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The rise of Labour’s new class

10:20 am - February 7th 2010

by Neil Robertson    

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If you trawl Liverpool FC’s unofficial fan forums, it won’t be long before you stumble upon a long thread lamenting the lack of scousers in the squad. Has the city’s talent pool really drained so badly that it’s producing players who aren’t even fit for the subs bench?

You can see shades of this frustration in the backlash over Luciana Berger’s selection as Labour’s candidate for Liverpool Wavertree. Ms Berger is hardly at fault for being young, for harbouring a desire for public service or for possessing qualities which have made her appealing to London’s Labour hierarchy. She may, indeed, prove to be an excellent MP.

But what I read in the exasperated responses to her selection is a refrain I’ve heard many times in & around the Shankly Gates: was there not a single person, in a city of over 400,000 people, who could’ve done as good a job? The city expects an Emlyn Hughes or a Jamie Carragher – someone who, at some level, can understand & relate to the culture & traditions of the people they serve.

In my experience, scousers are no more insular than the inhabitants of any other large town or city. But they do possess a distinctive history and culture which they are deeply proud of and enjoy sharing with the rest of the world. They deserve – like every constituency in the country deserves – an MP who can recall this rich history, revel in its traditions and understand the hopes and fears of the people they wish to represent.

Really, this post isn’t even about Luciana Berger; a similar piece could’ve been written about David or Ed Miliband, Ed Balls or Yvette Cooper.

But her selection will only increase the sense that Labour regards the role of MP as some glorified graduate trainee programme, and sees constituencies as regional call centres, expected to dilligently enact the faxed dictats from central office.

One argument made by opponents of proportional representation is that it would remove the link between an MP and his/her constituents, yet they never stop to recognise that, thanks to the centralising of political parties, this link is already reaching the end of its tether.

Perhaps the defeat of Ms Berger would send a symbolic – but important – message from Liverpool to London that the days of carpetbagging must end if Labour is to re-establish itself with what was once its heartlands.

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About the author
Neil Robertson is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He was born in Barnsley in 1984, and through a mixture of good luck and circumstance he ended up passing through Cambridge, Sheffield and Coventry before finally landing in London, where he works in education. His writing often focuses on social policy or international relations, because that's what all the Cool Kids write about. He mostly blogs at: The Bleeding Heart Show.
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Reader comments

What I don’t understand is why they selected her (presumably democratically) if they didn’t want he ?. My understanding was that there were two other relatively local women in the selection process as well (please correct me if I’m wrong – I have missed a lot of the news on this ).

I also wonder if the notions of community which have been and are clearly such a powerful force within the Labour movement, are increasingly becoming non-geographically based ? I live in a safe Tory seat with very little local Labour activism – but access a very different vibrant Labour community largely through on-line networks – of which this web site plays a part.

Heartlands may not in future always be located in a particular part of the country – but in a particular part of the nation’s hearts & minds.

It would be a sad day if an election result was decided over whether the candidate knew who Bill Shankley was.

3. Alisdair Cameron

The whole Berger issue is fishy. She knows nothing at all of Liverpool,infamously failing a 4 question test in epic fashion: I got three out of four and have only ever been there once, so the city can’t have impacted on her consciousness ever,before she saw it as an opportunity for a career.Very poor show.
The issues around her 2 month stay with, and so presumable closeness to, the official overseeing candidate selection and election doesn’t look good,even if innocent, but that’s all to be buried of course, as she’s the other half of Sion Simon (stepping aside to let Harriet Harman’s other half, Jack Dromey have a seat) and apparently a pal of the junior Blairs. Now try as I might, I really can’t see how such cliqueishness,which will lead to accusations of stitch-ups,nepotism, and looks atrocious, fits at all with the need to reconnect with ordinary party members (without starry connections) and most of all with the wider population.Labour simply cannot talk about Tory elitism while they practice their own variety.
Oh, and Richard

It would be a sad day if an election result was decided over whether the candidate knew who Bill Shankley was

No, not at all. A candidate should know about their constituency and Shankly (no e) was and remains a major figure in the cultural and emotional make-up of the city.It really does matter, a lot.To be so ignorant of your prospective constituency’s culture is unacceptable.

