Selections: The NEC has serious questions to answer

By Ewan Cameron

Imagine if, during a general election campaign, a government committee sent out a letter to your local constituency declaring that in an upcoming election the local choice for Labour candidate would be barred from standing. How would you feel? Pretty angry right? Now imagine how much more angry you would be if not only were you not told who was on the selection committee but there was no attempt at all to explain why this exclusion was made.

This sounds like an extremely authoritarian government that none of us would like to live under. So then that raises the awkward question, why is the Labour party run in this way when it comes to candidate selections?

In the last few weeks, we’ve seen this scenario played out in Ealing, in Enfield North, Nottingham East, and Coventry to name a few. Each one has a unique set of circumstances, but in general a pattern has played out: Local branches and CLPs select local candidates; these local candidates invest considerable mental, physical and financial energy to campaign to represent their area; The NEC step in and declare that the process belongs to them; the NEC release a list of candidates that exclude many popular local candidates from running with no reason given at all.

It must be devastating for those people who put themselves forward, particularly the ones who have been long time servants of the party, who have tirelessly worked as CLP officers, councillors, volunteering, knocking on doors, sacrificing their time to help get our party into government to be met with this cold impersonal rebuttal from the Party leadership. The message from the NEC, as there is no official one, can only be interpreted as “Thanks for the help getting us elected, but we don’t want you joining us in leadership”

The divide between the Labour membership and the PLP is an ongoing one. For decades, the privileges of the PLP party have been slowly chipped away, for instance they once were sole electors of the party leader, and yet for many in the party the drip of democratic reform isn’t good enough. During the 2016 leadership elections, there was the very real possibility that Jeremy Corbyn, failing to attract PLP support, would be left off the ballot paper even as incumbent. It was only an NEC vote, which at 18-14 was far from a landslide, that allowed him to stand.

At that time, it felt like “if we can just control the NEC, then we can reform this party”, and for a time it felt like that was what had happened. When the NEC and the members pull together, it’s an exhilarating feel of solidarity. However, when the NEC imposes its will on the members it not only disappoints us but it sours all the past experiences too. Were we really pulling together at other times, or was it just coincidence that the members and the NEC aligned?

We thought that parachuting candidates or stitching up the selection process was a thing of the past. That “local democracy” was going to mean something and that constituencies and branches were going to be respected as individual, vibrant centres of power in their own right and not simply blank, anonymous places on a map for which the centralised power could project themselves onto. Its clearer now that local CLP sovereignty over candidate selection must be on the agenda for change going forward.

Is it too unfair to blame the NEC for this? Perhaps they had good reasons for subverting local democracy? Some great Labour members live in places with an incumbent MP who will have been there for decades. In that case, parachuting is their only hope of being an MP. Yet this too reflects the need for the Labour party to redesign itself, so that becoming an MP isn’t the only way to be a agent of change. Even if we won every single seat in the Commons, there would still be thousands of supremely talented and committed members without a seat, thus we must look at ways that MPs can devolve their own power for their members. It would certainly reduce the bitterness that accompanies candidate selection.

Yet the major problem here is the NEC.  Firstly the members cannot be properly held to account because for some reason minutes are not published, which seems like a bizarre institutional holdover.  It’s not as if Labour has nuclear launch codes.

Secondly, even if they have mountains of work to do, even if they are blissfully ignorant of the ways in which their actions have caused feelings of hurt and frustration, there is no excuse for not telling candidates who made the decision and why. That’s just a basic minimum of manners and respect that you would expect, not just from party bureaucracy to rank and file but from anyone.

 

The Current Members of the NEC are:

Leader of the Labour Party

· Jeremy Corbyn MP

Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

· Tom Watson MP

Treasurer

· Diana Holland

Opposition Front Bench

· Rebecca Long-Bailey MP

· Jon Trickett MP

· Diane Abbott MP

EPLP Leader

· Richard Corbett MEP

Young Labour

· Lara McNeill

Trade Unions

· Kathy Abu-Bakir (GMB)

· Joanne Cairns (USDAW)

· Andi Fox (TSSA)

· Mark Ferguson (UNISON)

· Jim Kennedy (Unite)

· Andy Kerr (CWU)

· Pauline McCarthy (BFAWU)

· Ian Murray (FBU)

· Cllr Wendy Nichols (UNISON)

· Sarah Owen (GMB)

· Jayne Taylor (Unite)

· Cllr Michael Wheeler (USDAW)

· Mick Whelan (ASLEF)

Socialist Societies and BAME Labour

· Cllr James Asser (Socialist Societies)

· Keith Vaz MP (BAME Labour)

CLPs

· Cllr Yasmine Dar

· Huda Elmi

· Rachel Garnham

· Ann Henderson

· Jon Lansman

· Navendu Mishra

· Cllr Claudia Webbe

· Darren Williams

· Peter Willsman

Labour Councillors

· Cllr Nick Forbes

· Cllr Alice Perry

PLP/EPLP

· Dame Margaret Beckett MP

· Sir George Howarth MP

· Shabana Mahmood MP

Scottish Labour and Welsh Labour

· Richard Leonard MSP (Leader of the Scottish Labour Party)

· Mick Antoniw AM (Welsh Labour Representative)