It doesn’t matter what party you’re in, you like to see fair play in Parliamentary selections. Especially when there are two people you know in the contest. Over the last few weeks, candidates have been vying to be selected as the PPC for Thurrock. One of the candidates is Polly Billington, a close aide to Ed Miliband and someone who is a friend. Another of the potential candidates is Sarah Mackinlay, daughter of Andrew, the independent minded Labour MP, who retired as MP for Thurrock at the last election. Sarah worked for me as editor of Total Politics for a year, and I went to her wedding, so I know her well. Yesterday, the Constituency Labour Party met to shortlist three candidates to put forward to a general meeting.
Today I received an email from a Labour Party insider who was not at the meeting, but clearly knows Sarah well. This is what s(he) reports.
I am writing to let you know what has happened in the Thurrock Labour selection procedure in which you may have been aware Sarah Mackinlay was competing. The long and the short of it is that yesterday she was excluded from the Labour shortlist in Thurrock by a small cabal of bitter, twisted and supremely mediocre local party officials. The motivation for this is I believe twofold. Firstly, (given your experience this will not surprise you) some harbour a twenty-year old grudge against her father and secondly, it is an attempt to clear the path for Polly Billington (Ed Milliband advisor). Just two candidates have been shortlisted – Polly and a woman from Croydon – Ann Marie Walters (who set foot in the constituency for the first time yesterday appparently). In my relatively long experience this is without precedent – two candidates for a marginal seat like Thurrock! I have known Sarah Mackinlay for a long time. She has her faults but I could name several dozen Labour MPs who she is better than (you might be able to do the same from your side of the House). She is not a Stepford politician – of which there are a swarm. I know for a fact that whilst she didn’t give the performance of her life at the shortlisting meeting, she did easily enough to deserve to be put before the members. We’ve seen what happens when constituencies feel they have had someone imposed on them. Sarah had been working hard and had a body of support (yes part of it built on her father’s reputation – but a chunk directly for her). I think the Thurrock Labour Party is heading for a blood bath and the only beneficiary will be the incumbent. Of course I realise that in a Party political sense this is none of your concern – indeed you would be quite entitled to revel in it. But on a personal level I would hope you agree it is an outrage. I know that many complaints have already been made to the regional secretary of the Labour Party and people who have not supported Sarah are incensed by the unfairness of it. It threatens to render whichever of the two surviving candidates toxic unless there is some kind of intervention to rectify the injustice. This can’t be good for politics wherever you sit.
On the face of it there seems some very odd goings on here. As I say, I know both Polly and Sarah, but I am sure Polly would want to win fairly and not want any local party members to feel that they were being stitched up by the centre. Experience shows where that can lead.