‘It would be a sad day if an election result was decided over whether the candidate knew who Bill Shankley was.’

Selecting a suitable candidate’s not a matter of life and death – it’s much more important than that.

Liverpool has a symbolic significance in New Labour’s rejection of socialism: they’re not going to risk another Derek Hatton.

5. David O'Keefe

Neil-Luciana Bergers biggest critic is Peter Kilfoyle and I don’t think she has anything to worry about if that is the case. Kilfoyle main criticism is that she is a member of labour friends of Israel and thats it, nothing to do with being local or her ability to represent her constituents.

As for Kilfoyle, he is local, but he played a leading part in Destination Kirkby a project that involved the relocation of Everton football club and the loss of 300 jobs in his Walton constituency. Whats local got to with it? acting in the best interests of your constituency is everything, where your from means nothing. I know of no MP that has played a part in moving a major business out of their constituency other than Kilfoyle, if he’s the standard then she has nothing to worry about.

I think Shatterface hits it on the nail @4.

Look at all the seats with really working class constituencies. A sustained effort has been made to parachute in people from outside the area to these ‘safe’ seats, New Labourites by and large. It goes way beyond Liverpool too – look at Ed Balls and Chris Bryant for example.

The ‘old’ Labour Left hasn’t always made the job as hard as it should be – witness Bob Wareing’s de-selection, from what I gather people didn’t support him not because of his politics but because he was a crap constituency worker. So ran opinion on LabourHome and elsewhere back when this came up.

But that said, whenever Left candidates look likely to be selected, the NEC just waits to pounce and there are plenty of very recent shenanigans to show it isn’t a thing of the past. This is why the recent declaration of 40 MPs indicates the need for the reform of party democracy.

7. Alisdair Cameron

It’s all very fuedal in a way isn’t? Ah. for being so loyal,on-message and obedient to me, I grant you the estate of Anytown North.
@ Dave Semple and Shatterface. It’s the New Labour entryism, really isn’t it, which mirrors that of the Hattonites, but with a twist. Whereas the 80s entryists captured local parties, the NewLabbers captured the central structure, and seem to think that’s it’s okay to dispense safe seats to favoured sons and daughters,husbands,wives and partners, regardless of local activist sentiment (way to go, parachute in, piss off activists whose numbers are already meagre, and then expect said activists to do the donkey-work…) and with no knowledge of local culture. In fact (and this is a charge that will offend many Islingtonistas, who blithely think it couldn’t ever be laid against them,dahling) it could legitimately be viewed as a form of colonialism: let’s put our bright young man/woman/wonk out in province X,Y or Z, tell the locals what to do, whip ’em into line, don’cha know. Can’t have one of those local savages running the show.

8. the a&e charge nurse

[4] “Selecting a suitable candidate’s not a matter of life and death – it’s much more important than that”.

Nice little Shanklyism there, Shatterface – of course his political sensibilities are well documented;
“The socialism I believe in is everybody working for the same goal and everybody having a share in the rewards. That’s how I see football, that’s how I see life.”

Just one little quibble, Emyln Hughes was born in Barrow-in-Furness, he was an arch Tory too, so perhaps not the best footie metaphor to illustrate a political point?
This sort of local connection that still pulls at the Kop’s heart strings, though;

If we turn back the clock to 1967 Celtic were the first team to win the European Cup (from Britain) and did so famously with 11 men all born within 20 miles of their stadium, Celtic Park – but those days are long gone especially if we compare the Lisbon lions to Arsenal’s 2005 FA Cup final team;
Lehmann; Lauren, Touré, Senderos, Cole; Gilberto, Vieira, Fabregas (van Persie 86), Pires (Edu 105); Reyes, Bergkamp (Ljungberg 65).

