The myth of the New Labour carpetbagger


2:11 pm - February 9th 2010

by Don Paskini    


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Recently, Labour Party members in Liverpool Wavertree chose Luciana Berger, a 28 year old Londoner who works as Director of Labour Friends of Israel, as their candidate for the next general election. This has led to criticisms that the Labour Party “parachutes” loyalists from London into safe seats.

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.”

Now the specific example is poorly chosen – Liverpool Wavertree is a marginal constituency, the number one target of the Lib Dems in the area. But the wider point deserves a fact check – is it actually true that Labour’s traditional heartlands are suffering from the “rise of the carpetbaggers”?

To find out, I looked at the excellent UK Polling Report website of all the Labour seats where the current MP is standing down, they’ve selected a candidate, and the majority is more than 20% (i.e. which Labour are still very likely to win even if the Tories win the election overall). Guess how many were London-based New Labour loyalists with no connection to the area?

Of these twenty four seats, ten picked someone who was a current or former local councillor in the area, i.e. not a carpetbagger by definition.

Of the other thirteen, six grew up and went to school in the constituency where they are standing (not carpetbaggers); one was born in Hexham and is standing in Newcastle (not a carpetbagger); one works as a trade union official in Sunderland (not a carpetbagger). And one is a councillor in Warrington whose husband works for the outgoing MP (not a carpetbagger).

So that leaves five people who did not have local connections to their seat before they were selected. Stephen Twigg has revitalised the Liverpool West Derby Labour Party since the local party deselected Bob Wareing; Rachel Reeves is always mentioned as one of Labour’s rising stars; Lisa Nandy is an expert in issues which affect refugee and migrant children; Yasmin Qureshi is an anti-war leftie who will be the UK’s first female Muslim MP. None of them got selected as a result of a stitch-up by the party centrally.

And possibly the star of an extremely talented group is Kate Green, the former Director of the Child Poverty Action Group and now parliamentary candidate for Stretford and Urmston. Kate has spent her life campaigning for social justice, and Britain would be a better place if the government had listened more to her over the past few years and less to businessmen like Lord Freud, who is now the Tory “expert” on welfare.

When you actually look at who is getting selected in Labour’s safe seats, it becomes clear that it is just silly to argue 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”.

I’m sure that the evidence won’t kill off this myth, just as people go on about “sheep-like” MPs when in fact they are the most rebellious ever. But the fact is that the overwhelming majority of people who the Labour Party selects in its safe seats were either born and grew up there, and/or had already served in the area as local councillors. Those that weren’t are as likely to be leftie critics of key government policies as loyalists, and all achieved success on their own merits, rather than as a result of London stitch-ups.

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About the author
Don Paskini is deputy-editor of LC. He also blogs at donpaskini. He is on twitter as @donpaskini
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Labour party ,Westminster

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Reader comments


1. Sunder Katwala

I agree that it would be great to have Kate Green in Parliament: she really would bring a lot of expertise on poverty, welfare and inequality issues.

I spoke in West Derby to a new Liverpool Fabians group last Thursday night … there was a very good sense, as you report, of a real resurgence of activity in the constituency party there. The debate was about the inequality agenda, and there were some really good contributions on issues like housing.

Following the wonderful success Sean Woodward has made in connecting with his St Helens constituents, is there not a case for parachuting more Tory millionaires into safe Labour seats?

3. David Boothroyd

Rachel Reeves had actually moved to Leeds to continue her career before running for the selection in Leeds West; she certainly wasn’t “parachuted” (a stupid term) there.

But you’re absolutely right about Kate Green – absolutely excellent candidate when she fought Cities of London and Westminster in 1997 and will be a first class Labour MP.

@2 – that is a rather different case to those above, the process was fairly blatantly stitched up to ensure Woodward got the seat…though that said, he only won fairly narrowly in the end. The exclusion of the local council leader – one of the few female leaders of councils in the north west at the time – was a particularly bad example of the party practicing the opposite of what it preached.

I don’t think Don P was defending every single selection process that has ever happened, just pointing out that some of the narratives about how they are all stitched up for parachutists – and that that is particularly bad in this cycle – are actually more myth than fact. A quick overview of the last set of selections would probably show the opposite in fact, there has been an increasing tendency to select a local candidate, where there is a good one, rather than someone nationally known.

That’s not to say that the powers-that-be don’t play some games of course – for example Barbara Roche was the machine candidate in Wigan. But she came fifth out of six in the end.

How does the party leadership manage to persuade a CLP to ignore the claims of someone they know and work with and wants to represent them and, instead, adopt a stranger who Central Office want in parliament?

Is the average party member so easy to manipulate? Such brazen apparatchiks?

Is it done on a rota? Sorry comrades, it’s your turn to take one for the team?

Scary stuff.

“How does the party leadership manage to persuade a CLP to ignore the claims of someone they know and work with and wants to represent them and, instead, adopt a stranger who Central Office want in parliament?”

Normally what happens is that if someone wants to be an MP they take the time to go and visit the members and talk to them.

Hence there is every possibility that a member might vote for someone who works in a different town, but who seems nice, clued up about the local issues, and shares their views on key policy areas.

For example, someone who really cares about civil liberties might well choose the candidate who has worked for Amnesty International over the local councillor who is more interested in local services, particularly if the “outsider” is also recommended by the outgoing local MP or other widely respected locals.

Is it done on a rota? Sorry comrades, it’s your turn to take one for the team?

Scary stuff.

You don’t listen much to what others are saying, do you pagar?

Hence there is every possibility that a member might vote for someone who works in a different town, but who seems nice, clued up about the local issues, and shares their views on key policy areas.

Nice try, Don, but it really doesn’t wash.

I worked in St Helens for many years and you expect me to believe that those people looked at someone like Woodward and said to themselves, he seems nice, let’s vote for him as our MP? It is obvious that St Helens paid the price of his defection.

But how is it done is my question?

And one we accept that it happens, it becomes only a matter of guessing how much arm twisting was necessary in each instance it occurs.

If we had a HOC filled with honest locals instead of the “talented” professional clique we would have a better parliament in my view.

Right then, scallywag, my response is here:

http://bleedingheartshow.wordpress.com/2010/02/09/don-paskini-player-hater/

Oh, and do take the post title as being tongue in cheek!

I broadly agree with this article – also worth pointing out that while it is undoubtable that people with influence try to use that influence from time to time (and sometimes it even works), ’twas ever thus. Callaghan could easily be described as a carpetbagger. So could Dalton. I read Ian Mikardo’s autobiography recently (fantastic read; really recommend it) and he was scathing about such practices when he was a young MP.

“Callaghan could easily be described as a carpetbagger. So could Dalton.”

And Attlee (when he switched seats to Walthamstow), Bevin, Wilson, Gaitskell, Crosland, Shinwell, Foot… I mean, the list is neigh on endless and also includes Keir Hardie and Arthur Henderson (who might hold some sort of record in that regard).


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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