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Parliament Matters – Michael Crick & Tomorrow’s MPs: The latest news on parliamentary candidate selections (Episode 12)

15 Dec 2023
Votes are counted in Coventry during the 2010 General Election. ©Coventry City Council / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Deed
Votes are counted in Coventry during the 2010 General Election. ©Coventry City Council / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Deed

Legendary political journalist Michael Crick joins us in the studio, to discuss the progress each party is making in selecting their candidates with the general election now less than a year away.

Michael Crick has been tracking candidate selections and reporting the results each week via his @TomorrowsMPs Twitter account. He explains how he is ‘lifting the secrecy on politics in the raw’ for what have hitherto been Britain’s ‘hidden elections’.

Who are the candidates and what are their backgrounds? Are there going to be more women MPs or more MPs from ethnic minority backgrounds? How much control do the central party machines exercise over local constituency choices? And who are the candidates we should keep an eye on, who might be the up-and-coming names in the next Parliament?

If they do get elected these candidates will need to get their offices up and running quickly. Dr Rebecca McKee is the author of a recent report about Parliament’s ‘unsung heroes’ – namely, MPs staff. Who they are and what they do? Rebecca joins us in the studio to talk about what newly-elected MPs need to think about to avoid recruitment pitfalls and get the best possible start to their parliamentary careers.

Parliament Matters is produced by the Hansard Society with the support of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, a Quaker trust which engages in philanthropy and supports work on democratic accountability.

Parliament Matters Episode 12

Please note, this transcript is automatically generated. There are consequently minor errors and the text is not formatted according to our style guide. If you wish to reference or cite the transcript copy below, please first check against the audio version above. Timestamps are provided above each paragraph.

00:00:00:00 - 00:00:16:24

You are listening to Parliament Matters, a Hansard Society Production supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. Learn more at hansardsociety.org.uk/pm.

00:00:17:01 - 00:00:37:12

Hello and welcome to this special edition of Parliament Matters. I'm Mark Darcy and I'm with folks. In this episode, we'll be diving deep into two critical under the radar issues at play ahead of the UK's upcoming general election and its immediate aftermath. The candidate selection process and the almost as critical question of MPPs and the staff they choose to serve them.

00:00:37:14 - 00:00:59:10

We'll be joined by legendary political reporter Michael Crick to learn about his tomorrows and peace projects. He's tracking hundreds of parliamentary candidates across the country, lifting the lid on the state of the selection process for what he calls Britain's hidden elections. And then we speak to Dr. Rebecca McKee, the author of The First of its Kind report on MP Staffing, published by the UCL Constitution Unit.

00:00:59:13 - 00:01:25:21

Rebecca's research uncovers new data about the working conditions and experiences of MP staff. Who are they? What are their career prospects and why should parliamentary candidates be thinking about the staffing of their future offices even before they've gone through the small formality of actually getting elected?

00:01:25:23 - 00:01:47:13

Well, we're joined now by one of the legends of British political journalism, certainly the broadcast level, Michael Crick, alumnus of Channel four News and NEWSNIGHT, who's now engaged in a spectacularly wide ranging project to report on the selection of the next generation of employees. He's got a Twitter feed, tomorrow's MPs that looks at who's being chosen in what seats.

00:01:47:13 - 00:02:08:11

And. Michael, first of all, why on earth did you get into this? You've involved yourself in covering several parties, selecting candidates in 650 seats. What possessed you? Well, I've always been interested in selections for, what, 40 years now? I mean, in the 1980s. It was always my plan to become an MP myself. And therefore I was interested in the for Labor.

00:02:08:13 - 00:02:29:18

And that all came to an end in 1990 when I was approached about finding a seat. Bootle on Merseyside safest Labor seat in England at the time, and I had about 24 hours to put my name forward and I decided not to. I decided I preferred being a journalist and I also worked out that if I wasn't going to go for Bootle, you weren't really going to go for anyway, correct me.

00:02:29:19 - 00:02:49:22

So that was the end of that. But it also struck me that the day that somebody is selected for a winnable or a safe seat is the turning point in many political careers, and people often take decades. Michael Howard did, I think, 31 selections over a period of about 20 years before he got in. Betty Boothroyd took a very long time.

00:02:49:24 - 00:03:17:07

And it's a moment that involves, in some cases, just a handful of local activists and bigwigs, and they are, in many cases, effectively picking the MP for that constituency for the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years. And it seemed to me it required a lot more analysis. And if you talk to MPs, as I've done at length, as you have Mark, they've all got their selection stories, you know, the ones they thought were absolute dead cert, it suddenly crumbled at the last minute.

00:03:17:09 - 00:03:34:21

And some, you know, bright young saying came along and made a brilliant speech and they were pushed aside. Or on the other hand, the one they did get was one that they were just going along for practice, really didn't expect to get it. And suddenly everything went right on the note and they got chosen. And this is an exercise that only seems to be possible in the age of social media.

00:03:34:21 - 00:03:48:10

If you've been trying to do this in the 1980s, you've presumably been mailing letters out and making phone calls, and now you can do a lot of your work on Twitter. You're right. I think you could have done it in the 1980s and you would have had to make a lot more phone calls. I do make a lot of phone calls.

00:03:48:12 - 00:04:10:05

I do a lot on Twitter and a lot of the tips and information I get comes in by direct messaging. You have to be careful about what people say on direct message. But I've only been the victim of hoaxes. I think, on a couple of occasions. People are remarkably reliable in what they tell me. And if I get it wrong, I immediately withdraw the tweet and live to fight another day.