What IS absolutely certain, is that just like the United side decimated by the Munich air crash NuLab MUST rebuild from the electoral ashes of the next general election.

Will they opt for the Celtic model or will their thinking be more in line with the urbane, and cosmopolitan Arsene Wenger – will just have to wait and see?

No, not at all. A candidate should know about their constituency and Shankly (no e) was and remains a major figure in the cultural and emotional make-up of the city.It really does matter a lot. To be so ignorant of your prospective constituency’s culture is unacceptable.

Put it this way: she’d better get it right over Hillsborough, or she’s toast. Incidentally, Alisdair Cameron @ 7 has a point re. entryism, though I’m surprised there are no Scouse New Labour clones they could rely on – but that would suggest it’s about ideology instead of power, influence and – above all – winning.

@Alisdair – I think ‘entryism’ is a bad way to look at it. Labour has never been one philosophical trend – and within Labour, each philosophy tends to gravitate towards its own. Thus, in the modern Labour Party you have the LRC and Compass, representing hard and soft Left. And you have the more mainstream groups.

It’s better looked at like this: these problems are a result of political strategy and the over-centralization of politics, of which Labour Left and Labour Right can both be guilty. It’s not just that Labour Left went for the regions and Labour Right went for the centre – it’s that Labour Right always controlled the centre, but New Labour emerged out of the inability of the Left to seriously challenge that, after 1981, and out of the decline of working class politics generally.

Neither the Militant nor New Labour are ‘entryists’ in the sense of something foreign to the Labour milieu.

“Parachute candidates” are far from new. Winston Churchill, a rising star in the 1900s, was deselected as a Liberal in Oldham and sought refuge in a neighbouring seat. There are many other similar stories.

Roy Hattersley (a bloke who, surely, every LibCon reader considers to be a decent man) never found himself a seat in Sheffield. Even when he became confused about his location in an election speech, the Brummies forgave him. He may not have been a Birmingham man and may not have known where he was owing to exuberance, but he was a good man to have in Parliament.

It will always be difficult for rejected local candidates to understand that localism may not suffice. The lesson that I see from this post is that it is better to appoint the PPC as soon as possible; if you are the MP who is questioning whether to stand again, make up your mind quickly; give your potential successor time and space to learn.

Of course its entryism. It stinks of it.

The whole New Labour thing has fallen apart now Blair has gone. This is just a horrible bourgeous effort to get someone who’se face fits into Parliament through a safe seat. That’s how it will be seen in Liverpool and that’s how it is. Stop splitting hairs and grow up.

If Labour want to be succesful in future they need to spend a lot less time putting dinner party chums into parliament and allow the constituency parties to come up with their own candidates. Its an old-fashioned idea called democracy.

Hmm, don’t want to crash the party too hard.

But if you want Government ministers, you need people who are secure in their seats. If you want bright stars to rise to the top within your party structure – and that, after all, is partly what party structures are for – you’re going to need to give them job security.

If you have X number of seats where you are definitely going to win, then you put your favoured candidates in those seats, thus preserving the party hierarchy and allowing the next generation to come through.

Does it mean that lots of safe seats end up with aparatchiks flown in from London?


Does it mean we, as a nation, have functioning Parliamentary democracy with established constant hierarchies where people at the top are job-secure and thus can get on with, oh I dunno, national legislation as oppose to talking to councillors about dog shit on the local playing field, or doing constituency surgeries.


Is the system perfect?

Absolutely not. As noted, people in safe seats get lumbered with know-nothing, don’t-care MPs who are destined for the top. It fosters negligence, and allows the parties to effectively exploit the fact that they have rock-solid seats at the expense of the people making those seats rock solid.

Could we have a different electoral system where this was avoided?

Of course.

