SIR ROBIN WALES, Mayor of Newham, is reported to be fighting for his political life as he goes through a Labour Party “trigger ballot” to determine whether he will be Labour’s candidate for mayor at this May’s elections.
In most constituencies across the UK, Labour Party members choose who will be their candidates in elections for public office. But when there is a sitting representative who wants to stand again, there is first a vote of Labour Party members to decide whether to select them without further discussion – or not. This is known as the “trigger ballot”: is that person selected, or will the Party “trigger” a full selection process, in which other people can put their names forward for consideration.
Labour Party branches and affiliated bodies such as trade unions vote as units during a trigger ballot. The incumbent must win a majority of these votes to be automatically selected as the candidate. If a majority votes to “trigger”, a full selection process will be held. Because of the involvement of trade unions, it is possible for a sitting mayor to be selected automatically without the support of a majority of ordinary Labour Party members.
Sir Robin Wales went through the trigger ballot process in late 2016 – as did Labour’s other sitting mayors in London, including John Biggs, Executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets. Some Labour Party members in Newham raised complaints over how the trigger ballot was conducted – which the Labour Party initially dismissed. These members went on to crowd-fund a court case over the matter. Before a full hearing could be held, Sir Robin offered to agree to the trigger ballot being re-run.
It seems unlikely that Sir Robin – or the Labour Party – would have agreed to the expense of a re-run, and the time it would take up, unless there was a pressing reason to do so – such as a good chance of losing a court case. The re-run trigger ballot is now underway.
News dribbling out of Newham Labour Party now suggests that so far, party members are voting to trigger a full re-selection by a massive margin of nearly 20:1. That margin may be redressed as further member meetings are held – but the vote for a full re-selection is so huge that it is unlikely anything can balance it now. Any decision to trigger a re-selection may yet be vetoed by affiliated trade unions, but with the members failing to give Sir Robin Wales a vote of confidence, it is hard to see how he could be Newham’s candidate without a full reselection.
However, it may be that the support for an open selection has been boosted by the fact that Sir Robin Wales is asking members to vote for an open contest to be held. Why would he want to put himself through a contest that in past years he has been keen to avoid? First, it makes him look as if he has a commitment to party democracy. Second, if an open selection is held the members’ vote will be crucial – and at the moment there does not seem to be a candidate who could unite them and go on to defeat Sir Robin.
Whatever happens, Newham members will have to keep an eye out for the National Executive Committee (NEC) – which famously intervened to veto Lutfur Rahman’s selection, by party members in Tower Hamlets, as Labour’s candidate in the 2010 mayoral election. Still, the NEC has a rather different composition now, and it may be less keen to over-rule local party members than was the case in the past.
•As Sir Robin Wales faces Labour Party members in Newham, news comes that two party members who had previously complained about the automatic selection of John Biggs as Labour’s candidate for mayor in Tower Hamlets have instructed solicitors to attempt a legal challenge to that process.