Monday 6 December 2010

Local Election Selection

After the excitement of Saturday morning's protest, it was down to the dismal business of Labour party selections in the afternoon. Since I've been in the city, Stoke-on-Trent's council election cycle has been three years on, one year off with a third of the 60 seats up at any given time. Furthermore each of the 20 wards returned three councillors. However, the powers that be have been consumed by a lengthy boundary re-jigging exercise alongside an overhauling of local governance. The number of councillors are to be reduced to 45 and wards redrawn so the majority of them are single member. Gone is the rolling election, and in comes an all-out election every four years.

Stoke Labour, still weakened by the events of the last decade, have had a hard time finding enough candidates, so its doubtful any other party will find enough to contest every locality. Nevertheless there are selection battles for seats perceived to be safe, and I just so happen to be in one. My ward was contested by no less than four candidates, three of whom were sitting councillors for other parts of the city. And in the best Labour party traditions, the room filled out with members never before seen at CLP and branch meetings: it was clear a couple of candidates had been pressing the flesh and doing deals to get their support out. Despite that there was almost an upset.

Candidate A (everyone is anonymised in case those who missed out want to try selection elsewhere) began the selection proceedings. She set out her career as a public servant in special needs and elderly care. She stressed her Labour family background, her membership of the Co-op Party and activism with Unison. She talked a bit about her involvement with the local residents' association, her role as school governor in her present council seat on the other side of the city, and the skills she could bring to the ward.

Candidate B said he'd lived in Shelton for 48 years, bringing up seven kids and numerous grandkids. He was a bridge builder with a proven track record of getting on with local whites and Muslims, and has always beaten opponents in his existing ward with a healthy majority. He talked about his role as a trustee of the Islamic Centre in Shelton, as well as its full-time president and secretary. He also worked to secure the new Mosque site. Wider achievements to his name included helping local community projects, secured the go ahead for new footpaths, used money to develop the local park, and get CCTV installed in an anti-social behaviour black spot.

Candidate C began in a similar vein, saying he had lived in Stoke for 28 years and brought his kids up here. While he was part of the May intake, he has proven very active having consistently campaigned in Stoke North during the election. He has taken up every training opportunity offered by the council and the Labour group, and talked about his regular attendance at residential association and community centre meetings. He then said councillors need to be united but accountable, and thought Labour needed to talk more about what it has achieved in the city.

Lastly, Candidate D gave the most energetic speech. She began by saying the industrial revolution began in this ward and that today, because it takes in the central business district, a prosperous ward means a growing Stoke-on-Trent. She talked about her business and emotional ties to the area before moving on to talk about her values and experience. As a trained economist with experience working on other regeneration projects, she would be able to provide the critical scrutiny of the council's plans that have historically been lacking. She also emphasised her activist credentials, first as a former speedboat driver for Greenpeace and now as an active anti-fascist, campaigner to save the Wedgwood Museum, and a very active party volunteer.

As is customary the members had the opportunity to grill the candidates after their presentations. As tempting as it was to quiz them on the decision of Gerry Healy and the US SWP to split the Fourth International in 1953 and whether they thought it was based on sound principle or political opportunism, I asked all four this instead:
The new ward contains Hanley's wealth creating areas but also some of the worst deprivation in the city. What do you think about this wealth gap, and how would you go about addressing it?
I got a mixed bag of answers. Candidate B gave the worst response, saying he would "meet people". Oh dear. Candidate A thought the ward had a lot going for it and was better off than some. While this is partly true, the northern end has some of the worst housing stock I've seen in Stoke. I'm not exaggerating when I say the council has demolished property that's in better nick. Candidate C answered that councillors need to work hard to attract more investment. But Candidate D gave the best answer by some distance. She said the same thing about business, but also that they need to be encouraged to provide more employment and discharge more responsibilities to the communities in which they sit. As the public sector shrinks they have to step in and promote the local 'soft' institutions that knit the area together.

None of them offered a programme bridging the gap between today's consciousness and the necessity of a workers' government, but it was clear to me who was the 'most Labour', dynamic, and capable of the candidates, so I duly wrote Candidate D's name on my ballot paper. Much to my surprise she got through to the second round of voting, winning over some of the supposed block vote that had turned out for candidate B. But unfortunately she was pipped to the post by Candidate C. So congratulations to him and commiserations to everyone else.

There is one thing about the process that didn't sit easy with me. The day saw selections also take place for the two other safest seats in the constituency, none of which were done under all-women shortlists. This has been reserved for two wards that will be more challenging for Labour to win. AWS is far from problematic and has been abused from time to time by cliques and bureaucrats to get placewomen in position, but for all that there remains a troubling gender gap in Labour representation. In my opinion AWS is an evil less worse than allowing it to go unaddressed. So why wasn't one of these seats designated as such?


andy newman said...

