Labour must prepare for an early general election by opening candidate selection now, writes Trevor Fisher
For Chartist readers, the thought of a Tory election victory is horrific. The Tories are vicious, incompetent and malevolent – so surely they must be rejected by the voters? Alas, they are better than Labour at winning elections and have won eight of the last eleven. And, without a sharp revision of Labour strategy, they can win the next one – and sooner than expected.
The failure of Starmer to give Labour a lead in the opinion polls, coupled with the disastrous internal battles and obsession with non-issues like the rules of leader elections, gives the Tories a massive advantage. Boris is also a winner. Loathsome and disastrously power obsessed, he gets what he wants. The Labour failure to understand that Johnson may call an election as early as next year means Labour is walking into a trap.
The key factor is failure to trigger parliamentary selections. Labour believes that the election will be no earlier than 2023: the Fabian report, Winning 150, says “there is a strong chance of an election in the first nine months of 2023 (so) our analysis is based on the existing boundary changes”. The boundaries may not change, but this is because an election in 2022 is possible. The party should be campaigning now, but the assumption in LOTO (the Leader of the Opposition’s Office) is that they can wait for the changes to take place. This is folly.
Campaigns lasting only weeks worked in 2017, but not in 2019, and they will not work for the next election. As Fleur Anderson, the only candidate to win a new seat in 2019 (Putney), has said, her victory was based on “professionalism, unity and prioritising candidates who are ingrained in the constituency”. As a former councillor and local resident, she thinks localism is vital, but also as someone who was selected a year before the election, having time to get known was crucial. She is correct, so if Starmer thinks selections can wait it is a serious mistake.
Johnson may be more incompetent than Theresa May, but as he faces mounting problems this very fact means he will be tempted to go early. LOTO is struggling to make an impact, and the Leader of the Opposition seems unable to grasp that the repeal of the Fixed Term Parliament Act means that Johnson can go with three weeks’ notice. Johnson is a chancer by nature. If he sees Labour is unprepared it is an incentive to go early. Labour is unprepared, and is making no attempt to become prepared.
Boundary changes irrelevant
LOTO is clearly waiting on boundary changes, but these are irrelevant. As the Fabians have correctly said, if the election is 2022 or early 2003 the election is fought on current boundaries. Even if Johnson waits – and he does not need extra seats to beat Labour but they would make his job easier – boundary changes are not a problem.
In 1981 Labour selected candidates, and in Birmingham Ladywood deselected the MP, John Sever, in the first mandatory reselection in history. Albert Bore was selected to replace him. But then the boundaries changed and, when Thatcher went a year early, the Ladywood constituency was merged with Handsworth. The PPC for Handsworth was Clare Short. Clare went against Albert for the seat and the rest is history. Problem with boundary changes? There is NO problem. And the fact the two candidates had been campaigning would not be forgotten.
What is holding Labour back from selecting candidates? A mix of factors, but the desire to control selections is prominent. A hasty campaign makes central control inevitable. If we want local selections we must campaign to get them in early 2022.
The Stafford CLP passed the following resolution unanimously in September:
This CLP recognizes an early election is likely now the Fixed Term Parliament Act is being repealed, but CLPs have not selected candidates. CLP resolves to request the NEC give the go-ahead to start the process to select a candidate, and to campaign for the right of all CLPs to select candidates. Candidates must have the right to meet the voters.
We ask for your support. The only way to stop a fifth Tory election victory is to give candidates time to get rooted in their local communities. And that means starting candidate selections now.