But let’s be honest about this: if we complain out of one side of our mouths that safe seats end up with non-local MPs, let’s please remember to use the other sides of our mouths to remember that this has delivered, er, stable party rule for over a century, allowing parties to offer job security and training to both their leaders and their bright stars. Which, in turn, allows alternate parties to run the country properly.

So yes, safe seats can be a bitch for the locals. They’re also kind of helpful for all of us, taken together as a nation…

The proof is in the pudding. Luciana Berger might turn out to be a better, more passionate MP for the constituency than some fat, old, mustachioed local man. I don’t think it helps to judge her on the basis that she is from London. Her job is not to be local, her job is to vote for Labour’s policies at Westminster.

If the local people don’t want her to vote for Labour policies at Westminster, then they are fucking stupid for pretty much having always voted for Labour MPs. Labour MPs vote for Labour policies.

Also, it is time to ditch the constituency link. Councillors are there to deal with potholes and dogshit. MPs should be talking about defence, national security, civil liberties, the economy. Not local issues for busybodies in residents’ associations. With a PR electoral system, we can have MPs with a regional link (which makes sense, as opposed to the stupid pretense that one MP out of 646 can really do things differently for one constituency over another, especially when 90% of them belong to national parties with national policies) who can get on with the job of passing national laws.

Maybe then will people bother to give a damn about what their MP does in between elections – they will pay attention and lobby them. I guarantee that 90% of the fools shouting down Luciana Berger will not bother to hold her to account for what she does if she is elected.

That said, I think they chose the wrong time to parachute her in. If the rumours of fixing are incorrect, then surely the local Labour party are to blame. She won the selection.

Also, do the fat, old, balding mustachioed men complaining about her selection, want any young women in politics?

@ Paul Sagar.

Here’s a thought. How about job security being related to how well the constituency MPs win over and serve their constituencies, rather than being a gift in the pocket of bloody London politicos?

Hasn’t Liverpool already given us Nadine Dorries? Perhaps parachuting someone in from outside is a better option than any risk of repeating that. 🙂

@17 Nadine Dorries herself got elected in Bedfordshire – unlikely ever to get elected in Liverpool!

18. Alisdair Cameron

Paul (Sagar). Sorry but you’re putting up a straw man there. Of course most people will say they want stability in a country. That’s not to say they want a rigid duopoly, or the growing centralised party structures that we have today. Those very controlling, top-down structures have not been around for the last century plus: The Labour party of the 1950s and 1960s was much more federal and devolved than it is now despite the (bullshit) rhetoric of empowerment,devolved power etc, while even the Tories who traditionally have had a opencast for centralised power (a penchant that ironically you share) were more localised and diverse.The stability that we have had over the last 30 years has been a stability in the power of the two parties but great instability for the masses. The central ‘strength’ you seek for the parties, or at least Labour is what made it so easy for the neo-liberal Blairite minority to subvert the party to its narrow, self-serving ends.You want diversity and seek centralisation, which is nigh impossible, and when done by parties ends up ham-fisted and counter-productive (eg demanding BME representation on a shortlist in a constituency near me, but ignoring the BME demography of that constituency:no rep from easily the biggest BME community there, but a London-imposed rep from a community that barely exists in that constituency. How insulting is that to locals and to those lumped into the one-label-to-cover-all BME category?)
Furthermore diversity is more than what bloody colour your skin is, or your gender:The major parties, with their closed cliques and suppression of outsiders and other voices are as bad as any stagnant organisation. It’s a closed shop: only if you’ve been brainwashed into the project from teen years, gone to Uni done kiddy student playing at politics,become a wonk/think-tanker etc , researcher, maybe a light touch of lecturing,or gentle legal-eagling, had a union sinecure or been part of the quangocracy then a seat is found for you.At no point does the pathetic and risible politics-as-a-game mindset, the progress of favourite sons and daughters stop (how are so many MPs familially linked to other MPs: the net’s not exactly been cast wide,has it?), and nor is the real world ever allowed to intrude upon ‘the project’. Sure you may get the visible black, brown and female figures, but check their backgrounds: bet it’s the usual track, and my goodness they’re on message.Mobility? Only if you fit the narrow template: this works against diverse or new voices, and while you assert that it’s good for bright young things, it isn’t, unless they conform from a very young age (a hard habit to shake if acquired early on, is conformity). This imposition of narow opinion is profoundly bad not just for parties but for democracy itself, meaning that policies within parties are not adequately challenged (look at the diminished role for the NEC), not given enough scrutiny. The elctortae is then given a choice of neo-liberal guff with a red rosette or a blue one. The irony currently is that labour are desperately thrashing round for genuinely new ideas, something, anything to stave off electoral defeat, but by adopting their top-down/closed cliques/favoured sons and daughters/no dissent allowed structure, they haven’t the personnel nor the connections to be able to produce genuinely popular innovative thinking.

