Party members will shortly receive ballot papers and be invited to rank order the shortlisted candidates in order of preference. The D'Hondt system means the higher the rank on the party list presented to the electorate, the more likely they are of getting elected. Now, with that out the way it's time to talk about how party members in the West Midlands should use their preferences.
Without a doubt, top of your list of preferences should be Olwen Hamer (pictured). I've known Olwen for about six years and she is a great friend and comrade. But that's not why I'm asking WestMids Labour folk to support her. To put it simply, we need more like Olwen people elected.
Olwen is a principled trade unionist, socialist and anti-fascist. In her life before Stoke she was a Unison branch secretary, worked for the union and was active against the BNP in Lincoln. When I met Olwen on a street stall I was running for, ahem, another organisation; as a new arrival to Stoke the first question she asked me was who the local anti-fascist organisation were, and how she could get in touch with them. Olwen then went on to become one of NorSCARF's core activists and through her work contributed to the critical weakening of the BNP in the city.
Since then Olwen has been a councillor for the Sandford Hill ward in the south of Stoke. She also served on the City Council's cabinet respectively with responsibility for Adult Social Care and HR and Transformation, before stepping down last month. As a regular when it comes to Labour campaigning in Stoke, Olwen is one of the city's councillors you can always be depended on to turn out for leafleting, street stalls and door knocking wherever it is organised. In short, Olwen is someone I regard as a proper party person.
But I'm not asking for party members in the WestMids to first preference Olwen just because she's a good egg. It's politics and values that are important. That is why she is standing on what she likes to call the 'three R's'.
* Rights: As a trade unionist, Olwen is determined to protect the employment rights working people have fought hard to win. This means standing up to the government who, according to their convoluted, blinkered and entirely false reasoning, think fairness at work is holding back economic development.
* Respect: As an anti-fascist and a feminist, Olwen will stand up for victims of domestic violence, racism, sexism and homophobia. Even now, too often, these issues are not given due weight across the EU. Olwen will draw on her experience here to work with her Labour colleagues to campaign against these wherever and whenever they rear their head.
* Regeneration: The West Midlands should be at the crucible of the Coalition's attempts to rebalance the British economy away from finance and services and back toward manufacturing. Unfortunately, though there are some success stories the problems Stoke faces are no different to the wider issues the region faces. The West Midlands remains locked in decline as the government continues to suck demand out of the economy, and gives big business tax breaks while small and medium-sized businesses remain hobbled by business rates. Using her experience at the City Council in bidding for and successfully attracting EU money, Olwen will fight hard to win more cash from the EU and direct it toward our region's developmental priorities.
There are two further reasons why WestMids Labour people should vote for Olwen. Of the seven candidates on the party list, as far as I know Olwen is the only one not tied to the West Midlands/Birmingham metropolitan area. Not wishing to cast aspersions on the other candidates, nearly all of whom hail from and are based in that sprawling conurbation, our list should embody a geographical spread as far as possible. Olwen's campaigning experience in Stoke and across North Staffordshire make her particularly suited to represent the areas outside of the urban core. While I'm sure the other candidates on the list don't believe this is the case, I know for certain that for Olwen the 'West Midlands' does not mean 'Birmingham and its environs'.
And the last reason is the election itself. Next year's European elections will be difficult for our party. The Tory war of words over Europe and the rise of UKIP will be amplified in the lead up to polling day. In short, it will be little more than a carnival of reaction. To fight and win in that politically toxic environment we need a strong lead campaigner who has experience taking on the politics of the far right, and defeating them. We need a lead candidate who can put the Labour case for Europe, and stand up for the people our party was set up to represent.
Olwen Hamer is that candidate. Give her your first preference.
You can view, contact or become part of Olwen's campaign team here.