The Case for Open Selection

Democratising Labour is an uphill struggle, but we have the opportunity to empower the membership significantly and open up the selection procedure. It is vital we take it.

If the events of 2016 showed the depth of support for the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn amongst Labour’s membership, and those of 2017 showed the electoral viability of a left Labour platform, 2018 increasingly appears to be the year in which – cognisant of the arcane, undemocratic nature of much of the Party Rule Book – members of the party coalesce around a desire to democratise Labour’s internal workings.

The Democracy Review is naturally one pillar of this: the other – outside of the Review’s remit, but no less crucial – is mandatory reselection. Back in January, Novara Media’s Michael Walker outlined some of the key arguments for mandatory reselection. There has been much scare-mongering, but the reality, as Walker rightly notes, is far more mundane: ‘it’s not that revolutionary, but it is a good idea.’ New Socialist itself has contributed significantly to this debate. James Mackenzie’s piece on this site made similar arguments, pointing out that, for non-members of Labour, the furore over mandatory reselection is simply baffling:

From the outside, the debate within Labour around “mandatory reselection” looks decidedly odd. In the Scottish Greens we don’t call it that: we just call it “selection”, and to my knowledge no-one has ever suggested not doing it before each and every election.

Even good-faith arguments against the process seem logically unsound. As Mackenzie makes clear, ‘a shift of this sort wouldn’t lock in control by the party’s left: it would lock in control by the membership.’ Events over the previous few years have given a clear indicator of where much of the membership stands currently, but that is no reason to lock-in permanent left control of the Party: member-led democracy is key, not a gaming of selections or an undermining of the leadership stemming from transient control by the right or left. On similar lines, another strong piece featured in New Socialist argued that:

reselections would eventually bring an end to the parachuting of candidates into inactive CLPs, a practice which ought to be regarded as entirely unacceptable, even when committed by left-wing MPs.

One of the great mysteries is why an unambiguously transparent, non-discriminatory, and democratic process – which could just as easily see left Labour MPs replaced as those on the right of the Party – is heralded in some quarters as evidence of a hard-left takeover. If mandatory reselection represents an attempt by the left to take control of the party, it is a spectacularly foolish tactic: it removes power from the leadership to parachute in candidates, and power from the NEC to override CLP decisions, and places this power firmly in the hands of all members.

Polling already suggests that only 6% of voters backed Labour in 2017 due to their local MP: an active, enthusiastic membership should without question have a role in choosing who represents them in Parliament.

The arguments for mandatory reselection seem fairly convincing, and there is growing support amongst much of the membership to see it introduced. The problem we face is how this can be done. The aforementioned arcane Rule Book is something we have to navigate in order to achieve this. By way of an example, one such piece published on this site – a statement by the Young Labour National Committee committing to forwarding a rule change on mandatory reselection to the 2019 Conference – would, as a result of the three-year rule, almost certainly see itself ruled immediately out-of-order and thus not even come close to the Conference floor next year.

Although the Democracy Review may well put to bed this absurd three-year rule – ruling out-of-order any Conference debate on a rule change motion discussed within the previous three years – this example still speaks to an enduring problem whereby a motivated left suffers from an asymmetry of information: thankfully, there already is a motion going to conference this year: Open Selection, for as long as the three-year rule remains in place, is the only game in town for those wanting to democratise the party sooner rather than later.

The point of this short piece is not to re-hash the persuasive arguments for a transparent, recurrent selection procedure sketched out so well by others. Rather, it is to encourage those committed to a democratised Party to coalesce around, and lend support to, the rule change motion being presented at Conference this year by Labour International, calling for Open Selection.

The motion itself can be found here: in short, the motion would fundamentally change the selection procedure; all MPs – naturally, automatically included on the shortlist of candidates – would take part in an open selection process decided on the basis of OMOV, with the cumbersome and complicated trigger ballot system consigned to history. The motivating principle here is to remove any acrimony and instead normalise a fairly straightforward procedure in which a representative of the Labour Party is duty-bound to set forward their arguments and vision to those who tirelessly campaign for them.

What steps can be taken now by those looking to ensure the party’s selection procedures are democratised at Conference this year? A good start would be for those active in their CLPs to pass the model motion in support of Open Selection. Ensuring delegates to Conference are both aware of – and supportive of – the motion is the next step. Constitutional Amendments will be discussed on the morning session of Tuesday 26th September: should Open Selection make it to the floor, this is when it will be discussed and voted on.

Democratising the party is an uphill struggle, but we have the opportunity in a month’s time to empower the membership significantly and open up the selection procedure. It is vital we take this opportunity: at the very least – in this febrile and fluid political climate – we could be waiting three years until we have this chance once again.