In the previous two pieces we’ve looked at the experience and professional backgrounds of the Shadow Cabinet and the likely next generation of Labour MPs. Today, I thought we’d explore the question of candidates’ local links and local government experience.
These two factors are something we’ve seen become increasingly important in Conservative selections. Tory members (and voters) are less and less likely to accept someone with no link to the local area – sometimes leading people to make slightly tortuous claims to local roots – and they seem more and more keen on people with proven local government experience (as Paul found on Tuesday, over half of the Tory candidates in ‘safe’ seats are already elected to local government positions). So is it the same for Labour?
Are you local?
It’s a challenge for would-be politicians that there can never be a cast iron definition of what the acceptable degree of local-ness might be. Constant lifelong occupancy of the seat, from birth to the present day, is unimpeachable but not always practical in real life (“You’ll never leave”, as the sign to The League of Gentlemen’s Royston Vasey proclaimed outside The Local Shop). If you’re born and brought up somewhere, but move away for work, does that count? Many would say yes, some would disagree. How about if you grew up somewhere else but have spent most of your adult life in the constituency? Or if you’re a long-term resident of a neighbouring seat? Ultimately it’s a subjective decision.
On my own subjective assessment, around 75 per cent of Labour’s top 45 candidates have at least a fairly reasonable claim to be local to one degree or another. Some are cradle-to-candidacy local residents, while others are seeking to represent the town they grew up in before heading to London to work. Probably the least local is Stephen Kinnock (son of guess who), educated in London, Cambridge and Bruges, working since University in Brussels, London and St Petersburg and whose family live in Denmark (where his wife is the Prime Minister). He is the candidate for Aberavon.
Local Government experience
Rather more tangible and easy to test is whether the potential next generation of MPs are local councillors or not. Overall, 19 are currently serving as councillors – a slightly lower proportion (42 per cent) than Paul found among Tory candidates in our safe seats. However, we are of course using a different sample to Paul – break it down a bit, and the proportion is notably higher among the 30 seats Labour currently holds (47 per cent) than among the 15 target seats (33 per cent). It seems local government experience gives you more weight in a seat where Labour are already on top that in their battlegrounds.
It’s worth noting that not all the councillors represent wards in their chosen seat – Gerald Jones is Deputy Leader of Caerphilly Council while fighting Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney (he has pledged to give up the council job if he wins) and Christina Rees is a councillor in Bridgend while standing in Neath.
This pool of 19 councillors includes seven with experience of leading within local government. Four (Kate Hollern in Blackburn; Peter Dowd in Bootle; Johanna Boyd in Stirling and Marie Rimmer in St Helens South & Whiston) either are or have been council leaders, while three others (Gerald Jones in Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney; Harry Harpham in Sheffield Brightside and Imran Hussain in Bradford East) are or have been Deputy Leader of a council. This may represent positive talent, or simply that they have successfully dominated their local Labour Party structures sufficiently to be guaranteed selection, or both.
What to make of them?
It’s undoubtedly the case that the power of the local is growing among Labour, as well as the Conservatives – partly as a response to the rise of anti-politics. Candidates perceived as being ‘parachuted’ are in real danger of being shot down by troops on the ground in either main party. It’s still possible for some, like Stephen Kinnock, to float from the sky and land intact, but they are increasingly rare.
We should also expect to see Labour draw on the local government experience of its likely new MPs when seeking people for Shadow Ministerial jobs come May. After all, we revealed last week the very limited range of private sector or entrepreneurial experience among them, so if you’re looking for someone who’s had to be relatively self-starting and run something themselves, then their attentions may well turn to colleagues who have controlled Town Halls.