Friday 7 July 2017

The Politics of Re-Selecting Labour MPs

With contrived outrage howling about my ears, that can only mean one thing: someone has gone and suggested the Labour Party is in need of added democracy. Specifically, how the party selects and reselects its candidates at election time. As you have no doubt seen, the touchpaper was the election of a Corbyn-supporting majority to officer posts in Liverpool Wavetree, the constituency party of the Corbyn-critical Luciana Berger. As Luciana previously voted to bomb Syria and was seen as a participant in the attempted coup last Summer, without diplomatic niceties the new chair stated that she would be held to account for her actions. After all, that's what happens in a democracy, yes? Unfortunately, what's good for the goose isn't good for the gander. Conor Pope of the much-diminished Progress looked to his inner Leadsom and said Luciana took her baby campaigning with her, implying that being a young mum nullifies the need for basic accountability. Jess Phillips did a Jess Phillips and compared the new officers to perpetrators of domestic violence, and Labour Uncut doyen Rob Marchant was unseemly keen to suggest this was further evidence of anti-semitic behaviour.

When the Labour right go for smears and utterly inappropriate comments, you know they haven't a political leg to stand on. Unfortunately, the party has learned they were happy to tug on any old rope if it meant strangling the leader. And despite the hard facts of hard votes, an increased number of MPs and now, according to YouGov, an eight-point lead in the polls, some refuse to reconcile themselves to the new realities of politics.

I can understand why. Everything they know about politics has proven itself wrong, the policies they warned would bring calamity have furnished the party with success, Jeremy Corbyn turned out to be an asset, much to their chagrin, and the expectations they place on the membership - to deliver the leaflets, shut up and do as they're told - is not the station a huge number of recently politicised people are prepared to accept. Hence selection, reselection, deselection are touchy subjects that condense their anxieties. Building relationships with large numbers of people are difficult, especially when you've made your name rubbishing those of supposed colleagues. You have no idea of who's influential and who isn't, whether there are people organising against you or not. Also the job you have is one where you are accustomed to doing as you please with barely any comeback. Having to account for your actions is an alien concept for a number of MPs who think they're the shit when all they are is fortunate. And every now and then, there's no harm in reminding that they cannot use the office the party gifted them to carry on as they please. Everyone else has a job appraisal, and so should they.

Ah, but doesn't the trigger ballot system work perfectly well - where party units decide by simple majority whether a CLP with a sitting MP should proceed with reselection? No, they don't. Branch Labour Parties and affiliated societies and unions can be bureaucratically manipulated. What might be decided by 30 members in one branch has as equal weighting as six or seven in the other, where unions and societies aren't asked but rather the choice is nodded through by an official. Nothing better illustrates this by the persistence of self-seeking and useless MPs. Do you think, for example, the unlamented Simon Danczuk got through reselection by virtue of personal popularity?

But, goes the argument, if an open selection process takes place as a matter of course isn't that a recipe for division and civil war? Only if you regard democracy as inherently problematic. Part of the reason why the party lost its way and got hollowed out wasn't just because Blair undermined its constituency and, ironically, the traditional support for the Labour right in the party, but because MPs were insulated from the members and pressures from their constituents. A good MP would listen and pay heed anyway, but plenty do not. Open selections means they cannot do this any more. As the members under such a system are, rightly, sovereign, a lot of what they bring to the table, which is a political understanding informed by a life experience much closer to everyday life as lived by the majority of people than the reality filters around the Parliamentary estate, should be listened to and acted on. And, well, if the members don't like the cut of your jib an MP has the advantage of incumbency to organise and recruit. If a MP is doing a good job, they should have no problem convincing constituents to sign up.

No system is perfect, no system can be perfect. Yet in politics, socialists can apply a simple test. From the point of view of the political development of party members, of encouraging people to join the party, and getting the wider electorate to see Labour as theirs, to feel a real connection and ownership of what the party could become, is bureaucratic manipulation as per the existing system appropriate? Or giving members the right to determine at every election who the members should be campaigning for? It's so simple that this is even in contention shows how much work the democratic remaking of Labour has to do.


Jonathan said...

This is about control, not democracy. What will happen because of this is we end up with mediocrities and hacks who will say the right things and let's face it it ain't that difficult Jez worshipers.

Jonathan said...

Everyone else has a job appraisal, and so should they.

Well there's things known as elections.

SimonB said...

In the current climate when there could easily be another election at any time I'd rather hoped we could carry on with the same candidates. For my CLP it's working well.

Given this current tantrum started with Paul bloody Staines it's clearly contrived nonsense. As you say, the Labour Right seem to have nothing of substance to offer. I'm reading John Cole's autobiography and it's notable that he describes the same wing of the party in the same way back in the 70s and 80s.

