Sunday, 14 December 2014

Thoughts on the Holborn&St.Pancras Labour nomination

Congratulations to Keir Starmer, who ran a solid, clean and impressive campaign which chimed with the majority of members in Holborn&St.Pancras at our selections last night!  

For the record I backed Sarah and voted:  Sarah, Keir and Patrick.
Keir Starmer selected for Holborn&St.Pancras

I genuinely thought it would be closer, and now I owe the CNJ Xmas hamper £20 courtesy of a bet with #1 Keir-ramper Robert Latham on whether Starmer would win at the first round or not!  

In the final analysis members clearly wanted to add strength to the party through Keir's undoubted depth from outside of politics.   

Re: the KS vs SH contest I felt that there was a 'two-for-the-price-of-one' dynamic - by voting for Keir you'd also have Sarah as council leader also played in his favour.  Whoever your preferred candidate, I'm sure all who voted there know that he'll make a great MP. 

Journalist Richard Osley has blogged about this here.  Aside one or two things like Tom Copley being a 'stalking horse' for Sarah (no-one knows how that could work and a bit harsh on Tom) or councillors 'cynically' voting for her (life isn't all about Town Hall politics you know...) - it's pretty much on the money.

Here are my observations about the result:

All the main candidates had calibre to represent the constituency.  The 'runners' included a respected local GP, two Council leaders (one former) and the ex- Director of Public Prosecutions.  Raj injected (perhaps late) passion on issues like unilateralism and student loans and cited his legal career; Sarah stood on a record of council delivery and core campaigning (needed, but a point no so much recognised by the audience); Patrick on local connections and the NHS (liked, but not enough as a USP), and Keir on his record as a high performer and running a public sector organisation.  In my opinion all those who lost out could be excellent MPs and will be stronger for the experience. I felt in the final weeks that the membership were closing in on Keir because of his extra ability to add value to the SW1 Labour gene pool - because he's an achiever who comes from outside of traditional politics. The recent perceived 'wobble' definitely firmed peoples' minds up.  His speech had fewer words than the others, but - for me - conveyed the necessary gravitas.   
Step away from the box-set. No fix here.

Westminster Commentators:  you can't fix a membership of 1349. Step away from the House of Cards box-set. One of the largest constituencies in the country can't be manipulated: if someone tried it would very quickly come to light and backfire. Talk of a 'leadership fix' for the seat is rubbish and takes on an overly-stylised view of politics. Move on, nothing to see here: besides, it's a slur on the hard work of our volunteer Selection Committee, who did a great job...

...on the contrary members had a difficult task weighing things up and making a choice: selecting on a seat-by-seat basis as we have done, in the time-honoured way, means that members have to weigh up a huge number of factors when they choose a candidate, including some of the ones I talk about below.  This is not an easy task at all.    
The majority of votes were for those who occupied the mainstream.  Starting early clearly helped both Raj and Keir but doesn't explain the politics going on.  In the absence of Tom Copley - who pulled out early - Raj closed as the firmly  'Left' candidate, backed by some of the London players in this zone.  To a large extent Patrick, Keir and Sarah essentially competed for the majority mainstream vote which makes up the bulk of the constituency. In the end Keir had more appeal and bandwidth to the mainstream group, with the Raj pitch to the traditional Left throwing up a bit of support on the day but effectively bumping against quite a low ceiling.    

The 'arms race' for endorsements looked a bit silly.  All candidates went for celeb endorsements and pushed them out to the local press: Kinnock, Prescott, the Lawrences (who endorsed different people), Andrew Motion etc.  It must be irresistible for a candidate not to go down this route when others did.  I'm not sure it added much.  

There were differences but the selection campaign didn't really 'go negative'. When I got involved locally in the 1990s there were still some sore heads about how Frank Dobson wrestled the seat from Jock Stallard back in the day.  Apart from whispers here and there, dealt with by Osley this was nothing like that. Obviously supporters will muscle for their candidates during the process, but the Hampstead&Kilburn selection seemed a far tetchier affair.  In any case, here the field of 5 candidates meant second preference votes were 'in play' so any tactic like that would have backfired even if they'd wanted to.  Also, not everything is about the politics, in this Labour Party many of us are friends as well as colleagues and voted in different ways, the result doesn't change any of that for anyone.        

Our large membership needs to be more reflective of inner London.   
The sight of at least 450 members trooping in to St.Pancras Church was an impressive sight, and a long list of names from law, journalism and academia.  Any independent observer may have perhaps pondered on the profile of the membership and how it might better to reflect the diversity of inner London: more younger people, more tenants, more minority voice. This is a problem with all political parties, but as with other issues, people rightly expect Labour to go the extra mile.  Taking just one aspect: the Labour Party still has a problem with women selected in non All-Women Shortlist seats.  

Camden Labour had an office once
One of Keir's first tasks is to use his momentum to his victory by reaching out and building the party to be even stronger. Labour needs a high street office presence - the seat hasn't had one for a number of years - and a commitment 'on the ground': sometimes the relationship with MPs ofices has been distant.   In fact, somewhat independently of our MPs, local councillors and a core of members have been rowing hard with time, money and effort for over the last 15 years to maintain and rebuild a successful operation in both constituencies - so we look to both Tulip (who is doing this already with aplomb) and Keir to be the kind of campaigning MP seen in other seats, like Emily did with Islington South when she came in.    
Housing is the number one issue for Camdeners

Housing is without a doubt the number one issue for Camdeners, but perhaps not as much as candidates thought for the selectorate - Related to the above point about diversity: the council's polling shows that by far the most important issue to local people is being able to afford to stay here.  I reflected on this as members perhaps didn't quite respond as much as anticipated to messages from all candidates around rent controls, more housing borrowing and building.  Nevertheless having a proper champion for housing policy is essential in Westminster. Keir made this central to his conversation on inequality, so we'll watch this space.  

Union nominations are a fascinating thing to watch as an observer.  The GMB, UNITE and ASLEF chose their candidate before nominations for the seat even opened, raising questions about just how the values of unions are aligned with candidates when the field isn't even known.  UNISON and Community at least nominated after the candidates had been revealed and selections had closed.  'Behind the screens' ways of sorting these out seem a bit 20th century and don't reflect on the unions themselves very well.  Certainly several by-passed UNITE members who perhaps naively expected to have some say in the process were left scratching their heads about how things came to pass - but that's a different story which has been written about elsewhere about elsewhere.       

The question to candidates about whether we should ally with the Greens: Selection committee...with the Leader of the Green Party standing here in Holborn&St.Pancras what on earth was that about? [later edit:  No, this isn't whether I wanted my rather broad and boring questions used -  apparently the qs were chosen random, still strikes me as an odd question to make it through!  That said, during canvassing I have bumped into the odd Green-voting Labour member so maybe it ain't all that strange].

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