I was privileged enough, almost by chance, to be at Stoke North Constituency Labour Party's meeting last Friday when Joan Walley announced her retirement. But no sooner had the story gone public the speculation began about who will fill her shoes after 2015 - assuming, of course, Labour wins in that part of the world.
On this matter, as an ordinary member in Stoke-on-Trent Central I have no nag in this steeplechase. Besides, it would be rather inappropriate if I was to back a particular candidate. I do not have any weight to boast of and, quite rightly, the members of Stoke North would tell me to sling my hook. But that doesn't mean I won't enjoy watching a good contest. Given the "safety" of the seat, the attention it's likely to attract locally, regionally and nationally, and the utterly scrupulous reputation of Stoke North's officers, it will be a proper competition. It's certainly going to be fairer and more open than the last one I closely watched.
Disclaimer time. These are my opinions. I don't have any inside track.
That out the way, Tony Walley has published his thoughts, so I'm not going to repeat what has already been said. Tony is right that it will very likely be an all-women's shortlist for the seat. When a woman steps down from parliament or a local authority, the National Executive Committee usually decrees that the seat will be reserved for a woman candidate. Some don't like it, but then again there's a reason why Labour has many more women representing it at all levels than the other parties.
I am a stickler for accuracy, and I think there are a couple of things Tony's got wrong in relation to one of the potentials - Ruth Smeeth. Firstly, as a Hope Not Hate coordinator Ruth has been in and around Stoke plenty of times. The anti-fascist work she and others put in during the 2011 local elections certainly helped make sure the local council chamber was a fascist-free zone. Second point, I did see Ruth out on the campaign trail last week. But that wasn't her first appearance. According to our by-election candidate Candi Chetwynd, she had been on the knocker and delivering leaflets before Joan said she had spoken to anyone about her decision. Unless Ruth is psychic, the idea she had privileged knowledge holds no such water. But is Ruth interested? Hers is just one name among many that's been doing the speculative rounds.
Others? I've heard about the rest Tony has mentioned. But there's more. I would be very surprised if my old mucker, Alison Wedgwood, isn't considering throwing her hat in the ring. I successfully campaigned with Alison in Bentilee in 2011 against the BNP, and I have no doubt she aspires to the Big House. After all, she was a Labour PPC for the Wrekin - a place the truly dedicated go for an electoral rite of passage! I wouldn't be surprised if a few words of encouragement are coming her way from my ex-boss either.
Another doing the rounds is Mabel McKeown. Who? Mabel was a member of Ken Livingstone's campaign team in London and is a former advisor to deputy party leader Harriet Harman. She also has a rather famous mum, but I'll leave that for the reader to google. I gather that she's a favourite in Unite's national office too, and recently lost out to Rupa Huq for Ealing Central and Acton's Labour nomination. Of all the names getting spun, Mabel's is the only one I don't know. All this said, now that Tessa Jowell has also announced her retirement in 2015 could it be that a vacancy much closer to home will catch her eye?
In all likelihood there will be many so-far-unnamed considering their applications, and there's plenty of time. The selection process proper doesn't open for another couple of weeks yet. But I shall be there, sat in my ringside seat with the lappy on my knee ready to blog it all for posterity.