Following the Labour Party NEC's acceptance in January of Sir Robin Wales as the London Borough of Newham’s mayoral candidate in 2018, despite the flawed mayoral trigger ballot process in November and December (see Labour Briefing February 2017), campaigners in Newham have remained quiet but not inactive. The NEC's decision ignored the petition of activists asking the NEC to withhold its endorsement of Sir Robin’s candidacy because of various irregularities and order an open selection process. It thereby washed its hands of its responsibility to investigate these serious allegations and allowed him to seek an unprecedented fifth term as mayor. Democracy activists therefore saw that the only way forward was to take legal action and we set about raising the funds needed to engage solicitors to send a pre-action letter to the NEC.
This letter, sent by our solicitors to the NEC in May, proposed several forms of acceptable action: declare the trigger ballot invalid, order an open selection process, open an investigation into the selection procedure, or schedule a fresh trigger ballot nomination procedure. We made it clear that we would wait until after the General Election for this action to be taken.
The justification for our demands rested principally on the grounds that the trigger ballot rules were inconsistently applied regarding which affiliated organisations could take part in the selection process, the number of votes they had, and the refusal of the NEC to clarify these matters when asked during the ballot. The NEC was also taken to task for failing to investigate the process which we judged to be unlawful and for unlawfully endorsing Sir Robin Wales in the face of evidence that the selection process had been flawed.
This letter explained that in the absence of timely action by the NEC we would ask it to agree to a trial of the matter before the High Court.
The NEC's response was weak and dismissive and failed to engage with the objections we had raised. It denied liability, claiming that no relevant rules had been breached and it bore no responsibility for the conduct of affiliated organisations during the selection process - thereby sidestepping the issue of its failure to provide proper guidance and later to agree to an investigation.
We then gave the NEC the opportunity to reconsider its response and, failing that, to accept mediation. Negotiations are still ongoing but the option of taking the NEC to the High Court is now imminent.
Finally, it must be added that although the Labour Party is changing - some of its paid officials are not. Along with a number of close collaborators of the Newham mayor, the London Regional Labour Party officials bear a heavy responsibility for the conduct of the Newham mayoral trigger ballot process and the acceptance of the result - as the NEC well knows. It is time for the NEC to deal with the problem of officials who are serving vested interests, rather than the interests of party members. If the Labour Party is to rise to the challenge of transforming our society it must first democratise its own systems to gain the vitality necessary for the task.