We had some coverage earlier in the week over the Labour internal battles to fill various candidacies for the election. Most striking was Lord Mandelson’s intervention to restore James Purnell’s chosen successor for Stalybridge and Hyde, his former aide Johnny Reynolds, to the shortlist for the seat.
I’ve now heard that another Blairite figure, the historian Tristram Hunt, could soon be parachuted into Stoke Central in a sop to Mandelson. The business secretary was reportedly disappointed when Hunt lost out to John Cryer, a Unite official, in the Leyton & Wanstead selection battle.
I’ve met Hunt. He is very New Labour: photogenic, smooth, witty, urbane and young. Well, 35. Nominally a history professor, he also has a fairly high media profile, having authored various programmes for Channel 4 and the BBC. He also worked in Labour’s research team in the 1990s.
But is he right for Stoke Central, a northern working class seat where the BNP has made significant inroads in recent years?
Some Labour insiders have serious reservations. I’m told the party’s influence in the city is waning and it hasn’t won a council seat there for years. A couple of local activists, Sarah Hill and Jane Heggie, are keen to be candidates.
“Installing Hunt is hugely dangerous, he just doesn’t have the right background, if they do select him it’s playing with live ammunition,” says one Labour person. “It’s all about throwing the Blairites a seat because they’ve lost out elsewhere…it’s crazy.”
I should point out that this hasn’t yet been confirmed. The party decided yesterday not to have an all-women shortlist – which would have been a bar to Hunt, obviously.
However, one Labour MP close to the selection process did say to me earlier in the week that Hunt was set to be one of the party’s rising stars in the future – and that he could well be given another seat in time for May 6.
Labour suggests this is premature. There are no applications yet, the process hasn’t begun officially.
Michael Crick from Newsnight has written about the story – and reveals the identify of a leading contender with a trade union background.
Peter Kenyon, NEC member, has some concerns about this.