[Please do also read Louise Baldock's comment at the end and thank you to Louise for her input. As I say, it is supposed to be an observational piece]
David Bartlett’s Dale Street Associates blog is currently carrying an interesting piece from Cllr Jake Morrison, who is aiming to contest Liverpool Wavertree in 2015, standing as an independent against Luciana Berger, the current MP. One of the key attacks on Cllr Morrison, presumably from Labour members and supporters, is to ask how Luciana Berger was parachuted in if she was selected democratically by Labour members in Wavertree.
It is really important to make the point that Luciana Berger was selected by a democratic vote of Labour members in Wavertree by a margin of 2 to 1 over a local candidate, Cllr Wendy Simon. So can the term “parachuted in” really be applied?
If someone lives outside the constituency but then becomes the candidate, does that mean they were parachuted in? If that is the case, then a lot of MPs were in that situation when they were first selected. You can look now at the excellent Labour councillor for Kensington and Fairfield, Louise Baldock, who is seeking the nomination for Stockton South (a marginal constituency lost by Labour last time). Is she being parachuted in? Hardly – she comes from that area originally, clearly has connections there and is open about the fact that she is lives in and is a councillor in Liverpool.
So when is a parachute really a parachute? The piece on Dale Street Associates doesn’t explain why Luciana Berger’s selection in Wavertree is seen as such, but there are clear reasons why it is perceived as her being “parachuted in”:
- Jane Kennedy's announcement that she was standing down as an MP was widely seen as a surprise one
- Jane Kennedy is a member of Labour Friends of Israel and Luciana Berger had been a Director of that group
- During the candidate selection process she allegedly stayed at the house of the incumbent MP, Jane Kennedy
I’m not party to Labour rules and regulations in a selection process, but undoubtedly a short selection campaign, with one candidate getting strong backing from the incumbent MP (and other prominent local figures) begs the question of who knew what and when. However, none of these points would point to a parachuted candidate if it were not for the fact that she was not a councillor in Liverpool, did not have a record campaigning here and lacked a great deal in local knowledge on her arrival.
So what are the reasons why it is widely seen that Berger was parachuted in?
- She was due to stand for a council seat in Camden in May 2010
- Her blog (and possibly the regular visits to help campaign in Wavertree) began in August 2009
- Jane Kennedy announced she would be stepping down on November 9th 2009
- A flurry of articles followed such as this one describing Luciana Berger as a “tireless activist”, with “striking good looks”, “has put in a lot of time learning the nature of the Wavertree constituency”, “has made a big impression in Liverpool”, “She has been working very hard and getting her face known at all the party events”… you get the idea
So the general impression from the outside (and again Labour insiders may have a very different perspective) is that the ground was very much being prepared for Luciana Berger by Jane Kennedy and others to give her the best possible opportunity to win the selection. It appears from the outside that she may have had three months in which she knew that Jane Kennedy would be stepping down, and used that time to develop connections and meet members all around Wavertree. Arguably, others who stood for selection once the nomination process started, had been concentrating on doing their jobs as local councillors and did not have equal warning to prepare their campaigns.
So the statement by Jake Morrison that Luciana Berger was “parachuted in” to me seems to be made because she had many advantages over the local candidates, which resulted from her relationship with the previous MP, and that she was geographically from outside of Liverpool or Merseyside.
My own take on this is that the “parachute” issue won’t have much traction outside of a core group of unhappy Labour activists and supporters, who perhaps have this view of the events [I offer the opportunity to local Labour members to correct any factual inaccuracies in this blog because this is intended to be observational]. In terms of the wider electorate, I don’t think it will have a major impact. In my communications with Luciana Berger, I’ve usually had a very prompt response and for the majority of Labour voters, a response when contacted will be the key thing they expect from their MP.
Jake Morrison’s best options will be to appeal to those in Labour who are disappointed with the national Labour party, on the basis that the Liberal Democrats will have been nearly eviscerated in Liverpool after the next local elections, and he will be a safe “left of Labour” protest vote. The Lib Dems are unlikely to drop Wavertree entirely as a target constituency, but will not put in anything like the effort of last time. They will perhaps be better advised to make sure they hold Southport.
His best opportunity to really challenge will be to do something differently in a way people can’t currently predict. He would need to energise young voters, a notoriously low turnout group. Twitter and Facebook are great, but there is a limit to how effective it is in attracting people that are not normally interested in politics into political campaigning. He should also be looking at how to build a coalition of people who would be willing to campaign for him.
The national mood at the next election will be very much a Labour v Tories one, with maybe only 60 constituencies with a credible 3rd party candidate, and whether Liverpool Wavertree will fall into that category will depend on how effectively Jake Morrison can campaign and how much funding he can attract. In a sense, he has taken a political skydive out of the party plane and he’ll have to see how well he can land.
I’m not going to tip off people to our Green Party plans, other than to say that Liverpool Riverside will be our target constituency in the North West and we’ll be announcing our candidate selection once the ballot process finishes on the 8th July. I’m very excited about what we can achieve there over the next two years.