I am not expert on these things, but in Swindon it has been the regional party which has selected which wards should be all women shortlists, and these were the winnable targets.

i.e the safest seats where selecting a woman wouldn't unseat a capable current male councillor;.

It isn't ideal, and Diane Hayter's very illuminating book "Fightback!" describes, for example, how the tradiational right in the arty used reserved women seats to beat the left.

Gary Elsby said...

Candidate A was beaten and will be beaten in her existing seat.

Candidate B would win the seat but will leave labour and win it independently(as they threatened to do before, if Candidate C was not removed).He was removed and the ward 'all female shortlisted'.

Candidate C will lose the seat for Labour because he split the outside vote (their internal vote on the street).

Candidate D is not a member of Stoke Labour and had no right to be considered for selection.

Did you notice lots of new members turn out? All candidate C votes?
Candidate C's legitimacy is business rates but was removed by collated evidence last time round due to principal address being Newcastle-under-Lyme.
Please refer to candidate D.

Phil said...

Actually, under rule candidates from outside the CLP and the city limits are allowed provided they can demonstrate a tangible link to the city in terms of work, business interests, family ties, etc. Besides, not living in the ward never stopped you from standing in the Abbey did it, Gary?

Andy, our CLP is still under special measures following years of dysfunctionality and faction fighting. In theory the regional organisation should be overseeing our selection process. In practice it is done locally with members wearing a variety of bureaucratic hats.

Gary Elsby said...

Phil, I live in Abbey Green, I vote in Abbey Green and have stood in 3 elections in Abbey Green. You're right, it didn't stop me from doing anything in there!

Where is this rule you quote from. I'm fascinated.Rememebr, there are politcal party(Labour)rules for eligibility and there are Stoke-on-Trent rules also for eligibility.
Candidates D's eligibility is what?

Also, candidate C informed us that he lived in shelton. He didn't, it was a dummy address. He lived in Clayton.
The NEC agreed with Stoke Central and narrowly evaded expulsion, but had his membership re-directed to Newcastle.
Membership rules state that the individual is a party member of the CLP where their principal address is.
You did check all candidates Union papers/political donations, didn't you?(rule).

Phil said...

To my knowledge there are two candidates who've won selections who do not live in their respective constituencies. However there were extensive numerous rule checks and conversations with the NEC about this issue and they were given the green light.

Incidentally, are you planning on standing in this year's elections?

ModernityBlog said...


Next time try a harder question like, what do they think of Wikileaks ?

Phil said...

As difficult as it might be to imagine, but the fall out of Wikileaks isn't a burning issue on the streets of Stoke at the moment. As far as I'm concerned an ideal candidate has to recognise there is a wealth gap problem and have something that they, as a councillor, can do about it. That shows real ability and nous, not the correct position on an issue that is quite abstract for most people.

modernity said...

That is surely why you should ask such a question, to spot the running dogs of neoliberalism and US imperialism!

Also,to found out who believes in State secrecy, or can appreciate that the rest of us can think too.

Phil said...

You don't have to probe very deep to find out who those "intensely relaxed" about the Atlanticist relationships are in the city. But in this context to raise this issue would have made me look like a far out moon howler with concerns far removed from ordinary people's. And that's definitely not the place any socialist trying to get their voice taken seriously in the Labour party needs.

Phil said...

Btw, Gary, it's not like you to be so backward about coming forward. Are you planning to stand for election this May? You don't even have to tell me where!

modernity said...


I see your point, I was jesting :)

"any socialist trying to get their voice taken seriously in the Labour party needs."

Righto Phil, I suspect that will happen around the same time that Thatcher joins a trade union or Cameron takes to singing the Internationale to his kids....

Not that I am a cynic about the nature of the LP, but...

Phil said...

There are more opportunities for lefties to get their voices heard in Labour these days. And remember, the object is not to take over the apparatus but convince members of the validity of socialist arguments and win them over.

But believe me, I'm under no illusions! I was speaking to a comrade in another CLP at the anti-cuts protest on Saturday. She told me she gave a presentation on the issues facing the NHS to her CLP and reckoned she'd never addressed a more apolitical meeting in all her time as a trade unionist. And what questions were asked seem to have a Daily Mail-ish bent ...

modernity said...

"but convince members of the validity of socialist arguments and win them over."

I can see what you are doing, and I think it very valiant.

Over the past few years I have run across Labour people, and apolitical is the word.

In various parts of Britain it seems to be populated by barristers, TU officials, careerists, PR types, will be politicians, groupies and very very occasionally the odd older working class member.

I suspect entryism into the Liberal-Democrats is more likely to be successful!

But I think in five years from now you will either be considerably far up the Labour hierarchy, or not active in the LP.

You might want to write yourself a little letter to be opened five years from now...

