Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
So much for the ‘new politics’ and grandiloquent media predictions of an end to the ‘rotten Parliament’, with a record number of new MPs replacing the old. Not if the leaderships of all three main parties can help it! After Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg have had their way, the new Commons will be more heavily stacked with hand-picked, carpet-bagging careerists than any parliament since before the 19th-century Reform Acts.
When it comes to professional fixing of candidates and all round skulduggery, New Labour still takes some beating. Nothing is being left to chance as polls suggest a possible hung parliament. The nightmare scenario for the Brownite fixers is that there might be enough left-wing MPs to hold the balance of power – conveniently ignoring the fact that Brown’s problems have not come from the left, but from a Blairite rump.
Here, then, is how Gordon Brown and his cohorts are fixing candidate selections in ‘safe’ Labour seats, in utter determination that all future New Labour candidates sing from the same Brownite song-sheet. Since early in the new year, replacement candidates in the seats of late-retiring MPs have been chosen centrally, with local constituency parties having no say in the short-listing.
Would-be candidates are invited to email their CVs to Labour’s special selections panel, which comprises the chief whip, Nick Brown MP, and other worthies from the national executive committee such as Tom Watson MP.
Most needn’t waste their time, as the frontrunner in each constituency will already have been decided at 10 Downing Street well in advance of the selection process even beginning. It falls to the Downing Street political adviser Joe Irvin to switch on the shredding machine and inform Labour’s general secretary, Ray Collins, who Gordon wants parachuted in and where. Loyalists on the special selections panel are then told who No 10 wants.
The trick that follows is to present local party members with a shortlist of four or six ‘approved’ candidates, preferably with at least a couple of local councillors on the ballot paper, who are likely to split the vote. All candidates bar the favourite are chosen on the exacting criteria of being no hopers. Since the ballot is conducted on preferences, non-local favourites can be expected to pull together enough second, third or fourth preferences to rise to the top of the pile.
To improve ‘efficiency’, the selection votes are cast in a postal ballot of constituency members, and for reasons of ‘security’ the votes from south-east selections are sent off and counted at Labour’s London HQ. These are the same offices where, last year, a ballot box containing votes for the bitterly contested selection of a Labour candidate in Erith was broken into and the ballot papers ripped up. The interference on that occasion was so blatant that the party machine could not prevent left-leaning Teresa Pearce from emerging as the victor, but elsewhere the gains for the left have been sparse.
Former Honchurch MP John Cryer managed to pull through in Leyton and Wanstead, after Jack Dromey’s withdrawal from the selection left the party machine with insufficient time to organise for a favoured son – a wealthy party donor. Elsewhere, former miners’ leader Ian Lavery won overwhelmingly in Wansbeck, Northumberland (see box, right), despite some staggering dirty tricks from his opponents, which saw his name dragged through the mud in the Times and Daily Mail.
In other winnable seats, Katy Clark is the candidate in North Ayrshire and Nia Griffith has been selected in Llanelli. For the most part, however, all-women shortlists have become a device for blocking male candidates who don’t toe the line and pushing forward women who do. The party machine is busy pushing the likes of the former Young Labourite, turned friend of James Purnell, Johnny Reynolds, in Purnell’s Stalybridge and Hyde constituency. In Ashfield it is backing the GMTV reporter Gloria De Piera, and in the ultra-safe Barnsley East, the hard right-wing fixer and special adviser, Michael Dugher.
If anything, the control of candidate selections is even tighter than it was under Tony Blair – and since the Labour Party is now such a reduced force on the ground there is little opposition to the impositions. Like the Tories, New Labour has become a franchising operation for the small group who control the machine. And while some of the trade union leaders like to believe that they have an effective ‘deal’ not to put up candidates in some areas, in return for some union candidates being allowed to go through, very few actually have.
Despite all this, no amount of fixing can dictate what the new breed of MPs will actually do in any given circumstances. There are some seasoned local councillors who are likely to find themselves elected, at least bringing a degree of experience with them. And if the election does produce a hung parliament, the left and other dissenting Labour MPs could very well still hold the whip hand.
Ian Lavery: from pits to parliament?
According to the Daily Mail he is a ‘hardline union baron’ who said he wouldn’t be sorry if Margaret Thatcher didn’t come out hospital when she fell ill last year. So far so good, then, for Ian Lavery, president of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), who is standing for the Labour party in its safe seat of Wansbeck in Northumberland in the forthcoming general election.
Lavery is a product of a mining community. As such he may not sit easy on the Commons benches in a Parliamentary Labour Party likely still to be dominated by Blairites and their spin-offs.
Not that he’s dismissive of the Labour governments of the past 13 years. ‘I firmly believe Labour has got some tremendous MPs, some very committed MPs,’ he says. ‘And they have made a huge difference to ordinary people – working tax credits, family tax credits, pensions tax credits, SureStart – things like that, that give ordinary people a boost in life.’
He praises the minimum wage, though he criticised its original low level. One of his aims in parliament is to see it drastically increased. He also wants to see more working people in parliament – people like himself, from the shop-floor, preferably who have represented their fellow workers.
As an MP he says he will press for huge government investment in the coal industry and clean coal technology. He points out that Britain is already in the early stages of an energy crisis, which has seen increased use of coal. Unfortunately for the NUM, it is Russian, Polish, Australian and Colombian coal.
He will be looking for new political alignments – maybe, despite the obvious difficulties, with the green lobby. But most importantly he says he wants to see a new union representing all energy sector workers. Its potential would be huge – miners, power station workers, gas and oil workers, tanker drivers, the nuclear power industry, united in a single union.
No wonder the Daily Mail is hostile.
Unison: Labour can’t take us for granted
With 90,000 members, and their families and friends, Unison’s Northern region could be a serious electoral force.
The union’s regional organisation will not be playing the traditional role that unions play at election times of getting out the Labour vote. It is working with the Northern TUC to build a campaign for alternative economic policies, to defend and improve public services.
This will be discussed in branches and be the basis of discussions with candidates – and not just Labour candidates. Just as important, it will be the basis of alliances with community groups after the election to defend public services and press for alternative policies.
‘The election is not the be-all and end-all,’ says Kenny Bell, the Northern region’s deputy convenor. ‘It’s helped us sharpen our policies, which show there is an economic alternative and help us face up to whoever is in government.’
Labour cannot by any means take it for granted in the way it used to.
‘Speaking up for Public Services’: www.tuc.org.uk/northern
Million Voices campaign: www.unison.org.uk/million
Liverpool Wavertree: maybe not so safe
After Labour PPC Luciana Berger was selected for the safe seat of Liverpool Wavertree, admitting to the local paper that she’d never heard of Bill Shankly wasn’t the smartest move.
It certainly highlighted the fact that Berger – director of Labour Friends of Israel and still in her twenties – doesn’t exactly have much in common with the lives of the people she hopes to represent.
If successful, she would join current Labour MP Louise Ellman and candidate Stephen Twigg (selected for the ultra-safe Liverpool West Derby seat after veteran Campaign Group MP Bob Wareing’s deselection), as part of a triumvirate of firmly pro-Israel right wingers.
Now media reports suggest that comedy actor Ricky Tomlinson – who was famously one half of the ‘Shrewsbury 2’, imprisoned in the 1970s as part of the Tory government’s attempts to criminalise mass pickets – might contest the election on behalf of Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party.
Jokes aside, this could become a major challenge to New Labour in the party’s old heartland. It could even begin to reinvigorate a class politics on Merseyside that Labour leaders from Kinnock onwards have tried to close down.
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite