|Rights left out|
|Magazine - Labour Party|
|Tuesday, 24 April 2012 22:03|
NEC member Christine Shawcroft calls for a campaign to restore democratic selection rights across the Party.
Party members’ rights have been eroded by successive party leaders, but one of the most important – the right to select candidates – seems to be in the most danger. Recent fiascos have seen local parties getting several weeks into electioneering with a named candidate before spurious complaints surface. Too often, candidates and local parties don’t even know what they are accused of or who has made a complaint. Or they are accused of lots of things in a scattergun approach, obviously in the hope that even if all the accusations are very thin, something will stick if they are lumped together.
In Waltham Forest in the run up to the 2010 council elections, selections were frozen because of “membership irregularities”. The furious Membership Secretary demanded to know what these supposed irregularities were. No evidence was ever presented, but several selections were overturned anyway. In the mid-90s, Raghib Ahsan was deselected as a council candidate in Birmingham on the grounds he was under police investigation. He rang up every police station in Birmingham but they all expressed bemusement, and assured him he was not being investigated. Mr Ahsan later won a case of racial discrimination against the Labour Party.
The principles of natural justice urgently need to be incorporated into the Labour rulebook. Appeals need to be held in plenty of time, with a specific case to answer, so that candidates can present their defence, present witnesses, and so on. In the Chilwell case, not only was Mr Warner rushed to an NEC panel hearing at 24 hours notice, he didn’t know what he was accused of. Lutfur Rahman was deselected as Tower Hamlets Mayoral candidate when a dossier of complaints was put to the NEC which he hadn’t even seen, never mind had the chance to contest – yet the General Secretary had it for over two weeks before the NEC meeting. I’m told that Mr Rahman wasn’t allowed on the first Tower Hamlets shortlist because of “insufficient evidence of campaigning”. One wonders how this subjective judgement was arrived at: Mr Rahman fought his way onto the shortlist, won the selection, and then won 52% of the vote in the election as an independent, against the might of the Party machine. I think we can conclude that he’s no slouch as a campaigner.
Mick Warner was deselected in Chilwell on the grounds that he didn’t have a proper media strategy to deal with Nottingham Evening Post allegations about his public administration qualification, but surely we could have sat down with him and worked out a better one? It’s not a reason to deselect someone. We have lots of Labour MPs who could give advice on how to deal with expenses scandals. The words “Hazel” and “Blears” spring to mind. The Party hierarchy need to remember that members are volunteers, giving up their time and donating money to the Party. Deselection shouldn’t be the default position to be used at the first sign of trouble.
Heavy handed disciplinary procedures frequently used against members are not acceptable. If the Party were our employer, we’d get the union in. We’d probably all be out on strike! Because we’re volunteers, it seems to be considered to be OK. Campaigning for the restoration of our rights in the Party must be a top priority.