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 effectively substantiated a complaint by local party members about an aspect of the candidate selection process.
Inquiries by national officers of Bectu, the media and entertainment union, have concluded that a branch affiliated to Labour locally had not paid the required fee in 2016, the year the vote took place. In a letter to Labour’s governing National Executive Committee (NEC) sent in January, 47 Newham members had argued that the Bectu vote be declared void partly on those grounds.
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.
Sir Robin won the trigger ballot 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) 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. The union has informed On London that no local affiliation fee was paid by the Newham branch delegate in 2016 and that it was not invoiced for it [see also 16 March 2017 update].
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 47 members’ request that it hold in 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”.
Update, 16 March 2017: Following suggestions that an annual affiliation fee might have been paid by the Bectu branch in late 2015, rather than in 2016, and that this would have meant the branch was still affiliated to a constituency Labour party in Newham at the time of the trigger ballot and therefore entitled to vote in it, On London has sought further information from Bectu’s national headquarters.
In response, Bectu HQ says it expects any such affiliation fees to be reclaimed from its central accounts and that had this happened in respect of the Newham CLP in question (East Ham) in 2015, they would have a record of it. However, they do not have such a record.
This still leaves open the possibility that a fee was paid during 2015 but not reclaimed, and that any affiliation period which began in late 2015 covered at last part of the period of the trigger ballot process, which ran from 25 October until 4 December 2016. Further clarification is being sought.