Monday, February 08, 2010

The myth of the carpetbagger

Recently, Labour Party members in Liverpool Wavertree chose Luciana Berger, a 28 year old Londoner who works as Director of Labour Friends of Israel, as their candidate for the next general election. This has led to criticisms that the Labour Party "parachutes" loyalists from London into safe seats.

Or as Neil put it, "the selection will only increase the sense that Labour regards the role of MP as some glorified graduate trainee programme, and sees constituencies as regional call centres, expected to dilligently enact the faxed dictats from central office...Perhaps the defeat of Ms Berger would send a symbolic – but important – message from Liverpool to London that the days of carpetbagging must end if Labour is to re-establish itself with what was once its heartlands."

Now the specific example is poorly chosen - Liverpool Wavertree is a marginal constituency, the number one target of the Lib Dems in the area. But the wider point deserves a fact check - is it actually true that Labour's traditional heartlands are suffering from the "rise of the carpetbaggers"?

To find out, I looked at the excellent UK Polling Report website of all the Labour seats where the current MP is standing down, they've selected a candidate, and the majority is more than 20% (i.e. which Labour are still very likely to win even if the Tories win the election overall). Guess how many were London-based New Labour loyalists with no connection to the area?

Of these twenty four seats, ten picked someone who was a current or former local councillor in the area, i.e. not a carpetbagger by definition.

Of the other thirteen, six grew up and went to school in the constituency where they are standing (not carpetbaggers); one was born in Hexham and is standing in Newcastle (not a carpetbagger); one works as a trade union official in Sunderland (not a carpetbagger). And one is a councillor in Warrington whose husband works for the outgoing MP (not a carpetbagger).

So that leaves five people who did not have local connections to their seat before they were selected. Stephen Twigg has revitalised the Liverpool West Derby Labour Party since the local party deselected Bob Wareing; Rachel Reeves is always mentioned as one of Labour's rising stars; Lisa Nandy is an expert in issues which affect refugee and migrant children; Yasmin Qureshi is an anti-war leftie who will be the UK's first female Muslim MP. None of them got selected as a result of a stitch-up by the party centrally.

And possibly the star of an extremely talented group is Kate Green, the former Director of the Child Poverty Action Group and now parliamentary candidate for Stretford and Urmston. Kate has spent her life campaigning for social justice, and Britain would be a better place if the government had listened more to her over the past few years and less to businessmen like Lord Freud, who is now the Tory "expert" on welfare.

When you actually look at who is getting selected in Labour's safe seats, it becomes clear that it is just silly to argue that "Labour regards the role of MP as some glorified graduate trainee programme, and sees constituencies as regional call centres, expected to dilligently enact the faxed dictats from central office".

I'm sure that the evidence won't kill off this myth, just as people go on about "sheep-like" MPs when in fact they are the most rebellious ever. But the fact is that the overwhelming majority of people who the Labour Party selects in its safe seats were either born and grew up there, and/or had already served in the area as local councillors. Those that weren't are as likely to be leftie critics of key government policies as loyalists, and all achieved success on their own merits, rather than as a result of London stitch-ups.


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