00:04:10:05 - 00:04:29:11

But yeah, social media is hugely important, but I think you could have done it at any time, actually. And when you look at the choices that are being made by all those local parties, what are the kind of apparent trends? Is there any overriding thinking towards selecting local councilors or selecting people that the Central party likes who brought in things being pushed forward by the high command?

00:04:29:13 - 00:04:55:08

Let's take the important trends first. I think the most important trend you've sort of touched on there, which is that candidates now are overwhelmingly local, or at least they can claim some kind of local link or connection. This is a trend that's been going on for 20 or 30 years. There was a time when the Conservative Party or the Labor Party there would be a gang of bright young things or sort of a caravan that would go around the country from selection to selection.

00:04:55:11 - 00:05:16:08

One would be picked off and chosen and the caravan would then move on to somewhere totally different. And they all knew each other. And 25 years ago that caravan would have included David Cameron and George Osborne and Theresa may and so on. That doesn't happen now. Candidates have to demonstrate that they were either brought up there or they've lived there or they've got some local connection.

00:05:16:08 - 00:05:43:08

And if they don't, they tend not to get selection unless they're a big name. And if you look, I would say 90% of the candidates chosen, maybe 85% of the candidates chosen for labor or the conservatives this time round have got some local link. And about two thirds of the candidates for both parties have been councilors. Not always councilors in the area they're chosen for, but generally, often they're councilors in London, inner London boroughs.

00:05:43:08 - 00:06:03:24

It tends to be Lambeth seems to have a lot and suburb of Camden. They often go back to where they've come from and say, When I was brought up here, I went to school here, my parents still live here and so on. Tend to exaggerate certain things. They tend to downplay, you know, they say, and I've been a councilor for ten years, sometimes without explaining that they've been a councilor for ten years in London rather than locally.

00:06:04:02 - 00:06:22:23

And the literature they put out and the websites they do and the videos they do these days often can be quite misleading. And I see it as part of my job to put the record straight so that they are going to be careful. But that local link is important and I think I think that is a really, really, really bad development.

00:06:23:04 - 00:06:40:03

It means there's less choice for the individual, ambitious person who wants to go into politics because it means they've only got, you know, one or two seats that they can go for where they were brought up, where they live now, perhaps maybe one or two others. And if, of course, they are, say, a conservative from South Wales, well, I'm never going to get a say.

00:06:40:08 - 00:06:59:15

They're never going to get elected to parliament in the valleys. There may be a seat or two you could go for in Cardiff. So the options unlimited. I mean I once said to Keir Starmer, if he'd been obliged to fight seats in Surrey, his career would have got nowhere. Fortunately, that was in a period where you could move to London, and London does provide something of a of a way out of this localism problem.

00:06:59:18 - 00:07:26:19

But it is a huge problem. And especially, I think because the outlook of people who have been brought up on local councils in the local media isn't always the outlook you want for Westminster and for Whitehall. Well, that brings in the broader problem, doesn't it? Because there's an issue for Parliament, because by the time these candidates, very local, very locally focused into sort of a campaigning approach, by the time they get to Westminster, it's very difficult to draw back from that.

00:07:26:19 - 00:07:50:20

They're sort of committed to that form of in-depth activity at the local level and that has knock on effects them in terms of how they see the balance of their work and responsibilities as a parliamentarian at the national level. And also, of course, as you say, in Whitehall, in terms of being ministers, you know, we're talking about not just recruiting the next generation of MPs, but also the next generation of ministers who've got to operate on national and international issues.

00:07:50:22 - 00:08:12:22

You're right. And the problem of course, we've got here is that to be a minister effective, you've got to be an MP, and the qualities needed to be an MP are not quite the same as the qualities needed to be a minister. And these days MPs are expected to do a lot at a local level. They're expected to deal with thousands of constituency problems, although they have relatively large staffs compared with the old days.

00:08:12:24 - 00:08:39:01

You know, the clamor for local candidates is coming from the voters and if one is being a Democrat, one has to respect that, I suppose. And also from the activists, they feel much easier to get a local candidate elected than it is to get some wizkid who's, as you know, work for labor headquarters or conservative headquarters. But I do think that this does present from if you look at some people who've had a really successful career in local government, they do really badly at Westminster.

00:08:39:01 - 00:08:57:10

There's one or two exceptions like Herbert Morrison and David Blunkett, Eric Pickles, more recently, but he he was only leader of Bradford for about 18 months. I mean, you take Jon Trickett, who ran Leeds for ten years, Graham Stringer, regarded as a very successful leader of Manchester City Council in the nineties. Neither of them have done very much.

00:08:57:10 - 00:09:14:08

Jim McMahon in Oldham, Jim McMahon and old Peter Soulsby, who was running Leicester more than 40 years ago. Believe it or not, he had a brief period where he won a by election, got to Westminster. Everybody was predicting a bright career for him and it never quite worked out and he ended up going back to Leicester and being he's now the elected mayor.

00:09:14:13 - 00:09:35:02

So the qualities needed to be a successful local politician are not always the qualities you need to be a minister. And I think that too often in these selections, the local actor is the local members are not really thinking about is this person a potential minister? And I say to them, Look, who are your political heroes? But they all local was Winston Churchill.

00:09:35:02 - 00:09:54:01

Local was Margaret Thatcher local? Was Tony Benn local? I don't think Tony Bennett ever been to Bristol before? He went for selection for that before the 1950. By that he was a by election I think, or Chesterfield of the hand much like the Chesterfield. But everybody whatever your politics except that Tony Benn was a very good constituency MP But he also made a huge impact on the national stage.

