diamond geezer

 Monday, February 22, 2010

Vote2010: Bethnal Green and Bow

For the next few weeks, my MP remains George Galloway. But at the next General Election George will be moving on, presumably to do bugger all somewhere else, which is is good news for representative democracy in East London. Who'll replace him? It's not as straight-forward a question as you might think. In any normal year, Bethnal Green and Bow is about as safe a Labour stronghold as you can get. But 2005 proved that upsets can happen, and 2010 isn't exactly shaping up to be Labour's year.

Four of the major candidates for the forthcoming election are known (and I'll come back and write a post about them after Gordon names the day). But one of the major parties has yet to make up its mind. They're leaving it a bit late.
• Labour: Rushanara Ali [website]
• Green: Farid Bakht [website]
• Liberal Democrat: Ajmal Masroor [website]
• Respect: Abjol Miah [website]
• Conservative: to be confirmed
The Bethnal Green and Bow Conservative Association attempted to select a candidate this time last year, and failed. They held an open primary in a Stepney church hall and invited the public to come along and vote for a winner. Anyone could attend, not just local Conservative party members, so long as they were on the electoral roll and had pre-registered. Those present listened to speeches from a shortlist of three, and engaged in a Q&A from the floor, then voted for their preferred candidate. Except that their preferred candidate wasn't endorsed by local party members - they've never quite admitted why - so the entire process was rendered null and void. Bethnal Green and Bow's been Conservative Prospective Parliamentary Candidate-less ever since.

On Sunday week they're trying again. Another open primary, same rules, but this time with six wannabe MPs on the slate. One of the previous trio is back to fight again, one has already been selected elsewhere in London, and the other gentleman is conspicuous by his absence. So, who is there to select from this time?
» Graeme Archer (nearly-local statistician, and prolific Tory blogger) [website] [facebook]
» Kemal Butt (councillor for, er, Moor Park, SW Herts) [profile]
» Maria Ioannou (publisher)
» Zafir Khan (community affairs officer)
» Claire Palmer (barrister, Chair of Bow Conservatives, having another go) [website]
» Ali Stow (strategic planner) [profile]
One of these folk will be picked by public vote on March 7th to become the East End's newly-anointed true blue nominee. I can only hope that the local Conservative Association has faith in each and every person on the shortlist, because it would be terribly embarrassing if yet another selection process ended in embarrassing rejection. If you're a Conservative voter living in the Bethnal Green and Bow constituency then check out how to pre-register, and your vote could significantly influence the democratic process. Alternatively, if you live locally but support any other party, there's nothing stopping you heading down to St Hilda's Community Centre, listening to all the speeches and then voting for the candidate you think is the biggest electoral liability. Your choice.

The whole "Open Primary" process, although technically transparent and representative, sounds terribly risky to me. It's like X Factor politics - a headline grabbing initiative that doesn't necessarily kickstart long-term careers. It's supposed to ensure "a mandate from the whole electorate", but it guarantees nothing of the sort. The candidate who buses in the most supporters can outgun the candidate who'd make the best MP. Opposition political parties can have their say and bias the outcome of the final vote. And, in this case, there's even a risk that Gordon could call the election early before anyone's even been selected. Whoever takes the blue riband on Sunday week, they'll certainly have a lot of catching up to do.

Sunday 7th March update: And the winner is Zafir Khan. A report in the comments here suggests that the audience comprised mostly Bangladeshi voters, and this photo of the selection meeting seems to confirm that. A Muslim MP for BG&B now looks a dead cert, whichever party wins.

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