Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Selections #1 - 'if you're good enough, you're old enough'

Did you hear the one about the sitting MP who nearly got deselected in favour of the local party's youth officer?

Washington and Sunderland West, one of Labour's safest seats, selected its MP recently. Due to boundary changes, Sharon Hodgson, who currently represents just under half the seat, had to seek selection in a ballot of all members.

Contrary to early predictions, though, the main challenge came not from any of the local councillors or from the full time GMB trade union official, but from the local youth officer, Bridget Philipson. Bridget grew up in Washington, and after going to university at Oxford had come back to work for a local charity.

As well as spending time meeting with as many members as possible, and setting out ideas for building up a strong campaigning with a bigger membership and in touch with the local community, Bridget set out her ideas on some of the big issues facing the area and her ideas for what to do, on issues such as council housing, local transport, changing the welfare system to support families better, support for ex-servicemen and support for people with drug and alcohol addiction. These themes inevitably found their way into the leaflets of the other candidates a few days after she mentioned them.

Despite all the advantages that come from being an incumbent MP or from the support of a trade union, the final result ended up with Bridget securing 83 votes to 120 for Sharon Hodgson. The other four candidates between them got fewer than 30. It was even closer than that makes it look, because the third placed candidate had been encouraging her supporters to make Bridget their second preference. If it hadn't been for the understandable desire for many members not to deselect a current MP, Bridget would certainly have won.

The typical ways of becoming a Labour MP are either to spend time in London getting to know the movers and shakers before being parachuted into a safe Labour seat, or to serve your time in an area and wait for your turn.

It's really heartening to see someone seeking selection in the area that they grew up, campaigning on their ideas for the area and do so well. Hopefully, one of the other seats in the North East will be lucky enough to have Bridget as their MP when there is next a vacancy, and other people who are thinking about trying to become a Labour MP in the future will adopt this sort of approach.


At 7:10 am , Blogger HenryG said...

A very interesting and impressive campaign by all accounts. What are Bridget's politics - were they distinctive or is she a loyalist who played well locally?

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