Unfortunate rumours come via the Guardian of further plans for central Labour Party meddling in the potential mayoral elections this autumn. It has been suggested that sitting Labour MPs should be barred from seeking a mayoral nomination, even if they resign their seat.
It is bad enough that the NEC has imposed a shortlist system for the nomination, cutting down the choice that will actually go to party members from at least four candidates to only two. It is also underhand that they have suggested sitting MPs should resign if they become a nominee, before they even win a mayoralty. The whole idea behind these various restrictions is to prevent unnecessary by-elections, especially in the wake of Bradford West. It is probably also to ensure that the “right” candidate (from the central party’s perspective) gets the nomination. To me the whole thing stinks of heavy handedness.
The whole point of elected mayors (and police commissioners to an extent) is greater local democracy. Two key words their, “local”, and “democracy”. Arbitrary decisions and rules being handed down by the NEC are neither local or democratic. The field for the nomination should be as open as possible, and that field should be presented to the membership. That is the democratic way. It cannot be right for someone in London to ultimately decide who we in Birmingham have as our mayor for the next 4 years.
The danger here is that, by being heavy handed and trying to force nominations, the NEC risk seriously alienating sitting MPs and CLPs. The NEC and the Labour Party as a whole does not actually have the power to remove sitting MPs – all it can do is expel them from the party, most likely if they persist to run against the “official” candidate. For an MP set on becoming mayor, this offers a simply choice; give up ambitions or leave the party. I can’t imagine a Labour MP actually running as an Independent, yet were it to happen and were a city to find itself with an “Independent Labour” Mayor, then this whole affair would have backfired horribly on the central party. Not only would Labour still face the by-elections it had hoped to avoid, but under the unfavourable circumstances of having just lost a mayoral election to and Independent and having a hostile outgoing MP.
Instead the selections should be made as open as possible, to all Labour candidates who wish two stand. Any further elimination can come when the party membership in a given city fill in their ballot papers. The eventual nominee will be the genuine choice of that city, and not just the preferred placeman of the party machine. Is there a risk that some cities will end up with maverick Labour mayors, who don’t tow the line, who do things their own way, and who embarrass the party leadership in London? Possibly. Should the decision as to whether this happens be entirely down the party membership and the electors in that city? Absolutely.