Selection Controversy

There was a selection some time ago, in a safe Labour seat when a Labour government had been in power for a long time. On the shortlist were two former MPs and the 24-year-old son of a Labour Peer who had been at public school and Oxford and had held no political offices since leaving university.

The CLP selected the 24-year-old. His name was Tony Benn.”

David Boothroyd, over at Tom Harris’s blog

I don’t think anything else really needs to be said about the history of Labour party selections. But I’m going to do it anyway.

You know what I want people to do about selections?

Stop whining. Stop whinging. In fact, stop doing anything that begins with Whin.

Two things, and two things only, get people selected for parliamentary seats. Hard work and luck. You can’t control one, so focus on the other.

Here’s a question I once asked myself: Why aren’t I an MP?

Lots of answers sprang to mind. Oooh, All women shortlists. Oooh, not part of a union faction. Oooh, don’t have a big enough public profile. Oooh, my dad’s not a Labour peer, a councillor or a Union official.

In each case I could point to people of my rough age and station who were women, were politically connected through their families, were famous or part of some internal faction, and had therefore been selected to be a parliamentary candidate for the Labour party.

Fortunate them. accursed me. My cries were bootless.

But all of those things are rubbish, B*****t excuses.

The real reason I’m not an MP is because I haven’t worked hard enough to be one and having not worked hard enough I didn’t somehow luckbox my way into a seat.

When a selection came up in Somewhereorotherville South, did I go up there every weekend to knock on doors and campaign with the party? No.

When Tom Oldbloke MP announced his decision to stand down in 2005 did I camp out in the constituency to get the selection? No.

So I can’t complain.

It’s simple. Being a candidate take work, lots of it.

It’s easier, if you’re connected, sure, ask Tony Benn.

It’s easier if you’re famous. Ask Michael Cashman.

It’s easier too, if you’re impossibly good looking. Ask me. (cough)

But even if you have all these qualities, someone can still outwork you, out campaign you, out argue you.

Truth be told, if they can do that you don’t deserve to be an MP, no matter how old, experienced or politically thoughtful you are.

So here’s the question I want to ask those who are complaining about Erith and Thamesmead – with all your experience, savvy and political wisdom, if you can’t beat a 22 year old with no experience in politics for a parliamentary selection, what makes you such a great candidate?

Oh, and while I’m at it.

You know who are the absolute worst for whinging about this stuff, whose worst for complaining about selections like Erith?

People like me. Twenty and Thirty something men, moaning quietly into our beer over All Women Shortlists. Waaah, we go. ‘snot fair we go.

Please, Shut up.

No really. Shut Up.

Yes, it’s unfair. Yes, it’s cruel to see a seat you’d have a good chance for go to someone else. But you know what, politics isn’t about giving us a job.

Sure, the current selection processes favour young women with a university degree who are politically connected. But so what? They’re still having to work damn hard to get selected. They’re still bloody good and what’s more, there’s still a million other ways to contribute to the onward march of socialism.

So they got lucky. For this brief moment in time, it’s a bit better to be a young, politically ambitious, university educated, Labour woman than a young, politically ambitious, university educated, Labour man. So what?  Get over it and do something useful.  Work harder. Do something that isn’t about selection. Put your shoulder to the wheel and just get on with it. But please, stop whinging.

OK, this all sounds a bit harsh. I can understand how annoying seeing someone younger, more politically connected and just plain luckier than you get ahead. I can feel that too. But it doesn’t matter. It’s still stupid to whinge.

This post is as much a memo to myself as it is anything. If I want ever to be an MP, (which maybe, at some level I do one day, who knows) the challenge for me is to work my backside off for anyone who’ll have me, so that any other choice seems ludicrous, not to stand around complaining about how tough the breaks were and how hard a course I had to run.

So I guess if anyone who’s going for a selection can’t do that, and can’t do it better than anyone else around, then frankly my dears, we don’t deserve it.

So quit whinging.

38 Responses to “Selection Controversy”

  1. Sam

    On all-women shortlists, I’m watching the Speakers Conference where the Tories and Lib Dems are making feeble attempts to explain why they won’t implement them.

    Blokes who say it’s unfair should take a look current situation and see the other factors which make it harder for women to enter parliament.

