Labour sets Newham mayor ‘trigger ballot’ re-run dates

by Dave Hill

The re-run process for deciding if Sir Robin Wales will again be Labour’s mayoral candidate for Newham without having to win a separate selection contest will be completed by the end of 11 February, according a timetable set by the party’s London regional body.

Voting arrangements for members of Labour ward branches within the East Ham parliamentary constituency will be directly run by regional officers in line with an agreement reached following legal action by party members in Newham, who were unhappy with how the original affirmative nomination or “trigger ballot” had been conducted.

While individual party branches within the neighbouring West Ham CLP have been given leave to run their own meetings to decide which way to cast their re-run trigger ballot votes, the London region will organise the East Ham meetings themselves in Newham Town Hall over the weekend of 10 and 11 February. An email from the party’s deputy regional director, seen by On London, explains that this is because “we believe their branches have not met for some time”.

The London region informed members at the beginning of the year that a re-run would take place. Its decision to treat the East Ham branches differently appears to vindicate claims made during the legal action and by its supporters that East Ham CLP as a whole has not been being functioning correctly and that this influenced the way the original trigger ballot process, held during the autumn of 2016, was administered.

Eligibility for the re-run ballot is restricted to those members and affiliated organisations judged to have legitimately taken part in the original process and which have maintained those party links.

On London has been told that two of the organisations that voted in the original trigger ballot, both of them in favour of the incumbent mayor going forward automatically as his party’s candidate for 2018, will not take part in the re-run.

One is the Newham branch of the Fabian Society, which it was claimed was not in fact affiliated to East Ham CLP when the original ballot took place. The Newham branch has been found by Fabian Society headquarters to have failed to follow the organisation’s own procedure for deciding how to cast trigger ballot votes.

The other is the trade union Bectu, which disaffiliated from the Labour Party nationally at the end of 2016 due to its merger with another union, Prospect. This was unconnected with claims that the Bectu branch which voted in the 2016 trigger ballot had not paid its affiliation fee and should therefore not have been eligible. Bectu’s headquarters were unable to confirm to On London that the fee had been paid.

On London has reported that another participating union, the TSSA, which had a branch affiliated to East Ham CLP, appears to have been treated differently from other affiliated unions with the likely effect that its vote was cast in Sir Robin’s favour rather than against.

Sir Robin was confirmed by Labour’s governing National Executive Committee as having secured the candidate nomination by 20 votes to 17, despite a request made in January last year by 47 party members in Newham, including 10 councillors, to establish an inquiry into how the trigger ballot was run.

A 13-page letter listed seven votes cast in the ballot that backed Sir Robin it considered questionable, including those of Bectu, TSSA, Newham Fabians and three ward branches.

It also questioned how the trigger ballot rules were explained and interpreted, pointing out that in the case of some unions individual affiliated branches cast one vote each while Unison, despite having six affiliated branches, cast only a single vote on behalf of all of them. The Unison vote was against Sir Robin’s automatic re-selection. On London understands that Unison intends to cast six votes in the re-run.

Should Sir Robin fail to secure a majority in the fresh trigger ballot, an open selection contest will ensue in which he will have the automatic right to stand. Other possible contenders include Councillor Rokhsana Fiaz, who is said to be considering whether she would seek to enter the race.

Some Newham members, including Councillors Julianne Marriott, Charlene McLean and John Gray had tried to get the NEC to rule that an open selection contest should take place immediately. According to unconfirmed reports, their case was considered at a recent meeting of the relevant NEC sub-committee but rejected in part because representatives of unions were opposed. Unlike the trigger ballot, the franchise for the open selection would be restricted to party members and conducted on a one member, one vote basis.

Gray, a Unison officer and one of the 47 signatories of the January 2017 letter to the NEC, has nonetheless welcomed the trigger ballot re-run. He told On London that Fiaz would be “one of a number good candidates who might run if Robin loses and could help build unity after the first, disastrous selection process”.

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