Labour NEC rebuffs new request to examine ‘unlawful’ Newham mayor trigger ballot

by Dave Hill

Labour’s governing National Executive Committee (NEC) has refused to look into claims by party members in Newham that the process resulting in the re-selection of Sir Robin Wales as their candidate for next year’s borough mayor election was unlawful.

A letter from lawyers representing the NEC, seen by On London, says they have been instructed that a request to either investigate the affirmation nomination or “trigger ballot” procedure that saw Sir Robin automatically go forward to seek a fifth mayoral term next May or order a new selection contest open to other candidates has been rejected.

The rebuff is in response to steps towards a legal challenge by a number of Labour Party members in Newham, who allege that flaws in the conduct of the trigger ballot render it unlawful and that the NEC broke its own rules by failing to investigate members’ concerns and endorsing the nomination of Sir Robin.

This follows the NEC’s refusal earlier this year to set up an inquiry into the conduct of the ballot following complaints from 47 Labour members in the East London borough that it was marred by “many failures of process/propriety and procedural irregularities” which they say “made a material difference to the result”, declared as a victory for Sir Robin by 20 votes to 17.

The decision by complainants to engage in “pre-action correspondence” marks an escalation in the dispute over the selection vote, which took place between 25 October and 4 December last year. Each of Newham’s 20 electoral wards were allowed one vote in the ballot and the other 17 were cast by affiliated organisations, primarily trade unions.

Part of the prospective legal claim centres on differing approaches to the ballot by union affiliates, resulting in individual votes being cast by or on behalf of four branches of the GMB, three branches of the CWU and two branches of Unite, but only one being cast by Unison despite six of its branches being affiliated to Labour locally.

The complainants argue that this shows the trigger ballot rules were applied inconsistently and say that requests to clarify the issue during the ballot period were not responded to. All four of the GMB votes and two of the CWU’s favoured Sir Robin going forward automatically. Those of Unison, Unite, and one of the CWU’s were for the alternative option of an open selection contest.

It has previously emerged that the Fabian Society has found that its Newham branch, which cast its single vote in favour of Sir Robin’s automatic re-selection, had breached the organisation’s own rules for determining how to vote in such elections and that the Labour Party had been informed of this.

The validity of another vote favouring Sir Robin, cast by the local branch of the BECTU union, has also been questioned on the grounds that it is unclear if the branch fulfilled the necessary requirements of affiliation to entitle it to vote. The original 47-signature letter to the NEC, which was sent in January, also queried whether a branch of the TSSA union, another to say “yes” to Sir Robin going forward unchallenged, should have been allowed to vote.

Both that letter and the more recent “pre-action” correspondence stressed that the desire to see concerns over the ballot investigated was not motivated by personal animus against Sir Robin. On London understands that mediation has also been suggested by the claimants as a way of resolving the dispute. Labour’s London region has previously maintained that the trigger ballot process was run correctly.

 

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