A new type of Labour A-List?

I was thinking about more party reforms that Ed Miliband could pursue, and especially what kind of people we want to be Labour MPs.
There are well known barriers to becoming an MP for some groups and Labour has taken the most steps to address under-representation – most obviously through all women shortlists, which have resulted in Labour having more women MPs than all the other parties put together.

The Tories have tried, but with less success with their derided A-list of bright young things, who ‘get’ the Cameron project.
To become an MP requires in most instances years of steady hard work, dedicated campaigning, attempts at an unwinnable seat or two, a lot of time, supportive friends and family and much more. It’s unsurprising really that given these demands politics is becoming more professionalised.

People who already work in politics-related jobs are most likely to understand the processes and are likely to have employers sympathetic to their ambitions and give them the time they need.

So do we need more people in Parliament who have done different things in life and perhaps have had a career in business, local government, the health service, housing associations and charities, before entering parliament?

The truth is if you have a serious job in any of these fields, you’re going to find it hard to put in the time to devote yourself professionally to winning a seat. Some do, and great credit to them.

So could we have a Labour A-list that supports experienced people onto the Labour benches? People who know how to run things and led serious organisations and have not made professional party politics their lives.
Potentially this would add gravitas to the PLP, probably make for more independent-minded MPs, provide a greater pool of people who would make good ministers (they’ve run things) and widen the pool of talent and expertise from which we draw.

Not directly housing related I know – but I got started on this thinking about the people I know in the housing world. Many in local government, housing associations and housing charities were politically engaged on the left at some point, but chose to pursue their politics through a public service route, to the exclusion of elected politics. It would be good if it were easier for them to bring their skills and experience back into politics later in their careers, rather than being forced to make one choice at an early stage.

0 replies on “A new type of Labour A-List?”

The trouble with parachuting is that without training, people tend to forget to pull the rip chord. The article correctly and bravely – if somewhat tangentially – diagnoses the problem: the poor calibre of many Labour MPs compared to their opposite numbers on the Tory benches. But I’m afraid the idea that we should be parachuting high fliers from the worlds of housing and local government because they share our values into seats doesn’t cut the mustard.
Underpinning the suggestion of an A list is the notion that there are heaps of would-be Labour starlets serving dutifully in the public sector who would step up to the plate. It also assumes that (a) that they are one of us (b) that we want them (c) that they would be up to the job.
Has Britain’s public sector’s got talent? Well of course it has. But people have gone into the public sector (or pseudo public sector like Housing Associations) rather than politics for a reason. It just might be that they think, probably rightly, that they can achieve more as an officer than as a politician.
Are they one of us? Do they share our beliefs? Well some do, but there are plenty who don’t. Political restriction does of course limit some political activity in local authorities, but I’ve never been overwhelmed by the numbers of public sector highflyers doing the things that are allowed within restriction – running committee rooms on election day, or carrying out leaflet rounds, attending branch meetings, or even donating money to the local party. It’s a gross over simplification of course, but it’s far from common in my experience.
In any event, isn’t it time we got away from the equation that labour values = the public sector, tory values = private sector, libdem values = whatever sounds good at the time. Of course, municipal socialism (or what passes for it nowadays) forms a strand of the labour movement, but we need to face the fact that we need to renew ourselves ideologically and that will involve reaching beyond the public sector mentality.
Do we want them? I suspect not. Politics is a tribe, and you’re in the tribe or you’re not. There are plenty of ways to be visible and supportive of the Labour movement whilst not breaching political restriction in Local Authorities. And frankly, if you work in a housing association and are politically ambitious you have no excuse not to be an active Party member. As a (former) activist, I would find it slightly offensive for a political arriviste who had never delivered a leaflet in their life with a red hot CV to rock up and assume that they can be a Labour PPC. If you want to earn my respect, put in the time.
And, finally, would they be any good? Being a minister requires an entirely different skillset from being an MP. And being an MP requires a different skillset from being an effective candidate. And being an effective candidate is different again from being good at selections. There’s no obvious parallel in any of those roles with (say) being a Chief Executive of a Housing Association. I also have a slightly nagging feeling that politics is a career like any that you have to learn. I want my doctor, my physio, my driving instructor to be experts in what they do. Why should I want my MP to be any less skilled?
So, what can we do to improve the quality of our candidates and our MPs? Two suggestions. Firstly, the established bits of the Labour movement need to up their game. The unions, the coop, the socialist societies, and local parties all need to play their bit in spotting and nurturing talent. And secondly, the Party nationally needs a Candidate Academy with modules covering the basics, allow fast-tracking where appropriate, and providing a clear route to being a PPC.

Somehow the idea of training people to become representatives irks me. I want to be a politician because of a desire to make a better world; nothing more. I am far from certain this requires training. Besides, training would tend to make all candidates alike.
As to A-listing, again I am unconvinced. Any positive discrimination must be temporary, and is there to ameliorate the effects of prejudices inbuilt into the selection process. Ultimately, though, I more want a Parliament of democratic socialists than one that one reflects gender, racial, or any other makeup of the wider society. Beliefs and policies are primary.

I think it’s remarkably honest of Tony Clements to say his housing friends should be given special privileges to get safe seats as prospective Labour candidates. I presume his friends are those housing prefessionals on six figures and £1,000 day rates, rather than housing officers on £12,000.
If Tony’s friends can’t face the competition from a nurse or postman, do we really want them in the Labour party? An A list or old boys’ list – that’s for the Tories. We already have two Tory parties the voters don’t need three.
I presume Tony wants to give his mates a leg up because the cash-for-consultancy gray-train is in jeopardy as a result of the Tory cuts, and the £500,000 golden goodbyes at taxpayers or charities’ expense are likely to fewer.

Good comments – thanks for taking the time to leave them.
I sort of agree with all the perspectives here and I think that’s why diversity of Labour MPs is really important. Being an MP is different from being a minister and there are a lot of different ways of being a good MP. You can do it well being a committed and professional politician as well as someone who’s come in from somewhere else. You can be someone who’s run big organisations or someone who’s always worked at a grass roots community level. We need a lot of different things from our MPs – each individual can’t be all of them, but as a group there should be a broad spread. My point is I’m not sure there are very many who come back into politics after successful careers elsewhere and we might benefit if they did.
To pick up a few specific comments:
Judoker – you read too much into the post that isn’t there. I don’t equate Labour politics with the public sector or assume that public sector workers per se share Labour values. I think a process like this would be especially helpful in terms of helping more people from business, small, medium and large get on to the Labour benches. It would remain with those individuals to prove their commitment and their ability to do the job of an MP as no-one’s background automatically prepares them for office – it’s a unique job.
Paulinlancs has me bang to rights. Wrong choice of language. I guess I meant people who ran larger or complex organisations, outside the world of politics and can’t/don’t play the political game. Many more jobs than this are serious.
Trixie – I think we should also have a selections system which means nurses and postmen have a better shot at becoming candidates. It’s not exclusive.
One last thing – I’m not critical of people following a professional political route or those that have worked hard and devoted their lives to getting into Parliament. They have every right to follow their ambition and be successful at it. But if in practice we see a narrowing of who is able to effectively run for election and selection, Labour will be poorer for it.
After this brief (ill-advised?) foray off topic – it’ll be back to housing as usual.

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