Ilford South: Unions could thwart Labour members seeking change of parliamentary candidate

Ilford South: Unions could thwart Labour members seeking change of parliamentary candidate

Update 9 July 2022. Since the publication of this piece all ten ward branches have voted to trigger Sam Tarry and so have three out of 21 affiliates (with one abstention). This means that 57.5 per cent of the electoral college as a whole has voted to trigger Tarry. A one member, one vote open open selection contest will now ensue. 

The selection of Sam Tarry MP as Labour’s candidate for the parliamentary constituency of Ilford South in October 2019 was immersed in bitter controversy. Tarry, a former Barking & Dagenham councillor and firmly on the Jeremy Corbyn wing of the party, was in competition with Redbridge Council leader Jas Athwal (pictured) to become the successor to Mike Gapes, who had represented the safe Labour seat since 1992 but left the party in February 2019.

On the eve of a key selection meeting and vote, Athwal, who is married to a woman and the father of four children, was placed under suspension by a Corbynite-dominated national Labour disciplinary committee following an allegation of sexual harassment made months earlier by, as On London established at the time, a man who deleted his Twitter account around the time inquiries about him were being made. It took almost a year for Athwal to be cleared of any wrongdoing, bringing to an end a period of his life he described as “torture” and “hell”.

It is known that Athwal is again hoping to be selected as candidate for Ilford South, but Tarry can only be challenged by him or anyone else if he fails to secure automatic re-selection by an electoral college composed of local ward party branches and organisations affiliated to the Ilford South constituency Labour Party (CLP), notably trade unions. Should Tarry be “triggered” by this ballot, which is currently in process, an “open selection” contest will ensue, which Athwal would seek to enter. The result would be decided by constituency party members only on a one person, one vote basis.

Will Tarry be triggered? As things stand, the chances appear quite high. That is because eight of the ten Labour ward branches have already cast their votes and done so in favour of that outcome, probably reflecting a change in the composition of Labour’s membership since Corbyn ceased to be leader and perhaps too some enduring disquiet about what happened in 2019, despite Tarry always insisting that he personally behaved properly throughout. If the remaining two wards vote the same way as the other eight at meetings to be held on Wednesday and Thursday, 50 per cent of the electoral college will be in favour of triggering Terry, and Athwal would look to be favourite to win any open selection contest that follows.

But even if the final two ward branches vote to trigger him, making it ten out of ten, Tarry can still avoid being triggered if all the affiliated organisations vote against that happening. That is because they make up the other 50 per cent of the electoral college and the final outcome would be a draw – and a draw does not trigger an open selection.

Most of the affiliates are trade unions. Different unions have different ways of going about deciding how to cast their votes in selection ballots, but On London‘s information is that most, if not all, favour Tarry going forward unchallenged. Some other affiliates are thought likely to take a different view, but if they are small minority and if one of the ward branches decides against triggering, Tarry could still be automatically re-selected.

Not for the first time in a Labour candidate selection process there appears to be some degree of dispute about how many affiliates of Ilford South CLP there actually are and over whether or not certain organisations should be recognised as such and, therefore, as eligible to vote. The size as well as the inclinations of the affiliate section of the electoral college could make a decisive difference to the final outcome if Athwal fails to secure a clean sweep with the ward branches. The maths are finely-balanced. Abacuses are vibrating.

Should Tarry not be triggered, the conduct of the ballot is likely to come under wider and closer scrutiny than it already has, both for the arguably anomalous situation of the wishes of unions and other affiliates prevailing over those of party members – which were considered near-sovereign in these matters under Corbyn – and because of whatever Tarry’s relationship with Labour’s deputy leader is. It will be interesting to see what happens next.

This article was updated at 21:20 to record that Labour members in an eighth Ilford South CLP ward branch have voted in favour of an open selection contest for their candidate. At the time of publication only seven branches had conducted their votes.

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