Perhaps, I don’t know, you see yourself as possibly one of Labour’s future “bright stars to rise to the top”, but don’t forget you need to do the groundwork out there,even in the dreaded provinces, outside of party cliques, think tanks and the like.At a time when job insecurity haunts the masses, you seem to talk of job security for political elites, which is peculiar,if not insulting. Of course it might be personally nice, and reassuring for bright young stars to know that their rise to power won’t be interrupted, but that’s not the type of politics I want to see, nor one that any party that wants my support should pursue as it is treating the electorate with contempt, as a mere technicality to be circumvented. Not exactly progressive

If Liverpool has been represented by such well known scousers as Harold Wilson and Eric Heffer then I imagine they’ll survive Berger. PPC selection is not an entitlement programme. The “favourite son” approach to selection has invariably produced our weakest representatives. I don’t know anything about this person but presumably those involved with the selection thought she was the strongest candidate. And I suspect she probably does know who Bill Shankly was now.

20. Alisdair Cameron

@ Jimmy (21). We’re still seeing the “favourite son” approach to selection, simply practised by a narrow clique in London, rather than a narrow clique locally.


Was a better candidate overlooked and if so why?

22. Alisdair Cameron

Jimmy, ‘better’ is subjective. I simply think the whole process, in one of England’s majoe, and most populous cities was deeply curious at best,indeed fishy-looking, that a very inexperienced,very well-connected socially and familialy to the New lab London clique, candidate got parachuted in (time was when even bright young things had to earn their spurs, do some groundwork). From the Liverpool Daily Post

during the selection process Ms Berger, who hails from London, stayed at the home of current Wavertree Labour MP Jane Kennedy.

As it happens, Ms Kennedy’s partner, Peter Downing, is the constituency secretary who ran the selection process and received completed ballot papers at his home address.

All parties have protested that there has been no wrongdoing and the process was carried out properly.

Jane Kennedy has represented the city for many years and has a well-deserved reputation for honesty so if she says everything is above board then there is no reason to disbelieve her.

However, Caesar’s wife must be beyond reproach
Without casting any aspersions as to the vote, for the exiting MP to be putting up a particular candidate in their house as well as for the selection surely smacks of a ‘favoured son’ approach.

23. Alisdair Cameron

Jimmy.For the record, Wendy Simon was the preferred candidate of Unison regionally, and is local.

Presumeably, if Peter Downing and Ms Kennedy are partners they share a ‘home address’?



She employs him, to work for her.

Maybe Luciana will keep him on.


Well, that really does invoke the ‘who guards the guards’ precept, does it not?


The local party chose Ms. Berger over Ms. Simon. Obviously Ms. Kennedy made her preference clear but presumably she’s entitled to do that. Perhaps they made the wrong choice but you’ve presented no evidence to that effect. She’s certainly very young but I’m uncomfortable with the idea that that should be a disqualification. Certainly some influential people wanted her to get through, but what makes you so sure that their judgment was wrong?

