How to deselect your MP
Carla Roberts looks at the rules, past and present
“Basically, unless you’ve really cocked up in some egregious and public way, locally affiliated trade unions - which always have many more branches affiliated to the local party than the local party itself does - will bail you out, sometimes against the will of the members.” This description by Blairite ex-MP Tom Harris on his website Third Avenue (which is an interesting read, despite the author’s hatred of Corbyn and the left) neatly sums up the problem with the current system.11
I will also resist commenting on some of the more inane advice given in Osland’s pamphlet [see review in this issue], such as: “you should make sure you are an individual member of the Labour Party” before you can start the process of deselecting an MP. Erm …
What follows is a brief overview that will hopefully illustrate why the current mechanism is so undemocratic and why the Labour left needs to fight for it to change.
If the sitting MP wants to stand again, the ‘trigger ballot’ process begins. All the constituency’s branches and its affiliates (trade unions, socialist societies, cooperative organisations) have one vote each and can choose ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to retaining the sitting MP as the only candidate. Each branch and affiliate is counted equally, irrespective of the number of members.
- Branches will meet in person to vote.
- Affiliates will decide their own process for deciding this matter.
This is where the union bureaucracy can really bugger things up for the left, as they are often affiliated with more than one branch and often the decision of the vote is made by a single, unelected official. Osland makes the useful point that people should prepare the ground in winning over local trade union branches and affiliate organisations beforehand, “so that pressure can feed up from the grassroots through to the national level”. Just because the major unions are currently backing Corbyn, it does not follow that they are our allies when it comes to getting rid of this or that opportunist Labour careerist (who will often have a rather cosy relationship with the local trade union bureaucracy).
If a simple majority of branches/affiliates vote ‘yes’, the sitting MP automatically becomes the official candidate. The selection process is over.
If a majority of branches/affiliates vote ‘no’, then a full selection procedure takes place. It does not mean that the candidate is deselected.
The sitting MP is eligible to stand in this selection and is guaranteed a space on the shortlist. Other potential candidates need to submit their CV to the CLP shortlisting committee, who shall “draw up a shortlist of interested candidates to present to all members of the CLP who are eligible to vote”.
All eligible individual Labour Party members vote in the contest between these candidates, on the basis of an eliminating ballot (no union or other affiliates have a vote at this stage).
The successful contender needs to be approved by the NEC. “Where successful candidates are not members of the national recommended panel … there should, however, be an endorsement interview in each case before a recommendation is made to the NEC” (Labour Party rulebook 2016, p22). The NEC has indeed exercised its power to block a CLP’s initial choice of candidate, though this does not happen often.
The general management committee of the CLP nominates candidates. The GMC consists of delegates from ward level branches, affiliated unions and socialist societies and the Cooperative Party.
The general management committee of the CLP votes on which candidate to support.
The successful contender needs to be approved by the NEC.
CLPD amendment: Democratising the trigger ballot
The Labour Party rule book 2016, chapter 5 - ‘Selections, rights and responsibilities of candidates for elected public office’, clause IV: ‘Selection of Westminster parliamentary candidates’.
Insert new sub-clause 2 as follows:
“The NEC’s procedural rules and guidelines for the selection of candidates for Westminster parliament elections shall include provision for party branches and branches of affiliated organisations to both interview prospective candidates and make nominations to the long list. The drawing up of the final shortlist will give due cognisance to the weight of nominations each candidate receives.”
Renumber existing sub-clauses (2) onwards to now be sub-clauses (3) onwards.
The selection of parliamentary candidates is one of the party’s most important tasks.
Some MPs serve for 40 years and it is vital that every effort is made to secure the very best candidates. This should mean involving all party members and affiliated members through their branches and seeking to select PPCs that are representative of their communities. Unfortunately, in recent years, the opposite has been happening. Party branches nominate from CVs without interview, affiliated branches are not properly involved at all, and, according to the latest NEC survey, as few as 9% of current Labour MPs have a manual background, whereas 27% are from the Westminster village. The party has made a commitment to giving members a greater role and influence. Nowhere is this more important than in the selection of Labour parliamentary candidates.
Motion passed at Unite conference
Conference welcomes the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader as a reflection of the general mood in the labour movement against austerity. We endorse the union’s support for him.
However, we condemn the attempts of rightwing Labour MPs, in concert with hostile sections of the media, to destabilise and remove Jeremy from his democratically elected position despite his overwhelming mandate from party members, affiliated and registered supporters. We believe these attacks are designed to return Labour to a pro-austerity position.
MPs have not got ‘jobs for life’. They represent their constituency, but ultimately they are selected by and accountable to their Constituency Labour Party. To ensure democratic accountability and the rights of party members to select candidates that reflect their views, conference supports the need for mandatory reselection of Labour MPs in each parliament as essential.
We also call on Unite to support moves to bring more democracy into policy-making by returning powers to the party conference.