00:09:54:04 - 00:10:14:17

So you don't have to have been brought up in an area to be a good MP for that area. So you've got this trend of localism, if you like, and a tendency towards wanting to select super councilors. What else is coming out of all them, all them more women getting into the parliamentary ranks these days? So that was one of the big trends of recent elections.

00:10:14:19 - 00:10:37:11

Yes and no. Let's, let's take the two parties. Labor had all women shortlists, which meant that at the last election they actually had more women elected than men ever so slightly. And their legal advice is that you can't carry on with all women shortlists when women are in the majority. This is meant to be benefiting the minority as such a policy.

00:10:37:11 - 00:11:02:11

So they've abandoned all women shortlists. Nonetheless, 45% of the Labor candidates selected so far are women. It's partly helped by a policy in the Scottish Labor Party whereby they put two constituencies together, combine the votes of the members and the members have to vote for their favorite man and their favorite woman. And then whoever gets the most votes out of the two gets to choose the seat.

00:11:02:11 - 00:11:19:20

And that nearly always favors the man. So it means that they've got more women candidates in Scotland than they might have had, but the men are still grab the best seats, which may be not what they intended, but they introduced this policy. The Conservatives are doing quite badly, I think, in terms of women candidates and indeed Rishi Sunak's very aware of this.

00:11:19:20 - 00:11:37:14

You said he's been badgered by his wife on this. He told a fringe meeting that she was putting a lot of pressure on him to change things. I mean, the figures for them are if you take all the conservative candidates, the new people, not the ones who are sitting MPs of 106 so far. I think the figure I looked at this morning was 28% of women.

00:11:37:14 - 00:12:03:09

So that's much lower than the labor. But more serious than that, if you actually take those seats which are conservative now, in other words, seats that they might win, the number of women being selected is only about 22%, So just above a fifth. So women are doing really badly in the selection process. Central Office have tried to do something about this, and there are one or two cases where they sort of imposed their own or women shortlist on a seat without it being an actual policy.

00:12:03:15 - 00:12:26:14

It just so happened that they insisted that these three women were the only women that you're allowed to choose from. But the number of women candidates for the Conservatives is worrying the party in terms of ethnic minorities or people of color. It's roughly somewhere in the teens. It's it's not far off the percentages in the population. But what I think is more interesting is the politics of these people.

00:12:26:16 - 00:13:00:09

And I think you've seen the same trends in both parties, a move towards the center, which is very interesting at a time when Western politics in America and most of Western Europe is becoming more polarized. I think the next parliament is going to be much more centrist, maybe not with much success for the traditional centrist party, the liberal Democrats, but there's been a really strong attempt by the Senate, a very successful attempt by the Labor high command, basically to exclude the left of the 190 or so candidates, only about half a dozen you can say are on the left.

00:13:00:09 - 00:13:20:04

And is there a mirror image of that on the Conservative Party? They're excluding the sort of more UKIP wing of the conservative vote. Exactly. And in that case, it's central office in Downing Street who seem to be weeding people out the right are very upset in the Conservative Party now. It's much harder among the Conservative Party to sort of identify people as what their politics are.

00:13:20:08 - 00:13:42:24

In fact, during this whole process, it's quite difficult to identify people's politics, but there are not many who are sort of passionately Brexiteers the guy from north west Leicestershire, who was briefly a Brexit Party candidate, he's one of them. For example. They're not many, and there were a few who were, you know, quite strong remainers. James Cracknell, the Olympic alderman who double gold winning Olympic oarsman who was being chosen for Colchester.

00:13:42:24 - 00:14:06:18

He says that he would like to see us back in the European Union in 25 years time. There's a bloke called Charlie DAVIES in Chislehurst and whatever goes with Chislehurst, I forget. And he is Bromley. He was part of the second referendum campaign and so there's a lot of unhappiness in the most conservative activists. That's a kind of trend that you saw at the conference where you seem to see a big move to the right at the conference three months ago.

00:14:06:23 - 00:14:25:08

That's not really happening amongst the candidates. They are choosing a lot of local people and a lot of local government people. And I think the local government thing partly explains what's going on because idealists tend not to go into local government. Local government is this paper route, but you know it it's people who want to get things done.

00:14:25:10 - 00:14:47:10

And power tends to eat away your ideals. Things aren't as simple as you thought they were when you were young and ambitious. And so that's the trend that I perceive so far. Very interesting one really. It's against what I think a lot of people might expect. Certainly when it comes to the Conservatives. Are you picking up any other interesting professional backgrounds apart from this sort of this local government, local, local angle?

00:14:47:10 - 00:15:12:20

I mean, where are we with, you know, business people, for example? Quite a lot of business people on the conservative side, not many in labor. Indeed. There was a report this week from a not a great shock, though, that who. No, but you might have expected I mean, there have been other trends in the Labor Party, I suppose what you would say broadly trends towards a more conservative type in that, you know, you've got quite a few military people with military backgrounds amongst Labor candidate and amongst conservative candidates, but that's always been the case.

00:15:13:01 - 00:15:32:00

I mean, the Labor candidates are very semi and that word was coined by Luke Hurst, who's one of these fixer types, a labor right winger on the national executive who chairs a lot of the panels, which helped draw up the long lists. I mean, he's very much believes that they should, you know, exclude pretty much the whole of the left from this process.

00:15:32:02 - 00:15:53:19

But he does accept, I think, that they're nearly all middle class, hardly any working class people in the labor labor camp, probably a half a dozen out of 190, nearly all university educated. They do things like work for think tanks, work for charities. A lot of people work in the help with that. So nothing wrong with that, nothing wrong with left, but it's a bit boring if they've all got on the conservative side.

