Today the Dover Express reports that the Labour National Executive Committee has decided the Dover and Deal constituency party will choose its next parliamentary candidate from an all-women shortlist.
The decision will be a bitter blow to those long-serving members of the old guard who may have hoped, after former MP Gwyn Prosser was booted out by the voters last time around, that this would be their chance for a shot at the Westminster prize.
But for the likes of Gordon Cowan, who leads the opposition Labour group on Dover District Council, and his colleague Mike Eddy, who speaks on finance for the party at Whitfield, it looks like any ambitions for a tilt at their Tory foe Charlie Elphicke will have to be put aside.
It also surely marks the end of the road politically for Gwyn, despite the fact he remains the parliamentary spokesman for the Labour Party in Dover and told me exclusively last year that he would not rule out another run for the Commons.
But this decision to impose an all-female selection policy on the constituency, which the party centrally says was taken after consultation with members locally, is not just bad news for these big beasts of local left-wing politics – it’s bad for the electorate and their right to be represented by the MP they deem most capable of fighting their corner in the corridors of power.
No one could possibly oppose the opening up of institutions like the House of Commons to a more diverse group of individuals who better represent a wider cross-section of the population they were sent there to serve. But I’m afraid discrimination – however well meant – is discrimination nonetheless.
What is to be gained by imposing an all-women shortlist on any constituency? Does it not simply dismiss with a single stroke, on no basis other than their gender, able individuals who have spent years toiling away in local politics? Does it not risk creating the impression that the successful candidate secured the party’s nomination only because half the potential field was eliminated before the contest began, not because of her abilities?
Labour, the only party in the UK to employ this discriminatory practice, will tell you it is used to increase the number of women in politics and therefore make it more representative of the people. There is, however, a way this could be achieved without resorting to discrimination which, if put into effect against the female population, would rightly be derided as sexist and wrong. It can be achieved through the open primary system.
Why does the Labour Party not take the bold step of opening up the selection of their parliamentary candidates to the whole community, rather than leaving the choice to an ever-dwindling clique of party loyalists or parachuting in an unknown apparatchik from the Westminster village?
By allowing the voters themselves to choose their candidate, as the Tories did in Totnes in the run-up to the 2010 General Election, the party can make good on its leader’s claims that a new generation – and new thinking – has taken hold of the Labour movement.
Opting for an all-women shortlist creates exactly the impression Labour should be striving to avoid after 13 years in power: that it still believes equality of opportunity and a fairer society can be achieved by diktat from a central authority rather than by a genuine change of culture.
Remove the power of patronage from the hands of the members and pass it to the people. Let the electorate decide the type of person they would like to see represent them so we might see an end to the identikit hordes of white, middle-aged, male political insiders who make up the majority of our candidates and politicians.
And for heaven’s sake please let women succeed in their own right and because of their own talents, not as a result of patronising interference from a party machine which mistakes discrimination for progress.