Selections and the Labour Hard Left
One of the features of General Committee meetings in the CLP where I live, Hackney North, is that we have newspaper, or more correctly magazine, sellers. Being interested in what my political opponents have to say, I am a regular buyer (£1 waged/50p unwaged) of Labour Left Briefing. For the un-initiated Labour Left Briefing represents a strand of Labour opinion which is to the left of for instance, Ken Livingstone and his allies in Socialist Action (formerly trading as the International Marxist Group) and produces (they would say "is" as they follow the time honoured let's call our politburo an editorial committee model) a publication well known for its combination of vitriol (it used to run a feature called "Class Traitor of the Month" which sadly I never made it into) and rather high production values.
My eye was drawn to their page about candidates and selections.
First there is a list of those MPs and PPCs deemed "worthy of left support", defined as current or future members of the Campaign Group of MPs plus anyone else prepared to nominate John McDonnell MP as Labour Leader . Two things struck me about this list:
- First, it is very short. 23 names. 19 sitting MPs and only 4 PPCs, all in non-Labour-held seats. This suggests McDonnell will have even fewer nominations than the 29 he got in 2007 when he failed to get on the ballot paper against Gordon Brown. You need 12.5% of Labour MPs nominating you to run, so even if all 19 hard left MPs listed hold their seats (four of which are highly marginal) the PLP will need to have shrunk to just 152 MPs for the hard left to run a leadership candidate. The low number of hard left MPs after the General Election and their failure to win selections in other seats (pointing to a lack of enthusiasm for their stance from ordinary party members) suggests any post-election lurch to the left is going to need to come from the unions and will be an attempt to move to a Cruddas-ite/Compass soft left stance, not a reversion to Bennery.
- Second, isn't it a bit "off" to suggest Labour activists should help MPs and PPCs based on their ideological stance? I work for the re-election of my own MP, who happens to be the Hard Left Diane Abbott, without any regard to political differences of opinion between us, and if I want to travel and help in another seat, I do it on the basis of marginality and the key seat strategy, not the political correctness of the candidate's views. Rightly there would be outcry if Progress or Labour First published a list of MPs and PPCs whose views we agreed with and urged activists to use this criteria for deciding where to campaign. I won't be complaining if hard left activists do turn up to help in Hackney, in fact I look forward to working with them, but I hope it won't be at the expense of them working in marginal seats for candidates with views they might not 100% agree with.
Next to the list is an article which includes an explanation of why the hard left has been so unsuccessful in selections. I found it extraordinary:
"We need to learn from the right's ability to have councillors or trade union officials ready and waiting when a selection comes up. All last autumn, the left was scrabbling round for candidates as seats became vacant, only to find that there was no one on the ground in the vicinity who could be put forward as a credible candidate. Everyone needs to make sure they are involved at a local level in their CLP or their union (or both!) so that they are ready to contest any selections which come up."
No wonder that the same two hard left candidates (Susan Press and Christine Shawcroft) have popped up in multiple selections (Christine has been busy sending Christmas cards and calendars in her capacity as an NEC member - not mentioning her own interest in their selection - to Leyton & Wanstead members) - looks like they are the only people they have! Can I hear the sound of barrels being loudly scraped?
For Briefing's information the right of the party doesn't run some list where we tee up candidates. All those people running for selection do it because they put themselves up to it of there own free will. We don't have an equivalent shadowy organisation to you matching names to seats. And if you want people to be selected to be a Labour MP by ordinary members they need to have decades of experience as councillors or trade unionists, not start getting active locally prompted by a message in the January edition of Briefing when the election is in May! They also need to hold political views that party members and, more importantly, voters won't consider to be several sandwiches short of a picnic, which could prove a greater obstacle...