00:15:53:19 - 00:16:13:18

I think there's more variety. Overall, they're mostly a bit dull, to be honest, with some exceptions. Who are those exceptions then? Well, in the Lifestyles of the Future. Yeah, well, these aren't necessarily stars, but they're they're interesting exceptions that cropped up actually in the last week. The conservatives in Bristol, north East, actually, let's be honest, they're not going to win Bristol north east.

00:16:13:18 - 00:16:44:03

But nonetheless, they chose a very interesting woman called Rose Hulse, who was actually an American from California, a black woman. And she's sort of been portrayed in various media and in more in American than Britain, I think is a sort of a new Meghan Markle in that she's married to the grandson of an English baronet, and they've got this grand Georgian house in Somerset, which was featured only last month in the House and Garden, along with a profile of her.

00:16:44:05 - 00:17:06:19

I think the media latch onto her and persuade her to appear on Question Time and things like that. She could be quite a character, not your typical conservative candidate, although parallels, I suppose, with Nancy Astor. But on the Labor side, last week we also had a guy called Alan Gamble, chosen for Central Asia in Scotland, and he's a former deputy high commissioner to India.

00:17:06:19 - 00:17:33:13

So a big foreign Office career. He's gay and married to a ballet dancer and he founded a an LGBT film festival. So he's quite a colorful character and I suspect he'll end up as a minister within a couple of years of a a starmer government. There are other quite a lot of other names. One of the most talented of the Labor candidates chosen quite early on is a guy called Hamish Falconer, who's the son of Charlie and Lincoln, and he bucked the trend.

00:17:33:16 - 00:17:51:12

He's got an amazing CV, went to Cambridge and Yale. He's worked in the Foreign Office. He was in charge of the Foreign Office kidnap cases department. Apparently there are a lot more kidnaps that the foreign officers have to deal with than you might think. And he was in charge of all that really nice guy everybody says and he seems odd guy I'm talking to on the phone.

00:17:51:14 - 00:18:11:17

And he went to Lincoln and he spent six months working the constituency, really getting to know absolutely everybody in the town, not just Labor Party people. And he won it by 83% against a local candidate. So he bucked the trend. Did he have any local link, though? No, but I mean, the family's got a country house about in Nottinghamshire, about 30 miles away.

00:18:11:21 - 00:18:31:20

I don't think that counts as a local thing. But the great irony of this story is that back in 1997, I remember reporting this at the time, Tony Blair wanted to get his former flatmate, Charlie Faulkner, into Parliament because he looked at the leave it. No, no, he looked at the Labor benches and decided there weren't enough lawyers, not enough lawyers in Parliament anyway.

00:18:31:22 - 00:18:52:02

And he thought, well, Charlie, been the person to get in there. So they managed to ease John Gilbert out as the candidate for Dudley. I think it was Dudley West and so then Charlie Fault and it goes before the National executive Committee subcommittee panel that decides these things. And the first question he was asked was service to vote, Where do you send your children to school?

00:18:52:08 - 00:19:10:09

And he had to admit that they had three boys and they went to I think two of them went to Westminster and one of them went to St Paul's a little way round. And of course one of those boys was young Hamish and Falconer was immediately then rejected as a candidate for the House of Commons and had to go to the House of Lords instead.

00:19:10:11 - 00:19:32:08

But his son looks like making it and I can see him being Foreign Secretary sort of five years maybe into a Labor government on the Conservative side. I mean, you've got some people who have been stars in a behind the scenes way. I mean, Nick Timothy is one example in West Suffolk. He claims to be local because his parents live there now of Theresa may's factotum.

00:19:32:10 - 00:20:02:08

Yes. And he's quite rightwing, despite what I was saying earlier. On the other hand, you've also got Rupert Harrison, who's fighting Bicester and Woodstock, who used to be George Osborne's chief adviser for about ten years, both in opposition and then in government. And he's had to wait a while to become an MP. I mean, in fact, he's if he gets elected next year, he will be, which he will, unless the trend against the Conservatives is really dreadful, he will be older getting into Parliament than George Osborne, his former boss was when he left parliament.

00:20:02:10 - 00:20:31:23

And then there's also Katie LAMB. She's fighting Weald of Kent and she used to be deputy chief of staff to Boris Johnson and a special adviser to the problem. And so there are you know, there are some stars around. And I mentioned James Cracknell, the Olympic oarsman on the Lib Dems side. There's an extraordinary woman called Ros Savage who not only got a good political background, but she was the first woman to row solo across three different oceans.

00:20:31:23 - 00:21:06:08

And these are substantial oceans the Pacific, the Atlantic and the Indian, which is quite a record. And she's fighting South Cotswolds, that is a seat which the Lib Dems certainly have within their sights. There's also a guy called Josh Barber in is fighting Eastbourne and he's standing against his old teacher suddenly to get revenge. One of the things you must be bracing for here is that when the government calls an election, suddenly there'll be lots of seats where rapid selection processes have to go through an emergency speed.

00:21:06:13 - 00:21:29:02

And you're going to be absolutely deluged both with new candidates and I imagine with allegations of one party machine or another as fixed a process. Well, yes, I mean, I've covered that before in previous elections. And actually this time it's going to be, I think, worse than ever. I think the both parties are deliberately basically saying to their favored sons and daughters, don't worry, we'll fix you up at the last moment.

00:21:29:04 - 00:21:47:05

And what's fascinating is that on the labor side, in the last 12 months, only three Labor MPs have announced their retirements. Well, that is an astonishingly low number for the fourth year of a parliament. Normally you'd expect perhaps a dozen in a year. And I think what's happening is they're going to the whips and saying, Well, I'm going to announce my retirement next week.

