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New test for Labour in Midlands selection

Sandra Samuels joins Valerie Vaz and Neena Gill competing to be MP for Walsall

Labour’s commitment to Black representation will once more be put to the test as three BME hopefuls battle it out for a safe Midlands seat.

Former MEP Neena Gill, Valerie Vaz – the sister of veteran MP Keith Vaz – and Wolverhampton councillor Sandra Samuels are all in the running to secure the nomination for Walsall South, which has a solid-looking 8,000 plus Labour majority.

Samuels is a hospital ward nurse who ran in North Shropshire at the 2005 election, while Gill sat as a European MP for the West Midlands for ten years before losing her seat in 2007.

TV presenter Vaz has been trying to get into parliament for well over a decade and has previously tried to get selected in West Bromwich East.

The main competition comes from Sue Hayman, an assistant to government equalities minister Mike Foster. Hayman, a former Euro candidate, is said to be well-connected to the Labour machine.

She defended but narrowly failed to hold onto the Preseli Pembrokeshire seat at the last election, losing to the Conservatives.

Labour List notes that the all-women shortlist has disappointed Walsall councillor Mohammed Nasir. Two prominent women, Seema Malhotra and Birmingham councillor Yvonne Mosquito, also failed to make the five-strong final list.

The Walsall South shortlist was announced just days after Labour held a press conference to boast that they were still ahead of the Tories in selecting BME candidates in winnable seats.

Labour currently have 49 BME candidates so far, including 12 of their existing MPs who are standing for re-election, and 12 new hopefuls who are defending currently Labour-held seats.

Although Labour have made significant progress, the pressure is still on the party to do better, making the Walsall South contest the subject of interest.

Insiders expect a new wave of retirements by sitting Labour MPs in the next fortnight as the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority decides which MPs have to pay back cash.

It is expected that some MPs, including long-serving working class politicians with relatively few assets, will chose to quit their jobs now to avoid paying Capital Gains Tax when they sell their second home.

This could present new opportunities for new BME aspirants, but with some mainstream newspapers already trailing the talents of white wannabe MPs, concern is growing that black and Asian members might lose out as the central party imposes shortlists and special shortened selection processes.

The only BME candidate who has so far emerged victorious from a special National Executive Committee-run contest is Chi Onwurah in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and she won despite not being the initial frontrunner.

The three Labour candidates heading-up last week’s press conference – Sadiq Khan (Tooting), Chuka Umunna (Streatham) and Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) – all came through the normal selection procedure, which is unlikely to be used so close to the expected date of the general election.

Some in the party are wondering whether the approach to picking more BME candidates has been too focused on tinkering with the ‘process’, and not enough attention has been given to supporting a small but talented group of specific individuals to actually win selections, as opposed to having diverse shortlists.

The recent unsuccessful selection bids of five BME hopefuls was noted in the internal Labour newsletter EM Taskforce, a group run by Keith Vaz MP, BAME Labour’s representative on the party’s ruling National Executive Committee. The newsletter noted:

Concern has been expressed at the failure of Labour’s new special selection panel to choose a single black or Asian candidate for the seats left vacant at the last minute by retiring MPs.

The role of the panel is to agree a shortlist, however in the last 8 weeks not a single BAME candidate has emerged as the final Labour candidate. Terry Paul and Ahmed Shahzad lost in Leyton. Ansar Ali Khan lost in Erdington, Farida Bibi lost in Makerfield and Floyd Millen lost in Derby North.

Efforts by Harriet Harman to secure the first ever ethnic minority women shortlist in Walsall were scuppered by those who wanted a non-ethnic female candidate.”

By Lester Holloway


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