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First published in Progress magazine and LabourList

Labour selections are long due an overhaul, but are new proposals a step backwards?

Barnsley Central’s selection of former paratrooper Dan Jarvis as its by-election candidate stands out for its choice of a new face with a different background. But the National Executive Committee’s new rules look set to restrict what can already be an opaque system.

The current assault course for wannabe MPs constitutes a 12-week process starting with self-nomination and access to membership lists, knocking frantically on doors and telephoning members. Four weeks in, a members’ event is organised and six weeks in branch meetings nominate up to three candidates. Anyone winning nominations in branches with a membership totalling more than half the CLP’s membership is shortlisted. The remainder are selected from those nominated by ward branches, unions and affiliates, and CLP equalities groups like Young Labour, women or BAME by members of the CLP’s General Committee. The prospective MP is finally decided by AV at an all-members’ hustings meeting.

The new ‘trial’ process, however, differs in three mains ways. First, shortlisting now only takes place by interview with a ‘selections committee’ elected by the CLP’s Executive Committee after longlisting CVs ‘blind’. Second, candidates only receive the membership list when shortlisted, giving them just four weeks to canvass the party membership to pitch their ideas and vision for the future. Finally, candidates are limited to two leaflets and an ‘out-card’, which keeps costs down but hampers innovation in communications. A spending limit would be more appropriate.

All this makes it easier for those with a base in the constituency already – not something easy to object to, but not very fair on those born outside the heartlands. The ‘selections committee’ itself is wide open for stitching up the result. One or two strong-willed local members can, either on behalf of potential candidates or just with an axe to grind, skew the whole outcome of the selection. The secrecy of these occasions makes our systems more exclusive not less.

If we are honest, GC members are already a select elite in the Labour party of those most willing to give up their evenings to discuss the minutes of the last meeting in a windy community hall. This is even more the case with the EC – those prepared to sacrifice even more of their spare time to meetings – and takes you even further from the membership at large, never mind the electorate.

With politics moving inexorably towards greater transparency and openness, this is a move in the wrong direction. The Tories have pioneered primaries while the Labour leadership race saw innovations with local postal and online primaries in Bassetlaw and Edinburgh East. If Labour wishes to involve more, not fewer, people in its politics, this is not the way to go about it.

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UPDATE: On 14 May 2013 the NEC org sub changed the maximum from 13 to eight weeks in a move that will make selections more accessible to all, especially to working people.

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Richard Angell is deputy director of Progress

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Photo: Rohit Mattoo

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