    When Dawn Butler entered parliament for the first time a Tory said to her “They’ll let anyone in here nowadays.” Only Labour has a record for making difficult decisions on equal representation.

  2. Half the Story Told

    Is Erith and Thamesmead an open selection or is it being organised centrally?

    If it is an open and democratic process and no subterfuge is being organised then all is fair then….. But if people are struggling to Unite under the process and people think it is as clear as (Campbell’s) pea soup, then it all smells funny, doesn’t it?

    This Boothroyd Mk2.

    Having checked the stats since the constituency was formed is is not below 50% for Austin. It would take turkleys voting for Xmas to elect anyone other than a Labour MP here.

    Why hasn’t the golden child sunk her teeth in less Labour seats and learnt her skills that way, rather than trying to be foisted onto the E&T Labour party with no affiliation with the constituency. Jesus wept, cannot see her supping pints down the local, or doing a stint at Belmarsh.

    This is the last lashing of Tonyisms.

  3. Mark

    Thank god some common sense.

    Politics isn’t always about middle class white university educated males, even though we’d often like it to be, and even though its often been that way.

    And the sooner everyone “gets” that, the better

  4. hopisen


    E&T is AWS, afiak.

    In all honesty, I don’t really know what’s happening in E&T – which doesn’t seem to stop people going on and on about it.

    As far as i can tell, Georgia Gould is running a pretty high profile campaign. For the life of me I can’t understand what’s supposed to be wrong with that.

    People are also complaining that various new Labour panjandrums are supporting her, which I think is funny because I thought being new labour was supposed to be the kiss of death at the grass roots.

    As for the questions of whether she’d be any good or not, that’s for the members to decide. I’ve certainly got no clue?

    There’s this implication in some of the stuff I’ve read that they’re somehow incompetent at making up their own minds, and would be corrupted by someone turning up at their door and saying hello, would you like to vote for me, here’s a postal vote form if you do. That makes no sense to me at all, tbh.

    I think there’s also an argument about the regional party intervening. That could have merit to it, but I’ve been involved in enough selctions to know that there’s a lot of reasons for a regional party to step in, and most of them have very little to do with fixing the selection for a particular candidate.

  5. Brian Hughes

    It does seem odd, especially given that some of us spend so much of our precious time trying to convince the good folk of Britain that it’s their civic duty to vote (and to vote Labour) whenever the opportunity presents itself, that some members of our party seem to tut tut at the idea that a candidate for an internal election (eg a selection) might also go in for a bit of communicating with those eligible to vote.

    My strategy of sitting around waiting for someone to spot my huge potential and parachute me into a safe Labour seat (preferably south of Worcester) has not, alas, yet produced a satisfactory outcome. Better luck next lifetime perchance.

  6. Chris

    Very well put Hopi. There are far more talented people who want to become MPs than there are seats available, so it does come down to hard work and luck.

    And then it is up to the votes of those of us who choose to join a political party. In my local party we went through a selection last year and I was astonished by the hard work and effort put in by all the serious candidates. In the end the top two candidates were the two who had been working hard for several years and – as it happens – the members chose the youngest and the only one on the shortlist who had not been a councillor. But it was our choice and we continue to be very satisfied with that choice.

    Those of us who “would like to be an MP” but are not prepared to put in the time – or turn members off when calling on them – probably are the wrong people to become MPs.

  7. Chris

    On all-women shortlists. Yes, it’s not ideal, but we had a 100 years of open lists and the result was fewer women in the Commons than men named John!

    So find me a better solution and I will withdraw support for AWS.

  8. Adam

    It’s funny that you never hear anyone complaining about candidates running high profile selection campaigns in constituencies that don’t have a 10k+ Labour majority isn’t it?

    In fact some constituencies struggle to find a decent parliamentary candidate at all.

    Totally agree with your comments about putting in the work. There are loads of young, committed Labour members who think they can wander into a seat and become an MP – not realising that every Labour MP elected in 1997 had to put in the hard work to win their seats.

    On another point – there has lots been made about the fact the Erith and Thamesmead selection is being organised centrally. Having been quite involved with the selection process in a small consituency with few members, fewer affiliates and even fewer candidates I can’t see what the complaint is? Running a selection like this is a near full time job!

