David Maddox: Labour selection process in spotlight

EmilyThornberry resigned from the shadow cabinet after being accused of snobbery for posting this picture. Picture: PA
EmilyThornberry resigned from the shadow cabinet after being accused of snobbery for posting this picture. Picture: PA
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NEWS that Gordon Brown is to step down as an MP at the next election led to an inevitable round of frenzied speculation in the Labour Party over who will get his seat? It’s not an easy question to answer.

Selection is proving to be a problem that lies at the heart of allegations of “snobbery” among the party’s high command, fuelled by former shadow cabinet member Emily Thornberry’s “sneering” tweet of a house draped in England flags with a white van parked outside.

Backbencher David Lammy claimed the party was “culturally adrift” from its core voters and Simon Danczuk complained it had been taken over by a “North London liberal elite”.

Part of the problem is the deeply unpopular all-women shortlists that appear to be suspended only for the well-connected, such as former leader Neil Kinnock’s son Stephen, former foreign secretary Jack Straw’s son Will or deputy leader Harriet Harman’s husband, Jack Dromey. This leads to a perception that Labour’s safe seats are ending up with a middle-class elite – or “new establishment” – at the expense of working-class ones with local links, causing a disconnect with voters.

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An example of this is an ongoing row over the selection in Glenrothes – next door to Mr Brown’s constituency – following former headteacher Lindsay Roy’s decision to retire. There, an all-woman shortlist was imposed against the wishes of the constituency, but the selection process made it even worse.

A 33-year-old London-based charity worker, Melanie Ward, treasurer of the highly influential Labour Women’s Network, won the selection vote, but allegations have been made that she was given an unfair advantage.

According to constituency party treasurer Peter Moreton, members, including himself, were informed of the selection process only on 7 April, so he questioned how Ms Ward was able to send her pitch to members on 4 April. He alleged the process had been “rigged”, although Ms Ward won more than half the votes.

Meanwhile, local candidate Julie Macdougall, the daughter of a former MP for the seat, who came second, has been refused details of postal votes, which were unusually high, and the register of those who voted.

The party’s auditor has said there is no case to reopen the vote, but the experience has lost Glenrothes members, some of whom have resigned.

The Rev Richard Baxter resigned after 30 years of membership, warning: “If they can’t hold the support of people like me, they could be in for a nasty shock, especially if a credible local independent candidate appears.”

This may become true for Labour right across the UK if it does not address its elitist image.

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