Sorry, but I have heard similar arguments over the past 35 years, and it seems like pissing in the wind to me...but if that's what you want to do....I shall watch with amusement...

Phil said...

If I end up in a lofty position (despite myself) I will invite you to my parliamentary office followed by a pint or two at the Commons bar so you can say 'told you so' ;)

Alex Dawson said...

A little unfair I think Modernity. The CLP I am part of is certainly not some club for careerists to advance themselves politically.

I am a trade union official and I recently rejoined Labour for fairly similar reasons to Phil. I have absolutely no wish, whatsoever, to hold any position within the party either locally, regionally or nationally because I simply do not have the time to commit and my loyalty is to union members. My trade union is not affiliated to Labour (or any party) and my reasons for being a local member are pretty simple - that we must do what we can to get these duplicitous and cynical Tory/Liberal bastards out before we can even think about trying to push any reforms to actually help and assist normal people, let alone have some kind of revolution.

Socialists conveniently forget that, even at the height of Blairism, New Labour was forced through its roots to bring in a number of key rights for trade unions to represent members and organise in workplaces, up to the point of being able to force recognition as well as enacting a lot of legislation to protect workers from the worst kinds of reactionary discrimination and unfair treatment.

I know, I know, it's pretty mild stuff on the whole and not perfect and the strike laws are still in place. But already the scum Tories are floating the idea of "curbing" peoples rights in the name of "encouraging growth".

As a trade unionist, it is my duty to do what I can to defend the rights people have to protect them from the excesses of the freemarketeers and I believe the single best way to do that, at the current time, is to get a Labour government back in and preferably one that isn't run like the last one.

I'm never ruling out the chance of some kind of real left formation coming into existence and me joining it in the future.

But as it stands, I see the sands in the UK have shifted and the fertile period we once had to build a left electoral alternative over the entire last decade has now come to an end. The once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring the left together was wasted, largely by the egos of the full-timers and leaders of the sects with their playground politics and negative oppositionism - preferring just to slate and denounce people they vengefully disagreed with rather than putting forward real, positive and inspiring programmes to capture the minds of young people and progressive voters.

Within the CLP I am a member of, I can tell you that members are certainly not sat there salivating over the prospect of a massacre of public sector jobs, a rollback of trade union rights or cuts to benefits. Some are admittedly ambivalent towards the trade union heritage and financial backing of the party, but it is up to those of us from that background to convince the "apoliticals" that they should listen to what we say and act on it for the good of people in the country, and not dance to the overbearing tune of Murdochs slimy newspapers.

Long and thankless game I grant you, but infinitely more useful than pissing in the wind manning the revolving door of current British left sectarianism.

modernity said...

"A little unfair I think Modernity. "


I would prefer the Labour Party was much different than it is now.

But my *experience* tells me different.

I wish that my experience were so, I wish that the Labour Party would make a fair stab at some form of social democracy (I don't really expect socialism from them), but they can't.

And what I see is what hundreds of thousands of others see, so it does not engender the Labour Party to nonmembers.

This is the point I am trying to get at.

And further my point was that politicos, across the political spectrum, often live in a bubble and don't know what other people think, they're not terribly attuned to people outside of political currents (another reason for New Labour's detachment from reality) or very good listeners.

Unless and until you can accept that there is a different way of viewing the Labour Party, then your chances of electoral success or engagement with once Labour voters is next to zero.

The implied slogan "Vote Labour, We Are Less Shit Than The Tories" isn't much to write home about.

PS: My comments were not motivated by sectarianism or anything close.

In fact I find many of those insecure properties that you would find among British sectarians, the inability to accept criticism, a warped view of the world, "my party right or wrong", "don't criticise our leaders", etc etc are equally at home within bits of the LP.

Alex Dawson said...

Well Modernity, I'll just have to disagree with you.

I don't particularly like the warmongering, neoliberal authoritarianism that defined Blairism. Blair simply defends it by saying it's "what people wanted", but I think it was IN SPITE of what people wanted.

End of the day, I see the voter polls and, without actually doing anything of any merit, Labour is already level with the Tories just six months after the masurbatory media welcome for Dave and Nick. In spite of one of the most left-baiting and orchestrated media campaigns against Brown and Labour and adulation galore for the Tories pre-election, they didn't even win a majority, proving that people are finally breaking free of the media control of society.

Short of some kind of serious fracture or huge error of judgement, I believe the Labour party will win the next election.

On that day, I would rather have some influence, however small, in what goes forward from there than standing in the street slating the new government as being "just like the last lot".

As I pointed out there are differences, and contrary to your belief that we're existing in some kind of bubble, I can tell you at least 10 people I know personally, not otherwise particularly political, who voted Lib Dem last time round and are furious and have told me it's back to Labour for certain.

