Parachutes ahoy!

My word, isn’t Murder In Suburbia a load of cobblers? Entertaining and strangely addictive cobblers though, much in the Midsomer vein.

But now to more serious matters. There being an election coming up, candidates are being selected all over the place. There are selections of interest here, of course, but I’d like to turn to politics over in Britland for the moment. Since the Labour Party, as is normal in these pre-election periods, is having the odd outbreak of dissent over parachutism, then as the 27th most influential Labour blogger (according to Total Politics) it’s incumbent on me to cover this.

As is the way of these spats in this age of new media, accusations are pinging their way around the Labour blogosphere. National treasure Paul Flynn MP smells a stitch-up in Pontypridd. Meanwhile, Peter Kenyon has been banging on at some length about party selection procedures and the need to avoid even the appearance of stitch-ups. This in turn has provoked Luke Akehurst into performing his standard role as the Labour blogosphere’s resident Chief Wiggum, telling the broad masses, “Move along folks, nothing to see here.”

The thing is that, even if Luke is correct on all the facts, the optics are still problematic. And Luke does, as he always does even when he’s defending the indefensible, put up a spirited argument. From the left’s point of view, it is nice to see John Cryer getting the Leyton and Wanstead nomination, and NUM president Ian Lavery getting the nod for Wansbeck – that should be two more warm bodies for the Campaign Group, and both have I believe been sympathetic to the LRC. Since, with a quarter of Labour MPs retiring, there are an enormous number of new candidates who are largely unheard of, it’s hard for anyone not an obsessive Labour Party nerd to get a sense of who they are. Many, though, do seem to be long-serving local councillors.

Set against that, I’ve no doubt whatsoever that there are seats being squared away for well-connected greasy pole ascenders. Countervailing tendencies are that Labour’s dire straits might put off some of the weaker-willed careerists, and since the Georgia Gould fiasco in Erith the leadership seem to have trod a little more carefully when it comes to managing CLPs. There’s also a question of the sheer volume of new candidates, and of a much more ramshackle Labour organisation than in Mr Tony’s heyday. There are, though, a few cases that are exercising the commentariat.

The selection of Jack Dromey, aka Mr Harriet Harman, to contest Birmingham Erdington may actually be more defensible than some. Dromey, as we know, has been a prominent labour movement figure in his own right for decades. He’s replacing Siôn Simon, who isn’t exactly a horny-handed son of toil and was himself a notorious parachutist of a previous generation. And, what with Erdington being an area that still has some manufacturing jobs, some people might like the idea of being represented by an experienced union official who knows something about manufacturing. Nonetheless, as Peter Kenyon says, it would make sense to reassure local members that there is no stitch-up, doubly so with such a high-profile selection.

The Mail, which loves a celeb angle on politics, has splashed on speculation that glamorous GMTV political editor Gloria de Piero, who has relinquished her broadcasting career to help out an ailing Labour Party, may be lined up for Buff Hoon’s Ashfield seat. This will be a blow to viewers who used to enjoy waking up to Gloria’s ample journalistic talents, but their loss is Labour’s gain. Actually, I do remember Gorgeous Gloria from, oh, it must be fifteen years ago when she was a bright young NOLS activist. She seemed quite nice, which was an achievement in itself back in the days when Jim Murphy bestrode NOLS like a colossus. So she’s smart, articulate, a formidable networker and popular with the lobby – those are qualities that would recommend her to the national party. In Nottinghamshire, she would need to stress long years of Labour activism, a working-class background and a strong Yorkshire accent. Not being Geoff Hoon is an advantage in itself, but it would be up to her to prove that she’s not just another media luvvie. The existence of Caroline Flint-style fuck-me photoshoots may or may not help her cause.

As for Luciana Berger in Liverpool Wavertree, she may well make a good MP some day – when she’s a bit older and has held down a paying job for a few years – but I suggest that somewhere with as strong a sense of place as Liverpool is probably not the best place to parachute in a metropolitan wunderkind. Although, since Scousers still have the donkey-with-a-red-rosette mentality, they’ll doubtless get away with it.

