in political and parliamentary circles. As Gloria De Piero commented on Labour List recently, there are a number of exceptions to this pattern but that’s what they are – exceptions. The Labour party may have established a ‘Future Candidates’ programme but it is provides a poor alternative to the ability to work full time for months on a selection and access to Shadow Cabinet speed-dials.

In 2010 those who wanted to see more working class parliamentary candidates for Labour were genuinely excited by the pronouncements of several Trades Unions that it was their intention to support and promote working class candidates amongst their membership. Now that the dust has settled on the selection process there is in fact – with again a few notable exceptions – very little difference between TU sponsored and other candidates in winnable and safe Labour in terms of social class and lifestyles.  Nearly all the TU candidates are full time officials or professional associates. Unite, perhaps the most bullish of unions when it came to its ambition to select working class candidates from its thousand of front line workers in shops, offices and factories,  has even managed to select two solicitors from the same law firm (a firm that coincidentally works for Unite) for safe Labour seats.

The blunt truth is that Labour will probably get away with it for the 2015 general election. There is enough genuine anger about the coalition and its austerity politics. But there are consequences to this ‘insider dealing’ approach to parliamentary selections.

After the general election the Tories are on course to have as many, if not more, BME MPs as Labour. If there is a Labour government, UKIP amongst others will play on the number of Labour MPs who have little relationship in terms of life-style and connection (other than an accommodation address) in working class constituencies. Also unless our political fortunes improves we are on course to lose many of our existing working class MPs in Scotland.

So my well placed councillor was right – in terms of contacts and presentation many potential working class candidates just aren’t good enough. I am sure that candidates like Ernie Bevin, Bessie Braddock and Herbert Morrison would also struggle in the modern Labour Party.  Let’s hope in future elections working class voters don’t take the same view about actually voting for us.

Paul Wheeler writes on local politics.



Tags: , , , ,

18 Responses to “Just not good enough – a story of Labour selection”

  1. Megan says:

    #SourGrapes or what?

    There are loads of genuinely working class candidates selected, not a few notable selection. Nancy Platts, Lisa Forbes, Lee Sherriff, Paula Sherriff, Kate Osamor, Angie Rayner, Becky Long, Amina Lone, Liz McInnes and Emma Lewell-Buck both came through byelections. Just because your candidate didn’t win, doesn’t mean others aren’t.

  2. Tafia says:

    Our candidates are overwhelming professional, university educated and well connected in political and parliamentary circles.

    Exactly what they shouldn’t be. They need to have spent the majority of their adult life in the workplace – not as a SpAd, union officer or some other clueless life form. The breakdown needs to mirror society – ie less than half should be university educated, most should have been employed in the private sector, a percentage should have been self-employed/ran their own business.

    Above all, they should have lived for at least 5 years in the constituency that they wish to represent. We are a constituency-based Parliamentary democracy. An MP’s primary duty is to represent his/her constituency and the majority of his/her constituents above what his party or sponsors want – all the time, over everything. Otherwise they serve little purpose other than as oxygen thieves.

  3. Squashed Grapes says:

    I am sure she is a very good woman, but in what sense is Nancy Platts – picked solely because she is first on your list – “working class”?

  4. PapaSmurf says:

    Everyone always says ‘oh but what’s working class?’ ‘They went to uni so they can’t be working class’ or ‘they didn’t work down the pit so they’re not working class’.

    I’m surprised at Labour Uncut for posting this. There are some really legitimate issues with selections but this blog is talking about the Chair of the London Labour Party losing a selection, who has been an elected politician for surely most of his working life and is a member of the GLA. Is that working class? Or is that professional politician?

    It’s murky water putting people in pigeon holes but really, shouldn’t he have had it locked down if he was that hard working and well respected locally?

  5. Mike of Epworth says:

    It’s not uncommon for managers to recruit in their own image – Hell, there’s an advert currently on TV that promotes a brand of razor based on exactly that premise. So it’s not exactly surprising to see Labour (and the other parties do this as well) recruiting PPCs in the image of the senior party members.

  6. Even though there are plenty of warnings of what can go wrong with social democratic parties when their leadership and parliamentary representatives no longer look like those they are supposed to be representing, to fight for a change is extremely difficult because of the “turkeys voting for Christmas” problem.

    The PLP is now overwhelmingly seen by most of the electorate as part of an unprincipled political class. Of course this didn’t happen overnight although the New Labour years have made it far worse with the elevation of the university-spad-MP career path. The gentrification of the PLP probably started in earnest under Herbert Morrison guidance. He was embarrassed by the pre-war lack of debating skills and understanding of parliamentary customs and manners of the ex-manual worker MPs. The intake of university educated candidates in the 1945 sees the beginning of the mix of backgrounds leaning more towards a middle-class culture.

