Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Thoughts on the Stoke Central Shortlist

You've seen the shortlist for Labour's Stoke-on-Trent Central selection meeting tomorrow evening. One of the four people on that list is going to be our candidate and spearhead our effort to drive Paul Nuttall and UKIP out of Stoke-on-Trent once and for all. It's a high stakes election for both parties. Who we choose is extremely important.

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.

UPDATE
Stephen Hitchin has withdrawn from the Stoke-on-Trent selection battle citing the need to concentrate on his career and his family.

25 comments:

Gary Elsby said...

It was a complete stitch up from start to finish.
We knew it was going to be that way and in what order.
The Labour group nailed one applicant who had the highest endorsement I could only dream of.
The other was surplus.
Stoke Central is a puppet constituency, is the plaything of London and Mandy is nowhere to be seen.
The choices are progress members and a signature to Owen Smith why Jeremy Corby is no good.
Was it too much to ask that an actual Jeremy Corbyn supporter came from a Jeremy Corbyn supporting CLP?

Mark Livingston said...

Shame there isn't a proper socialist option. Just 4 different shades of Tory-lite.

Boffy said...

I don't really care where any of them come from - I'll leave the birtha movement stuff,and other such medieval parochialism to people like Donald Trump; if we are to be internationalists, we have to be able to look a little beyond the borders of our own Parish - what I am concerned with is that there should be the best possible qualified candidate, able to clearly and confidently argue at least a consistent social-democratic message, and who can build the labour movement in North Staffordshire in years to come, and who in the coming weeks and months is able to provide the required back protection for Corbyn.

I am bound to ask, given what you have described, whether in relation to this last requirement, whoever were to be selected, whether things just got better or worse for Corbyn. Why he appointed Jack Dromey to oversee things in that regard I find more than baffling!

I have strong memories of the 1980's, when a left movement of the party was frustrated by the accommodation to the soft-left, who in turn accommodated to the Kinnockite right. It turned out very badly, and I fear history is repeating.

Phil said...

I guess Jeremy Corbyn must also be "Tory-lite" because he favours a mixed economy with markets, co-ops and nationalised enterprises. Get a grip.

Anonymous said...

Looks like an imposed list of business-as-usual candidates on a first inspection. But if Stoke Central is caught up in the boundary changes, the eventual winner can always be deselected by the local membership 18 months down the line.

Blissex said...

«an imposed list of business-as-usual candidates»

At least all/most have local connections and connections to the NHS, so not a complete loss.

«too much to ask that an actual Jeremy Corbyn supporter came from a Jeremy Corbyn supporting CLP?»

This may be a symptom that thanks to their not-quite-so-recent "clever" tactics the anti-Corbyn Labour minority have control of the NEC, or at least of personnel decisions. Or maybe it was a "compromise".

Blissex said...

«appointed Jack Dromey»

Wikipedia mentions that J Dromey resigned in June 2016 but then rejoined the frontbench in October. I guess there has to be a reward for coming back. A probably worthwhile compromise, but eventually compromises have to be paid for with more compromises. I also noticed with amusement that he has been long married to H Harman.

Boffy said...

According to the poll undertaken by Labour Leave, Nuttall is on track to poll 35%, with Labour trailing on 25%, but still way ahead of the Tories and Liberals.

It looks like there will be a lot of tactical voting of Tories to back UKIP.

Phil said...

The poll is rubbish. It's not a weighted sample of substantial size - it's self-selecting.

Boffy said...

Phil,

Fair point, having just read this also at UKPollingReport. Shows again not to listen to the Daily Politics.

Gary Elsby said...

The only people best placed to represent this City are people from outside this City and that goes for the WM stitch ups of Stoke North, Stoke South and Stoke Central.
This is because people from stoke on Trent are just not good enough to cut it.
The one's who are able to do justice to the seat and represent the people properly are those a few yards away.
Really Boffy?
Gareth Snell signed a '1000 councillor' letter denouncing Jeremy Corbyn and promoting Owen Smith. He's just what the 80% Corbyn supporting Stoke Central members want.
It's now a question of who is inside 'Progress', the paranoid pathological anti Corbyn 'party within a party'and maybe that's a great idea also.

I reject Boffy's analysis that looking beyond our borders is a good thing. I reject the interference that has the fingerprints of the WM all over this.
I reject the deliberate attack from the Stoke Labour group upon a member of Stoke Labour party, and I can assure you, it is by far more worse than that.
It's a scandal and as far as I can see, names have been named and the press fully informed.
Not by me.
Keeping quiet and not rocking the boat is an attack upon the democratic process of which most Labour party members choose to ignore. The end result is always a second best candidate.

Organized Rage said...

Strange Stephen Hitchin would go through the interview process and then pullout, surely when he is citing the need to concentrate on his career most people would have thought trying to become an MP was a career move. What is behind this?

Mark H said...

Apparently Cllr Dr Allison Gardner voted for Corbyn both times.

Anonymous said...

Why are the BBC giving credence to a clearly, obviously fake "poll"?

Complaints are in order I feel.

Anonymous said...

You're wrong on none of the candidates voting for Corbyn - Allison Gardner voted for him in 2015 'as a corrective'. Its not clear who she voted for in 2016.

asquith said...

Do any of them go to the film theatre? :)

Be it Screen Wednesday, or the main programme.

Anonymous said...

«The only people best placed to represent this City are people from outside this City and that goes for the WM stitch ups of Stoke North, Stoke South and Stoke Central.»

