Stoke Central constituency labour party (CLP) members have more choices tomorrow night, when it comes to selecting their prospective parliamentary candidate (PPC), than they might imagine. After each of the candidates has had their moment and answered questions, there is a small matter of procedure - move to ballot? Normally, it is a foregone conclusion. But the PPC selection in Stoke Central is far from normal. Members are confronted with a shortlist of three candidates engineered to secure the selection of one particular candidate - a technique know as the Ashfield gambit. (Where, incidently, it succeeded for Gloria De Piero.)
The problem with procedural motions is that there is no debate. Prior knowledge of and understanding of the reasons for and against is to be preferred, otherwise it's a massive step in the dark. Indeed that fear is abroad in Stoke, which may work to the disadvantage of those advocating a No vote when the said procedural motion is moved shortly after 8 pm, assuming the meeting proceeds in an orderly and business-like fashion.
I have no intention of campaigning for a particular outcome. But I think in the interests of a future fair for all in Stoke that I can highlight the consequences of either a Yes or No vote as I understand them. For fear of stating the obvious, if the hustings vote to proceed to the vote a ballot of those present with take place, the ballot papers will be counted, a result announced and Stoke Central CLP will have a candidate-elect in place to fight the General Election. The tricky questions arise if the meeting votes NO.
There are no powers for a candidate to be imposed at this stage. This does not mean that there won't be powerful voices on the NEC calling for such a move. But the political risks of such a strategy for the Leadership are now rising despite an election only being weeks away as members are finding their voice and protesting about interference in selections. In the absence of an emergency National Executive Committee meeting, existing powers would suggest that applications could be reopened, and a new panel appointed from the existing members of the Special Selections Panel to longlist/interview/shortlist, or the new panel could do a fresh longlist/interview/shortlist from the first round applicants.
But that would not deal with the covert part of the process involving vetting by third parties, namely No.10, or any other stakeholder group within the Labour Party's federal structure. My own solution includes naming and shaming, but I would really like to see CLP officers empowered to longlist and observe the shortlisting process. That would be the best way to underwrite members' rights even at this very late stage in the process. This certainly need not delay the fast-track selections. Without such reforms, the Labour Party's ability to mobilise and motivate members will remain hampered through until the Election. If the Leadership had any political nous it would know that it is 'game up', if it is to be 'game on'.