More diverse candidates needed in Labour party to stay in touch with voters, says Swansea East AM Mike Hedges

The Labour Party needs to work on selecting local and more diverse candidates to be MPs to stay in touch with voters, assembly member Swansea East AM Mike Hedges has said.

House of commonsHedges called for a change in rules to limit the power of UK party leaders, in which they can currently push favoured candidates through to selection.

His call comes during a battle between Jeremy Corbyn and Pontypridd MP Owen Smith for the Labour leadership role.

In an article for the group Welsh Labour Grassroots Hedges wrote: “Many people in the Labour party are asking themselves why the views of MPs are so at odds with those of party members.”

“We need to return to the diversity of Labour MPs in both background and political opinion that existed pre-2001. We need to make sure that the new MPs post 2020 are representative of both the party and the community they represent.”

Hedges, who supports Corbyn, said it is down to the way that Labour parliamentary candidates have been selected since 1997. According to Hedges two thirds of newly-elected Labour MPs in 1997 were councilors, which he claims fell to one third in the 2001 elections.

He said: “Over the last 20 years we have gone from a majority of local candidates becoming MPs to the growth of a new political class becoming Labour MPs. It has almost reached the stage that to be a Labour MP you need to have worked as a political aide, or adviser, been a lobbyist or worked in the media or law.”

Hedges said the introduction of “one member, one vote” was introduce with the intention to reduce the power of Labour activists but instead gave “great control” to the party’s national executive committee (NEC).

One member, one vote is a method of selecting party leaders by direct vote of the members of a political party. Those in support of one member, one vote claim that it enhances democracy because it enables ordinary citizens to participate. For the Labour 2015 leadership election, a true one-member, one-vote system was used for the first time.

According to Hedges all-women shortlists and the late retirement of sitting Labour MPs gave the NEC the opportunity to select “well-connected” candidates.

The use of all-women shortlists is a political practice intended to increase the proportion of female MPs in the UK. The practice, where only women are shortlisted for particular constituencies, is currently only used by the Labour party. A deadline was set in 2002 for sitting Labour MPs to stand down, with the target of filling the seats with 35% women. Anyone choosing not to show intention of stepping down, after the deadline, was classed as “late retirement” however only a dozen or so MPs announced their intention to retire. Both AWS and late retirement ensures “favoured sons” cannot be parachuted into such roles when they arise.

Hedges has called for changes to ensure the constituency party leaders control the selection of candidates and that all contenders have equal publicity.

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