The motion to move to the vote at the Stoke Central CLP hustings to select a new PPC was carried by 41:29
Count now underway.
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'.
The Labour Party's fasttrack selection process for Stoke Central has produced a shortlist reportedly of three candidates. How the chosen three candidates are received and treated by members of the local constituency labour party at a hustings due to take place on Thursday remains to be seen. I have long since lost confidence in the fasttrack selection process and those administering it. The question for the majority of my colleagues on the National Executive Committee is whether they have too and are prepared to act to challenge this latest shortlisting decision.
For those who have forgotten these are the key words from a National Executive Committee resolution agreed nem con last November:
When the General Election is called the right of members to select their candidates will remain a priority consideration for the panel.
The operative words are 'will remain a priority'. I know we merely entrust the government of the country to the Leader of the Party that won the last General Election. We depends on the words Parliament chooses to enshrine in statute to determine how we are governed, and in the event of dispute those words help guide the judiciary when forming a judgment in any case arising there from.
So the 'right of members to select their candidates' is a priority given that a General Election has not been called? Apparently not. For my part, I would readily support a resolution calling for an emergency meeting of the NEC to overturn the delegated powers of the Special Selections Panel, with a view to removing the undue influence (if any) of the Leader/deputy leader and trade union donors from remaining selections. The concern is that by their actions to date they could be seen as bringing the Labour Party into disrepute, just like the Lobbygate Three/Four/Six. The cause for concern is that s/he/they are undermining trust in our democracy and our elected political representatives. In the case of Stoke, it is alleged that a candidate preferred by an unelected member of the Labour Party leadership, to whom the elected Leader (by default) is possibly beholden, is one of three shortlisted persons.
Members in Stoke Central will no doubt be reflecting very carefully on how their rights have been compromised and asking whether they have any means of registering their concerns.
All remaining Labour Party prospective parliamentary candidate (PPC) selections will be decided by those constituency labour party members able to attend a hustings meeting. There will be no postal ballots from now on, and this decision includes the selections already underway in Stoke Central, and Halesown and Rowley Regis.
Quite why this membership entitlement to participate has been stripped away is a bit of a mystery. An official note is awaited.
There is no guarantee that even a vote at a hustings will be continued after the General Election is called, even though it was agreed at this week's national executive committee that no candidates should be imposed whatever the circumstances of a vacancy.
Longlisting for Stoke Central to decide who will replace sitting MP Mark Fisher as Labour's candidate is expected to take place today.
Word has is that Tom Watson MP (who mysteriously sits on the Labour Party's ruling (sic) national executive committee as a government representative even though he's been out of government since July last year) has been stopped from chairing any more of the three-member selection panels.
The baton to ensure a particular outcome may have been passed to Deputy Leader Harriet Harman, it is alleged, who, since husband Jack Dromey won the All Male Shortlisted ballot in Birmingham, Erdington, is free once again to take part in parliamentary seat engineering, as I call it. Her name is being linked to a private understanding with m'lord Mandelson in a bid to secure seats for favoured candidates.
I can't attest to the voracity of these suggestions. But knowing those who are making them, I consider they must be aired in the hope that sanity will prevail. An open and transparent process could have avoided these suspicions, which are extremely damaging to member morale, and to Labour's electoral prospects.
A shortlist for Stoke Central that offers local members genuine choice in the ballot that will take place shortly will be a real test for the Labour leadership. Is it focussed on winning the election or more concerned about positioning ahead of a leadership contest that would follow defeat?
UPDATE: 0903 Friday 26 March - Harriet Harman is not on the three-member panel that will be interviewing and shortlisting candidates on Monday afternoon, which I understand will comprise Keith Vaz MP, Cllr Ann Lucas and USDAW's Paddy Lillis.
Choice for local members has already been compromised by the omission of Mark Seddon, former editor of Tribune and NEC member from the long-list. Given their full right's would Seddon have got some nominations from members? But in the faux democracy deeply engrained in the upper echelons of the Labour Party, those members' rights now count for little, if anything at all. Shameful.
According to the latest posting on the National Parliamentary Panel page on Membersnet, the Labour Party intranet service, East Lothian will be an All Women Shortlist and Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland will be Open.
Applications have to be received by the Special Selections Panel by midday on 29 March, with shortlisting in both cases two days later on 31 March.
With the Labour Party's electoral prospects being rocked with industrial action disrupting planes and possibly trains, the last thing I had expected to hear about this morning was more parliamentary seat engineering.
The latest concerns Stoke Central. According to the FT Westminster blog yesterday Tristram Hunt, described as m'Lord Mandleson's 'favourite' is to be parachuted into Mark Fisher's seat of Stoke Central when he steps down at the General Election.
How might that be achieved? Well, it's called the Ashfield gambit - applications are invited - longlisting/interviewing/shortlisting produces three candidates for a members' ballot, with said Tristram the only serious candidate, just like Gloria De Piero is intended to be in the Ashfield contest. (We will know later today whether that gambit worked for her and her backers when the result is declared, if it hasn't been already.)
