Local Labour activists have reacted with anger to news of a stitch-up in the selection processes to choose who will represent the party in the upcoming election.
Under Labour’s current trigger ballot system, a full selection process is supposed to take place where the seat has been vacated, or where the local Labour MP has been ‘triggered’ – that is, where one-third of party branches or affiliated organisations have voted not to endorse the sitting MP.
This applies to a number of constituencies, including seats like Enfield North and Liverpool Wavertree, where MPs have defected; and also to places such as Barking, where out-of-touch MPs like Margaret Hodge have repeatedly clashed with rank-and-file members.
But now it has emerged that bureaucratic manoeuvres at the top are thwarting the ability of local members to choose their desired candidates.
Earlier this month, the Labour NEC announced that selection processes would be truncated, with party members denied full control. The alleged excuse was a “lack of time”, given the imminence of a general election.
A ‘fast-track’ process was thus put in place, whereby ‘longlists’ of candidates, drawn up by the NEC, would later be whittled down to shortlists with the involvement of regional bodies and local representatives. The final decision would then be taken at selection meetings within CLPs.
This led to fears amongst local party activists that candidates would be parachuted in – as was so frequently seen in the Blair era.
Now it seems that these fears were justified. Grassroots members in many areas are rightly up-in-arms over the exclusion of well-supported local candidates from these longlists, and the inclusion of many right-wingers and non-entities, often with no connection to the seat.
Rheian Davies, from the London Labour Regional Executive, who was also excluded from the Ealing North longlist, told Socialist Appeal (in a personal capacity) that this truncated selection process has in reality been “imposition by other means”.
“Rather than allowing a proper selection, the NEC has put up favoured sons and daughters, overlooked local favourites, and surrounded them with weak candidates with little connection to the CLPs. Given the short campaign period, newcomers have no chance to build up a head of steam. The NEC has done pretty much what Blair did in the ‘90s and given it a thin sheen of democracy.”
In Enfield North, members had been working towards selecting a left-wing representative for months since the resignation of Joan Ryan in February. Many candidates, standing on clear socialist programmes, put themselves forward, but members were repeatedly messed around before eventually being overruled altogether.
As Theresa Kellegher, member in Enfield North explained (also in a personal capacity):
“We voted for our Selection Committee in April 2019. We were then told (sometime after this meeting by the Regional Labour Party) that we would need to rerun these elections, as a representative of the NEC needed to be present.
“We were angry at this lack of trust in the local membership to hold an open, democratic election, but we re-ran the Selections Committee elections in September – which was meeting and functioning well until the NEC stepped in and halted their work. We are dismayed at this undemocratic action by the NEC, which has taken power away from us.”
24-year-old Enfield North councillor, Tolga Aramaz, who received two ward nominations to stand as the constituency’s candidate, said the party had “shown great disdain” towards local members.
Ed Poole, another locally supported candidate, correctly demanded that: “The NEC should restore power to the local selection committee immediately and let local democracy take its course.”
Similar reports of a selection stitch-up have come in from places such as Ealing North, Bassetlaw, and the City of Durham, along with many other constituencies.
Two popular local candidates in Ealing – Lewis Cox (co-founder of Ealing Labour for Corbyn) and Jo Sidhu (former councillor in Southall and a legal representative for Clean Air for Southall and Hayes) – were both snubbed.
But the longlist did include Julian Bell: the corrupt council leader of Ealing Southall, who has been overseeing the poisoning of Southall by his chums from the Berkeley property group, who regularly send him on holidays to the south of France.
Cox criticised the selection process for having “no transparency and no accountability”.
“Ealing North members and potential candidates have been treated with contempt, our hard work taken for granted and our voices suppressed... It's as if we've been sold a lie.”
Meanwhile, in Durham City, CLP secretary Hannah Walter was left off the longlist despite having been endorsed by over half of CLP delegates.
Given that Corbyn’s main source of strength comes from the grassroots, this suppression of activists is doubly dangerous. As Davies stated:
“Going into a general election, Labour will have to rely on its activists – they’re the ones who will lead the election campaign on the doorstep. If they feel like they’ve been screwed over and saddled with candidates they don’t want, they will be demoralised.
“And if we win the election – when we start nationalising things, when we go for capital controls – then the kind of attacks we’ve seen on Corbyn up until now will look trivial by comparison. Corbyn is going to need Labour activists to defend him. It’s crucial we get proper democracy before then, so members have a say over the party and are ready and willing to stand up for it.”
This is exactly right. If Labour wants to win the next election, it needs to unify activists around left-wing candidates who share their aspirations, not force them to half-heartedly campaign for imposed careerists chosen from on high.
And if Corbyn attempts to carry out his programme while in government, he will come under immediate attack by the bankers, bosses and right-wing press. These, in turn, will rely on the Blairite fifth column in the Parliamentary Labour Party to bring him down.
Aside from allowing members to democratically evict these MPs in favour of left-wingers, the rank-and-file of the Corbyn movement will have to use their collective power to support the party against the slings and arrows of the capitalists. They will be less compelled to do so if they feel they have no ownership over the party, nor any control over Labour’s representatives.
We call on our supporters in the Labour Party to pass the model motion below, condemning this scandal and demanding that selection processes be placed firmly in the hands of grassroots members.
Instead of trigger ballots and imposed lists, we need a genuinely democratic selection process: mandatory reselection for all Labour MPs – in every seat, for every election.
This CLP is alarmed by recent reports regarding parliamentary selection processes across the country.
We note that there have been public complaints in a number of constituencies, where local candidates have not made it onto the ‘longlist’ drawn up by the NEC, despite these candidates having strong support amongst grassroots members in the area.
This CLP is concerned that the selection process decided upon and implemented by the NEC does not put the membership in the driving seat. Instead, there is an echo of the worst practices of the Blair years, when outsiders were parachuted into constituencies, against the wishes of local members.
Instead of trigger ballots and imposed lists, we need a genuinely democratic selection process that puts the membership fully in control. It is essential that rank-and-file members be able to choose their representatives, as it is ultimately members who will be campaigning for these candidates to be elected in a general election.
This CLP therefore calls on the NEC to halt the current selection process based on imposed ‘longlists’, and instead to restore power to local selection committees.
Furthermore, we call for mandatory reselection to be brought in for all Labour MPs, with a fully open and democratic selection process – in every seat and for every election.
With a general election imminent, and with it the prospect of a Corbyn Labour government, it is vital that we have a Parliamentary Labour Party composed of class fighters and not careerists – MPs who are fully in line with our mass, left-wing membership and our political principles.