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Home » Left Futures » Congratulations Sarah: now let’s learn the lessons of Rotherham

Congratulations Sarah: now let’s learn the lessons of Rotherham

This article first appeared at Left Futures, in the small hours of 30th November 2012

Congratulations to Sarah Champion, the new Labour MP for Rotherham (full results below). She will no doubt do a great job in the role – we hope better than her predecessor Denis MacShane.

So can we all breathe a sigh of relief? Well, of course, in that Labour won. Respect may be capable of delivering reality-checks to Labour, as in Bradford West, but only Labour can deliver a government that works in the interests of working people. And that’s not to mention the appalling judgment calls made by George Galloway – and candidates who have refused to distance themselves from him – in recent months. It’s welcome to see those rejected – and of course, Yvonne Ridley appeared on the ballot paper as “Respect (George Galloway)”.

But the result is hardly a vindication of the selection process that saw local candidates kept off the ballot paper by the party machine. With a turnout of 33 per cent and an unheard-of second place for a party that capitalises on disillusionment, it is clear that voters have been turned off by the political process that disenfranchised the people of their town.

You might think that most people wouldn’t be bothered about the selection process – only a small proportion are eligible to take part, after all. But when the London political establishment stamps on the local choices in full public view, it leaves a sour taste.

That’s not to mention the still-reasonable showing for Respect – which made the Labour selection process a key part of their campaign. 8.34 per cent is a considerable dent.

Fundamentally, however, Labour has been lucky. We were let off by the distraction of the Rotherham fostering scandal – which UKIP have made considerable capital out of – and the simple fact that Respect and Yvonne Ridley hardly presented a credible left alternative.

We cannot expect that to be the case all of the time. Just look at what happened in London in 2000, when the selection process was stitched up against Ken Livingstone.

And aside from all of that, having transparent and democratic processes must be about more than winning at the polls. As it says on the back of our membership cards, we are a “democratic socialist party”, and that should extend to the selection of candidates. The very fact that half the members walked out of the selection meeting in protest demonstrates the strength of opinion among activists. If we’d won by 10,000 or more tonight, that would be still be significant.

The by-election is over now – and the government are firmly beaten. With the Tories and Lib Dems in fifth and eighth place, we should be glad that the electorate saw fit to punish the incompetent and ideologically-bankrupt parties of government. There will, of course, be much soul-searching to do as to how UKIP and the BNP took second and third place.

Jon Lansman wrote of members’ self-restraint on the subject of the Rotherham selection in the run-up to the poll. Now we must properly talk about it – and make sure it is not brushed under the carpet. No doubt the argument will be made that the electorate weren’t bothered. But this is hardly a conventional set of results, is it?

Now is the time for Labour members to demand an end to NEC-imposed selection shortlists. If Ed Miliband and general secretary Iain McNicol are serious about making a break with the fixing culture of the New Labour years, they should support this move. But we cannot expect top-down structures to be removed via top-down reform. If anything demonstrates the need for Labour activists to organise for party democracy, it is the Rotherham debacle.

Let’s make sure this never happens again.

The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy argues for more power for Labour’s rank and file members. This includes CLPs having the right to decide on their own shortlists for parliamentary selections. Membership is open to individuals and to Labour and trade union branches. Join here – and find out more on the CLPD website.

FULL RESULT (thanks to LabourList for uploading this fairly early-on):

  • Sarah Champion, Labour: 9,866 (46.25%, +1.62%)
  • Jane Collins, UKIP: 4,648 (21.79%, +15.87%)
  • Marlene Guest, BNP: 1,804 (8.46%, -1.96%)
  • Yvonne Ridley, Respect: 1,778 (8.34%)
  • Simon Wilson, Cons: 1,157 (5.42%, -11.32%)
  • David Wildgoose, English Democrat: 703 (3.30%)
  • Simon Copley, Independent: 582 (2.73%, -3.58%)
  • Michael Beckett, Liberal Democrat: 451 (2.11%, -13.87%)
  • Ralph Dyson, TUSC: 261 (1.22%)
  • Paul Dickson, Independent: 51 (0.24%)
  • Clint Bristow, no description: 29 (0.14%)
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