Wednesday 9 July 2014

Defending Labour's Local Government Panel

There are ripples disturbing the surface of the tiny Stoke-on-Trent politics bubble, ripples conveying the fall-out of recent local government selection interviews in which three party members were turned down. As ever, I won't be commenting on those decisions directly, especially as they might be subject to the appeals process. In this spirit, I will not be accepting any comments about those cases. But what is worthwhile commenting on is the way the Labour Party here in Stoke and everywhere else selects its local council candidates. Yes, it's hardly up there with intersectionality and capitalism, or the political economy of the working class but, as per, there's a lot of bullshit swilling about and things need setting straight.

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.


Chris said...

I think local government selections are much more important than intersectionality.

For one thing, they're not incompatible with socialism.

Phil said...

Tsk, tsk. Now I KNOW you didn't read my post about intersectionality and class!

Gary Elsby said...

Did you write the blog with a smile Phil?

There is nothing new with 'outsiders' sitting in and making decisions regarding a Labour candidate panel in Stoke-on-Trent, what is different is the total takeover of the panel.
Normally it was made up of a councillor (not up for election) a senior party member and one outsider from around the WM.

The stitch up is 3 outsiders on a mission with an agenda.

When 4 of us came up against such a panel, word sent from around the WM was that 'the gang of 4' were to be rendered 'not suitable'.
The ink was still wet on one 'unsuitable' who was just handed the National Merit award!
I was on the Parliamentary panel, which rendered me not only suitable but untouchable according to many MPs who argued so.

Of the four, I was the one who said 'no chance', the party would not do this, the rule book protects all forms of democracy and besides, a number of out of court settlements on the steps of the High Court suggests so.
I was wrong.

Between the four of us we totalled nearly 200 years of Labour Party membership and a near 100 years of Councillor membership.
The City backed the old guard and not the new and the party itself allowed for such via democracy.

So all in all we know that outsiders come with a message that defies democracy by bending the rules and sometimes breaching them.

As a result of such measures, the party of Stoke sees itself once again in turmoil with not a 'sour grapes' or 'useless' person in its membership. Ho ho ho.

The Tristram Hunt debacle saw all winners removed from the panel and not allowed on the long list.
This saw losers within Stoke-on-Trent (whom wouldn't have got a vote between them) spy a chance, but none were on the panel!
So they had to go to London to take interviews.

Word came from around the Country (NEC members, MPs, 'friends of friends') that none would be 'suitable and one would be FAILED!'
Sure enough that is what happened, causing one to have a near breakdown.

I could never promote such a party again because I would be simply lying.

It is not democracy Phil and it is not party democracy either.
It is a lie and you are more than welcome to it.
Sad though it is.

Phil said...

Sorry for the late reply, Gary.

I;m afraid your hatchet job thesis does not stand up. The 'outsider' system is not something that's left for Stoke alone, it happens across the county. I know - I've done those panel interviews. It's about independence, of interviewees having the confidence that local factionalising will have no bearing on their interview. If you think this is open to abuse, fine. But it seems to me better geared than the old system to avoid nods and winks.

As the cases are under appeal I will refrain from commenting. So allow me to deal with hypotheticals.

If, for example, someone in an interview said they would not abide by the council/parliamentary/Euro parliamentary whip, is it a "stitch up" or eminently sensible for the party to say no?