The selection of a candidate for Rotherham by-election has brought into focus the system that allows the NEC to take over the normal selection process.
Members were given two names to choose between. A very short short-list drawn up by the NEC, not the CLP. At the selection meeting a large number of members, between 100 and 140, walked out in protest. The meeting selected Sarah Champion, chief executive of a children’s hospice. The defeated candidate was Sophy Gardner, a former RAF wing commander. No one is disputing that she will make a good candidate, but that isn’t the point.
By-elections have a shorter time-scale than standard selections and this is used as the justification for the short-listing being the responsibility of the NEC. But this has been exploited by the party on several occasions, usually to exclude a popular local candidate.
As Mark Ferguson on Labour List put it: “But truth be told I’m no longer sure that increased transparency is enough to satisfy the deep and long lasting mistrust that has built up amongst Labour Party members towards the central party machine. It’s time to consider whether or not the NEC should really be conducting the shortlisting meetings, or whether a mixed NEC/CLP panel might be more appropriate. But regardless, what we saw last night can’t be repeated. In the Labour Party it doesn’t matter whether selections are stitch ups or not anymore – perception is everything. And last night’s selection looked awful.”
There are lessons for us in Scotland from this debacle in our own review of candidate selection for the Scottish Parliament. Excluding branches from the process is rarely necessary on time grounds alone and should not be the default position.