Standing for selection to be the next parliamentary candidate for Stroud – my experience

In view of the speculation as to why I was not put on the longlist for the Labour parliamentary selection for Stroud constituency, here is an account.

The wider context

The introduction to the Party rules governing the selection of parliamentary candidates states the following:

An account of the longlisting process.

The selection process for Stroud opened on 27 May. I submitted my application to the Party on 1 June. I will post my application separately, for your information.

At 1329 on Monday 6 June I received the following email from the Labour Party.

Screenshots of various posts were included in the email.

I will explain below the background to the other two events mentioned in the email.

I only had four hours notice of the interview, and I was working all afternoon, as well as having to take our Ukrainian guests to the Stroud Job Centre, so I didn’t have much time to research these posts, some of which were several years old, what they linked to, or why they might have been of concern.

Longlisting Panel

The interview was with the Longlisting Panel. The panel consisted of: Labour Party National Executive Committee members, Johanna Baxter and Gurinder Singh Josan, and member of SW Labour Party regional committee Chris Cuddihee.

[I note that all three are members of the Labour 2 Win internal Labour faction, and currently seeking election to party positions on a slate of Labour 2 Win candidates.]

Also in attendance were two party officials, but they did not say anything throughout the meeting: Fraser Welsh, Head of Internal Governance at The Labour Party and Phil Gaskin, SW Regional Director.

I asked if a representative from my union Unite could attend in support of me but this was refused because, I was told “this isn’t a disciplinary hearing”.

I have the official support of seven trade unions, which according to the rules mean I would be automatically included on the longlist of candidates. However, the Party rules also state:

“Those nominated by trade unions, other affiliated organisations or the Co- operative Party will not be required to attend an interview prior to longlisting, unless concerns arise from due diligence checks, in such cases any interviews will cover only matters which arise from those checks.”

The rules also state:
“Due diligence checks will be carried out on applicants invited to interview with reports provided to the panel where necessary.”

I am not aware if reports were provided.

Also, I am not aware that our local party selection committee or any other local party officials were consulted on any of the issues raised.

The interview took about 40 minutes.

Purpose of interview

I was told at the start that this was not a disciplinary hearing, and they were not looking at the content of the posts. Rather they wanted me to explain how I would respond if these things were picked up by the media, on the doorstep, or by an opposition party during the election campaign. At the end of it, they told me, the panel would make a judgement in terms of whether I could continue as a candidate.

I was asked to go through each item in turn, and explain how I would respond if any of these came up on the doorstep.

I will try to give a brief note of what I said.

15 May 2021

I explained this post was from a local councillor and I shared it as a local event which had local people speaking at including Jewish people, as there was concern about what was happening to the Palestinians. I explained, having gone back and looked at the full post, (but not actually to be seen on the screenshot), it mentions the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions campaign and I said that this is not a campaign that I have supported.

I also at this point explained, that as some of these posts relate to the question around antisemitism, that I myself have Jewish heritage and have family who died in the Holocaust, and I have always been very supportive of our local Jewish members.

13 December 20

I explained that as we lost in 2019, it was very unhappy for us as a local Labour party, and I shared this post as it was very upsetting for us. I wasn’t actually quite sure what the issue was with this post and asked them. I was told that what might be picked up were the comments about Jeremy Corbyn, (again this is on the full post, not visible in the screenshot) and the phrase ‘Jeremy Corbyn, he will be blamed by the usual suspects for our defeat’. I was asked, if I was challenged by an opposition party or the media in an election campaign about my views about Jeremy Corbyn, as he was unpopular on the doorstep, how would I respond. I said that we were aware it was difficult for us in that election, but we are out campaigning again locally and having a more positive view. I said I’ve always been supportive of all our Labour leaders, they are democratically elected by the party and it is important we are positive about where we are right now, which is moving in the right direction for voters.

