Tomorrow, the Labour Party will interview nine candidates and select one to represent it in the Nottingham East parliamentary constituency. Controversially, its Special Selection Panel (SSP) voted 8 to 7 last week to impose a candidate on the constituency.
CLP officers, Nottingham City Council Labour Group members and the outgoing MP, John Heppell met yesterday in Birmingham on the margins of the Labour Party 2010 Manifesto launch to help shortlist for interview from some 100 applicants. Congratulations to local CLP members for successfully lobbying for 1) an OPEN selection, and 2) getting a say at least for their CLP officers and local councillors. They have definitely got local candidates short-listed for interview. They include Councillors Jon Collins, Brian Parbutt and Jane Urquhart. In addition, four black asian and minority ethnic candidates have made the cut, plus two rival 'national' names, former MP Chris Leslie and the Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison national secretary, Byron Taylor.
Tomorrow, the interviewing panel of five NEC members have an opportunity to make partial amends for local members being denied a say. They can ensure an open and fair selection on merit. It's a choice between the new and old politics. A narrowing of opinion inside the Labour's NEC was demonstrated by the closeness of the vote to impose a candidate last Thursday. It was only carried by the votes of Leader Gordon Brown and Deputy Leader Harriet Harman. Had either one of them voted in favour of, retaining members' rights to a say then there would have been no need for this blog.
They and their advisers all have a chance to rethink their positions.
Their difficulties with regard to Nottingham East arise from persistent rumours that No 10 (ie. Gordon Brown) wants former MP Chris Leslie to be the next MP for the seat, That line was blogged again yesterday by BBC Newsnight political editor Michael Crick. The interview panel could wrest back some of its tarnished reputation by not bothering to consult with No. 10 about whom they are minded to impose select. According to the Nottingham Evening Post:
A spokesman for the Prime Minister told the Evening Post that Mr Brown had no preferred candidate.
As Gordon Brown himself reminded everyone at the Manifesto launch yesterday:
- And which is the party of political reform, offering more democratic change than at any time in 100 years and more? .... the party with the plan for the future. And I say to you today: the future will be progressive or conservative, but it will not be both.
Quite so. The age of deference is over. What better place to demonstrate precisely what that means than the selection of candidates to fight the general election.
So its up to Deputy Leader Harriet Harman, USDAW's Paddy Lillis, Keith Vaz MP, NEC chair Ann Black and her vice chair, Norma Stephenson to do the decent thing. We know that both Ann and Norma voted last week AGAINST imposing a candidate. Of the three imposers on the NEC panel, Keith Vaz represents the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic section. He has aroused considerable controversy by his role in selections to date, and faces allegations after the election from that constituency of not ensuring a robust equalities approach. Tomorrow is his chance to show he embraces the new politics, and that the age of prime ministerial patronage is over. Quite what unionised shopworkers will make of Paddy Lillis, their deputy general secretary's forelock tugging to No. 10 beats me. As for Harriet, she has much to answer for concerning these fast track selections chronicled here and elsewhere.
This 2010 election is, as we were reminded repeatedly yesterday, about 'people not posters'. Well, where better to start than with the people who are signed up as members of the Labour Party in Nottingham East, and those whose votes they seek to ensure a Labour MP in the next Parliament?
As the interviews will be taking place in the Jolly St Ermins Hotel in London, it will either be a jolly good show, or a crying shame. A decision is expected mid-afternoon.