00:21:47:08 - 00:22:07:00

And the No, no, no, no, no, no. Don't do that. Don't do that. Please, please don't announce it till the very end, because then and you never know, a period might be a possibility if you if you can keep, you know, keep it till the very end. Because of course, if they announce at the last minute, it means that makes it easier for the party to say, sorry, we haven't got time for proper democratic processes.

00:22:07:00 - 00:22:23:10

So yeah, we'll have to impose, give you a shortlist or even impose a single candidate on, you know, it's time for the most favorite son or daughter is parachuted in. Exactly. And you know, somebody who works in Starmer's office are indeed, you know, look like the guy I mentioned earlier. One of the fixers, I'm told he wants to be an MP and told rubbish.

00:22:23:10 - 00:22:41:19

Actually, you can carry out democratic processes within a matter of days, particularly in the age of social media. I could run a selection and pick you a candidate by Monday and involve the local members if you had to. But they use it as an excuse. And of course what they're doing at the moment is a lot of this talk about being a spring election, which I again, I think is rubbish.

00:22:41:19 - 00:23:02:04

I think the Prime Minister would be mad that calling the election right now when the polls are so bad, it's so that they can speed up the selection process and allow even less democracy than normal. I mean, this happened before. I mean, Tony Blair in his day, it was a regular thing that labor I mean, essentially it was a bribe that they were bribed out of their seats and into the Lords.

00:23:02:04 - 00:23:23:13

And in fact, Tony Blair admitted a few months ago to someone that was rather ashamed by having done this and how he put all these duff members into the House of Lords because he wanted to get hold of their seats in order to put in their people. And the Conservatives will do it as well. For some people it's the only hope they've got and this will be an element also of redressing any problems they've got.

00:23:23:13 - 00:23:40:21

In terms of demographics. For instance, Labor has always had a problem about Afro-Caribbean men not being selected. They've got two or three now, but they may decide we want we need a few more. And so they'll probably be favored in that process. Some of the unions will also come along because they've had a pretty rough time of it.

00:23:40:23 - 00:23:56:01

I mean, the union influence in on the labor side in these elections is is down to to almost nothing. And he will also get all sorts of interesting people retiring that some of them will be so full of surprises. And of course, what you've seen on the conservative side is quite a lot of people retiring when they're very young.

00:23:56:02 - 00:24:21:12

I mean, the overall figures for retirements on the conservative side, everybody says, well, look, more than 50 so far. That figure isn't actually that high. I mean, exactly 100 Labor MPs retired in 2010 after the expenses scandal, which contributed to the process. So 5050 is difficult to tell the exact figure because some of the Conservatives announced that they're retiring and then you find them turning up somewhere else and ending up in a better seat, hoping to get selected there.

00:24:21:14 - 00:24:37:21

So I always take these retirements announcements with a bit of a pinch of salt as to whether they really retiring go down. And some of that's happening, of course, because there's constituency boundaries. Yes, my seat no longer exists. I'm going to be somewhere else. Where am I going to go? Some are deciding to go completely. Some some people have just had that look to move.

00:24:37:23 - 00:24:57:09

Some people have had their seats carved up, people like Stuart Andrew in Pudsey and Richard Holden, the Conservative Party chairman. No doubt he'll find a seat for himself somewhere. But in other cases that seat looks a lot less winnable because they've lost a chunk of it and in some cases it's just that they're worried about the trend, and the trend will be against them.

00:24:57:14 - 00:25:22:05

And of course, on the other side, there's a lot of seats come into play for Labor, but you would never have dreamt of being Labor seats before. I mean, if you say Labor needs 326 for a majority, well, in the three teens, I can't remember the exact numbers are both Macclesfield, which is south east of Manchester, which, you know, when I used to live in that area, not in Macclesfield itself, but just next door, nobody would have dreamt in a million years that Macclesfield could ever be labor.

00:25:22:08 - 00:25:43:18

Well, if they get a majority, they should win. Macclesfield Hexham Again, brought up in Northumbria. That's never been labor, that's in play. The two Bournemouth, the two were things Aldershot. These are old places that Labor now considered as genuine possibilities. It's partly because the demographics are changing, people are moving, middle class liberal types are moving out of cities, all sorts is going on for these kinds of seats.

00:25:43:18 - 00:26:02:09

I mean, what kind of due diligence has been done? Because I mean, just think about sort of 2017 election, 2019 election. Obviously the timing's off. Those were unexpected and there was a big rush to to select candidates and quite a number of people got through that perhaps, you know, well, they backfired. I mean, the obvious one that comes to mind is Jared O'Mara in Sheffield Hallam.

00:26:02:14 - 00:26:25:09

that was an amazing story of a of the parties doing quite a lot of in-depth due diligence on. Well, yes and no. By the way, the Jared O'Mara story is quite extraordinary. The reason Jared O'Mara got chosen in 2017 for for labor is that labor didn't expect to gain it at that stage early on in the election campaign, when Theresa may had just called the election, they were 21 point percent behind.

00:26:25:14 - 00:26:43:10

Labor didn't didn't think they were in the business of gaining anything. It was purely a defensive exercise so as to hold on to what we've got. So they didn't take the Sheffield Hallam selection very seriously. This was against Nick Clegg, Nick Clegg memory. And even though Labor had been saying for nine months that Theresa may is going to call a snap election, they haven't done anything about it.