Phil said...

"Mediocrities and hacks."

Jonathan has been living in a cave for the last 30 years.

Phil said...

"Thing known as elections."

More of Jonathan's stupid empiricism. How many safe Labour MPs are safe because of who they are and not because of the party label they trade under, Jon?

Dave Cohen said...

A few points to unpick here...

1. I'm a little surprised by your description of the right of the party as 'they'. Remember it's barely a year since you, like me, was defined as right wing and 'they' for failing to have voted for Jeremy first time around. Surely you should have said 'everything WE know about politics has proven itself wrong.' Peter Mandelson said it, the mainstream media said it. The only two people who have so far refused to acknowledge that anything has changed are Theresa May and Len McCluskey. Theresa has no choice, but Len McCluskey clearly doesn't feel he has to. He was one of the few Labour people to break rants during the election and suggest we would be lucky to win 200 seats.

2. I'm not going to discuss Luciana Berger. I'm a little bit uncomfortable with the implicit misogyny and racism at work here, but I'm not going to argue with your analysis of the basic democracy, which is correct. But this idea of 'get with the manifesto' is not as clear cut on the issue of Brexit. True the manifesto committed us to leaving the EU, but as late as a week before the election Jeremy was talking about his great Brexit team of negotiators, and that at this stage nothing was to be discounted. Two weeks later my own MP, a known left-winger who signed Jeremy's nomination not once but twice, was sacked for supporting Chuka's amendment. Catherine West has been a great local MP, who has twice seen off the Lib Dems with massive swings, she is with the manifesto in every other way but understands, as do a growing number of voters, that the tide is turning with Brexit and also that many voted Labour, despite the manifesto, in protest at May's hardline stance.

I think there is a strong left case for hard Brexit, but the leadership are not putting it. Strategically, from an election point of view, I'd say there's a much stronger case for Jeremy sticking to his view of ruling out nothing, thereby keeping the anti May vote and hopefully picking up swathes of moderate leave/remain voters next election. There is a precedent, it's how he's playing Trident and I'm totally with him on that (unless he really has changed his mind and is now in favour!)

Apologies for the long preamble but the reason I mention all this is because last week at our branch there were mutterings that Catherine needs to 'get with the manifesto'. I can't see her being deselected but the idea of it is ridiculous.

Meanwhile Owen Jones, who unlike you and me has changed his mind twice, defines Brexit as left-right so in his world Catherine is more right wing than Kate Hoey.

I'm excited at the idea that we can win the next election with one more push, but I don't think we can just stand by and watch the Tories implode on this (remember that was Ed's policy). We should be pro active in debating, openly, what kind of country we want to see after Brexit.

JGiftmacher said...

"I'm not going to discuss Luciana Berger. I'm a little bit uncomfortable with the implicit misogyny and racism at work here,"

Er you just did, and rather heavily.

Someone needs to convincingly explain to me why this is racist of misogynist cf. a left wing constituency being regained by actual left wingers. This is Liverpool, and an area that wasn't keen on the leadership challenge much less bombing Syria. People are right to be unhappy if they think their MP isn't listening to them. It's not like they have to do everything they're asked, but flat out ignoring isn't ok.

Not so far away how long before Frank Field starts to feel the heat I wonder? The man doesn't just ignore he goes for flat out contempt. In a safe seat reselection may be the only way to bring MPs back to talking to their constituents.

Anonymous said...

The Labour Right are still playing a political game developed during the Blair years. Like the Tories, they have no idea how much things have changed.

I'm not sure there's much political capital in attacking them outright. They don't have a significant voice in either the membership or in party policy. Deselection would give them a media platform that they've been stripped of since June, and remember that the government is still unstable and an election could happen at any time.

Leave them to it. They can sip tea from their Tough On Immigration mugs, read Hayek's Constitution of Liberty and invoke the great spirit of Market Forces as much as they please. They're not holding the cards any more.

Dave Cohen said...

Yes you're absolutely right. This piece is not about that and I accept it's a diversion from the main point. But I would be curious to know where you and phil stand on the more nuanced question of Brexit

Anonymous said...

"Implicit misogyny and racism" presumably means ANY criticism of ANYONE for ANY reason if that person happens to be female or Jewish?

This kind of nonsense discredits genuine anti-racism and anti-sexism, values which are still essential in the modern world.

By the way Jews are an ethnic group, not a race.

Dave Cohen said...

Sorry 'anonymous' our postings crossed. I admit that racism and misogyny are separate issues to the nature of this blog.

Makhno said...

Well, they're also, according to all available evidence, separate issues as to whether Luciana Berger is accountable in any way to Wavertree CLP.

