Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Local candidates

Posted on This is My Truth on March 3

The case of the Islwyn Four inevitably evokes the memory of the Blaenau Gwent fiasco. But not only is it a false parallel, it masks the reality that in the Labour Party at least the premium placed on 'local' candidates is greater than ever before.

Any glance at the selections to replace retiring AMs will show that local candidates have been chosen: Mike Hedges in Swansea East and David Rees in Aberavon are recent examples. In Cardiff West and Cardiff South the constituency party has opted for people who have track records as Councillors in the area.

In the Westminster selections too locals have been selected in target seats: Susan Elan Jones in Clwyd South, Ronnie Hughes in Aberconwy, Nick Smith in Blaenau Gwent are examples. There are some exceptions in the Vale of Glamorgan and Carmarthen East where they've broken the mold and gone for someone from the constituency next door.

There aren't many exceptions to the 'locals only' rule. It is understandable that party members in Islwyn resent the fact that the shortlist has been drawn up by the central party, but perhaps they should ask Don Touhig why he decided to make his announcement so late in the day?

I believe that the premium placed on 'local' candidates is too strong. As membership declines local activists become increasingly unrepresentative of the communities they are drawn from. They often look to select someone in their own mould and those who don't fit the bill are seen as a threat.

The selection rules are now heavily stacked in favour of local activists. It used to be possible for an 'outsider' to be able to appeal to the wider membership by making a game changing speech at a branch meeting. But now aspirant candidates aren't allowed to address members directly until the final shortlisting meeting - by which point votes are often committed. It is a process which disadvantages women in particular.

From the little I know about Islwyn politics it seems that there are other forces at work which has led to the resignation of the four local activists. That's not to dismiss them. But a narrative which presents a mighty party machines parachuting in candidates to the disadvantage of local candidates is way off the mark.

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