15 November 2019

Looking back on it now, I said to the panel that I wouldn’t be sharing something like this as we’ve become more aware of the sensitivity around these issues. I explained that I have always been conscious of the feelings of our local Jewish members, my concerns have been for their welfare through all this difficult time. The panel said that the fact I tried to downplay the issue of antisemitism would be very serious, especially after the EHRC report into the Labour party. I agreed that we wouldn’t want to be giving any impression that we were downplaying it in any shape or form locally. I explained that since I’ve been leader of the council, we’ve introduced the IHRA definition of antisemitism, I’ve been one of the leading councillors at the Holocaust Memorial Day, and worked with local Jewish members of the community.

11 August 2018

I explained I shared this for information only following the horrific far right attack on the bookshop in London, I attended that event in support of the bookshop. I’ve never been a supporter or advocated anything to do with the SWP so if I was asked about it, I would be making it clear, my sharing that tweet was the motivation around the attack which took place, for information and in no way endorsing anything to do with the SWP.

21 June 2017

This was a five year old tweet and I didn’t have time to find the link or what the concern was. The panel explained this was about what Occupy London stood for, in terms of their tactics of disruption. I explained that on my social media I haven’t endorsed tactics along those lines nor would be doing so.

[Because of the short time I had to prepare, I wasn’t able to go and find this tweet. I found it afterwards, and I see from the retweet I had made just before it was quite clear I was not endorsing any form of action, but I wasn’t able to share this with the panel.]

Other actions

As well as the social media posts above, the email referred to the following:

“In addition, the panel has been advised that in 2020 you protested against the General Secretary’s instructions in relation to the EHRC report, and that in 2018 you spoke in favour of a motion that related to a disciplinary case.”

These two incidents refer to two Labour meetings, which were not in the public domain, and in neither case had the NEC previously raised a concern with me about them. The panel did not provide an explanation as to how it had obtained this information. I not aware of any process where the local party was requested to supply information on myself or any other applicants as part of due diligence. I presume therefore the information was supplied to the NEC by an unknown person in the local party in a personal capacity.

12 December 2020

At this point I was told that the panel had seen an email I wrote on 12 December 2020 to other members of the Labour district councillor group, group observers and EC members. I wasn’t given prior notice that this email was to be discussed at the interview.

[NB The email referred to an All Members Meeting held on 11 December 2020. I had submitted a full council report in advance, and normally I would take questions from members. I stated at the meeting that I felt conflicted about not being allowed to discuss the recent EHRC report finding antisemitism in the party. At the last moment, I stated that I was not going to take questions at the meeting, I did not comment other than that.]

I explained to the panel that looking back on it now, it wasn’t a wise thing to do, but I am a politician who sometimes does things because I feel that was the right thing to do. The reason I did so was because I had local Jewish members who were feeling upset and worried about what had been going on and they were concerned the party wasn’t enabling them to discuss it in a safe space, if Jewish members wanted to talk about antisemitism within the party, I was aware we hadn’t created that opportunity. It was very much motivated by my concerns about their welfare, and their lack of ability to express their views so they could inform us as well. The panel told me that the language I used in the email was quite strong and as a leading member of the party, as pointed out in the EHRC report, I have more agency than others.

Until this point the only panel member who asked me any questions was Gurinder Singh Josan. Johanna Baxter now asked me about the reference in that email where I stated ‘We had a Labour MP who sometimes voted against the whip and we respected his right to do so.’ She referred to my comment as being a representative that does things because they think they are right and asked me to explain what I thought the role of the Labour whip is. I explained that I lead a no overall control council so discipline is extremely important for us, to win votes, so I work really closely with my whip. In all my time as a councillor I have never gone against the whip. But I explained that I am aware there may be rare matters of conscience, when an elected representative might make the case for voting differently.

In response to a further question from Johanna Baxter, and Chris Cuddihee, about the impact my action might have had, and my understanding, I did explain that on reflection, I’ve become much more aware of how much more sensitive it is than I had previously, and I would have acted differently.

