Balls, dirty tricks and candidate selection

The revelations in the Sunday Times this weekend about Ed Balls being the secret puppetmaster behind “smeargate” seem a little thin to me, but they do remind me of an incident a few years ago.

Long time readers may recall my ill-fated campaign to get Ed Balls a sex change operation so that he could stand in an all-women-shortlist having had his seat abolished by the Boundary Commission. In the event, he didn’t need one after Colin Challen decided to stand down and leave the newly created constituency of Morley and Outwood open for Balls to take (conveniently enough, no all woman shortlist was imposed of course).

What I reported at the time, from a good source close to Challen, was that he had jumped after a dirty tricks campaign had been launched to discredit him. The most high profile example of that campaign was the secret briefing that had gone on to make a bicycle accident he had been involved in look like an attention-seeking exercise.

I found the failure of the mainstream media (and, it has to be said, Guido), to join the dots and ask pretty basic questions about all this remarkable at the time. If it had been challenged, Balls could have had to struggle to find another safe seat (especially one so close to his wife’s). With Damian McBride now exposed, this is a possible avenue that journalists might want to explore further.

Candidate selection seems to be a particularly murky business in the Labour Party. The Guardian carried a very anti-Georgina Gould story yesterday, alleging that Margaret McDonough’s PR agency bbm communications helped run her selection campaign and co-ordinated a dodgy postal vote strategy. But the other side of the story – specifically that Charlie Whelan was running Rachael Maskell’s campaign in a similar manner – seems equally unsavoury. And as Alice Mahon has been keen to emphasise, this is not an isolated incident.

The overall picture is of a party utterly dominated by a self-serving elite (or, more precisely, a number of interconnected self-serving elites and dynastic families). I suspect it will require at least a couple of Parliaments in opposition for them to start to sort themselves out and become something resembling a proper party again.


  1. Aye, the whole system seems to stink, our standing down incumbent is being replaced, the initial local selectee (AWS, natch) was rejected by London (with a legit excuse), they’ve just rerun the selection, and Cherie Blair’s stepmum is their new PPC. So there’ll be another appeal as there was something dodgy according to the defeated attemptee.

    Although the objection that “too many people voted by post” seems a bit spurious to me.

    Not that it really matters, there’s no chance they’ll hold the seat, it’s merely who comes 1st and 2nd–we should get 2nd to the Tories, and could potentially take it but that’s less likely.

    Every time I watch or hear about a Labour selection, something about it seems just wrong–I know we sometimes have problems, but nowhere near on this scale.

  2. Thanks for that Martin – now updated. I have to say, reading the article in full again, it is notable that his quote is unsourced. Guido usually credits newspapers when he gets a story from them, so I can only assume he was briefed directly.

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