The Grown-Ups Will Choose Your MP, Thanks

The plebs can’t be trusted.

by Moya Lothian-McLean

5 June 2024

Labour leader Keir Starmer. Phil Noble/Reuters

Did you hear the one about the two biggest parties in Britain deciding to bypass democracy altogether and the national news completely ignoring the story? 

Forgive me, I’ve forgotten the punchline. In brief, Labour has been accused of outright “corruption” by the veteran journalist (and self-described “Blairite”) Michael Crick thanks to how it’s picked the people to stand for the parliament on behalf of the party. And the Tories haven’t fared much better. Let’s get into it.

Before a person can stand for parliament on behalf of a party, they have to be approved by the party itself. This is called the ‘selection process’. Selection processes between parties differ, but they usually involve an internal committee approving candidates and local party members also having significant input into who makes it onto the ballot. 

Except the 2024 election has seen both of Britain’s dominant parties decide this system doesn’t reflect the urgent need to, erm, boost a load of lobbyists and ex-Westminster special advisors into safe seats across the country. 

Labour’s rigging of the system has probably been the most egregious. You’ve likely heard about the leftwing ‘purge’ that saw candidates like Faiza Shaheen blocked from standing, and existing MPs like Lloyd Russell-Moyle deselected on the flimsiest of excuses. These decisions were handed down by Labour’s national executive committee (NEC), the body that rubber stamps candidates for parliament. 

As it happens, while the NEC was blocking the likes of Shaheen, it was simultaneously approving the candidacies of fellow NEC members – without any input from local constituency members. In one particularly farcical example, Labour First-backed candidate Gurinder Singh Josan was confirmed as the candidate for Smethwick just a day after he sat on a three-person panel that decided Shaheen would “frustrate Labour’s purpose” based on 14 tweets she’d posted or ‘liked’ since 2014. Self-proclaimed ‘Zionist shitlord’ Luke Akehurst was also one of the lucky NEC bods to get the green light to stand from his colleagues. Labour members in North Durham, where he’s standing, had no say in the Oxford-based Akehurst’s selection. 

In some of these cases, candidates are filling seats left empty by conveniently last minute resignations of a raft of longtime Labour MPs, with the Sunday Times alleging peerages are on the table for those willing to give up their seats to Starmer allies. Looks like the House of Lords won’t be abolished anytime soon…

This isn’t a new precedent for Labour; Tony Blair was at it in 1997. But the types of people these departures set for the stage for is troubling, such as Josh Simons, director of the powerful, shady pro-Starmer think tank Labour Together. Essex-based Simons has been handed one of the safest Labour seats in the country, near Wigan, and according to reporting by the Manchester Mill, locals are up in arms. It’s a discontent that’s widespread, from Swansea to East Sussex

While the Conservatives haven’t displayed their manoeuvring as openly as Labour, a similar story is taking place: CCHQ has been imposing candidates in constituencies, with local associations having selections ignored or not even registered in the first place. In Southend East and Rochford, the former Conservative mayor voiced her discontent at a shortlist of “three outsiders” foisted on voters there, while in Portsmouth, local Conservative members appear to be in open revolt, rejecting the candidate picked by CCHQ. 

All of this adds up to further souring the relationship between party headquarters in Westminster and local grassroots activists who keep the dream alive on the ground between elections. Further centralising power in London – and circumventing democracy – in this manner bodes well for no one: it leaves our top two parties unaccountable to members outside the M25, and also fills the Commons with craven careerists, rather than talented people who want to do their best for their constituency. Heed this sordid episode: it’s setting the tone for the next five years.

The article was adapted from our newsletter The Cortado. For more general election analysis straight into your inbox, click here.

Moya Lothian-McLean is a contributing editor at Novara Media.

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