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Labour and trade union power force out political ace

Dr Floyd Millen has told of his disappointment at Labour's selection contest

A talented black candidate has pulled out of the contest to become MP for a safe Labour seat as campaigners alleged that the result was decided before the race had begun.

Westminster consultant Dr Floyd Millen threw in the towel this afternoon due to family commitments. Some supporters believe that local members in the North West constituency of Stalybridge and Hyde had made up their minds who they would vote for even before meeting him.

The decision to quit the race led to accusations that union and Labour ‘muscle’ has once again disadvantaged a talented Black hopeful.

Dr Millen, a former Operation Black Vote alumni, released a statement which read: “Due to urgent family commitments – which I hope to resolve in the next 7 days – I will be withdrawing from the Stalybridge and Hyde selection.

“I am disappointed to have to stand down at this time, but please be assured that I am absolutely committed to representing Labour in 2010.”

The saxophone-loving father-of-three had made seven previous attempts to find a seat in the past few months. He had hoped to succeed ex-Cabinet minister James Parnell.

A report on Radio 4’s Today programme highlighted the role of Unite’s political director Charlie Whelan in getting new candidates into Westminster.

The Guardian claims that Downing Street are moving against Unite’s favourite Peter Wheelerm while trade secretary Lord Peter Mandelson is believed to be backing Jonathan Reynolds.

Operation Black Vote’s Simon Woolley commented: ‘We are weeks away from a General Election and something is profoundly wrong if Black candidates and members – time and time again – feel the party and the big unions are not giving them a fair chance, much less support them to achieve greater BME representation.’

Campaigners blasted the powerful trade union Unite over its influence on  contests, accusing it of favouring white candidates. Activists have grown increasingly frustrated as a series of key selections have elbowed out BME wannabes. But a spokesman for Unite pointedly rejected claims that they do not support BME candidates.

Unite has recently succeeded getting its’ members picked as Labour candidates for Leyton and Wanstead, where John Cryer beat Terry Paul, and in Birmingham Erdington, where Jack Dromey triumphed over Ansar Ali Khan.

Dr Millen’s decision to pull out comes just hours after the contest began. He was named on a shortlist of four people yesterday afternoon, but the influence of Unite and Downing Street appears to have quashed his chances.

Friends of Dr Millen expressed disappointment that many members had already decided not to support him even before he had introduced himself.

A Labour insider told OBV Blog that key figures in the North West constituency of Stalybridge appeared to have already made up their minds who to support before the shortlist of four was announced yesterday afternoon.

As Unite once more wields influence over a Labour selection, campaigners are now questioning whether the union cares about Black political representation.

Woolley said that Labour and Unite could be missing a “once in a lifetime” chance to change the face of Westminster if BME hopefuls are disadvantaged in Stalybridge and other safe seats.

Woolley commented: ‘With the large number of retiring MPs, this is a once in a lifetime chance to change the face of Westminster, yet it is bitterly disappointing that a union that fights for equality is not making a substantive difference to get more BME talent into Parliament.’

A veteran Labour member, David Michael, told OBV Blog that Labour and the unions were operating a selection procedure which had an inbuilt bias against black and Asian wannabes because they were less likely to be ‘connected’ to the Westminster bubble.

Some fear that the Stalybridge episode will put off talented young BME people and discourage them from becoming political active.

Michael, a leading member in Lewisham East, resigned from Labour last October in disgust at the party’s failure to support him and other local talent. He said: ‘It’s inescapable that the system is stacked against Black members. It’s completely out of kilter with their own policies and principles. The hierarchy of the Labour Party and Unite simply do not care that no Black candidates have benefited.’

His views were echoed by a senior Labour figure who added: ‘When the battlelines are drawn [for selection contests], it goes back to the old politics. In reality they do not always do what they say publicly.’

Labour recently held a press conference to claim that they were still ahead of the Tories on selecting BME candidates in safe or winnable seats.

However there will be another test of this commitment later this evening, when Labour in Walsall South vote on who should be the candidate in the West Midlands town. Unite said they are backing a Black candidate, Sandra Samuels.

Unite also claim they supported Maryam Khan, who won in Bury North, and Victor Agwaral in North Swindon.

By Lester Holloway and Tara Ram

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11 Responses

  1. “David Michael, told OBV Blog that Labour and the unions were operating a selection procedure which had an inbuilt bias against black and Asian wannabes because they were less likely to be ‘connected’ to the Westminster bubble”.