The far left and Tory Press colluded quite well to paint Browns government as some evil force and succeeded in bringing about the demise of New Labour. In direct comparison to what the ConDems are actually doing to people on the ground in the place I live, Browns government was virtually Cuban revolutionary in comparison.

Fact is that, hyperbole and internet ranting forums and comments posts aside, most ordinary people are not actually that anti-Labour party.

modernity said...

Strawmen, strawmen.

I did not say:

" most ordinary people are not actually that anti-Labour party."

I wrote:

"so it does not engender the Labour Party to nonmembers."

I will explain what I mean, because if I don't elaborate you're probably misread it.

Past generations of Labour supporters would often think fondly of Labour's achievements, the welfare state, public housing, etc even if they disagreed with the Labour leadership.

Nowadays who fondly thinks of Blair and his henchmen?

No one, outside those who benefited from his misadventures.

An older generation can fondly remember of Attlee, Wilson and even Callaghan, having achieved something for someone else, whereas Blair and the Labour Party, were seen as in it for themselves.

I'm sure that Labour if there was an election tomorrow would get in, but that doesn't tell the whole story, it's not a love of Labour rather a hatred of the Tories and the Lid Dems that will win them an election.

And that is rather telling.

When people think of the modern Labour Party since 1997 they don't conjure up positive images, instead of squalid politicking and trying to stay in power.

And then when Labour try to criticise the Lib Dems and Tories the constant (and surprisingly accurate) reply is "Labour in power would have done the same"

Labour is a shell of what it was, and many people know that, you only need to look at the membership figures, down some 250,000 from 1997...

Perhaps you'd like to reflect on why 250,000 decided to leave the Labour Party, and to preempt your obvious reply I fully accept at the moment Labour membership may be up by 10,000 or so, but that doesn't explain the wider disenchantment that occurred with Labour.

That's the point to engage with...

Alex Dawson said...

I engage with it all the time.

I know full well why that many members left. I was one of them. A lot of people already feeling demoralised were pretty pissed off with Iraq and Blair getting into bed with a lunatic right-wing religious nut in the White House. I knew people who resigned over all manner of things, from the treatment of the Black Watch battalion through to points of principle over the introduction of PFI.

Blair ripped the soul out of the party and in many but not all areas it became little more than an apolitical hype machine for people to win elections, as well evidenced by the recent "Battle of Barking" documentary that shows the local Labour activists as well-meaning but utterly unable to string coherent policies together other than "we're not as bad as the BNP/Tories/whoever" - which you allude to quite clearly in your argument.

I have no illusions over the task, and can see it is uphill and distant.

But having spent lots of time since 2003 trying to build an alternative, I realise how impossible this has now become. As far as I can see, there will never be left unity across the various forces and too many pontificators spend too much time claiming to be the "true" voice of Socialism, in the same way there are a multitude of religious sects in America saying the same thing about God. Personalities of the leaders and entrenched sectarian positions severely limit and blunt the ability to coherently organise.

Heaven knows, I indulged in my own SWP bashing at the time quite gladly and am actually slightly ashamed of myself now - there are good SWP activists in the same way there are good and bad activists in every left party and sect.

I honestly believe that had the Socialist Alliance not collapsed and stood candidates in every area, all the time since 2000, I suspect we would now have dozens of councillors, and very likely one or two MPs etc by now...and therefore a focal point for political engagement alongside the usual channels of strike and demonstrations. In doing so, this would have dragged Labour back to the left as well - as evidenced by the effect of Die Linke on the Social Democrats in Germany.

As I have consistently said for some time, the far left blames everyone but itself for this catastrophe - preferring to heap the blame for the abject failure to bring forth an alternative and the continuation of New Labour at the door of the ever-evil full-time union officials and the remaining left MPs in the Labour party.

I know full well why McDonnell and his ilk don't leave the Labour party - it's the evidence of the actually SHRINKING far left vote that makes them realise they would lose their voices as the last remaining socialist parliamentary representatives we have. They would have to leave and try to pull together the strands of the left outside Labour, and almost certainly fail as sects initially engage, disagree over some dialectic or whatever, publicly and embarrassingly row, pull out of the formation and then retrench into their own narrow party building again and ultimately stand candidates against each other on virtually the same manifesto and platform.

I have the utmost of personal respect for left activists pretty much whatever shade they happen to be, but I cannot see left unity as a viable proposition in the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, yes, you're right - 10,000 new members in Labour, for the first time since the 90s. The Blairite candidate defeated through the trade union link which, now, almost entirely funds the party. Not all those members will be lefties, but you can bet many are looking for a serious alternative to Toryism.

Yes, thousands left Labour. But thousands did not join a new left formation because the left forces couldn't get their act together. I would rather do what I can to bring some effective change rather than sitting there despairing that everything is shit and blaming everyone but myself for it.

modernity said...

Well, Loz, I wish you good luck and I agree with you about Socialist Alliance.