  9. newmania

    You do tick some of the boxes for being a Labour MP Hopi . Never had a job , employed more or less by the Labour Party . Your prospects are infinitely better than mine and you are the right colour as well.( I think)
    There are fair few Hopi Sens in Parliament , there is no-one like me, and there never will be.
    I find the sight of a girl who has had everything handed to her setting out on a career of telling me I do not have the right to keep my money rather nauseating .
    How can she understand unemployment when she has never really needed to keep a job (and watched the Public Sector coast through). How can she understand what gas prices do when she has never left home.
    How can she understand what the holiday extension or car that she will remove means when she has not had to work at a job you do not like , like the rest of us.

    As you point out , its nothing new .

  10. Dave

    You make some good points about life experience to which I would repond with two words.

    George Osbourne.

    Rich, well connected, never had a proper job, little expereience of ordinary life and no idea whast it means to go without (I’m not actually sure he’s left home or owns a pair of long trousers, but that is supposition).

    Come to think of it, most of the above also applies to David Cameron and much of the Tory front bench. How can they represent ordinary hard working families?

    Are you sure you are in the right party? Envy, class hatred – The Force is strong within you Newmania – come over to the dark, er light, side!

    As for Mr Sen he has had a proper job, but he is quite big enough to fight his own battles, so I wont!

    And Hopi – I broadly agree with you, especially about luck! Best advice I ever had – Get over it!

  11. Roscoe Jenkins

    Fair enough piece, however, what about those people who slog their guts out in the constituency where they were born and bred; a constituency that has had a gulliver’s travels female MP who spends more time in Iraq than her constituency, for what feels like forever; people who want nothing else other than do do the outmost for their constituency and its constituents – BUT lo and behold you can guarantee when the seat comes up for selection a great deal of those ‘people’ will be discriminated again purely due to the fact they were born with a the wrong genitals

  12. Adam

    @Roscoe Jenkins

    Fair enough point but stop whinging and whining!

    This is where the luck part of the equation comes in. Just because you put lots of hard work in shouldn’t be a guarantee to claiming the seat and becoming the MP.

    You know what are these guys doing? Spending their whole life working hard in a particular area just to become the MP? Isn’t putting in the hard work for the people of that area reward enough? If you have a track record of being a hard worker you ought to be able to demonstrate this to another constituency that is not AWS.

  13. hopisen

    Roscoe – actually, I agree with you. that can be pretty gutwrenching. But again, the hard work applies – want to be selected as a man at the moment? Then you can’t rely on inheriting a seat. So if you really want to help people you can either help in other ways, or find another seat.

    Oh, I should also say one other thing. I don’t mean to criticise _any_ of the candidates in E&T. I’ve no idea how good or hardworking any of them are. They might be brilliant.

    Oh, and you can be good, hardworking, impressive and still lose. That hurts, especially if it’s close. But as they say in Baltimore, it’s all part of the game, yo.

  14. newmania

    You make some good points about life experience to which I would repond with two words.Are you sure you are in the right party? Envy, class hatred – The Force is strong within you Newmania – come over to the dark, er light, side!
    To some extent what you say is fair , naturally there is class resentment between the lower middleclass who vote Conservative and the Upper Middleclass who on occasion control the Party. It is however via representatives ,a fairly even battle , with an infinity of gradations and connections . None of these people expect life to become fair or would dream of allowing politicians enough power to force that state into being .
    Conservatism exists to accommodate what people are not turn them into something they are not , so the use of influence is tolerated and so we grumblingly get along.
    This is a great deal less irritating than seeing a parasite no nothing dynastically privileged New Labour token clothes horse sit on Question Time telling us how we do not deserve to keep the money we make and should be obliged to give it to her so she can chuck it at charitable causes. This , to show how much better ‘she’ is , morally , than the people who do all the work .

    Now thats annoying

  15. newmania

    BTW Speaking of Tony Benn-his granddaughter Emily has been chosen as the party’s candidate for East Worthing and Shoreham at 19.
    I suppose for all I say Hopi has never had a job when he has to make get tea and do her dry cleaning that won`t all be beer and skittles for him either.

