Replacing Tony or Gordon's Favoured Candidates With Jeremy's Won't Solve Our Selection Problems

26/10/2015 23:15 GMT | Updated 26/10/2016 10:12 BST

Many Labour MPs are currently receiving threats of de-selection, usually coupled with abuse. Yet amidst all the sound and fury, there is another issue which Labour should face. Do we look or sound like the people we represent?

The short answer is that we often don't. Being selected as a candidate in a winnable seat is time consuming and expensive. Very few people in normal jobs-those where you have to work set hours and do political work in your spare time-have a chance of being selected. They cannot afford to camp out for months in a seat likely to become vacant, or to pay for glossy brochures, nor can they take six months off work to knock on people's doors. When late retirements occur the situation is even worse. Most people can't drop everything and run off to another constituency and around Westminster there are many waiting for a "suitable vacancy" to arise who can. They will be ably assisted into seats. Special procedures will be implemented, good local candidates left off the shortlist. We have even seen local candidates suspended from membership, only to be allowed back without any action being taken once the selection is over,

The result has been the increasing professionalisation of politics. Special advisors are eased into seats and parts of the north have become no-go areas for local candidates. It's a depressingly familiar story and replacing Tony or Gordon's favoured candidates with Jeremy Corbyn's won't solve it. Where are Labour's nurses or shop workers? Where are our railway workers or steel workers? Lamentably absent for the most part. They don't have the money, the connections or the professional help to get them into winnable seats. Even Trade Union supported candidates are often their professional officers or lawyers rather than their members.

So here's a really radical idea. Let's stop doing it like that. Let's review our procedures to make it easier and cheaper certainly, but let's go further than that and actively encourage a wider range of candidates. We should be starting now to seek potential candidates for 2020 and offer training, support and mentoring to those from backgrounds under-represented in the PLP to help them prepare for the selection process.

I think we should go further than that. If we are really serious about opening up our Party, ending the London domination of politics and encouraging people from a wider range of backgrounds to be Labour MPs, I believe that we should designate some seats as "regional only" seats. Only candidates who had lived in that region for a certain number of years, five, ten or whatever we decide, would be able to apply. This would have the merit of allowing more people who are working outside politics a fair chance of selection while not restricting candidates to those lucky enough to be living in Labour seats. Yes, there will be difficulties. Some seats are on the border between regions but these could remain as open shortlists.

To go even further, the NEC could interview candidates in advance and set up regional panels. When there are late retirements it could designate some of these seats as "regional only" seats too so that only candidates from the regional panel could apply. We would then have a list of competent candidates for late vacancies avoiding the usual undignified scramble and reducing the advantage which is currently given to those around Westminster.

This isn't a perfect solution but the alternative is worse. The alternative is to allow our parliamentary party to continue to be unbalanced, with more and more people who have never worked outside politics or who have the right contacts. The Tories have managed to recruit enough candidates from ordinary backgrounds to allow them to pose as the "worker's party". Labour doesn't need to pose but it should ensure that anyone, wherever they come from, has a fair chance of being selected.

Helen Jones is the Labour MP for Warrington North