Trigger Ballots and Mandatory Reselection

On the issue of Labour Party democracy and the need for the reintroduction of mandatory reselection processes, last month, Momentum activist Rachel Godfrey Wood explained how the existing trigger ballot system — which has been defended by John McDonnell, who mistakenly believes it to be “quite effective” — is in reality actually “open to abuse”. As she writes:

“The trigger ballot retains the theoretical possibility of members choosing another candidate, but in practice makes it virtually impossible for them to do this except in the most extreme cases. It does this by allowing the MP to be automatically reselected provided they can win support from over half of all party and affiliate branches in an affirmative (trigger) ballot, in which members can only decide if they want an open selection, or are happy with the sitting MP. The system is open to abuse, because each branch counts for one, regardless of how many members those branches actually represent. This means that even if every single party branch votes in favour of an open selection, the MP can still get automatically reselected if they win support from enough affiliate branches.”

A good demonstration of how such abuse eventuates in practice was provided in Leicester, earlier this year, during the selection process for the candidacy of the City Mayor (for the full details of how this undemocratic debacle unravelled, see my earlier article “Blairites block Labour Party democracy in Leicester”).

Either way as Wood’s points out:

 “[T]he main problem with trigger ballot is not simply that it is open to abuse (although that is obviously critical), but that it prevents other candidates from standing at the earliest possible stage. As a result the odds are stacked in favour of sitting MPs, who, in addition to the advantages they enjoy as incumbents (profile, relationships, paid staff, better access to membership data), are able to campaign positively for themselves, whereas any activists who want a genuine contest have to campaign negatively against them. This prevents potential candidates from becoming known to the membership, from getting access to membership lists, or from communicating key messages or listening to members’ concerns, and is more likely to lead to an uncomradely negative contest.”

This is precisely why Wood goes on to make a strong case for the reintroduction of mandatory reselection. A call that echoed demands made by members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), whose June conference had unanimously supported a motion that called that the Labour Party adopt mandatory reselection of MPs in each parliament. Speaking earlier this week in defence of such demands, FBU general secretary, Matt Wrack, said:

“The current process for holding sitting MPs to account by their CLP membership has the strong whiff of entitlement. Some MPs seems to think theirs is a job for life, a job where you cannot even be questioned on your activities of representation, let alone be held accountable. A lifetime’s entitlement to a parliamentary seat is utterly undemocratic and risks in many cases retaining an MP who doesn’t represent the Labour Party or the working class.

“If MPs find themselves far off the membership’s wavelength it is not unfair to provide a CLP with democratic processes to enable their removal. If MPs really believe they have the support of their own CLPs, then they will have no problem with mandatory reselection. Labour MPs should not fear mandatory reselection. Those MPs who work hard, who represent their members’ and their constituents’ best interests have nothing to fear.

“The call for mandatory reselection also has wider significance. Bringing real democracy into the Labour Party is essential to our vision of society. Allowing members to have a real say over who represents them and how they can hold representatives to account is vital if we are to have any chance of achieving our goal, which is to bring about a society which has the working classes’ best interests at its core under a socialist government.”


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