I have never had the pleasure of meeting Tristram, so I have no axe to grind other than that of members' rights, which have been abused in a very damaging way by my so-called comrades on the National Executive Committee's Special Selection Panel (SSP) (Ann Black excepted). The deadline for Stoke Central applications is Tuesday 23 March. Longlisting is completely opaque, then three members of the SSP will meet on a date to be announced to interview the chosen few and decide a shortlist.
If Stoke Central members get an opportunity to vote, I am not holding my breath even on that matter, then they might be interested in the performance of shortlisted candidates in other selections. In Tristram's case he was eliminated in the second round of the count in Leyton and Wanstead, despite having (it was alleged) pre-prepared election material. (The full results are available elsewhere on this blog.)
My idle hope is that local members will have a say in who gets longlisted/shortlisted. But that would be difficult as the NEC's Organisation Committee has banned Stoke Central CLP from meeting until after the General Election. Bit daft if you ask me when what the Labour Party needs desparately in Stoke is maximum membership involvement, especially for a new candidate to see off the BNP's deputy leader.
What does an ambitious young chap do when a sitting Labour Party MP in a convenient parliamentary seat just refused to step down? Well, reading between the lines of BBC 2 Newsnight political editor Michael Crick's blog (down page) the seat engineers just go and find another one. Will it be Selection in the spotlight: Nottingham East before long? And will the Labour Party Special Selection Panel even bother to give the members of Nottingham East a vote? According to Michael Crick the eager MP wannabee is none other than Jonathan Ashworth, deputy political secretary to the Prime Minister.
The last time I blogged about selections in that part of the world, I received a text message on 1 March from the self same JA complaining as follows:
I see you make a coded reference to me in your blog. Again perhaps you might have got in touch before posting.
To which I replied:
Why? A public statement from yourself ruling yourself out of consideration for any selection now would IMHO be the best possible contribution you could make to Labour's election campaign. Ditto any other member of No.10 staff, Labour Party staff or NEC.
That remains my view. What do you think?
According to acting Progress Director Jessica Asato, Pamela Nash has been selected as the Labour Party PPC to fight the seat in place of Dr John Reid MP, who announced his intention to stand down two and a half years ago.
Contrary views about the selection process were reported here in the Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser:
YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Pamela Nash is selected in Airdrie and Shotts!!!!!!!!!!!! Restores my faith in Labour Party selections. Just.
I have never knowingly met Pamela, but I wish her well. I hope the CLP will rally round and that Pamela will join Labour PPCs for Members' Rights - a new campaign to mobilise PPCs to press for openness and transparency for the selection of Labour candidates for public office.
Today's Stoke Sentinel is carrying a tantalising story here about a frantic search by Labour Party officials to find a replacement for Mark Fisher MP< who decided to stand down on health grounds earlier this week.
According to the Sentinel:
Once the post has been advertised, the NEC selections committee will compile a long-list of candidates, from which regional and local party officials will shortlist a handful of applicants.
I can only wish. I am sorry to be the conveyor of bad news, but the steps are as follows:
1. the long-list will be decided by in secret by persons, possibly Labour Party staff and maybe members of the NEC Special Selections Panel, using as yet unspecified criteria (I continue to live in hope all will be revealed at the next NEC meeting.)
2. interviews and shortlisting will be conducted by a panel of three members of the NEC Special Selections Panel (CLP observer not allowed by a vote of 8 to 1 of the NEC SSP).
Local members will then be offered the chance to attend local husting(s), put questions to the centrally selected candidates and vote. (Be grateful, be ever so ever so grateful.)
The only local consultation to date has been a telephone conference between the Labour Party West Midlands deputy regional director, and a curious pick 'n' mix of CLP officers. The Labour Party Rule Book is very clear about CLP officer posts. Its set out in Chapter 7, Clause IX, paragraph 2
The officers of this CLP shall be; chair, vice-chair, vice-chair/ membership, secretary, treasurer, women’s officer, youth/ student officer and ethnic minorities officer.
The only officers of Stoke Central CLP invited by the West Midlands regional office to take part in the consultation about whether the selection should be an All womens shortlist (AWS) or Open were chair, secretary, treasurer* and women's officer. I have asterisked the treasurer as there is a dispute between the NEC Organisation Committee (aka Org Sub) and Stoke Central about its 2010 AGM, which has been declared nul and void. This is despite the reported failure of the said treasurer to produce audited accounts for either 2008 and 2009. Needless to say there are local concerns about the incumbent who is also alleged not to have attended a CLP meeting for over a year.
Even if there had been a full slate of CLP officers, and there were no suspicions of a regional office agenda that might differ from that of the CLP, there is every likelihood that their advice will be ignored by my NEC 'colleagues'.
What is less certain is whether Mark Fisher's resignation as MP for Stoke Central featured in the Labour Party 2-year plan for Stoke. It keeps being referred to as the 'bible' for all the interventions being undertaken by the Labour Party. It remains as elusive as the Holy Grail. As a member of the NEC, I keep asking for a copy. NEC officers, the senior constitutional officer and regional staff keep barking orders at hapless Labour Party members in Stoke. Meanwhile, the opposition parties threaten to make further electoral ground at Labour's expense. I remain of the view it is unbecoming, petty vengence in the name of the Labour Party National Executive Committee against Labour party members in the city who had the courage to organise to rid Stoke of the despised Blairite elected mayoral model of local govenance.