Online Archive  
Issue 1 - December 1971
Party Games

Readers who cast an occasional jaded eye over the antics of party politicians may, by now, be highly amused at the attempts of the Labour Party to choose its next candidate for the "safe" constituency of Durham.

This seat is held by Dr. Mark Hughes, former university lecturer, who, last June, defeated a Conservative opponent later successfully prosecuted for indecent exposure.

Hughes virtually won his seat at the Labour candidate selection conference where, supported by the miners, he defeated the General and Municipal Workers Union nominee, a result hardly pleasing to,the union's district organiser. Alderman Andrew Cunningham.

However, ruffled feathers were, for the moment, smoothed over, that is - until the Parliamentary Commissioners did a neat piece of surgery on young, abrasive Labour M.P. David Reed.

His seat at nearby Sedgefield will no longer exist at the next General Election. Instead, bits will be carved up and given to neighbouring constituencies.

Under Standing Orders he exercised the right to challenge existing Labour nominees for the pleasure of standing as official candidate for one of those seats which will have eaten up selected "joints" from his own constituency.

He chose Durham and on September 4, a secret ballot was held by the selection committee to decide whether Hughes or Reed would fly Labour's kite in Durham next time round.

This selection conference was organised by the Northern Regional Council of the Labour Party whose chairman is Ald. Andrew Cunningham. Others taking part were Joe Quinn, Labour agent for Durham, and Ron Evars, regional agent.

To the great surprise of informed observers. Reed beat Hughes by 77 votes to 75.

Indeed, local party men were so surprised that they did a little head counting and told Hughes about their doubts. After all, at Durham's last selection conference a mere year ago, only 130 delegates were allowed to vote. And Durham is not a constituency that has grown overmuch in the past year.

An inquiry into Sept. 4 ballot was ordered at national level. Reginald Underhill, assistant national Labour agent, declared that there had been voting irregularities.

Certain delegates, he said, who had voted at the ballot meeting were not even entitled to be there, let alone vote. He said the ballot was null and void and promised a new ballot.

This time, he said, organisation would be taken out of the hands of local people. He would organise it himself.

But even before Underhill's inquiry, strange things were happening during the fortnight following the ballot. Late one night, Hughes received an anonymous phone call promising him an alternative safe seat for the next election if he kept his mouth shut.

The seat offered was Sunderland North, at present held by Fred Willey. A phone call later revealed Mr. Willey's surprise at the suggestion that he might not be standing as Labour candidate for his seat at the next election.

On June 24, Reed was introduced to local members of the GMWU at a private luncheon in a Durham City hotel. Reed, a former PRO for Vickers-Armstrong munitions factory in Newcastle, had already joined the GMWU himself.

Then, all GMWU delegates who were to vote at the Durham secret ballot were circulated with a letter signed by Aid. Cunningham telling them to vote for Reed. In contrast, the National Union of Mineworkers allowed their delegates to vote according to their conscience. And Reed, as the local man, got most of the votes of the Sedgefield miners.

Standing Orders of the Labour Party state that delegates who vote at a selection conference must be individual party members, resident in the constituency and whose names are known to the local party secretary. But some of the GMWU delegates who voted at the first ballot meeting were not even paid up members of the Labour Party.

Further, the number of GMWU delegates at the meeting far exceeded the number to which the union was entitled by dint of local membership within the constituency boundaries. How it was that all these buckshee delegates came to be about has never been explained.

Ald. Cunningham, for example, was quoted in a local newspaper as saying: "I don't know anything about it".

However Ald. Cunningham is an extremely busy man who is sometimes in the unenviable position of having to reconcile completely opposing interests.

He is, for instance, chairman of Durham County Police Authority, chairman of the Newcastle Airport Consultative Committee, a member of the Labour Party's National Executive, former chairman and still a member of the Northumbrian River Authority and a member of both the planning and education committees of Durham County Council.

STOP PRESS: Surprise! surprise; Hughes won the second secret ballot by 68 votes to 66. There were 18 fewer votes recorded than last time.