A second organisation whose vote helped Newham mayor Sir Robin Wales go forward unopposed as Labour candidate for next year’s mayoral election in the borough has added weight to a complaint by local party members about an aspect of the candidate selection process.
National officers of Bectu, the media and entertainment union have found no record of a branch that voted in last year’s affirmative nomination election, or “trigger ballot”, paying a fee to East Ham Constituency Labour Party (CLP) to secure affiliation during 2016, when the ballot was held, or during 2015.
Clause IV(1D) of the 2016 Labour Party Rule Book states that affiliation fees payable to CLPs “shall be paid no later than 31 December of the relevant year”. Bectu says it is usual for local level branch affiliation fees to be reclaimed from its national office by the person who paid them, but that this appears not to have been the case with regard to any East Ham affiliation.
This leaves open the possibility that a fee was paid but has not been reclaimed, although a letter to Labour’s governing National Executive Committee (NEC) sent in January and signed by 47 Labour members in Newham, said the signatories “do not believe” a fee was paid during 2016 and that the Bectu vote be declared void partly on those grounds.
The signatories want the NEC to conduct an inquiry into the trigger ballot process, which Sir Robin won by 20 votes to 17 in a process held in the latter months of last year, in which ward branches of Newham’s two constituency Labour parties (CLPs), East Ham and West Ham, and local branches of national organisations affiliated to Labour participated.
Bectu, which says its head office had no involvement with the Newham ballot, has since become a sector of another union, Prospect, and disaffiliated from Labour at the end of 2016.
Last month the national Fabian Society informed its Newham branch, which also voted “yes” to Sir Robin automatically becoming the candidate for 2018, had breached the society’s own rules for determining how votes in Labour affirmative nomination or “trigger ballots” should be cast.
The Bectu and Fabian trigger ballot votes were among seven of the 20 “yes” votes cast which the 47 Newham party members, who include ten Labour councillors, asked the NEC to either hold in abeyance or declare void. Their 13-page letter further claimed that there were “many failures of process/propriety and procedural irregularities” in the trigger ballot process as a whole and that these had made “a material difference to the result”.
At a meeting held last month the NEC did not take up the request to hold an inquiry into the overall process. Labour general secretary Iain McNicol told one Newham member in an email that the issue had been “raised very briefly” but that there was “no discussion about pausing or changing the result” and that two NEC members had agreed to visit Newham and speak to party members there about what lessons could be learned for the future.
A date was set for 21 February, but no meeting has taken place, apparently due to a difference of view over whether party members who were satisfied with the process and its outcome should be present along with those who are unhappy about them. Labour’s London region has previously stated that “the process in Newham was carried out in line with established rules and procedures”. Signatories of the letter to the NEC are considering their options for further action.
Newham is exceptional in that all 60 of its borough councillors are Labour. Sir Robin is now set to seek a fifth consecutive term as mayor, having won the inaugural mayoral context in 2002. Some councillors and other members believe his incumbency has been too long and that his command of the Town Hall’s workings make it difficult to scrutinise or place appropriate checks and balances on him. However, the signatories to the NEC letter said they would support him his candidacy for 2018 if they regarded it as obtained “as a result of an open and fair re-selection process”.
This article was updated on 16 March and again on 31 August to add detail from Labour’s rule book and to incorporate the earlier update material.