From the town hall to the House: Labour's new intake

In part two of our series, Nigel Morris runs the rule over the candidates in the red corner
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Indy Politics

The decisions of assorted well-known faces off the box to swap their television careers for the House of Commons sprinkled much-needed stardust on Labour's roster of general election candidates.

The telly historian Tristram Hunt and Gloria De Piero, GMTV's former political editor, are the latest to trade the cushioned chair of the make-up department for the hard slog of the stump – they look favourites to win the safe seats of Stoke Central and Ashfield on 6 May. But they have proved to be very much the exception when local Labour parties come to choose replacements for retiring MPs. A survey by The Independent shows that Labour is looking inwards when selecting its next generation of MPs.

Almost half are prominent local councillors – many of them council leaders – and one in six trade union employees or activists. Many more are government special advisers, work for Labour MPs or are ex-MPs seeking to return.

Labour is also drawing heavily from the public sector for its candidates, contrasting sharply with the Conservatives, many of whose standard-bearers worked in business or commerce.

An analysis of the backgrounds of 87 candidates in seats where the Labour candidate is retiring shows that nearly half (41) have served as councillors, almost all of them locally. Eighteen have been either leader or deputy leader of a council in the area or leader of the Labour group in the local town hall.

They include Graeme Morrice, the former leader of West Lothian council, who is contesting Livingston, Ronnie Hughes, the former Conwy Council leader, who is standing in Conwy, and Nic Dakin, leader of North Lincolnshire Council for six years, who has been selected in Scunthorpe.

Michael Boaden, the leader of the Labour group on Carlisle Council is contesting the city for the party, while Graham Jones, who leads the Labour group on the Lancashire council of Hyndburn will stand for the parliamentary seat next month.

One MP who is retiring at the election said that he feared Labour was in danger of becoming a "whole party of super-councillors". Fifteen are trade union officials or activists. The best known is Jack Dromey, the deputy general secretary of the Unite union and the husband of Labour's deputy leader, Harriet Harman. He has been selected in Birmingham Erdington – one of the seats to escape the imposition of one of Ms Harman's all-women shortlists.

The TUC's Midlands regional secretary, Cheryl Pidgeon, is standing in the Derbyshire constituency of Erewash and Julie Elliott, a political officer for the GMB, is contesting Sunderland South. Fourteen have public sector jobs – including nine lecturers or university employees. Another four work for charities. Four former MPs have a good chance of returning to the Commons – Stephen Twigg in Liverpool West Derby, Andy King in Rugby, Geraint Davies in Swansea West and John Cryer in Leyton and Wanstead. They could be joining five former government special advisers in the Commons, including Michael Dugher (Barnsley East), Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) and John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness), who all worked in Downing Street.

Nine Labour candidates worked for MPs, while Anas Sarwar is on course to replace his father, Mohammed Sarwar, as MP for Glasgow Central.

The selection of so many councillors, trade unionists and party stalwarts could reflect the fact that Labour candidates are chosen on a one-member-one-vote system favouring names well known to activists.

James Purnell, the former Cabinet minister, who is also stepping down, has warned it was difficult for someone who is not a "political lifer" to be selected for one of the main parties. "As an ex-special adviser and councillor, I'm not against people who have worked in politics becoming an MP, but we should be a smaller share of that total," he said.

Laura York, a consultant at the Madano Partnership communications consultancy, which has analysed the "class of 2010" of likely MPs, said: "It appears the likely new intake of Labour MPs will have a largely traditional Labour movement background, coming from local politics and the trade unions, but also with some consultancy or public relations and NGO experience.

"There will be few with private sector experience, unlike the majority of Conservative prospective parliamentary candidates who have backgrounds in business and finance."

Ms Harman said: "Local Labour parties have selected impressive candidates from across Britain who would bring valuable life experiences and skills as well as energy and enthusiasm to Parliament. Together they will bring a breath of fresh air to the Commons."

The stereotype of Conservative candidates as moneyed toffs is off-the-mark, as we noted in the first of our series on candidates on Saturday. Instead, a good number might more accurately be termed "Thatcher's children", with more socially conservative views on abortion, homosexuality and marriage.

The next generation: 'Brown is kneeling at Thatcher's altar'

Ian Lavery, Wansbeck

Whoever leads Labour, it's a fair bet that Ian Lavery will be a thorn in his or her side. Arthur Scargill's successor as president of the National Union of Mineworkers has a history of industrial militancy: he was arrested six times during the miners' strike of 1984-85 and five years ago said he had "absolutely no respect for the police".

He says: "Gordon Brown, like Tony Blair before him, is kneeling at Thatcher's altar while distancing himself from trade unions and the rights of workers."

John Cryer, Leyton and Wanstead

The Commons is in John Cryer's blood: both his mother and late father have been Labour MPs. A member of the hard-left Socialist Campaign Group and strong Eurosceptic, he served for eight years as Hornchurch MP, earning himself the reputation as a serial rebel. He is currently a political officer at Unite and has described Gordon Brown as "wrong and mistaken" for criticising the strike by BA cabin crew.

He says: "It [politics] is in the genes, a recurring disease"

Rachel Reeves, Leeds West

It's a fair bet that Rachel Reeves will end up debating money issues in Parliament. She is an economist and has worked for the Bank of England, the British Embassy in Washington and at the Bank of Scotland. She has also just published the book 'Why Vote Labour?' Gordon Brown wrote the foreword.

She says: "There is no enthusiasm for a Cameron/ Osborne government but if we continue looking inwards and not to the hopes, fears and disappointments of voters, then the Tories will win by default."

Chi Onwurah, Newcastle Central

A party member since she was 15, her first taste of election fever was when she was elected as an "MP" in her Newcastle school's elections. The chartered engineer is a rare Labour candidate with wide experience of business and the private sector. She worked on bringing wireless communication into Africa and was active in the anti-apartheid movement.

She says: "My mother would always be watching the [party] conferences on television and I was raised with Labour Party values."

Michael Dugher, Barnsley East

After crisis management in Downing Street, winning one of Labour's safest seats should be easy. Gordon Brown's former spin doctor has impeccable Labour credentials: from a South Yorkshire pit village, chaired Labour's student wing, worked for a union and was a special adviser. An accomplished guitar player.

He says: "At my first formal [university] dinner, I took along four cans of Tetley's bitter when everyone else had shelled out on vintage wines."

Teresa Pearce, Erith and Thamesmead

Teresa Pearce, 55, is the local activist who won a controversial contest, seeing off Georgia Gould, the 22-year-old daughter of Tony Blair's pollster, Lord Gould. A single mother at the age of 18, she worked at the Inland Revenue and has spent more than 20 years advising firms on tax compliance. She believes MPs who abuse their expenses should be jailed.

She says, attacking Labour's 1992 election campaign: "The Tories were out there making political speeches and we were messing about with balloons."

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