I wake up in a different local world today. After many long weeks I now know that the lovely Binnie Joshi Barr will be Labour candidate in Colne Valley Constituency in 2015. We had a very civilised final selection meeting on Saturday. We have considered five great potential candidates. We have worked together as a selection committee – yes with the odd squabble, but grown up enough to get over it.
For a key seat with a big battle ahead of us having a candidate is a major milestone. We are not a moribund party, but without Westminster links, without practical facilities like an office, without the complications that gain attention, we are a party that has to work hard to survive. We try to look outwards, but to do that you need a good deal of internal enthusiasm first. We could so easily have fallen apart in 2010. We didn’t. But then after lots of hard work by volunteers, including the candidates, around one third of our membership took part on Saturday.
It feels somewhat bizarre to be reaching this high point for us when all the national headlines are telling is the whole system is damned. So for those who are planning a major overhaul of selection, here are a few thoughts informed by the local events that won’t make the headlines – I suspect even locally.
1) The obvious one – not every constituency is the same. Whatever big dream is coming next, spare a thought for those of us where winning will be hard work. We need the best candidates, but not all of them will have time to tout themselves around for months on end. In my last constituency, where there was little hope of a Labour victory ever, we would have given anything to have a shortlist. The seats where there are more likely to be problems are the ones Labour is most likely to win.
2) My own little hobby horse – there aren’t enough selections. We could do so much to change the image of politics by introducing term limits. From 2015 anyone elected as a Labour MP can only be there for for a maximum of 20 years. After that they must take a break – although nothing to stop them standing again in the future. Current Labour MP’s might need a phase-in time, but by gradually opening up the number of seats for selection we could help encourage that more representative Parliament UNITE and other long for. (I would make the term limit shorter for councillors too – fifteen years as a max).
3) My fear about that big announcement this week – don’t put all our inexperienced candidates through primaries. Yes, we know a good candidate (and MPs) needs to be able to cope with large scale interrogation, but we can see the ones who will need the practical support of a good quality personal trainer to be able to do that. It is particularly true of younger candidates – and if we are to have a more representative Parliament perhaps we need to be finding a way to reserve a few safe seats for younger members. Women are not the only group who might need guaranteed Shortlists. Whilst we are on that topic, I hope no-one is changing anything on selections without talking to the great Nan Sloane.
4) A little practical detail maybe but the current system of postal votes and hustings doesn’t suit modern lifestyles. One of the first to congratulate our new candidate was on a regular working stint in Australia. I have no doubt he will be back on the knocker whenever he is home, but he could not participate in selection. People do get called away on work and family matters at short notice. There were those who I know didn’t participate in our selection because they are pissed off with the national leadership at the moment and can’t find the enthusiasm for anything (their perception, not mine); but can we not find some way of including activists who go through periods when their only contribution has to be via twitter or facebook.
5) Talking of activists, let’s not forget that the system all relies on hardworking volunteers who give up many hours to make it go right. Don’t forget to praise them – even more necessary when their reputations are being tarnished by a couple who might have worked hard to make it go wrong. I am pleased we encouraged someone with good admin skills but very short party membership to act as procedures sec. He was supported by a good team. They all had to learn the detail of how to make the system work, to be fair at interviewing, to make candidates feel comfortable, members feel informed – and to carry on normal life at the same time. If you are going to change things make sure you give them the training and practical support to make it work. I am still waiting for many of the Refounding Labour promises. Locally, we didn’t always get it right, but we all worked hard and with good intention. If there are going to be more voters in selections I wonder if some of us deserve two votes.
I hope our own post-mortem will be informed as much by the perceptions of all the candidates and those who didn’t make the hustings as by my rants, but a final thought on the bigger picture. Parliamentary seats will be fought over harder by those who want power as long as having a seat in Parliament is the only way of influencing power. So greater localised devolution and a regionally elected House of Lords ( perhaps with some built in nomination rights for interests other than political parties) are far more important than internal Labour mechanisms that show up how we react rather than how we act. Lets take the fight back to the Tories with a promise to change the way we do politics. How many ex-bankers have they selected so far?