A strongly worded letter has been sent to Ray Collins, the Labour Party General Secretary, by Jim Fitzpatrick, the Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse, who is one of Oona King’s supporters in her campaign to become Labour’s candidate in the mayoral election.
He questions why the date of the ballot has been brought forward and why Ken Livingstone’s former chief of staff, who until very recently worked in the London Regional Office, is now the person running Livingstone’s selection campaign. He says that “raises legitimate questions as to whether unfair advantage or insider information has been given to Livingstone’s campaign”. He rightly says that any help given by the party to one particular candidate in the selection is completely unacceptable.
Most damningly, he says that this selection is not being run by Labour Party rules but instead it is based on “guidance” that was recently “hurried through the NEC” and which hasn’t been through conference.
These are serious allegations that hint at old Labour up to its old tricks. It is exactly the kind of behaviour that the party needs to put behind it.
The mayoral election is another chance for Labour to renew itself and it can’t do that if dodgy back room deals are being down and candidates like King are being kept in the dark.
Fitzpatrick’s letter in full
I know we all share a desire to renew Labour after our recent election loss. As part of that process, it is vital that we are open – and are seen to be open – in how we select our candidates for key positions. The London Mayoralty will be one of the most high profile elections we face between now and the next general election, and it is crucial that we have a fair, equal and open contest.
That’s why I am very concerned about the process and timetable that you and the NEC have put in place for selection for London Mayor. It just doesn’t meet the fairness and openness tests. I have a number of concerns:
Firstly, there has been no explanation for the ballot having been brought forward. Indeed, the contest we anticipated running through to Christmas would allow all candidates to set out their stall in the London media, and help to reinvigorate the London party. If it is simply a question of finance, the London Labour Party could easily do a Christmas Draw in the same envelopes that would pay for the postage. Any TU Regional Secretaries I have spoken to say they could have included the London ballot in a magazine or other mailing later in the year at no extra cost to them.
To an outsider it will look like the changes are meant to stifle debate and to the wider party it looks like one candidate on the inside has an unfair advantage.
Secondly, it raises questions regarding Ken Livingstone’s former Chief of Staff – who until very recently worked in the London Regional Office – has been subsequently announced as the individual running Ken’s selection campaign. This raises legitimate questions as to whether unfair advantage or insider information has been given to one campaign over any other as a result of these arrangements. Any help given by the party to one particular candidate in the selection is completely unacceptable and clearly the party should want to be, and be seen to be, beyond reproach.
Third, I am concerned that this selection is not being run by Labour Party rules. Instead it is based on ‘guidance’ which was recently hurried through the NEC, and which hasn’t been through conference. The ‘guidance’ for this selection is completely different to the other models for selection (ie OMOV or tri-partite electoral college). I find it extraordinary that the NEC has agreed to this system of selection without ever consulting conference. And I don’t understand why this new ‘guidance’ was rushed through the NEC, despite the NEC knowing for many years when the next Mayoral election was due. It would have been very easy for the NEC to take their proposed changes to the way we select candidates to conference without having to do this on the quiet in the manner they have.
It feels to me as though Oona and her campaign team are being deliberately kept in the dark about the process. We still haven’t been given a full explanation of the selection process in writing. We still don’t know who is eligible to vote in the affiliates section, despite Ken Livingstone having this information.
We need a clear set of rules and guidance to which Ken, Oona and any other candidates must abide, and which reflect fully party policy for selecting candidates. That should cover access to information, membership contact, canvassing and fundraising. In these sensitive political times, it is more important than ever that we are seen to be completely above board and transparent in this regard. Moreover, the selection process is not properly democratic compared with comparable selections, relying on a 50:50 split between trade unionists and party members. All other Local Government Mayor candidates are selected by one member one vote. The Scottish and Welsh contests use an electoral college very similar to that of the National Leadership election which is tri-partite and has been approved by conference. There is no good reason why the same should not apply here – OMOV would be best, but an electoral college would be transparent.
Over and above these concerns, I am also amazed by the procedures that appear to be in place for candidates to communicate with members. We are being told that we have to use a central, party-approved printer for all communications to members, whether we can get the service cheaper elsewhere or not. This seems to us to be a mechanism for legitimising the refusal to give membership lists to all candidates and to stifle campaigning. This type of arrangement does not wash in modern-day Britain. It appears to be centralised control and machine politics of the worst kind.
This process is hugely off-putting to our younger members, who expect more from the Labour Party. I have had local young activists ask us why there does not appear to be a proper selection. They don’t understand why the NEC is doing this and do feel, rightly or wrongly, that the Party Machine is backing a particular candidate; many have looked in to this and have been surprised to find that far from this selection being an exception to the rule, in fact Ken has led the Regional Assembly on four occasions but has only faced selection once.
Even worse, the current process is not good for whichever candidate wins in the end. She or he could be tainted by an undemocratic process, and we must be sure to not repeat the mistakes we as a Party have made in the past. Surely we should have learned these lessons by now?
I are therefore asking you to:
* Have an electoral college in line with other mayoral contests – based on OMOV – or follow the selection for Leader of the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament with a tri-partite electoral college
* Make sure all potential candidates have access to the same up-to-date information about party members and affiliated voters, thus having an equal chance of reaching them, governed by the same rules.
* Provide us with a copy of all rules, guidelines and processes this week, together with lists of all CLP officers and affiliated organisations.
* Supply lists to all candidates of party members.
* Assign a senior member of staff to answer all procedural queries quickly.
* Ensure there is a debate at Conference this year on selections and how we can make them open and fair.
Of course, I am writing as one of the many supporters of Oona’s campaign and I support her whole-heartedly. But I am making these comments on behalf of all candidates who may come forward. There must be open and fair selections in the Labour Party and they must be seen to be so. We worked hard throughout the ’80s to ensure the party we love would become more and more democratic. But there is a perception that the reverse is happening and we are treading a very dangerous path.
This letter is not an anti-Ken Livingstone letter. This is about making sure that this cobbled together system doesn’t hamper Labour’s chances against the Tory candidate in 2012. Ken Livingstone will benefit from democracy as much as any candidate, and I will work as hard for him, for Oona or for whoever wins the nomination for 2012.
I would welcome your speedy response on these issues and hope that you are as keen as I am to ensure that our selection is not only fair, but seen to be fair.
Campaign Chair oona4mayor
Len Duval – Chair, London Labour Party