Well, who writes this deserves a lot of respect for his personal defense of the Labour wing of the New Labour party :-) in the 2010 mandelsonian stitch-up of Stoke, even if I am just a far away observer.
But the above is a bit excessive, even if I can see where it is coming from.
Ultimately what matters is politics: that the candidate represent the constituency politically, rather than "ethnically". Stoke could well be represented by a candidate arrived yesterday from Cornwall if her politics were those of the local constituency and her desire was to defend and further the economic and political interests of the constituency; of course it is easier for a more local candidate to do this, and vice-versa there are local tory candidates even in the poorer areas of the midlands/north.

Note also that despite having politics quite different from those of T Hunt, and being saddened by the way he was rammed into Stoke in 2010, and his politics and not just background being totally detached from Stoke (as he recently all but acknowledged in his last Commons speech), as per the experience of our very public sociologist he seems to be keen to spend resources on a constituency office that did a lot of good local work, and he seems to have backed it too. Good stuff even for a posh interloper.

«This is because people from stoke on Trent are just not good enough to cut it.»

This is a good parody (hopefully intentional) of the signature refrain of Sacha Baron-Cohen's signature character :-).

«I reject Boffy's analysis that looking beyond our borders is a good thing»

Agreed if it is read as "not necessarily a good thing", and it is not necessarily a bad thing either. A very local candidate is not always the best, and neither is a non-local one always the best etc..

This said, and I think everybody knows that, I read confirmation from our very public sociologist, who is our "native guide", that several Labour local stokies could have been both good local candidates and well aligned to the political and economic interests of the constituency, so G Elsby seems to have a very good point in the context. And Stoke Central after the ramming down of T Hunt probably deserved a bit more localist indulgence.

But then consider the case of Corbyn himself: he was included in the national leader shortlist only because some people in the party wanted every main flavour of the PLP to be given a chance.
It is good in that sense that there are New Labourists and soft leftists in the shortlist: if all shortlisted candidates had been avowed Corbyn fans it would have been a loss, even in a 10-to-1 CLP.
But then by the very same argument that there are none or perhaps just a mild one is an even greater loss. I guess we'll get reports of what they say about their politics when they do their presentations at some CLP meeting imminently, given the very rapid schedule.
I am following Stoke with great interest from my far away armchair because it is so symbolic in many ways, and so sadly brutalized in 2010.

Anonymous said...

Allison Gardner voted for Corbyn..fact

Sarah AB said...

If Snell is the most anti-Corbyn candidate and Stoke LP very pro-Corbyn, why was he selected?

Blissex said...

«If Snell is the most anti-Corbyn candidate and Stoke LP very pro-Corbyn, why was he selected?»

To represent one of a range of Labour internal flavours? After all Corbyn himself was selected as a candidate in 2015 to give a chance to the socialdemocratic "hattersleyite" (how ironic...) flavour even if most of the PLP were/are centre-right or right "brownista" or "mandelsonians", to the point that he would likely not have been nominated at all without a bit of help.

Plus while the flavour of the CLP matters, the flavour of the electorate matters too. If the Stoke electors who might vote Labour were mostly anti-Corbyn (which is extremely unlikely), even a 10-to-1 pro-Corbyn CLP may be well advised to endorse an anti-Corbyn candidate, for various tactical (deny the seat to Nuttall) or strategic (to anyhow bolster the national party) reasons.

The oddity with the shortlist as G Elsby noted is not that one candidate but most candidates have/had a range of mandelsonian-ish flavours.

Gary Elsby said...

2/2 anti Jeremy Corby by-elections.

Congratulations to the West Midlands Regional Office.
(You were stitched up Trudie)

Shame on Stoke Central CLP.

Phil said...

I love me some Gary Elsby, and the garbage above is a vintage.

Gary, I can understand why some people like to pose on the internet as all-seeing insiders. But I'm afraid you're not one of these people, and you confirm it every time you comment on Stoke Labour affairs.

Boffy said...

As a Marxist, if I lived in Stoke Central, I would still vote Labour, as the workers' party. But, as someone who sees Corbyn as the best hope for Labour, I have to say that I am not at all enthused by a Labour candidate that has shown themselves a clear opponent of the labour leader.

If I was simply a Stoke central voter, given the choice of Labour candidate in the vein of all those previous Blair/Brown/Smith conservative (small c) Labour politicians, and a policy based around a limitation of free movement/immigration, and some form of soft Brexit (not likely anyway for the reasons Livingstone set out its hard Brexit or no Brexit) I either would see no point bothering to vote, or else would go for the real UKIP candidate (as the Tories will have no chance) rather than a UKIP lite variant.

Gary Elsby said...

I'm bang on Phil and my information is very accurate and well you know it but all credit to you for 'playing ball'.
Something has particularly irked you so you should say which bit is wrong.

"It's either a choice between the IRA/Hammas loving Jeremy Corbyn or Owen Smith"

The above is a comment worthy of any decent UKip/Tory/BNP/NF oddball but this really does need some explaining.
Good grief.

MikeB said...

Surely the priority here is to make sure the media are thwarted in their eagerness to demonstrate that a) Corbyn and the Left are a joke b) UKIP and their policies represent serious, mainstream opinion? These are the issues that will be promoted and debated throughout the campaign and its aftermath. This is what will affect the balance of forces across the UK in the short and medium term.

The internal politics of the LP need sorting (although personally I believe this is a lost cause), but this is not the time to be splitting over the nuances of post-Blairism.