00:26:43:10 - 00:27:07:23

They haven't chosen any candidates. So all the candidates in these seats had to be chosen by a panel of three people in each region. And Jared Amar was chosen by this panel sitting around a table going through the CVS. There was no interview. You didn't have to make a speech. You didn't have to interact with anybody. Frankly, if he had had to do any of those things, I suspect they wouldn't have chosen him because he showed himself utterly inadequate as an MP.

00:27:07:23 - 00:27:30:17

And he wasn't the only one either who was elected by accident, really. So they are much keener to do checks. But I suspect the checks they do are criminal records and online checks. Well, online only goes back so far and you know, there's several candidates who have been pushed out, having been selected when they found things that they didn't find first time round in their past.

00:27:30:19 - 00:27:49:09

But also this whole process is quite blatantly being used by the Labor high command to weed out people on the left. In other words, if you're on the left and you've done something that is questionable, you know, you may have issued a tweet ten years ago that will just be used as the excuse to get rid of you if you're on the right.

00:27:49:09 - 00:28:25:05

However, the labor right. This isn't a problem. I mean, for instance, there is one Labor candidate, quite a well known Labor candidate, who when he was 26, back in 2009, he was having an argument with John Moir, a columnist on the Daily Mail, and he issued a tweet saying that she should be pushed under a train. And then he issued a second tweet on the same day saying that he would like to set up an organization for pushing people under trains and she would be the first victim, followed by get as the right wing politician who wrote that was treating the shadow health minister.

00:28:25:07 - 00:28:40:05

It's not going to count against him. I mean, he has subsequently apologized for it, but he wasn't a teenager at the time. He was 26. He was president. The idea was at the time, no, anybody on the left had done anything like that. They'd be out. I mean, there was one candidate in Milton Keynes for labor, one contender, rather.

00:28:40:05 - 00:29:08:09

She was going for the nomination. And they they troll through your social media post. And they discovered that when Nicola Sturgeon announced that she tested negative for COVID, this labor woman who subsequently was going for the candidate in Milton Keynes, had liked Nicola Sturgeon's tweets, and that was regarded as support for the SNP. I mean, utterly ridiculous. They really are being ultra, ultra cautious and they have really annihilated.

00:29:08:11 - 00:29:28:03

The left is so demoralized now they're not even bothering anymore. I don't think that Angela Rayner would have been chosen under the current Labor regime or John Prescott or Robin Cook or Michael Foot or, or the latter. Tony Benn I mean there's hardly any left, right left wingers, although the guy who will contest the Blackpool South byelection, if there is one Chris Webb, he's on the left.

00:29:28:04 - 00:29:50:01

I think he probably will survive as candidate for the by election, but I suspect there are one or two people in the in the party high command in the North West regional office who might have considered the idea of purging him in order to have a safer by election candidate. So looking ahead to after the next election, what do you think the new parliament is going to look like and sound like with the new intake of people there?

00:29:50:01 - 00:30:06:16

What difference, if any, will they make? There will be less. Certainly on the labor side, I think they will be pretty obedient. And indeed, this has been I mean, if you talk to look across this and I've done a number of events with him and he's one of the NSC, the national executive people in the NSC who helps fix all of this.

00:30:06:18 - 00:30:26:19

He says the basic philosophy is we don't want people rebelling against the government. We can't afford to have people rebelling against the government. We may only have a majority of five. And in those circumstances it only takes 603 really, for the government to lose its majority. But he has a point there. And of course, you know, there is a much greater tradition in both the leading parties of rebelling these days.

00:30:26:22 - 00:30:51:07

So I think they will be a lot more obedient. They are, you know, as far as one can tell, the politics of a lot of these people. They are very much loyalists. And I think the danger for labor there is that you do need alternative views in a party. I think if you have a party that is just sort of single minded and, you know, everybody is expected to go along the line of the leadership, homogenous, surprised you do need alternative ideas.

00:30:51:07 - 00:31:07:10

You do need a bit of challenge around the cabinet table. I mean, certainly Labor governments and Conservative governments have had that. And, you know, people like Dick Crossman and Tony Ben Knight, Bevin, the left with never a majority in the Labor cabinet. But you do need people saying, well, Prime Minister, you think this is really going to work?

00:31:07:15 - 00:31:32:23

What about doing it this way? And if you haven't got people with alternative ideas, then when the mainstream ideas go wrong, you're a bit stuck. So I think Labor is making a big mistake here, but they are absolutely determined to get elected, absolutely determined to have a parliamentary party with no rebellions. I mean, what last Eventually people will get fed up and people will work out that they're never going to become ministers, so they'll become rebels instead.

00:31:33:00 - 00:31:59:16

On the conservative side, I think, you know, the problems that you've seen over the course of this parliament will continue and you may get I mean, given that Number ten and Conservative HQ have put a huge effort in to making sure that centrist types are chosen, people who are not fanatical Brexiteers and people who are not fanatical supporters of Boris Johnson, you may see more of a serious split.

00:31:59:16 - 00:32:25:11

I mean, it's already quite serious between the parliamentary Conservative Party and the party as a whole and and the party membership. Well, an interesting look into the crystal ball. Michael Crick, thanks very much for joining us on the pot. Thank you for having me. Before our next interview, this is just a quick reminder to subscribe to the Parliament Matters podcast in your favorite app and follow us across social media at Hansard Society.

00:32:25:17 - 00:32:49:07

We've got some more bonus episodes coming up before Parliament resumes in the New Year. But now we're joined by Rebecca McKee to learn about her groundbreaking research on MP staff. We'll find out why it is that parliamentary candidates are the kind of people we've just been talking about should already be planning their Westminster staffing arrangements. Rebecca first will take just a picture of, if you like, the typical parliamentary staffer.