  16. Obnoxio The Clown

    Yeah, I can see how hardworking people like Dawn “Yes we can” Butler and Diane “Private education for MY kids” Abbott earned their seats.

  17. hopisen

    “never had a real job”

    You sell your soul to advanced capitalism for five years, and no-one even notices…


  18. Tony

    I reckon the record for selection-battle success must go to Frank ‘Lazarus’ Doran (Lab, Aberdeen North) whose assiduous courting of local members and working of postal ballots led him to a number of victories by the skin of his teeth.

    Among his wins were those against sitting MP Bob Hughes in 1995 (by a single vote) for the newly-established Aberdeen Central seat.

    He did it again when the boundary commission abolished his constituency and merged it with Aberdeen North for the 2005 election. Here he defeated another Labour incumbent, Malcolm Savidge, to secure the nomination by another slender margin.

    Taken together with his original selection for Aberdeen South in 1987, has anyone had to fight harder for a patch of Parliamentary real estate? I seem to remember Margaret Hodge has some game when it comes to tough selections, but can’t recall details.

    Norris and Lovenduski’s Political Recruitment (Cambridge) is a great resource for understanding why you (we) are not an MP. Also includes a number of great shaggy dog stories about the sheer perseverance and bloody mindedness employed by many of those who made it.

    For the record, I admire this ‘school of hard knocks’ approach to getting to the top and – no matter what their talents – am quite suspicious of yet more very well connected youngsters getting straight in to Parliament. I mean, she could at least have spent a few years as a union researcher first which would have given here a bit of cover against miserable misogynist youth-hating pricks like me.


  19. hopisen

    Me too, Tony. I’m suspicious of those who have it easy, but I want it to be easy for me!

    I’m such a hypocrite… more seriously, i’d be more liekly to vote for someone who’d earned their knocks, but can’t see the value in complaining about someone who can inspire a CLP to look past their age and inexperience, even if what got them in front of the audience in the first place is sheer good fortune.

  20. vulpus_rex

    Hopi – Youre contrived insouciance is nauseating and frankly epitomises everything that is wrong with new labour.

    This girl has used her parents’ wealth and connections to buy her way into a safe seat and the best you can come up with is faux indifference?

    Why did you waste three years at Oxford learning to train as an apologist for crap?

  21. Chas

    “there’s still a million other ways to contribute to the onward march of socialism.”

    The only direction socialism marches is backwards.

  22. Terry

    There is nothing wrong with a 22 year old trying to become an MP though it would appear there is something wrong in how Georgia Gould is getting selected.

    The argument that a lack of experience leads to a lack of empathy is the same specious justification for all women shortlists. Demanding greater female representation in Parliament is to imply that male MPs are somehow shortchanging female constituents. I do not care for the gender, age, colour or religion of my MP, GP, Police, teachers, councillors, binmen or whatever – simply that they do their job competently. Plenty of MPs are not – they are prats, idiots, grasping chancers and Party lickspittals but gender has nothing to do with that.

    An MP is there to represent their constituents. Some are young, some are old, some are men, some are women. The MP cannot be all of those in one. All that matters is if they are any good at their job.

  23. John

    It’s clear we need more young MPs, and people need to get over their hangups about that. Of course, the best way to ensure that is to make sure it’s not people like Gould, but ordinary kids. Nonetheless, I’d rather have her any day than some boring 40-something man in a suit. And let’s face it, did Cameron, Miliband or Osborne ever do a real job? Not really. So she’s as qualified as them. She’s just young and female.

  24. hopisen

    vulpus rex

    a) How do you know she’s not the best thing to hit politics since, oh, the last MP elected in their early-mid twenties?
    b) If she wins, it’ll be because labour party members voted for her – all the other stuff might be annoying to those of us like me who don’t have the money, connections or whatever, but the whole point of my post is that you don’t whine about that, you get on and do something about it by working harder and getting more people to vote for you.
    c)I’ll have you know I wasted my three years at Oxford drinking, eating kebabs and trying to persuade women to find me attractive. part of the reason I’m not an MP, that.

  25. newmania

    I thought you went to Newcastle ? You went to Oxford ?

    Is this the real Oxford of the Little Chef near Oxford a la Draper

  26. Duncan

    And see all those straw men blow away in the wind…

    Sorry – but I don’t see what any of that has to do with questions about processes, procedures and events in Erith and Thamesmead.

