Sitting Labour MPs who want to stand again at the next General Election will have to submit themselves for reselection through the trigger ballot process.
When will this happen ?
Very soon. Reports claim that the NEC wants to conclude the reselections by June 2022, though this seems unrealistic, especially with local elections coming up. Each CLP affected will be individually notified of when they can start the process, I believe that the first few notifications have gone out already.
Why now ?
In 2017 and 2019 the Tories called snap General Elections, which frustrated Labour’s hopes of holding a full reselection process. It’s understandable that the NEC would want to get reselections done and dusted well in advance of any General Election: Labour doesn’t need headlines about internal battles and deselections in the election run-up, nor does it need its candidates to be distracted at that time from public campaigning.
But there’s a catch. If the General Election is after July 2023, it will be fought under new parliamentary boundaries. What this means is, if Wirral selects four candidates in 2022 on the existing boundaries, at least one of those candidates will lose their seat, because there will only be three constituencies in Wirral after the boundary changes. We don’t know exactly how any conflicts over who stays and who goes will be resolved, but I understand that it’ll be the national party rather than the local party who will make these decisions.
Who can vote ?
To be eligible to take part in the trigger ballot, you must have joined the Party on or before 9 May 2021, and have six months continuous membership as of the freeze date of 9 November 2021.
There’s just one slight problem: Labour’s membership database has been offline since the end of October, with no indication as to when normal service will be resumed. So CLP Secretaries are scratching their heads as to how they’re going to be expected to carry out the necessary membership checks if the problems continue.
Summary of the trigger process
Region will hold an initial meeting with CLP officers, at which one officer (most likely the Secretary) will be agreed as Procedures Secretary. The Procedures Secretary will administer the process and ensure that guidance is adhered to throughout.
The first stage of the process is a vote in which there are two possible outcomes: either to endorse the sitting MP, or to proceed to open selection. Each geographical branch of the CLP will hold a meeting at which attendees get to vote. Equalities branches don’t get a separate vote. Meanwhile, affiliated organisations will also decide on how to vote. All votes from branches and affiliates are compiled, and a count is carried out. Votes are weighted so that branches and affiliates both get 50%. A simple majority of the weighted vote is required for the CLP to move to open selection.
If the result is for open selection, the CLP will have to wait again until it gets the go-ahead to begin this stage of the process. Then a CLP Shortlisting Committee will draw up a shortlist of candidates, which will include the sitting MP. The shortlist will be put to a vote of all eligible CLP members, who won’t this time be required to attend any meetings in order to vote. This will be an eliminating ballot.
During my political lifetime, there’s often been much talk about deselections, but very few Labour MPs have ever been deselected. While the rules have changed somewhat, anyone hoping to see a lot of changes is likely to be disappointed.
During the first stage of the process, the MP is given access to membership lists, and can canvas members to their heart’s content. No one else is allowed to promote themselves as a candidate, or to use membership lists for the purpose of campaigning for an open selection. At the branch trigger meetings, be prepared to see a large number of people who aren’t active in the local party showing their faces in order to show support for the MP.
Let’s assume that you want to see an open selection. (There may be some reading this who want to back their MP, but they’ll face fewer challenges, even if they still have to do some hard work.) If most branches back this, you’re still going to need some support from affiliates. This presents all kinds of problems, because affiliates aren’t bound by any Labour Party rules, and can effectively make their decisions in any way that they choose. But getting some level of support for open selection should be doable, if individual members of each trade union, socialist society etc contact those in charge, asking how the affiliate will be making its decision, and requesting that they be given a say.
If the vote then goes for open selection, it may feel like you’ve won the battle already, but actually the biggest hurdle is still to come. You don’t know what other names will emerge from the shortlisting – there may well be one or two who aren’t familiar to local members, and it may take some time to reach an agreed position on whom to vote for. Around this time, expect to see the local press (maybe even the national press) running stories about militant activists trying to deselect their hardworking MP.
The final ballot is an all members ballot. You’ve just got a short amount of time to persuade members who aren’t part of any groups why they shouldn’t endorse the MP, and probably you won’t reach more than a fraction of these members. They’ll have received all the candidate statements, but who knows how many will have read them. The MP’s supporters, on the other hand, will have a clear and simple message, and the resources to reach every member. (The MP may well get outside support – in this 2019 article, Luke Akehurst calls on “mainstream members” from CLPs without an MP to volunteer to help defend MPs under threat of deselection by the left.)
If the CLP votes to deselect the MP, that’s still not the end of the process. Any decision is subject to NEC endorsement, which can’t be taken for granted. Before this endorsement, the MP has a right of appeal. The appeal has to be on grounds that rules were broken / procedures not followed; but in such a long, complex process with so much campaign activity, and so many meetings and ballots, a disgruntled MP is unlikely to have too much difficulty in “discovering” some reasons for appeal.
Unseating Labour MPs can be done. You need to be clear sighted though about the obstacles that you’ll face, and you’ll need a high level of organisation to counter the advantages to the MP that are built into the system.