00:32:49:08 - 00:33:11:07

Yes, I think a typical parliamentary staffer. It's quite interesting because actually marks a lot of the variations that on average there's more women working for MP than men, for example, which might surprise some people. And on average they're sort of mid to late thirties and age. More staff work in the executive roles than anyone else and then followed by research and admin roles.

00:33:11:10 - 00:33:33:21

What's an executive role? So the executive, the MP staffing structure is divided into three job families and these are a way of grouping together certain characteristics of the job and parts of the role which you'll see in some other industries have them as well. So the executive role is staff who work on constituency casework primarily, but also cover some communication work as well, putting out press releases to the local paper that.

00:33:33:24 - 00:33:53:19

Exactly, Yeah. So they tend to be based in the constituency office. Other staff are research staff who tend to be based in the Westminster office around 65% of staff in Westminster are research staff. So those are the people that you're predominantly see in and around Portcullis House in the corridors of Westminster. And the other group are administrative of staff.

00:33:53:19 - 00:34:20:19

So these are the people that provide the essential administrative support. And these roles, they don't only separate out the kind of work that these people are doing. We actually find from this piece that that the characteristics of the staff are really different. So it maps onto the job roles, but also by virtue of these roles being differently spread across constituency and Westminster offices, you actually find demographic and other background differences between Westminster and constituency offices are quite stark.

00:34:20:21 - 00:34:43:18

You said that there's more women than men across the board. Going to that question of the difference between constituency in Westminster are more women in constituency based roles and administrative roles, rather than research roles. Yeah, exactly. There's more women in the constituency, but it's also by age, which we find quite interesting. So the largest group of people work in the constituency office are women over the age of 30.

00:34:43:18 - 00:35:00:03

That's 53% of women over the age of 30 working in the constituency office. But they're the sort of the public facing people, you know, call the MPs door and the constituency office. This is who you're going to meet. Yeah, they're public facing for the constituents. Exactly. Those are the people that are attending the surgeries and arranging things in the constituency.

00:35:00:03 - 00:35:20:05

And again, depending on the MP and where that constituency is, those people will come into Cirencester every now and then or they will have no contact with Westminster. Lesley, depending on the journey times, but wasn't sensed. Staff are quite different. So actually 40%, which is a large group of Westminster staff, are men under the age of 30, and this is primarily driven by the research group that we talked about.

00:35:20:07 - 00:35:39:16

So a huge amount of research staff declared junior research staff are under the age of 30 and they are the only group of staff that have more men than women working in that group. For example, they work young graduates. A lot of them, yeah, young graduates, research staff also more like to have a degree. And this leads to some of the other stuff that we looked at, which is the narrow knowledge base of staff.

00:35:39:16 - 00:36:08:08

So when you look by degree subject for example, 90% of staff overall have a degree in the humanities or social sciences, which means there's 10% less staff who have degrees in various other of formal or natural sciences or technical degrees and that kind of thing, which when you think about the breadth of work that employees are covering, the type of legislation and policy that they're having to get to grips with the staff, actually the knowledge background, given that they often in these junior research roles come straight from university, is very narrow.

00:36:08:10 - 00:36:33:03

How many staff does an MP's office budget cover? So the budget now as it stands, is around 240,000 per MP, which covers the salaries as well as like other expenses. Expenses, Yeah, other expenses for having staff and that covers up to five full time equivalent staff. So a lot of staff actually are part time, not all of them are full time and that's actually increased.

00:36:33:03 - 00:36:53:15

So the first but there's a chapter in the report which I found fascinating, which about the history of MP staffing. And the first allowance actually was in 1969, which was for one secretary, which was £500, which is about nine and a half thousand pounds in today's money. So it's gone from from that in 1969 to about 240,000 in 2020 to 23.

00:36:53:17 - 00:37:21:06

And yet now it covers up to five full time government staff across the mixture of those different roles and levels. And what about the sort of gender and class base of these people? Are we talking middle class graduates basically being a typical MP? Researcher? Yeah. So we have variables that look at educational background, so get researched off are more likely to have attended an independent or fee paying school and more likely then to have also attended Oxbridge or Russell Group University.

00:37:21:08 - 00:37:41:00

There's definitely pipelines into certain roles and I think this highlights why it's important that Parliament takes a look at MP staffing because it is playing an important role in the pipeline between people who come in and gain experience and gain and networks and people who go out and get certain jobs in the political sphere, whether or not it's being an MP themselves.

00:37:41:02 - 00:38:01:05

There's loads of other policy based roles out there where people will have a they say it's like a stepping stone for having that kind of experience. So what sort of things are we talking about? Public affairs kind of work, for example, basically becoming lobbyists. Yeah, public affairs and lobbying. If you think about it, the kind of experience that you gain from being a it obviously depends on the kind of MP that you're working for in the what they're doing.

00:38:01:07 - 00:38:23:22

But from that hard hitting, fast paced Westminster environment, it's very valuable. And also understanding the legislative process and the policy making process is very valuable to employers from the outside looking in. It's an expectation on the part of MPs that their staff will be party members and party activists. So I haven't spoken in detail to employees and sounds about their own expectations.

00:38:23:24 - 00:38:41:21

There are a fair few MP staff who have worked for the party or are members of the party and it's a pipeline through which you might get to work with people beforehand and then you want to hire them once you're an MP. So if they worked on your electoral campaign or they work for your local party or their local councilor, there's quite a lot of local councilors away from here, particularly in the constituency offices.

