Newham mayor ‘trigger ballot’ campaigners to continue legal challenge

by Dave Hill

Labour Party members in Newham seeking to overturn the re-selection of Sir Robin Wales as their mayoral candidate next year have hit an initial target of £10,000 to pursue a legal case against their party’s governing body.

In January, Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) declined a request to investigate the affirmative nomination process or “trigger ballot” held last autumn, which saw Sir Robin endorsed to seek a fifth term as mayor despite claims that a number of “irregularities” had “made a material difference to the result”.

They are now in a financial position to issue a statement of claim, setting out the grounds which they content that their party has “behaved improperly” over the trigger ballot, both at local level and in failing at a national level to conduct an inquiry into how the process was run.

An electoral college of Newham’s 20 ward branches, trade unions and other affiliated organisations affiliated to Labour produced a victory for Sir Robin by 20 votes to 17, which was endorsed by the NEC.

However, a letter signed by 47 Labour members in the borough, including 10 councillors, argued that seven of the votes cast Sir Robin’s way had been questionable and that there were inconsistencies in the way unions were enfranchised, which also worked in the mayor’s favour.

The ward branches, which had one vote each in the ballot, voted by 11 to 9 against Sir Robin going forward unchallenged. However, a majority of affiliated organisations, most of them trade unions, swung the balance his way. In the case of the GMB union, four votes were cast in Sir Robin’s favour, one for each branch affiliated locally.

A review by the Fabian Society of the approach taken by its Newham branch, which also supported Sir Robin’s automatic candidacy, to deciding how to vote found that it had “breached the society’s rules” in coming to its decision.

It has been established by On London that the headquarters of Bectu, one of the unions with a local affiliated branch at the time of the ballot, cannot confirm that an affiliation fee was paid for the relevant year.

On London has also learned that the ballot paper for an affiliated branch of the TSSA union was conveyed directly to an officer of that branch by a councillor who is a member of Sir Robin’s mayoral team rather than being sent initially to a more senior TSSA figure, as appears to have been the case with other unions.

The TSSA executive strongly backs Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party and is unlikely to have endorsed the automatic candidacy of Sir Robin, who is a generally seen as being from the opposite wing of Labour.

However, supporters of Sir Robin claim that some of the votes cast against his becoming the 2018 mayoral candidate without a contest were dubious.

The campaigners are to be represented by barrister Tim Johnston, whose recent cases included Gina Miller’s successful challenge to the government over parliamentary approval for Article 50. They are now seeking a further £20,000 in order to pursue their case further should an agreement not be reached i the meantime.

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