September, and Britain’s ongoing political crisis and the party conference season are now in full swing. So, with fits and starts, is the parliamentary selection contest for Vauxhall – although the situation there, and across the country, remains complex.
As with Brexit and the date of any election, there’s a lot we still don’t know. Here’s my best shot at explaining where we stand for now, and my thoughts on why doing this.
What has happened so far
Earlier this month, when an election looked much more imminent, the Labour Party asked any member who was interested in one of the several hundred seats still without a candidate to submit an application.
Along with perhaps as many as 18 others, I’ve put Vauxhall as my first choice. I may not have been living in the constituency as long as some, but I was born here and frankly, it’s the most at home and connected I have felt anywhere since my injury 13 years ago.
That’s partly because thanks to recent recovery, I’ve been more independent here than anywhere else I’ve lived since breaking my neck. It’s also because campaigning for the Labour Party has provided the enormous privilege of getting to know the area, its communities and feel part of them.
Announcing that I wanted to stand has sometimes been a bruising process, but it’s opened the door to incredible conversations and connections. That includes a weekly slot using my journalistic experience to help a local school start a student newspaper – something that would never have happened if I had not tried to become an MP.
Already, the race for the Labour nomination for Vauxhall may be the most contested in modern political history. Contenders include well-connected party insiders, councillors, a host of activists and campaigners and at least one member of the House of Lords. There are a couple of well resourced front-runners, and I’m still very much an outside bet. But the truth is I still believe almost any of the candidates can win, and would not be doing this if I did not believe that included me.
Now more than ever, I strongly believe we need new voices in politics. I think it is particularly important that includes disabled people – I’m not defined by my disability, but there’s no question it informs my politics. .
Even by the standards of London, Vauxhall is incredibly diverse – and the slate of candidates reflects that. Any one would be a great MP, and each brings to the race in very different perspective. I’ve used campaigning to talk to and write about disabled transport issues and the crisis facing social care, others on the need for children’s centres and the impact of spending cuts on council services.
Going door to door in the constituency, it’s clear people want a range of things from their next MP. A clear position on Brexit is a priority, particularly after the previous incumbent Kate Hoey championed leaving Europe against the wishes of almost all in the area. So is climate and the environment – including enthusiasm for a Green New Deal that also addresses the world’s other major social challenges.
Many communities within the area, though, face stark immediate problems – social exclusion, insecure housing and employment, axed services and the resulting spike in violent crime. They desperately need a Labour government and representative who takes fixing those seriously – and a badly botched Brexit may make many of those problems worse.
I’ll aim to be writing more about those issues as the race progresses, as well as what kind of MP I’d want to be and what I’ve learned along the way.
I should say I’ve also put my papers forward for a range on the seats, all outside London and much less winnable than Vauxhall. This is where I want to stand, but I believe I could also make a difference elsewhere, and that the value of people seeing someone like me running for Parliament outweighs the challenges of doing so.
The next steps
Where things go from here remains extremely unclear. There have been suggestions that the candidate or a short list will be selected by members of the party National Executive Committee, potential with a handful of local members. It is possible that a candidate will simply be imposed, although that would be hugely frustrating to local party activists and a gift to opposition campaigners.
The local Constituency Labour Party is fighting hard to make sure local members get a say, and I hope that’s exactly what happens. I believe there will still be time for a short, inclusive and possibly unpredictable race, in which contenders get to make their pitch in a positive manner including through a hustings.
There is no more clarity on how things will be decided other constituencies, so while I’m continuing to talk to people outside London and gauge what opportunities exist, for now it is pretty much impossible to say.
How can people help?
I’m hugely grateful for the encouragement and support of many who have told me they think this is the right thing for me to do. That itself is hugely useful, so please do get in touch if you have thoughts or ideas.
On a more practical level, Vauxhall Labour is now out campaigning every Saturday morning. Even if you’re not from the area, it’s a great chance to meet other like-minded people and talk to voters, and there is also the opportunity to talk to and engage with other potential parliamentary candidates.
Also hugely grateful for any support of a social media, whether endorsements or just sharing and re-tweeting. The best place to go for that is either my Twitter feed or Facebook page – feel free to invite other friends to like!
Finally, particularly keen for people to spread the series of videos I’ll be releasing. They are produced by a couple of young ex-soldiers I helped trained through my reserve military service, and working with them again has been a privilege and pleasure.
Let’s see where things go from here…