    If you want the rules changed – push for a change; I might support you. In the meantime, do we not have to be guided by the rules as they are?

    Presumably you agree that ripping up ballot papers is not just hard work? (I know we don’t know who did that – I very much doubt it was a candidate or somebody very close to a candidate; but it at least, if nothing else, justifies people taking a concerned interest in this selection).

  27. Tantric Lover

    Hopi you are a God. This piece is spot on. I am sick of people who can’t get selected moaning and blaming it on anything other than perhaps the party members just don’t want them. All Women Shortlists aren’t perfect but we have to do something about gender equality in parliament. As Gwyneth Dunwoody once said ‘we will know we have true equality once there are as many mediocre women in parliament as there are mediocre men’.
    this is a very thoughtful and intelligent article.

  28. hopisen

    Duncan, I agree with what you say about selection processes. But Like I say, I’ve been involved with enough selection controversies to be cautious about who to blame for something.

    Which reminnds me: I am soooo glad I never had to manage selections in councils when we had to increase the number of women on councils, for example. Some of the stuff that went on then was shameful, and most (though not all) of it was directed against good, young women. Regional Officers were the unsung heroes of gender equality then, and got little but abuse for it.

  29. Duncan

    Just to clarify, Hopi – I support all-women shortlists. I’m in favour of positive action. I’m glad that all members can participate in parliamentary selections rather than just a the GC or selection conference. And I don’t think age or wealthy relatives should have any impact on whether you can be a candidate in a parliamentary selection (though, of course, the ‘selectorate’ are at liberty to bear such things in mind when choosing, if it matters to them).

    However – I don’t think the bulk of the comment on this subject has been about any of that. It seems, actually to come down to two things:

    1) What are the rules, and are they selectively followed / implemented, and should they be changed?

    2) How on earth did ballot papers get torn up in Labour HQ?

    Why am I particularly concerned about this? Not because I’ve twice been a defeated nominee for a parliamentary selection: I’ve no complaints about the processes or procedures on either occasion – I was beaten fair and square. I am concerned not so much at the notion that the party machine ‘parachutes in’ favoured candidates but that it might do absolutely everything in its power to prevent candidates considered ‘beyond the pale’. Such a notion goes to the very heart of what Alice Mahon was saying the other day, when she suggested that there was no longer any avenue open for people like her in the Labour Party.

    As I’ve commented elsewhere, I hope she’s wrong.


    Take the rules. I’ve a lot of sympathy for the idea that a candidate saying to members, ‘have you thought about taking out a postal vote? Do you want any help?’ etc is just showing initiative. It’s clearly against the rules and aganst the code of conduct, but perhaps it shouldn’t be.

    But, I suspect were I to do it, the rules would be recollected very clearly. I know what you’re thinking: “Waa ‘snot fair!” But are you sure I’m wrong? So you end up with different types of candidates. Those who follow the letter of the law, fearful every moment that somebody will find an excuse to disqualify them. And those for whom the Code of Conduct was not an especially serious document.

    And if something goes wrong with the machine, and the ‘wrong’ person is selected? Well you’d better pray your past is whiter-than-white. You don’t have to be a Tory wife to be a victim of a smear campaign, as the very short-lived previous PPC for Calder Valley found out.

    So if I ask questions about Erith & Thamesmead, please be clear that it is nothing to do with AWS, nothing to do with the age or alleged wealth of one candidate (who seems to have had an extraordinary amount of publicity in all of this). No, my question is about why a selection was taken out of the hands of the local party and local procedures secretary, and taken over by the central party; why the same central party cancelled local short-listing and put all candidates forward to the hustings; how ballot boxes stored by the Labour Party could be broken into and sealed postal votes torn up, thus cancelling the selection and leading to the other postal votes being destroyed. That’s without mentioning concerns about the application of the rules to the ‘harvesting’ of postal votes, or the cost of some of the glossy publicity material.

    I’ve never known such a thing happen in a local contest, where postal votes were collected by the procedures secretary and votes were validated and counted by the local party.

    So, sorry to keep banging on about it. But it is only because I don’t think a fraction of the questions about it have been answered yet.

