Newham mayor ‘trigger ballot’: GMB union says it followed rules as more branches affiliate locally

A London GMB official has explained why he believes his union followed correct procedures in the Labour Party process that led to the selection of Sir Robin Wales to seek a fifth term as Newham Mayor but which 47 party members in the borough have claimed contained many “procedural irregularities” that “made a material difference to the result”.

Gary Doolan, a GMB political officer, says his union was fully entitled to its four votes in the affirmative nomination or “trigger ballot” process, all of which backed Sir Robin going forward unopposed as Labour’s mayoral candidate for 2018, and that he suspects the challenge to it is largely the product of “old political battles” and “twitchiness” arising from local political circumstances. Sir Robin won the ballot, conducted between 25 October and 4 December last year, by 20 votes to 17.

In a sometimes strongly-worded letter sent to Labour’s governing national executive committee (NEC) in January, the 47 complainants, who are drawn from both of Newham’s Constituency Labour Parties, West Ham and East Ham, listed three alleged “major failings” in the process, including the fact that some affiliated unions, the GMB among them, cast votes for each of their branches affiliated to Labour locally while others cast only a single vote no matter how many of their branches were affiliated.

They stated that “it is not our purpose, in general, to question the internal affairs of affiliates” but asserted: “It cannot be right that the NEC accepts this stark variation in practice within the franchise of the process,” which they attributed to “a different interpretation of the rules” brought about by “unclear” procedural guidance. The NEC declined their request for an inquiry to be held into the running of the process and some votes to be declared void or held in abeyance pending its outcome.

Doolan said his union correctly followed its own rules relating to all trigger ballot processes, which sitting MPs too must undergo. These include votes to which branches of the union become entitled when they affiliate to Labour CLPs being cast on their behalf by the London region rather than by the individual branches themselves.

Another locally-affiliated organisation, Newham Fabians, have been informed by the Fabians at national level that their procedure for deciding how to vote in the ballot breached the society’s own rules. The union Bectu, which had a branch affiliated in Newham at the time of the ballot (but which has since disaffiliated from Labour altogether), has said that no affiliation fee was paid in 2016. Both of these affiliaties voted “yes” to Sir Robin going forward automatically.

In January, the GMB increased the number of its London branches affiliated to Labour in Newham by more than 20 as part of what Doolan says is a new political strategy for increasing working class participation in grassroots politics across the capital and wholly unconnected to the dispute over the trigger ballot process. He wrote to West Ham CLP in mid-January listing 26 branches that wished to affiliate to it, enclosing a cheque for £156 to cover the required fees.

Many of the 26 branches are in workplaces outside Newham, including Barking, Bromley, Hendon, Woodford and the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, but Labour Party rules permit branches to affiliate to CLPs if a member of it is also party member who is “resident or registered as an elector within the constituency”.

The trigger ballot process allowed each of Labour’s 20 wards in Newham a single vote and 17 in all for affiliates. Two others unions cast more than one vote and four cast only one. Of the 20 wards, 9 voted “yes”to Sir Robin going forward automatically with 11 preferring the alternative, an open selection battle in which other hopefuls could have contested with him for the mayoral nomination. The affiliates, comprising unions and other organisations, voted “yes” by 11 to 6.

The complainants’ letter to the NEC argued that “if trade union affiliates are allowed more than one vote, it presents a situation where trade union affiliates are able to affiliate as many branches as they want to any CLP, thereby completely out-voting party branches and the democratic expression of branch members’ wishes”.

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