For months now Lord Mandelson has been encouraging his friend and former colleague Tristram Hunt to continue the quest for a safe Labour seat. Indeed, there was a furore last month when Labour supporters in the Leyton and Wanstead constituency – a Labour stronghold – objected to the support Hunt was receiving from Downing Street in his bid for that candidature. At the time, the Standard ran quotes from a local member stating bluntly: “We do not want a No 10 candidate being pushed on the constituency.”
Duly, the candidature was given to John Cryer and not another word was mentioned. Until this Monday that is, when the FT broke the story that Hunt has made the shortlist for Stoke Central, and is now the hot favourite to win selection for this safe seat later this week.
What the FT did not mention however, is that Labour supporters are nothing short of "up in arms" about the selection, as one told me. The reason: because we’re now so close to an election that a panel of 3 senior Labour members – Keith Vaz MP, Cllr Ann Lucas and USDAW’s Paddy Lillis – were responsible for selecting the shortlist of three, and they have approved only a single local candidate. This decision seems all the stranger when you consider that two local women, Jane Heggie and Susan Hill, were eminently qualified and hugely popular in the constituency.
Judge for yourself whether the decision meets criteria laid out by the National Executive Committee resolution past in November: When the General Election is called the right of members to select their candidates will remain a priority consideration for the panel.
However, while Lord Mandelson may have got his man, there is a coda to this story. Last night, another Stoke member told me: "All this doesn’t bode well for Tristram, there is a feeling of a parachute around him." And that matters more than usual. While Hunt has been gamely touting himself round Stoke for several weeks now, taming the local party will not be easy: Stoke Central CLP is already fractious and fractured. In recent times, an internal Labour campaign deposed the Labour Mayor Mark Meredith; the regional and national party have banned three members responsible; they threatened to sue the party and Stoke Central CLP have boycotted meetings of the city-wide Labour party in solidarity with the three.
So even when Hunt takes the selection, his work will be far from over.