I’m not a great one for gossip and rumour, at least not as it relates to my own side of the political divide, but if what I’ve been told over the weekend is correct then life is possibly going to become very interesting indeed for one local MP.
Adrian Bailey is the MP for the constituency of West Bromwich West, and if you’re not from these parts then that may be about as much as you’ve ever been told about him.
Baliey has been an MP since November 2000, when he won the seat in by-election caused by the retirement (to the House of Lords) of his far more illustrious predecessor, Betty (now Lady) Boothroyd, who was, of course, the first woman Speaker of the House of Commons, and for all that he’s known to be an ultra-loyal Blairite, that hasn’t particularly helped him climb the greasy pole - to date he’s reached the dizzy heights of Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Department of Work and Pensions, i.e. an unpaid bag-carrier for, first, David Blunkett and, latterly, John Hutton.
Avid political watchers might also recall that he got into something of a spat with Tom Watson, following Tom’s resignation as a junior Defence Minister, having signed a letter calling on Tony Blair to set a firm timetable for his departure as Prime Minister:
Mr Bailey, who is in the neighbouring West Bromwich West constituency, immediately jumped to the Prime Minister’s defence and accused Mr Watson and his fellow rebels of being “destructive to the party”.
He said: “I believe a leader who has won three general elections should be trusted to time that exit.”
And he said Mr Watson and the others, who he said were “the younger MPs” were acting in a way that could be disruptive and not in the best interests of the party.
Bailey’s outburst in the local press hardly went down well with local members; two senior local councillors even described him as being ‘out of touch with voters’ - none more so than members of his own CLP if even half of what I’ve been told over the weekend is true.
To say that there’s dissent in his CLP ranks would seem to be rather an understatement. Outright revolt may be rather closer to the mark and this may well lead to moves to unseat Bailey as the CLP’s chosen candidate for next general election.
From what I’ve been told, the relationship between Bailey and a significant portion of his CLP has been deteriorating for some time, although matters really started to come to a head before last year’s local elections, at a time when the local party was expecting to come under serious pressure from the BNP - Labour lost three seats to the BNP at that election, all in Bailey’s constituency.
Two events, which took place in the run in to those elections, appear to have brought tensions to head within the CLP.
First, Bailey is alleged to have been deeply involved in efforts to unseat a well-respected and long-serving local councillor in order to insert one of his favoured supporters into the seat, a move that backfired spectacularly when the councillor in question stood down rather than fight what was expected to be a fairly bitter and acrimonious selection contest, leaving Bailey’s preferred candidate to fight the election and lose the seat to the BNP - this despite boundary changes having moved a sizable Asian community into the ward in question.
To compound matters, Bailey is also held by CLP members to have been behind a decision to delay the CLP’s annual general meeting from March (before the election) to the following July. This decision was taken out of the hands of local members and forced on the CLP by Regional Office on the pretext that fighting the election was more of a priority and the CLP did not need the ‘distraction’ of an AGM, although the view of many in the CLP is that this delay was engineered solely to avoid Bailey having to face a mutiny amongst the CLP membership.
As a direct consequence of the AGM being delayed, the sitting officers of the CLP chose, en bloc, not to stand for re-election when the AGM was eventually convened in July, leaving it in the embarrasing position of finding itself unable to fill the post of CLP Treasurer at its own AGM, forcing it to wait a further two months until an appointment could be made.
Eight months on and word is, again, reaching me of serious dissention within CLP ranks, this time over an attempt to railroad through Bailey’s reselection as the constituency’s candidate for the next general election.
The issue, as I understand it, is one of timing. Last year, the local elections were put forward as a pretext for delaying the CLP’s AGM for several months. This year, with the CLP under much the same pressure from the BNP in the upcoming local elections - early predictions suggest that Labour could lose another 3-5 seats to the BNP, most of which, again, will be in West Bromwich West - not only is the CLP’s AGM going ahead on its usual schedule but it seems an attempt has been made timetable the selection process for the next general election before the local elections, as well - a move that many in the CLP are interpreting as an effort, on Bailey’s part, to get his nomination reconfirmed before Blair heads off into the sunset. Bailey, it seems, is less than confident of the getting the full backing of the party machine without Blair standing over it and has been trying to push things through accordingly.
Whether the current rumblings of discontent amount to sufficient will to unseat Bailey is difficult to assess as yet, although he appears not to helped his cause one bit by the manner in which his supporters have attempted to fast-track his reselection.
Apparently, a timetable for the reselection, that would have seen it done and dusted before the May elections, was ‘agreed’ by a meeting of the CLPs officers at which two of those present were paid employees of Bailey’s constitutency office. Although this timetable has now been rejected by the CLP executive, in a meeting that has been described to me as ‘heated’, a number of members are now asking questions about whether these two individuals should have withdrawn from the officer’s meeting due to what seems a pretty obvious conflict of interest, as well as raising more general questions about whether its appropriate to CLP members who are employed by the MP to take an active role in debates/votes where their employment gives rise to such a clear and obvious conflict of interest.
Far from smoothing the way to a secure candidacy at the next general election, this latest round of procedural shenannigans appears to have made many CLP members all the more determined to open up the constitutency to other prospective parliamentary candidates and at least take a look at the alternative candidates who may be on offer. A poor result in the local elections and further losses to the BNP could harden the resolve of Bailey’s opponents even further, not least as another of Bailey’s employees is current having half his salary paid by the local Labour group in order than he can coordinate local campaign activities against the BNP. However, to date, there seems to be a considerable amount of dissatisfaction amongst local activists as to the conduct of this ‘campaign’, which many consider to be notable only for its lack of impact thus far.
Whatever happens, it seems likely that the upcoming selection process in West Bromwich West will be be one to watch. It’s too early to say, for certain, whether the knives are actually out for Adrian Bailey, but talk to a few of his CLP members and one gets the distinct impression that they’re being sharpened at the moment.
[A few corrections made for typo’s and accuracy - especially as there appears to be a journo watching]
Posted by Unity on 26 Feb 2007 at 13:21 pm