Complaints Over Labour PPC Selection in Thurrock

Iain Dale is astonished that Thurrock Labour Party have ousted Sarah Mackinlay from their candidate selection process.

13 Nov 2011, 21:11

919_large Sarah Mackinlay
It doesn't matter what party you're in, you like to see fair play in Parliamentary selections. Especially when there are two people you know in the contest. Over the last few weeks, candidates have been vying to be selected as the PPC for Thurrock. One of the candidates is Polly Billington, a close aide to Ed Miliband and someone who is a friend. Another of the potential candidates is Sarah Mackinlay, daughter of Andrew, the independent minded Labour MP, who retired as MP for Thurrock at the last election. Sarah worked for me as editor of Total Politics for a year, and I went to her wedding, so I know her well. Yesterday, the Constituency Labour Party met to shortlist three candidates to put forward to a general meeting.

Today I received an email from a Labour Party insider who was not at the meeting, but clearly knows Sarah well. This is what s(he) reports.

I am writing to let you know what has happened in the Thurrock Labour selection procedure in which you may have been aware Sarah Mackinlay was competing.  The long and the short of it is that yesterday she was excluded from the Labour shortlist in Thurrock by a small cabal of bitter, twisted and supremely mediocre local party officials.  The motivation for this is I believe twofold.  Firstly, (given your experience this will not surprise you) some harbour a twenty-year old grudge against her father and secondly, it is an attempt to clear the path for Polly Billington (Ed Milliband advisor).  Just two candidates have been shortlisted - Polly and a woman from Croydon - Ann Marie Walters (who set foot in the constituency for the first time yesterday appparently).  In my relatively long experience this is without precedent - two candidates for a marginal seat like Thurrock!

I have known Sarah Mackinlay for a long time. She has her faults but I could name several dozen Labour MPs who she is better than (you might be able to do the same from your side of the House).  She is not a Stepford politician - of which there are a swarm.  I know for a fact that whilst she didn't give the performance of her life at the shortlisting meeting, she did easily enough to deserve to be put before the members.

We've seen what happens when constituencies feel they have had someone imposed on them.  Sarah had been working hard and had a body of support (yes part of it built on her father's reputation - but a chunk directly for her).  I think the Thurrock Labour Party is heading for a blood bath and the only beneficiary will be the incumbent.  Of course I realise that in a Party political sense this is none of your concern - indeed you would be quite entitled to revel in it.  But on a personal level I would hope you agree it is an outrage.

I know that many complaints have already been made to the regional secretary of the Labour Party and people who have not supported Sarah are incensed by the unfairness of it.  It threatens to render whichever of the two surviving candidates toxic unless there is some kind of intervention to rectify the injustice.  This can't be good for politics wherever you sit.

On the face of it there seems some very odd goings on here. As I say, I know both Polly and Sarah, but I am sure Polly would want to win fairly and not want any local party members to feel that they were being stitched up by the centre. Experience shows where that can lead.

I suspect this story has a few chapters to go...
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Same in Redditch where Labour have selected a weak candidate in Becky Blake to replace Jacqui Smith.

13/11/2011 21:49

Sounds like an everyday tale from the world of minor league politics. The idea that a selection process might be stacked so as to clear the way for a favoured candidate from the party hierarchy: who'd have thought it.

Unless, like Mr Dale, you have a personal interest, why should anyone care about this?

13/11/2011 22:24

It certainly is a mistake in a marginal seat to be seen to place a preferred 'central' candidate there as the people who do the placing are not there to help with the campaign, that is down to those local members who might feel they have been by-passed. Many an election has been lost in this way and I am surprised that both parties have not learned that lesson by now.

Admittedly we have heard only one side of the story though.

What I don't really understand is why the parties are already selecting candidates at all. Surely the seats they are competing for could be totally different by the time the new boundaries are decided and the next election comes around? A party could be parachuting in a favoured candidate into a marginal seat only to find that it suddenly becomes a complete no-hoper. What then?

14/11/2011 09:28


The simple answer to all this nonsense is open primaries..

The Tories had a successful trial run with this in Totnes. Sarah Wollaston was selected, by an open vote to all voters in Totnes, to be the Conservative candidate.

She then won her seat in the general election.

The Tories have since missed a trick in allowing all their candidates to be selected like this. They could have put Labour onto the back-foot and would have won the last GE in my opinion, if they had gone down that route.

However, both central office and also the local party offices hate giving away any power. It is totally against their natural desire to wield as much of it as possible. Cameron said he wanted localism. Funny how these high ideals never come to fruition once they get their feet in no.10

If we did have open primaries it would instantly move the power back to the electorate, who then decide what it means to be Labour or a Conservative etc. Instead of having it dictated to the electorate by central office. Power would shift from the executive back to the legislature. The EU referendum vote would have been very different if the MPs were more concerned with what their constituents thought, rather than their whips and party leadership.

If you really want to see democracy work in this country again, you should support and shout about open primaries at every opportunity you get Iain.

14/11/2011 14:32

well, any selection process for a PPC that starts off with the premise that only women can apply is unfair from the out.

16/11/2011 13:42

Polly Billington, a close aide to Ed Miliband

If she is a close aide to Ed Miliband she probably approves of the knife in the back approach.

19/11/2011 01:12

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Iain Dale

Iain Dale is publisher of Total Politics, MD of Biteback Publishing & presenter of LBC's evening show.

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