7 Nov 2013

Secrets of the shortlist: why an Italian anorak puts us Brits to shame

Saturday was a good day for Liz Evans.

Who? I hear you ask.

07_caton_wAt the weekend she was selected as Labour’s new candidate for the Gower constituency in south Wales, replacing the sitting MP Martin Caton (pictured) who is standing down in 2015 after 18 years at Westminster.

The selection contest took place with no fanfare or publicity.

You’ll find very little about it on the internet, and very little about Ms Evans.  And yet, barring accidents, she could be an MP for the next 25 years or so.  Gower has, after all, had a Labour MP since 1910.

The Welsh Labour Party won’t say how many members helped choose Ms Evans.  “We don’t reveal the number of people that take part in selections,” a spokesman told me.

Nor would the spokesman reveal which other people she beat on the final shortlist, though he proudly told me 14 people had applied for the seat, which seems a remarkably low number for such a good constituency.

Nor would the party disclose the distribution of votes in Sunday’s selection count.  “No, we don’t give voting figures for internal selections,” the spokesman told me.

The Welsh Labour spokesman did confirm, however, that this was the same Labour Party that introduced the Freedom of Information Act, and is committed to greater openness and transparency in politics.  Of course.

The news of Ms Evans’s selection was announced to the world not by the Labour Party itself on Saturday, but on Twitter by the independent organisation, the Labour History Group.


There seems to be nothing in the press section of the Welsh Labour Party website, or the news section of the British Labour Party site.  The Gower party itself doesn’t appear even to have a website.

In short, Liz Evans is about to become a Member of Parliament and yet there is hardly any news about her or her appointment anywhere.

In the week when the heads of our intelligence services all appeared before Parliament the good old British Labour Party operates with the kind of secrecy which the old MI5 or MI6 (or the KGB) would have been proud.

Perhaps there was a big row at the selection meeting.

Perhaps Ms Evans was picked by six people and a dog, on a vote of 3-3, with the dog getting the casting vote.

We may never know.

And who is Liz Evans?  I can’t find any details about her on the internet either.

I don’t know what job she does, or how old she is, or what her politics are.  To be frank, she’s a bit like the Circle Line on the London Underground.  There’s not much evidence she actually exists.

I’m making a serious point here.

The political parties are atrocious at giving details of their selection processes, though the Tories are far better than Labour.

And frankly, we political journalists do a dreadful job collectively in reporting these events.

I can’t find a decent website with all the selections made so far for the 2015 election – one has to piece it together with snippets here and snippets there.

Here’s an obvious opportunity for an ambitious would-be political journalist in their teens or early 20s (but please give me the results first).

And, as I’ve long argued, an obvious opportunity for an enterprising university politics department.  (Get to it, boys and girls).

Contrast the secrecy surrounding Britain’s hidden elections with all the publicity and coverage around party selections for Congress in America, where primary elections involve huge media coverage and tens or thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of registered party supporters.

And after two years – or six years for senators – they have to go through the whole very open primary process once again.

Indeed, it’s a terrible reflection on how badly the British parties and the British media report parliamentary selections that perhaps the best information on what’s happening in British elections comes from a man on Twitter who has just 93 followers – @AndreaParma82.

And that man, who has a PhD in sociology, isn’t even British, but an Italian who lives in Italy.  Long may he flourish and gain many more followers.  And shame on the rest of us.

Remember, it’s not  just tomorrow’s MPs whom I’m talking about, but tomorrow’s ministers, and maybe even a prime minister or two.

These are people taking their first steps in politics, and who may end up taking this country, Europe and the world well into the 21st century.

Where were the parties and the media when the Liz Evanses were picked as would-be MPs?

We said almost nothing, outflanked by an Italian politics giacca a vento.

(Giacca a vento?  It’s the Italian for anorak.)

And thank you to Andrea Parma for bringing Liz Evans’s selection in Gower to my attention.


Tonight the Welsh Labour Party sent me the statement they apparently made after Liz Evans was selected.  “Born and raised in Hafod,” they say. “Liz is an elected national officer for the PCS union and works at the Land Registry.”

Just 21 words.  And she made a statement any other candidate might have delivered.

Follow @MichaelLCrick on Twitter.