28. Alisdair Cameron

Jimmy, as I’ve already made quite evident, the choice may, just may, be the correct one, but the whole process and rigmarole is not the correct one. She might well be the right person, but should not have been given preferential handling. It’s the process I’m attacking not the person.


Anyone who goes for a seat is going to be given preferential handling by someone unless no-one likes them, in which case they’re not getting anywhere anyway. Was Ms. Simons union endorsement not “preferential handling?”

30. Vicarious Phil

A pedant writes…the late Eric Heffer was actually from Hertford, an adopted scouser perhaps but not by birth.

It’s perhaps a little sad, but by no means surprising that despite the low esteem MPs are currently held in, major political parties continue to operate in this manner, parachuting their preferred candidates into seats.

It’s perhaps a little worrying her website (which you link to) carries very little biographical info. Is this perhaps because she has, as yet, very little to tell that would involve Liverpool? I gather she’s from London and went to university in Birmingham.

Three light-hearted comments and a serious one, if I may:

@22-24, 27-29 You’re kidding yourself if you think Labour isn’t capable of fiddling an internal election. I’m not saying this result was fiddled, but you’d be mad to take the guy on trust. Let him present the ballot papers for independent inspection! I’m sure we’d find they’ve unfortunately already been destroyed by a coincidental fire in the constituency office.

@ 7 “Ah. for being so loyal,on-message and obedient to me, I grant you the estate of Anytown North.”

Great, great line. Says it all. If Scotland and Wales go their own way, then there really is a case to say that leaves the North of England as the last colony.

@19 “Liverpool has been represented by such well known scousers as Harold Wilson”

Wilson was a Yorkie, from Huddersfield.

Finally. In all seriousness.

@5 “Luciana Bergers biggest critic is Peter Kilfoyle and I don’t think she has anything to worry about if that is the case. Kilfoyle[‘s] main criticism is that she is a member of labour friends of Israel and thats it”

That’s obviously a total lie and cynical slur.

Liverpool Wavertree is a marginal constituency, not a ‘safe seat’.

I’m not quite clear what the objection is here – Labour activists picked the non-local candidate who was backed by the outgoing local MP rather than local alternatives, including a trade union-backed local councillor.

I guess we could have either residency requirements for prospective candidates and/or ban MPs from expressing a preference about who their preferred successor is, but neither seem particularly enforceable or even desirable.

In fact, if you look at the selections in “safe seats” for the next election, I think most of them have picked local candidates – e.g. Easington, both seats in Sunderland, Birmingham Ladywood.

But an interesting question is what (if anything) we could do to help “non-political class” candidates have a better chance of being selected.

When Quarry Bank was a grammar school it had two old boys in the Callaghan cabinet, Bill Rogers and Peter Shore. The closure of the Liverpool Institution meant the end of a school which up to WW2 , provided a grammar school education almost equal to that offrred by Manchester Grammar School. In the 19C there were sufficient Liverpudlians( William Gladstone amongst them) going to to Eton , that a coach was arranged to transport them .The decline in Liverpool and in particular of many of their schools means, that the city no longer seems to be educating people to the same high standards which occurred up to the 50s. In many cities , bright working class children can no longer receive the same quality of free education from comprehensives that they received from grammar schools. Comprehensives often do not educate th pupil in public speaking, debating , sports , manners and therefore instill the confidence in the working class pupil to feel at home in the corridors of power. Harold Wilson went to a grammar school : would he have been so successful if we had gone to some inner city comprehensive?

Consequently is Liverpool educating the same number of high calibre pupils with the ability to feel at home in the corridors of power which it used to achieve ?

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    […] Or as Neil put it, “the selection will only increase the sense that Labour regards the role of MP as some glorified graduate trainee programme, and sees constituencies as regional call centres, expected to dilligently enact the faxed dictats from central office…Perhaps the defeat of Ms Berger would send a symbolic – but important – message from Liverpool to London that the days of carpetbagging must end if Labour is to re-establish itself with what was once its heartlands.” […]

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