As it stands, it turns out it was only one member of Wavertree CLP, and the rest of the Momentum-affiliated CLP officers have expressed their support for Berger. In any case, there was nothing in what was said by this individual member that was particularly offensive, and he is entitled to his opinion.

This is all a storm in a teacup whipped up by the Labour right and their friends in the media bubble. Anyone who treats the story with any degree of seriousness or pearl-clutching is simply a mug.

Makhno said...

That said, I agree with Dave Cohen's comments about Catherine West. She's a great MP and has been pretty staunch in her support of the leadership.

The Umunna amendment was an act of sabotage with no hope of passing, and actually put good MPs in an invidious position.

I support Catherine's right to vote for the amendment, but I'm pretty sure she would agree that it's reasonable for her to lose her frontbench spot after voting against the whip. She's an incredibly talented and committed MP, however, and I'm sure she'll be back.

Phil said...

Dave - you stated that there was racism and misogyny at work here. I think you should clarify or retract. If there's any evidence of racism or misogyny in the attacks on Luciana Berger's position, I'll be interested to see it, but I haven't seen any yet.

We can't live in a world where any political attack on a woman can be denounced as misogyny (or likened to DV). Same goes for allegations of anti-semitism whenever a Jewish politician comes under attack. Spurious allegations waste everyone's time and are an insult to those who suffer genuine abuse - see Fraser v UCU for abundant examples ("they pushed past me to get into the room"/"ah, the stereotype of the 'pushy Jew'...").

Jonathan said...

and what will this job appraisal look like Phil? Will it be based on attendance at Parliament, speaking up on issues, voting against the Tories, record in the constituency, amount of contact with the constituents. Or will it be based on absolute loyalty to Jeremy?

Judging from Roy Bentham's remarks I'd say it will be the later.

Phil said...

You do know you're making an argument against liberal democracy?

Jonathan said...

I thought you hated Liberals and please answer my question.

Phil said...

I'm speechless.

Makhno said...

He also appears to be arguing against Roy Bentham, lest we forget a single party member amongst hundreds of thousands, having the right to voice his own opinion as to the behaviour of his MP.

It certainly seems odd to be complaining about those asking for loyalty to the leader of the party whilst also demanding absolute loyalty of CLP members to their MPs.

It's a farce. I'm a firm believer in the party being a broad church,and there are many good activists and MPs from across all wings. However, if the minority entrenched in the self-entitled sections of the right are going to continue just screeching about meaningless and piffling incidents whilst offering nothing constructive to the party whatsoever then I feel I should point out that there's already an established toothless centrist party that they can join.

Jonathan said...

No I'm not arguing against Bentham having the right to voice his opinion, I'm arguing that Bentham is wrong to try and intimidate his MP. Bentham based his anger not on her actually competency, but on the fact she had the temerity to disagree with the Jeremy. To me that goes against the basis of the broad church I disagreed with my MP on voting for article 50. I however didn't shout off in the local press demanding that he toe the line.

Dave Cohen said...

See previous reply. Already retracted. Don't know how to remove from initial response.

Dave Cohen said...

Nobody seems willing to discuss the problem of MPs going against the party's Brexit stance. Makhno I take your point that Catherine will bounce back, but there are people in the ward talking about deselecting her. Brexit is a live issue and if we're going to win the next election we need to talk honestly about it. The level of ignorance is astonishing, and I include my own. At the very least I want to know exactly how Labour's current stance on Brexit will increase jobs and improve workers' rights

Southpawpunch said...

Why does this need so much text?

It's really very simple.

All Labour candidates for parliamentary constituencies should go through a compulsory reselection process, each parliament. Councillors have to do this between council elections and it is only democratic that MPs should have the support of local members, too.

I'm bemused by all the Johnny-come-latelys banging on about this now (and who were silent on this matter a year ago) but then, as I listened to the in-store ad about 'Tesco and LBTQ pride' in one of their shops today, it just confirmed to me that as a Trot you are years ahead of the rest and even, in a few cases, big corporates will eventually come round to your views.

Anonymous said...

There is no shortage in the Labour Party of energy and ability what John Smith called 'the extraordinary potential of ordinary people'. That is why we need to move away from the politics of patronage in the Labour Party to one of democratisation- to realise our potential and that of the party to lead and win and win again. I hope a start is being made in this process...

Makhno said...

@Dave -

I don't think it's possible to have a specific stance on Brexit that will increase jobs and improve workers rights, the best we can hope for is damage limitation for the former and ensuring that those rights afforded by the EU are enshrined in UK law, and expanded on through domestic policies. The only way to achieve this, however, is through a Labour government.

As it stands, Labour isn't at the negotiating table, with a sitting Tory government with their bigot-bolstered minority, this isn't likely to change until after another election.

