Firstly, let me register my displeasure about two things. I had previously argued that if Labour wants to win, the party needs to select someone who either lives in Stoke, is from Stoke, or has very strong links to Stoke. While three of the four certainly qualify, it is very disappointing that the NEC, in its infinite wisdom, could not bring itself to include candidates from the city. There were three such folks on the long list, so what's it going to take? A guaranteed shortlist slot for at least one Stokie in future city Parliamentary selections? People might think this is a parochial point, but when none of Stoke Central's MPs have been Stokies it matters. It blunts our attacks on Parachutist Paul, for one.
Then there is the question of political balance. I would say Trudie McGuinness is on the centre left of the party. Gareth Snell on the soft left, and ditto (as much as I can tell) for Allison Gardner and Stephen Hitchin. However, none of them voted for Jeremy Corbyn during the second leadership contest. That's fine, I have no problem with that. Many of my Labour friends didn't either. But to put a shortlist that doesn't contain a single supporter to a constituency party that voted by 10-to-1 to nominate his leadership campaign is bad politics. Whoever gets the nomination is going to have to overcome the feeling, however unjustified it might be, that they're a political imposition from outside. Just like last time.
That said, I can speak for the strong links two of the candidates have with Stoke-on-Trent. Trudie is from nearby Biddulph, and Stoke is effectively her home town. When she was a kid her weekends were spent cluttering up the streets of Hanley. There may have been occasions years later where that familiarity extended to discotheques and other delights of what we now call the "night time economy" during which she worked at the Leek Road campus of Staffs University. She was Labour's candidate in Staffordshire Moorlands in 2015, and regularly turned out for campaigning sessions in Stoke long before all thought occurred of Tristram's V&A adventure. She worked the two by-elections of the 2011-15 council, for instance and is also Labour candidate for Cannock later this year.
Gareth, unlike Nuttall, has really, actually lived in Shelton in the city. Now a resident of Silverdale where he sits as a councillor who beat UKIP in a Brexit voting ward, along with me he used to work for the present Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds. He knows well the problems and challenges facing the city, and many of them are shared with his home ward. Gareth has also pounded the streets in Stoke many, many times. He did more work for Labour the 2012 and 2013 council by-elections than most officers of the party and city councillors.
Neither Trudie or Gareth hail from the city. One from Biddulph, the other from Suffolk, their birthplaces lie elsewhere. But both were made in Stoke-on-Trent.
It might be that Allison and Stephen have equally strong campaign records and familiarity with the Pearl of North Staffordshire, but I cannot speak to them. That's something for Stoke Central's members to hear about and assess when they make their pitches tomorrow evening.
Speaking of pitches, let's nip a rumour that has been doing the rounds in the bud. These are febrile times where everyone has their own truths and "alternative facts". And so, unsurprisingly, claims are already being made that the shortlist is a stitch up. Obviously, they don't know what real fixing looks like. But this time, there is "evidence". This afternoon, while the interviews were taking place, a volunteer delivered a selection leaflet to six councillors and members of the CLP. Because this was well before the shortlist had been determined, let alone released, and the candidate in question did make the final cut, the roar of conspiracy and stitching has gone up. "How come they had preferential access to the membership list?" goes one line of complaint. "The leaflets prove it was a foregone conclusion" goes another.
Both claims are rubbish. What we have is a case of an overenthusiastic volunteer delivering material to publicly available councillors' addresses and a couple of members whose houses they knew anyway. That is all. Having a batch of leaflets ready for an extremely tight selection battle is preparation, not something sinister. No conspiracy. No nefarious master plot to subvert Stoke Central, again. No lizard people. Members concerned about these claims should take them with a pinch of salt and go tomorrow to the selection meeting knowing everyone on the shortlist has, and will continue to act in good faith.
Stephen Hitchin has withdrawn from the Stoke-on-Trent selection battle citing the need to concentrate on his career and his family.