Who will Phil Woolas’ shoes?

I’ve lost count of how many Ed’s first tests we’ve had.

His first PMQs, Livingstone’s trawl for second pereferences in Tower Hamlets are just two of ’em.

But by a country mile, the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election is THE first big challenge.

The electoral court ruled they were false statements but talk to any politician and they’ll take a sharp intake of breath and tell you sotto voce how close they’ve sailed to the wind with campaign literature. But that’s another blog.

Phil, who’s been a loyal party activist all his life and given so much, should at least be allowed his chance to apply for a judicial review, though it was quite clear last night from Harriet’s statement, there was no way back for him.

But he should be allowed to go on his own terms. That’s the very least Labour owes him.

The challenge is now to find the best candidate to keep the seat.

Come Monday, I reckon we’ll see the NEC’s Parliamentary Panel meet or speak by phone to set the timetable. I’m sure Ed will want to get it out of the way as soon as possible.

That means setting up a By-Election panel to run the selection. CVs will be submitted directly to the panel – not the CLP – and a longslist drawn up.

I really hope the By-Election Panel allows Oldham East and Saddleworth CLP a significant say in this process.

From past experience, it’s really important to get local input and buy-in otherwise the grumbling stage left and shouts of ‘stitch-up’ become increasigly loud as the campaign goes on.

Then the longlisted candidates will appear before the panel.

Ah. The panel.

Imagine Dragon’s Den for politicos! I was interviewed by the similar Special Selections Panel for Weaver Vale and boarded by Nick Brown and Tom Watson.

They ask what the most important local issues are, how you’d run your campaign and then – at Colomboesque (“Oh. Just one last thing”) weadle out your views on national issues and party loyalty. ‘Would you go against the whip?’ ‘Is there anything that you’ve done that would embarrass the party,” “Where do you stand on Afghanistan?”

But the By-Election Panel will probe much, much deeper – into the candidate’s personal background and history. Past statements, previous political standpoints – anything that could cause problems in the white heat of an election played out in the national media spotlight will be picked over and challenged.

It requires a special kind of person to cope with that level of scrutiny.

This weekend, potential candidates will be thinking long and hard about whether they should go for it. Handily, it’s the North West Labour Conference in Southport. Expect people to be taking soundings and making plans there.

One candidate’s already declared. Councillor Paul Cotterill – the Bickerstaffe Record’s blogger – seems a decent independent minded candidate and definitely worth longlisting. All  the best to him.

I know it’s not wise to be seen to be influening local selections. I’m sure Oldham East and Saddleworth CLP will still feel very raw and angry with the judgement and feel a deserved loyalty towards Phil.

The LAST thing they’ll want to feel is someone’s being parachuted in. I hope that’s respected. You’ll need someone local to the North West.

So I’d respectfully like to suggest someone who I think would be ideal.

I met her during the Prescott Express marginal seat tour and was bowled over by her intelligence, campaigning and passion.  She also seemed qutie normal, level-headed and self-deprecative – good things to have in any candidate.

Her name’s Maryam Khan and was chosen as PPC for Bury North after David Chaytor had to stand down over expenses claims.

She also had a good young team of North West Young Labour activitists running her campaign. There was definitely a buzz around her – the campaign slogan was the almost-inevitable-but-still-very-funny ‘Yes We Khan.’ She did very well to stem the swing to just 5% considering the toxic nature of expenses and the fact she was chosen as the last minute replacement.

This was her campaign video.

Mind you, Manchester Withington PPC Lucy Powell would also be very good too, though I understand neither her nor Maryam have indicated they’re going for it. Expect a tsunami of CVs when the selection starts.

But as I said, it’s down to the panel and the members to decide.

And hopefully I’ve not been the kiss of death for Paul, Maryam or Lucy!

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2 comments

  1. Andrea

    “Her name’s Maryam Khan and she was also chosen by a Special Selections Panel for Bury North”

    Are you sure?
    Her selection for Bury North took place in late November 2009. I thought shortlisting by NEC panel started from January 2010

    • davidprescott

      Hi Andrea,

      Just doubled checked and you’re absolutely right. Think she was announced in December but selection started end of October. Made the change. Thanks for the spot

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