Personally, I'm all for a federal Europe and have little time for nation states, but I have to admit that my opinion is currently in the minority. If I thought that Labour would have any hope of winning by just throwing caution to the wind and going all out for Remain, then I would have no problem supporting that. However, in my view it would be electoral suicide to just dismiss the referendum result, as can be seen with the Lib Dem's rather unimpressive showing in June.

I would also make the point that the Umunna amendment does absolutely nothing to move this conversation forward. The fact that the man himself is on record saying he'd be happy to ditch the Single Market if it meant we could end freedom of movement exposes this as nothing but a cynical ploy. What I found most cynical about it is that I suspect it meant that good, vocally pro-Remain MPs such as Catherine and David Lammy felt they had to vote for it or be seen as hypocrites.

As I say, though, I understand why Catherine felt she had to vote for it, and in my view any talk of deselection is simply idiotic. Those of us on the left of the party should be nothing but grateful to those MPs who stood by the leadership during the incompetent bungling of the chicken coup (well, apart from Kate Hoey, maybe).

Makhno said...

"I'm arguing that Bentham is wrong to try and intimidate his MP. Bentham based his anger not on her actually competency, but on the fact she had the temerity to disagree with the Jeremy"

To be honest, it's entirely reasonable to question the competence of any MP that supported the Chicken Coup, as it was an utter balls-up from start to finish, to the extent that I started off being relatively Corbyn-sceptic and ended up happily voting for him.

Dave C said...

I agree at this stage Makhno that to say 'Labour wants Remain' is ridiculous. But in terms of us spending the next however-long-it-is in opposition, we need to use that time to convince those yet to vote for us, exactly what we do want. Chuka is indeed an opportunist. This time last year he was talking about ditching freedom of movement because he thought that was how we'd win back the old Ukip vote. To some extent he was right, we definitely picked up some (or maybe lost less) from being the 'Brexit is Brexit BUT...' party at the election. And I wish he hadn't called so quickly for a single market vote.

But the figures seem to support the view that where we really picked up big votes and swings was in places where we were getting a strong, young, anti-Brexit vote. I know that Keir Starmer, Paul Mason and John McDonnell don't mean 'immigrants out' when they call for an end to freedom of movement, but they need to explain why. Especially as that is the underlying implication every time Kate Hoey or millionaire Labour Leave boss John Mills open their mouths.

The Lib Dems have already learned that they need to re-think their Brexit position. At the moment there is a massive swathe of centre ground filled with people, many of whom voted for us for the first time in June, who believe that there has to be a better way to do Brexit, and if we don't articulate our position properly then that could be a hell of a lot of votes heading elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

The Democracy issue and the Single Market membership: no one speaking about this. Norway is in the Single Market, but not in the EU. So, it benefits from the Single Market trade, but has NO say over the development of the Single Market rules and regulations (because it is not in any EU institutions). So there is a downside to such participation: open to trade, closed from having a say about the rules.

At some point the argument of having trade benefits from the single market but also a say in its rules and regulations will play into the hands of hard Brexit Leavers.

Makhno said...

I'd agree to a certain extent that the party could perhaps do more to communicate their position, but I would argue that there is a clear position.

As far as I'm aware, the 6 point test that Starmer outlined back in March still holds, and this articulates a position:

It's certainly limited, but realistically a limited position is the only position that can be taken at this time.

To reiterate, Labour is not at the negotiating table, it has no power to steer the direction of negotiations. The only tenable position is reactive to the inevitable Tory omnishambles, and for that we need to have a test of what would be acceptable.

If there is another election in the short to medium term, then Labour would most likely be in the driving seat, perhaps in tandem with one or more coalition partners. Until that time I can't really see any benefit in the shadow cabinet Live Action Role Playing discussions with the EU.

I take your point with regard to freedom of movement. However, in one sense ending full freedom of movement (which doesn't strictly speaking exist currently, anyway) is simply a function of Brexit. I sincerely wish it wasn't (including on a personal level, as it has family implications for me) but we have to play with the very limited hand we have.

Dave Cohen said...

Thanks Makhno.

Much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

except that when you have lost the seat the damage is done. there were many members in our party that had concerns about our MP but we had no voice and no chance of having the debate. despite the fact that we worked damn hard we lost the seat. it is not good to be proven right sometimes

Mike Hogan said...

Just one correction it was not the chair of the CLP who commented. Important to say as the chair is regarded as the lead officer. Otherwise a good article.

Gary Elsby said...

How to appraise your MP in Stoke-on-Trent.
1. Decide whether he/she is a 'good MP who (wait for it)'works hard.

2. Select them.

3. Watch Jack Brereton (Conservative) take the seat.

4. Decide whether the deciders were competent in the face of all prior reports, to decide in the first place.

5.Hold inquest into why Stoke Labour lost a Council and a MP.