26 October was called “Super Sunday” because of the number of Labour parliamentary selection meetings held on that day – nine, and in important seats.
The most positive development was undoubtedly the selection, in a fiercely fought contest, of Nadia Whittome in Nottingham East. Nadia’s campaign was distinctive in terms of her advocacy of policies far to the left of mainstream “Corbynism”; her strong opposition to Brexit; her commitment to “working-class representation”; and her pledge to take a worker’s wage and to always submit to open selections.
In a wider picture of limited shifts, from Chris Leslie to Nadia Whittome is a giant one! Leslie, the previous Nottingham East Labour MP, is a right-winger who quit Labour in February 2019 and is now one of the five remaining TIG (Change UK) MPs.
The party National Executive Committee [NEC] had already taken substantial control of drawing up longlists and shortlists of potential candidates for constituencies. With a December general election now likely, many if not all remaining selections may be cancelled and candidates decided directly by the NEC.
The party machine made liberal use of its list-drawing prerogatives to favour the results it wanted, in some cases excluding candidates with wide local support. It did not get everything it seemed to want.
In Rother Valley (South Yorkshire) the division was not Brexit, but there were two left candidates. Sheffield Momentum, the Fire Brigades Union and John McDonnell backed FBU member Sophie Wilson – who won – while national Momentum and a host of other unions backed a Stalinist candidate, Luke Farley.
In Vauxhall (South London), Unite, GMB, CWU, a host of MPs and (it was widely rumoured) the Leader’s Office backed millionaire businessman Ibrahim Dogus. Dogus came fourth after an article in The Clarion exposing his record went semi-viral. But Progress-supporting Greater London Authority member Florence Eshalomi beat left-wing (and anti-Brexit) former Scottish MP Katy Clark to win the selection.
Trigger ballots on sitting MPs to prompt selection contests have had little impact. Diana Johnson in Hull North and Margaret Hodge in Barking were “triggered”, but both easily won the subsequent selection contests.
In seats where the MP is retiring or has defected, the picture seems to be the left, broadly speaking, suffering disappointments but overall coming out ahead. Despite relatively small numbers of new candidates, these results could produce a significant shift in the character of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Left-wing candidates of one sort or another have won in constituencies including Ilford South, Liverpool Wavertree, Nottingham East, Poplar and Limehouse, City of Durham, Ealing North and Rother Valley. More right-wing candidates were selected in Enfield North and Blyth Valley as well as Vauxhall.
But Liverpool Wavertree’s new Labour candidate, Paula Barker, is a committed Brexiteer. Nadia Whittome in Nottingham East is a national committee member for both Another Europe is Possible and Labour for a Socialist Europe.
Brexit was the most important of the divisions that to some extent ran across previously-constructed left and right lines.
Nadia Whittome in her own words:
“My politics is shaped by life experience that is shared by many but missing from Parliament.
“A rank and file trade unionist, a daughter of working class immigrants, a former care worker doing 15-minute calls, entering university through an NCN Access course, and growing up across Nottingham in a single parent household under austerity.
“We need a new generation of insurgent grassroots MPs to reconnect our movement with our communities... I’m not interested in the prestige of Parliament.
“I want to break barriers denying so many of us a seat at the table, and engage our whole community to build long-lasting change in Nottingham from the ground up.
“I’m a socialist, who has supported Jeremy Corbyn from day one, and isn’t afraid to speak truth to power within our party as well as outside…
[I stand] for a Labour government to close all detention centres, defend and extend free movement, repeal all anti-union laws in a Green New Deal, and give us a public vote on Brexit.”