  30. hopisen

    Duncan – very reasonable points, all of them.

    I can think of quite a few selections where the broadly “left” candidate won recently, against a broadly “right” candidate – Katy Clark, Chuka U, so it’s not as if there’s some grand conspiracy against all left candidates, I was really surprised when John Cryer lost for example, and there was no suggestion that this was because he’d been nobbled.

    I’ve been involved in three selections where the regional party took over. The first was one where the party had a history of vicious infighting, and there was a real danger that if one faction controlled the selection the other faction would reject the candidate. They ended up with an outside candidate because the NEC/ local shortlisters decided against all the local candidates to lance that boil.

    The second was a very late retirement in 2001, and was because the process was extremely cumbersone and the timescale was tight, and the third was a by-election.

    Did we “rig” the selections? Not at all – if a “left wing” candidate had been selected we’d have been fine with it, and one of them did select a fairly (but not very) left wing candidate because she stormed the husting.

    Our objective was to prevent internal strife and produce a candidate the local party could live with.

    Were there accusations we had rigged it? In every case. Mind you, none of that compared to mayoral and local council selections!

    Party officers do have a mixed remit. They have to bring on talent, encourage people to work and get people elected. They also have to work to the agenda of the NEC – ensuring more women are selected, and following the rules the NEC sets for a selection. It wasn’t the Gen Sec who produced the welsh and London selection processes that caused so much ire, but the NEC.

    That said, the era of the party offical as civil servant is gone, thank god, and that mixed role can produce conflicts and suspicions.

    Personally, I favour a level playing field – a spending cap rigorously enforced, freedom to contact members, party organised socials and hustings, and a chance to see the candidates on the doorstep. (Mind you, I also think the way the right of unions to nominate and fund is sometimes used needs to be looked at to. Unite being so big has prduced some unintended consequences)

    Are there questions about E&T ? Absolutely, but as you say they’re not the ones about which candidate deserves to be chosen, only the local members can decide that, but how ballots could have been interfered with. I’ve never heard of that in a party selection before.

    However, this perfectly legitimate concern has largely been ignored in favour of an argument about whether one particular candidate deserved to be selected, much of which sank to the level of an extended rant.

  31. Duncan

    A very interesting reply, Hopi – thanks. It does raise another question, for me, which is – why was this selection taken out of the local party’s hands? I know of no great rifts in the local party (it’s not a constituency I know, but I’ve spoken to some local members lately, and there hasn’t been any suggestion of anything like that); John Austin’s anouncement was not late and didn’t take anybody alarmingly by surprise, and obviously it wasn’t a by-election (where you do expect the selection to be run rather differently). I saw one reference to a suggestion that a candidate had complained about the local organisation, but as some of the newspaper comment appears to have been very wide of the mark, I didn’t know how much credence to lend that. But that’s a big question.

    On the broader point of whether the left are always stopped. Clearly not – although Katy’s selection was some time ago now (she’s nearly served a full term as an MP). I don’t think anybody will have tried to stop my two selection attempts because they were in safe Tory seats and a local (or local-ish) ‘firebrand’ may even have been desirable (so long as I didn’t make too many headlines outside the constituency, and didn’t win!) But in winnable seats – and safe seats – I do get the impression it is a little bit different. I’m not suggesting there will always be an attempt to stop the most left candidate, but I do fear that candidates seen as so-called ‘hard left’ are considered beyond the pale for high-profile seats.

    Having said all of that – I agree with you on a lot of points. A rigorously enforced spending cap seems a very sensible idea (it is rather surprising that there is only a donations cap as things stand) – I was quite staggered by some of the sums of money that have been mentioned in recent days. Whatever the rules end up being on postal voting, I think they should be clear and rigorously enforced too (even if we change to much more flexible rules – even opting for an out-and-out OMOV postal vote, entirely seperate from the hustings might be better than the rather confused picture that currently exists). I even agree on the union point – I entirely support the idea of affiliate union branches being amongst those bodies that nominate, and that unions can have an organising role (subject the same rules referred to above) but it the opportunities for union nomination and backing should not be closed off to some candidates and as many members should be involved as possible.

    So there’s quite a lot of agreement really – even though I am very concerned about the current situation.


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