Labour's NEC forced to defuse selection rows

PATRICIA WYNN DAVIES

Political Correspondent

Labour's ruling national executive committee was yesterday forced to take action to defuse bitter rows over parliamentary candidates in three constituencies.

Despite an internal party investigation into the Swindon North selection which cleared a candidate of ballot-rigging, an NEC panel will re-interview all five applicants on the original shortlist.

The move follows a High Court action by Jim D'Avila, the unsuccessful AEEU-backed candidate, who cried foul when he was defeated by Michael Wills in September. A report on the complaint, finding no evidence to back it up, was subsequently amended so as to be neutral between the two.

On the second troublespot, Glasgow Govan, the NEC refused to endorse Mike Watson, currently MP for Glasgow Central, who beat Mohammad Sarwar, a district councillor, by just one vote for the selection.

The NEC ordered an organisational and development committee panel to investigate alleged balloting discrepancies and report in March. A re- run of the selection is expected around Easter time.

The committee meanwhile launched a formal investigation into John Lloyd, who has already been endorsed as the prospective Labour candidate for Exeter.

The investigation will consider whether Mr Lloyd "misled' party officials over his past involvement in terrorist activities against South Africa's apartheid regime in the 1960s.

Yesterday's meeting formally agreed to end direct trade union sponsorship of parliamentary candidates and MPs and replace it with a system of sponsoring constituency parties, preferably those in marginal seats.

But a cloud was immediately thrown over that initiative as Bob Dunn, Tory MP for Dartford and a leading member of the 1922 Tory backbench committee executive, said he would be writing to Sir Gordon Downey, the new Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards, to ask for a ruling on the impact of the change on the new Nolan requirements on registration and disclosure of outside financial links and the forthcoming ban on paid "advocacy".

Mr Dunn said last night that union cash was already channelled to local parties. "What's the difference?" he demanded.

The NEC meanwhile made the best of the recent tribunal ruling outlawing women-only shortlists for parliamentary selections. The committee endorsed working party endorsed recommendations on new procedures to help ensure fair treatment for women candidates.

Local parties will be asked to draw up statements of the qualities they seek in candidates, to ensure all candidates are judged objectively against the stated requirements. Parties will also be encouraged to invite at least four applicants to compete, and to ensure full notice of meetings.

The guidelines also urge that applicants be given reasons for their selection or rejection. Trade union nomination committees and party branches will likewise be urged to adopt the new procedures in a bid to stamp out the manipulation of shortlists to the advantage of "favoured sons".

The same questions should be put to all applicants, and questions about family responsibilities avoided.

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