Motion 2018 AGM

The panel told me that they had been provided with information that I had spoken in favour of a motion in support of Marc Wadsworth at the local party AGM in 2018. I explained that I was speaking in a personal capacity at that meeting, because I did know Marc. I stated, that four years on, I have reflected on this, and have become more aware of some of his views which I wouldn’t support, and in addition we have received further guidance from the party and I wouldn’t be discussing individual disciplinary matters in a party meeting.

Concluding question

Finally I was asked, since in October 2020 the Labour Party was found to have unlawfully discriminated against and harassed Jewish people, so, as an aspiring elected representative, how would I contribute to ensuring local parties are a welcoming space for all.

My response was, that ever since I’ve been involved in the Labour Party, I’ve always felt it is important that we are a welcoming local party. In my own Labour branch, we have Jewish members who have been supportive of me, for example, in putting myself forward as a candidate. I recognise that there was a problem with antisemitism not only in the party but other parts of society which causes immense distress, for example what currently going on locally now in our own area, where the anti-covid campaign has links to antisemitism. I explained that I would always be guided by Jewish members, of the party and our community, so they feel welcomed, we’ve been through a very distressing time for Jewish people and because of my heritage, we must help make that better because it is really not acceptable.

Panel response

At 11:52 on 7 June I received the following email:

The rules state:

“Make sure that the same criteria are applied to everyone who applies and that reasons for rejecting any candidate are clearly stated and evidenced.”

However, other than the above email, I have not been sent any evidence on the reasons why I was rejected. Nor have I been given any feedback as to which elements of the Westminster parliamentary candidate person specification I do not comply with.

The rules do not provide for an appeal process against the longlisting panel decision, or any requirement for them to consult with the local party. I have also since been informed that longlisting panels do not discuss their decisions.

General Secretary’s response

Following the decision, members of our local Labour party contacted David Evans, the party’s General Secretary, for an explanation. He has sent a standard email which says:

“As you may be aware, the process for selecting Parliamentary candidates was significantly amended by the NEC earlier this year, with a particular focus on ensuring the highest levels of due diligence are applied to those seeking to stand as a Labour Party Candidate.

Whilst it would not be fair, or appropriate, to get into the detail of due diligence concerns raised about an individual candidate, I can assure you that the decision made by the NEC/REC panel not to include Cllr Cornell on the Stroud longlist was made according to NEC guidelines and does not deviate from similar decisions made in other cases around the country.

As detailed in the procedures, if concerns are raised, the candidate is invited to a longlisting interview to address them. They are sent any evidence in advance and have the opportunity to address each concern individually. On this occasion, having had consideration of the representations made to them, the panel was not satisfied that Cllr Cornell’s responses met the high bar that Labour expects of its prospective Parliamentary representatives.

I understand this decision will be incredibly disappointing for Cllr Cornell and her supporters. However, we would urge her to carefully consider the concerns raised by the panel and look to address them ahead of the next round of Parliamentary Selections.”

The Party rules state:

I assume therefore from this and the final paragraph of the General Secretary, that I could be considered for future selections, if I gave more satisfactory answers. To date, however, I have not had any feedback from the panel or offer of support as to what would be required in order to do this.

A final few words

I have set out here a plain account of what occurred, for the benefit of those local party members who have contacted me and wanted to understand what has happened

I am aware there has been speculation as to why I was not included on the longlist, so I just want to set the record straight. I have not been disciplined by the Party. Nor have any of the above issues or concerns ever been raised with me previously.

Based on the evidence here, you can make up your own mind as to whether the longlisting panel’s judgement was fair, based on all the evidence before them as to my track record, my application to the party, and my replies to the points of concern they raised, as to whether I would have been suitable to have been included on a longlist for local members of Stroud constituency Labour party to decide if they wanted to vote for me or not.

You might also wish to reflect on what do you need from a Labour parliamentary candidate having to fight to win in a marginal seat, and if I was qualified for that or not. And if you do win, what sort of a Labour MP you feel would best represent this particular constituency of Stroud.