    For poor Morrison, Mandelson’s grandfather of course, his success actually led to his own undoing, losing the party leadership election to one of these new style MPs. I think he commented on it as being a mistake later in life.

    Now it seems we can use positive discrimination to help women candidates and there are always requests that it be used to help various communities to be better represented, but what we do not have the answer to, is where the next lot of Bevins, Bevans, Shinwells or even Alan Johnsons and John Prescotts are coming from.

  7. Stuart Bruce says:

    It doesn’t sound like sour grapes at all, but highlights some very real problems with Labour Party selections. It is the unions’, especially Unite’s, blatant hypocrisy that is worst as an example of the very worst of politics. Little wonder that the public are turned off from politics when the so-called defenders of the working class are some of the biggest political liars. It is a myth that Unite backs working class candidates. Unite backs Unite candidates and far more of them are middle class than working class. We want variety in MPs so there is nothing wrong with Unite backing university-educated middle class candidates, but when there is a choice between several excellent candidates then Unite should put its money where its mouth is and back the working class non-university educated ones. It won’t because it wants candidates it can influence, usually on the left of the party, but not always as influence and control is its main thing.

  8. JamesB says:

    Since when are NHS managers, social workers, lawyers or professional campaigners working class Megan?

  9. Mike says:

    Squashed Grapes is right and Megan seems to be defending full time professionals solely becoming MPs. UKIP has gained a lot of traction because MP’s and the leaders seem to have been permanent politicians and never had a job outside of politics. Actually Cameron has more private sector experience than Miliband, but not much in of itself. Talking of Miliband, what connection does he have with Doncaster. Nothing. He would be OK to be the MP for Islington or Hampstead – he would fit in well.

    I am amazed UKIP haven`t run with the story about Miliband not even being on the birth certificate for his child. Really?

  10. Dave Roberts. says:

    Kate Osamor is where she is because of the colour of her skin. She recently thanked her supporters for ” borrowing” as opposed to lending their support. A complete joke.

  11. John.P reid says:

    Define working class.nepotism, of having connections to get into politics, because ones parents were involved in unions,or Co-op, or whatever, someone could have had a good second job as a councillor,and earns extra wages as an advisor or human rights and have been on a watchdog, in the late 80’s then their child went into politics, and their child could have called themselves working class, but weren’t really, like my grind Emily Thornberry , or Kate Osamor, remember bob crow lived in a council home,

  12. Fred says:

    So the Union establishment bought the selection. Nothing new there and blinkered will support it.

    UKIP will destroy Labour.

  13. Bob says:

    John P Reid, Crow lived in council house hen he had the income for a mortgage on a property, so therefore freeing up a house for a family who needed it. Hardly socialist principles of helping those in need.

  14. Tafia says:

    Bob, it was a housing association house not a council house – both social housing for rent but there is a difference. However that is beside the point – income (or even savings) is not considered if you are on the waiting list – never has been and never will be. In fact it would almost certainly be illegal and discriminatory. It’s done on points based on physical circumstance and income/savings is not part of it.

  15. paul wheeler says:

    Many thanks for responses so far. I am not advocating any particular candidate just that the selection process for the 2015 GE has failed to produce the a range of candidates representative of those who vote Labour. For a party that believes in planning and social justice we seem as members to have a very relaxed view of ‘insider trading’ when it come to the choice of our PPCs

    Ask yourself why did it take the intervention of the NEC to pick a candidate of this calibre:

  16. Tafia says:

    Apart from which Bob, true socialist principles is to rent publicly owned housing allocated on a fair points system – not to buy as that is the acquisition of capital and wealth.

  17. Mike says:

    Bob, what a silly thing to say. Council houses are people’s homes. The idea that they should be for only the very poorest is ridiculous. My parents, builder and shop worker, live in one they could have easily bought at points but as I say it was their home.

    Criticise Crow for his politics not that nonsense.

    I bave been told we will have more former public school pupils as Lab MPs after the election. Is this true?

  18. John.P Reid says:

    At the 2008 GLA election and 2010 general elections ,labour got more middle class votes than working class, so, if we represent who voted for us, we should appeal to middle class MPs, remember the Koumars at 42 pretending amongst each other who had embraced British culture more, hardly going to help if we try to get again mPs

Leave a Reply