00:38:41:23 - 00:39:00:17

So that link is there, but it's not completely across the board. And the other thing about it that was really quite surprising for me was just how rapidly this turns over. I mean, you can imagine that being the researcher for an MP when you perhaps having to provide research back up late into the night during some report stage or something that goes until four in the morning, if that goes on a lot, it's pretty grueling.

00:39:00:17 - 00:39:23:19

But I was surprised at the turnover figure 4% a month. Yeah, it's about 100 staff every month. It's a figure of turnover, it's very high. And Ipsa, incidentally, is the independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, the body which kind of oversees all this these days. Exactly. And sort of, I guess, almost accidentally became responsible for staffing whenever it took over MP expenses of which staffing is an expense in 2009 of the expenses scandal.

00:39:23:23 - 00:39:46:05

But the turnover. Yeah, so the turnover is about 100 people per month, which is really high and that's a very high burden when you consider there's no centralized recruitment process. So each MP does their own recruitment process. That's guidance provided by the members and member staff support team. They provide guidance including recruitment documents and best practice and you can go to them if you want support as an MP, try to hire people.

00:39:46:07 - 00:40:02:05

But really it's up to you to hire who you want within some areas that you can't employ your family anymore and you contracts and to run that process. So that's a huge amount. If you are thinking of staff turnover that a huge amount of work for each individual MP and it's all amicable staff turnover, you know, sorry boss, I've got a better offer.

00:40:02:05 - 00:40:25:23

I've got to go somewhere and if you grow more year or is it. I can't bear this workload, you're too demanding, you're throwing too many tantrums. I mean, is there a sense that sometimes people are basically running away from the system because they find it horrible to be inside it? Yeah, I think we know from having spoken to some MP staff and also some of the really interesting blogs that some former MP staff have written, that that is absolutely one reason.

00:40:25:23 - 00:40:46:21

But there's a real mixture of reasons. Interestingly, because of the way that contracts work, turnover actually includes people who will go work for another MP, for example, because you start a brand new contract which brings in all sorts of other problems around entitlement to work benefits. For example, when you move onto a new contract, some people are simply there for a few months because they want to gain the experience of being in, especially in Westminster living in London and that kind of job.

00:40:46:21 - 00:41:08:19

And they'll move on to something else quite quickly. The pay is I mean, it's benchmarked, There are processes of benchmarking, but it's not particularly good considering the kind of hours that you're doing, the work that you're doing. So a lot of people might jump in, gain some experience, jump out, do something else, or as you said, some people might run away or come and work for the high society or the Constitution unit, something we both recruited MP staff in the past.

00:41:08:22 - 00:41:31:16

Yeah, we're looking forward to a general election whenever that may be. In the next 12 months, we'll have a new cohort of MPs. You know, we're looking at quite high turnover. If you were advising candidates now who are hoping that they're going to win at the election, they're also going to be coming to Westminster. They're going to have to be thinking quite quickly about recruitment of staff.

00:41:31:18 - 00:41:52:05

What would you advise them? Well, I know that candidates are going to be thinking about an awful lot of things leading up to this election. But I will get on my soapbox and say that thinking about your staffing and your office is incredibly important and it's something that you to think about in advance because day one, when you turn up to Westminster, is a intense day, week one week to week three probably as well.

00:41:52:05 - 00:42:15:23

But there's an awful lot of information that's going to be thrown at these new employees and they're going to need their staff to help them straight away. So get thinking about the kind of employer you want to be, the number and type of staff you want. The roles or the information is out there that actually gives you about the types of roles and the budgets and everything and think about how you're going to run your recruitment process as well because you want to do that snappily, but you also want to do that well.

00:42:16:00 - 00:42:32:14

And I would also say think about the differences between your constituency and Westminster offices. I think that's very important about staffing them correctly based on the type of MP that you want to be and what you want to pursue. And I suppose the flip side of the general election factor is that a lot of existing researchers can quite abruptly find themselves out of a job.

00:42:32:14 - 00:42:50:01

I mean, sometimes they may well see it coming, but certainly I remember in 2010 when Labor lost the general election, there are an awful lot of people who'd been researchers and staffers to Labor MEPs floating around desperately trying to find one of a reduced pool of Labor MP used to take them on. So it can be a pretty insecure performance at least every few years when the general election comes along.

00:42:50:06 - 00:43:10:02

Yeah, exactly. It's an interesting employment model that brings with it lots of issues, also a lot of benefits. I suppose if people don't know that actually the MP staff are employed by the MP themselves and not employed by Parliament and they're not employed by it, so which means that contractors to the MP and exactly as you said, Mark, you lose your job, you get made redundant when your MP steps down or loses their job.

00:43:10:08 - 00:43:46:21

But what this does mean, as you said, that you can enter a an informal pool. There's no centralized recruitment pool like we might have in some other countries where your prior experience and your knowledge makes you very valuable. Actually, I looked at the work for MP, which is the main website that a lot of social labor conservative employees will job adverts on and 56% of research roles that primarily junior roles were already asking for prior experience of working in Parliament as a junior entry level role, which really shows you the value that MP has put on someone who can hit the ground running, potentially already has a security pass and access to the IT system,

00:43:46:21 - 00:44:08:13

which we know can take a while. So yeah, the turnover is very high. A lot of people could lose their jobs at elections and hopefully if you want to stay you can try and find a job with another MP. Rebecca McKee, thanks very much for joining us on the pod. Well, that's all from us for this week's episode of Parliament Matters.

00:44:08:15 - 00:44:24:21

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00:44:24:23 - 00:44:47:00

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00:44:47:04 - 00:45:19:07

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