    Well blooming well get connected then! I am really sick of us moaning instead of proving we are the best ON MERIT. Loads of us were now born here and we have no excuses. Sadiq Khan, Chuka Umunna and Rushnara Ali show it can be done. Stop being mediocre and raise your game. The fact is that Jonny Reynolds is a local councillor in S & H, of COURSE members there want him. Instead of running around the country, Floyd should live in an area he cares about, become a councillor and prove that he’s interested in representing where he lives rather than running around the country.

  2. @ A BME person…

    I have no comment on the riposte to the quote from Mr Michael, nor the ‘got to be in it to win it’ point about Westminster.

    However, I’m not sure how you jump from there to the point about perceived mediocrity or who you are referring to – Dr. Millen?

    Just to provide some context to the “live in an area [they] care about” argument though:
    – Peter Mandelson: born London, but was MP for Hartlepool
    – Shaun Woodward: Bristolian former Tory MP for Witney, Oxfordshire, but now Labour MP in that well known southern outpost called St. Helens; and finally
    – James Purnell: Current Stalybridge & Hyde MP, born in London, and educated in France.

    I could continue but I’ll press on.

    So. Whilst I take your point about Mr Reynolds local ‘paid his dues’ authenticity, I think you’re suggesting that Dr Millen isn’t entitled to the same privilege as the aforementioned and other southerners who want to represent us northerners.

    I was born in Manchester, and grew up in the adjacent constituency to Stalyvegas & Hyde, i.e. Denton & Reddish, whose current MP is Mancunian-born and Denton-bred Andrew Gwynne.

    On reflection you could argue that Reynolds came up the same way as Gwynne, and now has his just reward. Then you could add that perhaps the Dr Millen’s withdrawal and OBV Blog piece is an out of kilter reaction to a justifiable national concern.

    Nevertheless, after declaring that “we have no excuses”, you have by default excused the countless white men who haven’t taken the route you suggest Dr Millen should take. Oh, and oop north we think some of them ‘southern fairies’ are / were “mediocre” at best.

  3. Dr Kailash Chand is still on the shortlist..

    So much for that awful Unite forcing BME candidates out of the race..

  4. Isn’t Chand up against TWO Unite members? What odds would you place on him being selected?

  5. I thought Dr Millen was born in Wolverhampton and educated in Staffordshire. Does that make him southerner? About 50 min away

  6. No Gordon, it doesn’t. I was wrong to assume that he was.

    The point about ‘parachuted in’ southern reps in northern constituencies stills stands though.

    As does the retort to the duplicitous argument that Dr Millen shouldn’t parachute himself in beyond where he lives / is from, when the aforementioned clearly have.

  7. “I am disappointed to have to stand down at this time, but please be assured that I am absolutely committed to representing Labour in 2010.”

    I personally hope that Dr. Millen joins another forward thinking party, than waste his time and talent in a party (New Labour) that has a low expectation of BME citizens.

    “As Unite once more wields influence over a Labour selection, campaigners are now questioning whether the union cares about Black political representation.”

    I am not surprised about this because New Labour as a government holds the same position as the Union.

    ‘It’s inescapable that the system is stacked against Black members. It’s completely out of kilter with their own policies and principles. The hierarchy of the Labour Party and Unite simply do not care that no Black candidates have benefited.’

    I have held these views for long, and have made my feelings known via various correspondences to various government offices.

    These very negative views will not win New Labour the next election. This is a show to prove to white voters that New Labour are totally behind them. Like Hitler’s administration, New Labour will fall on their own sword because they are seriously underestimating people.

  8. I’m sorry, David, but I believe that local candidates and people who have proven that they’re actually committed to the area make for the best candidates and Members of Parliament – Black or white.

  9. This article by Cameron just caught my eye:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/mar/17/black-britain-unemployment-conservatives

    • I have read the article from the Guardian and it proves that David Cameron has two special qualities. The ability to listen and act. There was a complete absence of these qualities from a Labour government in the last thirteen years.

  10. “Loads of us were now born here and we have no excuses. Sadiq Khan, Chuka Umunna and Rushnara Ali show it can be done. Stop being mediocre and raise your game.”

    What the aboved mentioned have achieved has already been achieved before; sadly, it is nothing new and should not be seen a great achievement. Having some economic strength, more representation and equal influence in the House of Parliament, and hoping what held Mr. Paul Boateng back in 1997 is not repeated again is what I am after. I would love to see BME citizens (born in this country) in decision making positions like their white colleagues. Having this present crop of New Labour senior government ministers in power will prevent Black and Minority Ethnic citizens achieving that feat .

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