Uproar at the PLP: select committee member elections

There was uproar at last night’s meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party.  Many senior MPs are unhappy with the arrangements for electing select committee members.

Select committee chairs were elected last week by a ballot of all MPs.  Now the members of the committees are to be elected, within their party groups, according to the proportion of MPs that that party has in Parliament.

Senior former ministers such as Hazel Blears and Keith Vaz (re-elected as chair of the home affairs select committee) spoke up against the way the election is being organised.

Previously, when everything connected with select committees was agreed behind closed doors by “the usual channels”, care was taken – on the Labour side – to ensure balanced representation.  Which balance would include gender, ethnicity, regional grouping, political outlook, and so on.

Of course, the blunt instrument that is democracy has no regard for such niceties.  This was a cause of alarm.  As was the question of who is allowed to put themselves forward.

MPs planning to stand in the shadow cabinet elections are not supposed to put themselves forward for select committee membership.  Some thought this unfair on those – expected to be many – who stand unsuccessfully for the shadow cabinet, who will then be left with no prospect of select committee work either.

Conversely, it was felt to be unfair that somebody like Alistair Darling (in fact, Alistair Darling), who is in the shadow cabinet now, but not planning to stand for election to the new shadow cabinet in the autumn, would be able to stand for (and be likely to be elected to) select committee membership now.

The plan is to hold the elections in two tranches: first, the most popular committees; then, the less so.  So that those unsuccessful at the ‘hard to get on’ committees (such as foreign affairs, home affairs, treasury) will have a second bite at the less attractive ones.

MPs will have a week to self nominate, which nominations will be published, on a ‘notice board’. They may change their nominations (perhaps to what turns out to be a less popular committee) during that week, when the number of other self-nominations for that committee reveals itself.

Those who have never been to a PLP meeting may be surprised at how much time was spent discussing the ballot paper.  The current intention is that MPs will cast a single, equal vote for each of however many members are allocated to Labour on a particular committee.  Some felt it should be just one vote.  Others favoured a preferential vote.  Discussion was inconclusive.

Graham Allen is the self-appointed representative – in all things and at all times – of the backbencher against the machine.  The machine can be anything which is not a free-spirited, plucky backbencher:  government, whips, party, Speaker, serjeant at arms, IPSA.  Anything organised, really.

He also spoke up strongly.  The PLP chair, Tony Lloyd, announced that he had set up a committee, of which he had appointed the members, to oversee the select committee election process.  There was a feeling that this was, to say this least, a little peremptory and not very democratic.  It is fundamental to Labour organisation at every level of the party, though, that there is always a rule which empowers the democratically elected chair/leader/executive to set up a subcommittee which has full powers to take all decisions, subject to consultation.

There was a general feeling that the whole thing sounded a bit chaotic.  The sense that democracy is all very well, but it was a hell of a lot less fuss in the old days when the whips just sorted it all out, was more than an undercurrent.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply