According to sundry commentators on local politics blog, Potteye, the process of selecting our candidates is illegitimate because the people conducting the panel interviews ... don't live in Stoke-on-Trent.
Okay, let's wind this back a little bit before dealing with the cretinous localism. What is the titular 'local government panel'? Simply put, the panel is merely those people who've been through the panel interview and are deemed by the party to be sufficiently suitable to stand as a Labour candidate come local election time. Once you're on the panel, you can then start applying for seats. If you're not, you will not be regarded by the party as an official candidate. As Stoke has all-out elections next year, the process of accepting and determining candidates is now taking place. Everyone interested, including sitting councillors have to go through this process.
The interviews themselves are fairly straightforward. Prospective panellists are asked about their campaigning record, party membership, their knowledge about basic procedures, and so on. Successful candidates are asked, if it is deemed appropriate, to sign candidate contracts stipulating campaigning commitments. It is worth noting the interview guidelines have been tightened up these last couple of years, and now comprise a small written element that tests for strategic acumen, as well as basic literacy.
Under the 2013 rule book, the process is organised and overseen by the Local Campaign Forum. This body comprises constituency party executive members, Labour group leaders (where they exist), and delegates from other affiliates in a local authority area. So, for example, in next door Newcastle-under-Lyme their LCF just about covers the constituency of the same name and a little bit of Stoke North. In Stoke-on-Trent, representatives of the city's three CLPs sit on the LCF, and so on. Identical arrangements exist everywhere, and are based on best practice. Lastly, the LCF has the final say on who is and isn't accepted onto the panel.
Returning to the 'local candidate selection by local people' argument, it's a basic check and balance against the sort of cronyism that has blighted Labour parties in the past. The people chosen to conduct the interviews are experienced activists well-placed to judge who would make a good Labour candidate or not. As Labour is a national party with a national brand that contests nationwide elections, it has every right to ensure its prospective representatives wherever they are come up to standard. Which is why custom and practice in Staffordshire is to have interviewers from outside the local authority area conduct the interviews. Just as those who were asking the questions in the disputed panel interviews were from outside of Stoke, so members from Stoke are occasionally interviewers for elsewhere. In my time I've interviewed people for Newcastle, Tamworth, Stafford borough, and County Council seats. Presumably, anti-politics types in those places have a right to be aggrieved because the kinds of problems those places have - unemployment, house shortage, health care concerns, etc. - are totally and utterly unique and nothing like the challenges we have here in the city. And vice versa.
As far as I'm concerned, this way of going about selecting candidates is sensible and sound. It does not prevent, but it makes it harder for gravy train types to collect their allowance while doing little, and it stops branches full of a sitting councillor's mates from letting selections happen with a nod and a wink. Candidates are assessed by a clear set of standards, and are held to them when reselection comes round the following time. Please show me a party who has a better way.