SIR ROBIN WALES, Mayor of Newham, has not been automatically selected to be Labour’s mayoral candidate in the election on 3rd May. The Party will now hold an open selection contest to choose their candidate.
It is tempting to assume that Wales is on the back foot – but it may be premature to write him off. The selection contest looks set to be a hard fight, and Wales could yet emerge the winner.
The Labour Party likes to have its mayoral candidates in place a year before the election, so Newham Labour Party began choosing its candidate for the mayoral elections back in the autumn of 2016. The process was quickly over as party members and affiliated organisations voted to re-select Robin Wales rather than hold an open selection contest.
Some party members challenged the process by which that decision was taken. When an internal complaint failed, they began raising money to go to court. Eventually the Labour Party crumbled and agreed to re-run the selection.
The key word there is “re-run”: the agreement was to start again from the beginning. Party members and affiliates would vote all over again on whether to reselect Robin Wales automatically or go on to hold an open selection, in which alternative candidates could participate.
Observers expected left wing members to campaign for the more democratic option of a full selection contest and Robin Wales to campaign to be automatically selected without further process. It was here that Wales threw in his curved ball: he called for his supporters to vote for an open selection contest, in which he would have to put himself in front of local party members together with other potential candidates.
In this way, Wales took the sting out of the first vote. Members, in their branches, and affiliated organisations, voted to hold an open selection contest – and instead of this appearing to be an anti-Wales vote,
Now everyone starts equal. Robin Wales will present himself as a potential candidate having looked magnanimous, like a true democrat – not on the back of having lost a vote.
The Labour Party limits which members can take part in candidate selections: you have to have been a member for at least six months before you can join in. This is intended to stop candidates joining up supporters just before a vote.
When the Newham process began, participants had to have been party members since a date in early 2016. As the current process is a re-run, not a new process, it is likely that the qualifying date will remain. This early date excludes many people who joined the Labour Party to vote for Jeremy Corbyn to be Leader, or because Corbyn won that contest.
Therefore Wales may be relying on the bulk of party members who will be choosing the candidate being the pre-Jeremy Corbyn party members, who had voted for him to be the candidate on previous occasions and who are more likely to remain loyal to him. Maybe this is why he risked calling for an open selection – because he thought he had a good chance of winning the eventual selection vote.
To date, only Councillor Rokhsana Fiaz has announced that she will enter the contest. There may be others, but it is likely that those on the left of the Newham Party, those who want to see an end to the rule of Wales, will rally round and support her. Will she be able to win significant support from the voting membership?
Clearly Robin Wales doesn’t think so, but he has become increasingly unpopular in recent years – with the electorate, with the newer party members and maybe with the longstanding ones too. There’s all to play for – and this is a very interesting space to watch.