A model selection process

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The process of selecting Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate in Leeds North-East was a model of democracy. Yet yesterday Labour's National Executive Committee decided to refer my candidature to its disputes committee.

Before the Leeds selection process started, the local party volunteered to choose its candidate from an all-women shortlist. Seven women were invited to branch nominating meetings. We came from a wide variety of backgrounds and offered party members a real choice.

In my initial written statement I spelt out my political record as an Islington councillor, including my refusal to pay the poll tax in 1990. At the nominating meetings I was questioned about this record in detail. I received nominations from one of the constituency's largest wards, the women's section and a local trade union branch. Five of us were shortlisted for the final one-member one-vote ballot.

The entire process was conducted meticulously by officers of the Leeds North-East party, closely supervised by a representative of the NEC. It was filmed by Yorkshire TV and the broadcast was held to be a positive advertisement for both the local party and all-women shortlists. On 1 July I was chosen at the selection contest by a clear majority.

Unfortunately, a couple of disgruntled (male) party members sent complaints about me to the NEC. At least one of these was also fed directly to the local papers. This provided some elements of the press with an excuse for a smear campaign. My record on lesbian and gay rights and my support for Winston Silcott (who was acquitted in 1991) were exploited in a naked appeal to prejudice. These and my refusal to pay the poll tax were presented as "extreme", whereas they are clearly within the broad church of Labour politics.

The complaints against me - that I concealed my record on the poll tax and that I said I would not abide by the Labour whip - are absurd and demonstrably false. At no time did I conceal any part of my political record from party members in Leeds. I am proud of the role I played in getting rid of the poll tax. Why on earth should I seek to hide it?

The response of local party members to these allegations has been remarkable. I have been moved by the number and the warmth of expressions of support, not just from members who voted for me but from people who backed other candidates but are outraged at the use of dirty tricks to overturn a democratic local decision. The local party officers have twice written to the NEC urging my immediate endorsement.

I am confident that when Labour's NEC reviews all the facts, it will dismiss these bogus and mischievous allegations and endorse my candidature. To do otherwise would make a mockery of democracy in the Labour Party. We can then get on with the job of removing the local Tory MP and electing the Labour government the country so desperately needs.