On the other hand, this is a problem “Dave” Cameron seems to be having on a bigger scale. New Labour went through this period of Stalinoid micromanagement of selections with the aim of producing a parliamentary party in Mr Tony’s image – something it was largely successful in – and the helping hand of the All Women Shortlist can’t be underestimated in this. This is how we saw the entirely laudable aim of improving the gender balance in parliament being yoked to the more arguable aim of politically homogenising the party in a Blairite direction.

And so it is with “Dave”. In his case, a more visibly diverse party – even if, as with the US Republicans, the only ethnic faces are on the platform – is a crucial part of detoxifying the Tory brand. I’ve mentioned before the importance of Shaun Bailey as a talismanic figure – it’s not that “Dave” actually thinks Shaun will win over legions of black Londoners to the Tory cause (though if he did, that would be fine), it’s more that Shaun helps prove to middle-class white folks of liberal disposition that the Tories aren’t racist any more. Likewise, I think you’d have to be a very strange gay man to vote Tory because Alan Duncan is in the shadow cabinet, but Alan serves to blunt the charge of homophobia.

Tie this in to the fact that “Dave” doesn’t really like his party very much. He’s been ruthless in using the expenses scandal to rid himself of those Sir Bufton Tufton types whom he doesn’t like and who don’t like him. And to fill in the gaps, you have the Cameroonian A-List, which does not mean that Mr T will be a Tory candidate, but which is a device to shoehorn female and ethnic candidates into winnable seats. That these candidates are fanatical supporters of “Dave” and his agenda for the party is purely coincidental. There have already been grumblings from certain recalcitrant constituency associations, which have a habit of jealously guarding their independence, but by and large the Cameroons have kept a lid on things.

The trouble is that the Tory grassroots, to the extent they still exist, are elderly, almost exclusively white, and with political priorities roughly identical to those of the Daily Mail op-ed pages. They are not in instinctive sympathy with the Cameroon project – though they’ll support “Dave” as long as he looks a winner – and the current modernisation scheme aims to make the parliamentary party, well perhaps more representative of the population, but much less representative of the voluntary party. Presumably “Dave” hopes the makeover will, by osmosis, lead to a different makeup of the party ranks in the future. I would say that’s a pretty big punt.


  1. neprimerimye said,

    March 2, 2010 at 9:08 am

    One could never vote for a person who sits on a hard wood floor when there is a perfectly serviceable sofa available. Unless there is some clown from TUSC intent on losing their deposit…

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      March 2, 2010 at 12:46 pm

      Indeed not. The Nottinghamshire proletariat understand the value of a comfy sofa, and any media luvvie hoping to represent them would have to get over that affectation.

  2. andy newman said,

    March 2, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    I can’t speak for any wider pattern, but the selection for North Swindon was all above board, and the trade unions got the result we wanted.

    I am not at all sure about Peter Kenyon’s view of openness, etc.

    When the Labour Party worked best in the past was when the PPC selection was in the gift of the branch secretaries of the affiliated unions locally.

  3. Seabiscuit said,

    March 2, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    Don’t pay too much attention to ‘orrible akehurst; or rather , try the alternative akeblog – I don’t know who in Hackney CLP does this, but they do it very well:

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      March 2, 2010 at 4:29 pm

      Does Luke have an evil twin? Or should that be a good twin?

  4. Doug said,

    March 2, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Yeh, terrible isn’t it, neprimerimye, socialists standing against the robotic representatives of public service slashing, privatising, war criminal parties .

    I should imagine there is little enthusiasm from remaining Labour Left wing activists for the quality most of their candidates. I expect realism prevails – If there aren’t any bluebells left in the woods, all you can hope for is to avoid the bigger cowpats.

  5. neprimerimye said,

    March 2, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    Doug I’m happy for candidates who have a base in the class and socialist politics to stand against the Labour Party. What I find laughable is the rush to stand candidates who lack either a base or decent socialist politics.

    Indeed it has been disgusting to see good comrades supporting dodgy communalists whilst telling us that the individuals concerned are good socialists.

    On an historical note I was a member of the ill fated Socialist Labour Party in 1997 which stood against Labour in that years General Election. Although generally unenthusiastic about electoralism as an individual i remain proud that my comrades and I managed to save our deposit. In fact for such a small local branch of a party we already recognised was doomed we did far better than many better backed efforts. Including those in the same constituency in later years.

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