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Labour's growing civil war over candidate selection

Miliband Labour LeftEarlier in the week, I wrote about Len McCluskey's development of a "party within a party" of Unite MPs on the Labour benches. Now, further concerns are mounting about the extent of the unions' power over the Labour Party's selection procedures.

Jim Pickard of the Financial Times has carried out research which shows that 16 of the 43 Parliamentary candidates selected so far enjoyed direct trade union support in their nomination campaigns. (For the record, the six candidates Unite has so far laid claim to are Lisa Forbes in Peterborough; Clive Lewis in Norwich South; Suzy Stride in Harlow; Sarah Owen in Hastings; Carol Dean in Tamworth; and Adrian Heald in Crewe and Nantwich.)

They have also sought to skew the pitch for future selections. As Jim Pickard puts it:

"...the rules were recently changed, making it harder for non-union candidates without deep pockets to become a general election candidate. (Unite itself claims on its website that it was responsible for this change, saying its interventions had ‘changed the Labour party rule book’.) Candidates now need to run campaigns for 11 weeks instead of four and send out more mailshots than previously."

On yesterday's Daily Politics, Labour rising star Stella Creasy was challenged over the issue, and she conceded that it is now "difficult" to be selected for a parliamentary seat without the backing of the unions.

There is growing discontent within the Labour grassroots over the unions' control of the MEP selection process, too. LabourList reports that in London there were "no criteria" at all for the selection of candidates aside from the rather cryptic "political judgement".

Coincidentally, this new system has seen experienced candidates with more centrist credentials allegedly shunned in favour of union representatives. Anne Fairweather, who topped the Labour members' ballot in London in the selections last time round, has become the lightning rod for these concerns; despite her grassroots popularity, under the new system she wasn't even given an interview. Local Constituency Labour Parties - including that of Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna in Streatham - have passed protest motions and are up in arms.

It seems Labour face a serious crisis of internal democracy, brought on by what appears to be a concerted campaign to seize control of their candidate selection. It is unclear how the battle will play out, but it is likely to leave blood on the carpet.