Wales politics

Pro-Corbyn Labour AM calls for more 'diversity' of MPs

Owen Smith and Carwyn Jones campaign for Labour in the 2015 general election
Image caption Owen Smith (centre) and Carwyn Jones (right) campaign for Labour in the 2015 general election

Labour needs to select local and more diverse candidates to be MPs to ensure the party stays in touch with voters, an assembly member has said.

Swansea East AM Mike Hedges said former councillors were being displaced by political advisors and lobbyists.

He pointed to rising support for UKIP and the vote for Brexit as evidence of Labour losing ground in Wales.

Mr Hedges called for rule changes to limit the power of UK party leaders to get favoured candidates selected.

The call comes amid a fierce battle within Labour over the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, who faces a challenge from Pontypridd MP Owen Smith after a majority of MPs said they had no confidence in him.

Mr Corbyn's supporters insist he has the backing of ordinary party members.

"Many people in the Labour Party are asking themselves why the views of MPs are so at odds with those of party members," Mr Hedges wrote in an article for the pro-Corbyn group Welsh Labour Grassroots.

The former Swansea council leader - who supports Mr Corbyn - said it was down to changes in the way Labour parliamentary candidates have been selected since 1997.

Two thirds of newly-elected Labour MPs that year had been councillors, he claimed, falling to one third of new MPs at the 2001 election.

Image caption Mike Hedges says l.abour MPs need to be more representative of the party and their communities

Mr Hedges said the introduction of "one member, one vote" had been intended to reduce the power of Labour activists but instead gave "great control" to the party's national executive committee (NEC).

All-women shortlists and the late retirement of sitting Labour MPs gave the NEC the opportunity to get "well-connected" candidates selected, he said.

"Over the last 20 years we have gone from a majority of local candidates becoming MPs to the growth of a new political class becoming Labour MPs," Mr Hedges wrote.

"It has almost reached the stage that to be a Labour MP you need to have worked as a political aide, or adviser, been a lobbyist or worked in the media or law.

"We need to return to the diversity of Labour MPs in both background and political opinion that existed pre-2001."

Mr Hedges called for changes to ensure constituency party leaders controlled the selection of candidates, especially in cases of late retirement, and that all contenders had equal publicity.

"We need to make sure that the new MPs post 2020 are representative of both the party and the community they represent," he added.

Welsh Labour has been asked to comment.

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