Importance of Natural Resources

Open Selections: How Can Something so Boring, be so Contentious?

At last! In a Labour leadership race which was threatening to snooze us all to death something at least adjacent to exciting has happened. This week, Rebecca Long-Bailey announced her support for open selection – AKA mandatory re-selection – in perhaps the first big bid to separate herself from the field of contenders. Cue a chorus of spluttering and scoffing from the self-appointed custodians of sensible politics. So what is open selection, and why has it
got everyone’s big boy pants in a twist? Open selection is basically a primary system,
a bit like what they have in the US. It means that sitting MPs would no longer
have the automatic right to contest the next general election, which in safe seats, can basically amount to a job for life. Instead, they would have to stand against
a field of other would-be candidates, and secure the backing of their Constituency
Labour Party. The idea is that this would provide an avenue for local activists and councillors to find a way into Parliament, without having first to sully themselves with negative campaigning to ‘trigger’ the incumbent
for a full selection process. And in practice, it means that more people
would vote in candidate selections, which are currently sketchy procedures at
best, and that MPs would be more accountable to their local party. Alright, so why is something so boring so
contentious? Open selection has long been associated with attempts by the left of the Labour movement to build factional power in the Parliamentary Labour Party. Back in 1981, supporters of Tony Benn managed to introduce mandatory re-selection at party conference, and comrades, the proverbial scat hit the fan. Supporters of the move were denounced by MPs
as “career assassins”, and the Daily Express predicted that “the purges
could begin at once and some 60 MPs are in danger.” Mandatory re-selection was cited as a key reason behind the split and formation of the Social Democratic Party, and ultimately, was killed off in the 1990s
by Neil Kinnock and John Smith. Because of this history, open selection has often been castigated as a flimsy veneer for a Momentum-led Stalinist purging of the moderates. Needless to say, this isn’t *quite* true… Despite the brouhaha accompanying the 2018
reform to the trigger ballot process – I know, please stay awake – Momentum didn’t manage to deselect a single sitting MP. No, not even Angela Smith! So for all the talk of icepick wielding hardliners, there isn’t much evidence to suggest that there’s a great deal of appetite to de-select even the most rightwing of Labour MPs. What’s more, the Parliamentary Labour Party are actually kind of outliers for their lack of an open selection process. Not just in terms of political parties – the Liberal Democrats, Green Party and SNP all have an open selection process – but in their own organisation too. Labour councillors are currently subject to mandatory re-selection, and it’s all been kind of chill. So, the problem isn’t the process in itself. The problem is the principle of democratising the nominations process, the means by which small factions–unrepresentative perhaps of the party membership as a whole– are able to tightly control who gets to join the cohort of sitting MPs. So, why is this all so urgent now? Rebecca Long-Bailey’s argument is that you can’t promise to democratise the country if you can’t even democratise your own party. And I’m sure that’s true, but perhaps it also has something to do with the fact that Jeremy Corbyn has just demonstrated that you can’t merely capture the top of the Labour Party and inspire the grassroots. You have this whole middle section of MPs willing to kick your arse day in day out on national media and no real means to hold them individually accountable. And it’s not just a left versus right factional battle. The irony is that left-wing MPs like Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn who themselves enjoy super majorities in their own constituencies could find themselves more accountable to their local constituency parties than they have been for decades. So yeah, open selection is hella boring, but it’s a battle really that cuts to the heart of the party’s soul. The party of Labour have a decision to make: Whether or not it will essentially allow some of its MPs to continue enjoying a job for life.

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