Trigger Ballots – Making the Positive Case for an Open Selection

By Lisa Wright

On Monday 27th June, the NEC Officers met and agreed, amongst other things, to begin the Trigger Ballots of sitting MPs in preparation for a snap election.

Ever since Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Party Leader back in 2015 there has been much talk of re-selections, trigger ballots and de-selections. This discussion reached a fever pitch at Labour’s Annual Conference last year when a rule change on ‘Mandatory Re-selection’ was knocked off the agenda at the last minute by a compromise negotiated by the Party’s NEC.

That compromise agreement changed the rules on the re-selection of sitting MPs, meaning that rather than needing to get more than 50% of both Party and affiliate branches to request a full selection to trigger one, now only a third of EITHER party or affiliate branches need to request a full selection to trigger a contest.

Whilst many campaigners were unhappy with this compromise on a point of principle, many felt that in reality this was as good as mandatory reselection because if a CLP can not get a third of branches to trigger the MP, then it is very unlikely that they would lose in an open contest anyway.

So, What do the guidelines agreed by the NEC look like and actually mean in practice? 

The paper agreed by the NEC officers and seen by Labour Hub, state that MPs have until 8th July to let the General Secretary know if they wish to restand as a Labour candidate.

Some MPs will of course choose to stand down, as we have already seen from Jim Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Campbell, where this happens their CLP will automatically move to a full selection, as has happened in many target seats across the country.

Where MP’s indicate that they wish to restand as a Labour candidate a Trigger Ballot will take place.

Who controls the timing of the trigger ballot? 

Given the likely number of MPs stating their intention to restand the timings of the Trigger Ballots will need to be centrally coordinated by the General Secretary in consultation with Regional Directors. Once the schedule of the triggers has been drawn up by the General Secretary, the relevant CLPs will be contacted by their regional office to begin the process.

Who oversees the process? 

The first step in the process is for an ‘NEC rep’ to be appointed to each CLP where a trigger ballot is taking place. The NEC rep will usually be a member of the relevant Regional Executive Committee, but will sometimes be an NEC member and will be appointed by either the Regional Executive Committee or the NEC. The NEC rep will then meet with the CLP executive, and between them they will oversee the whole trigger ballot process.

How does the trigger process actually work? 

The CLP exec and NEC rep will agree a timetable for the selection, including when each branch will meet. The model timetable in the paper agreed by the NEC and seen by Labour Hub sets out an 8 week process, but in reality many CLPs may be able to complete the process in a much quicker timescale, so long as the NEC signs it off

Each party branch within a CLP will then need to call a meeting to discuss whether they wish to move to a full selection. At that meeting, members who had been a member for at least 6 months on the date the CLP exec first meet the NEC rep, will be able to discuss the benefits of an open selection for up to 30 minutes before voting by a simple majority whether they wish to proceed to full selection or stick with their current MP.

What happens next? 

Should a third or more of EITHER party branches OR affiliate branches, who cast a vote, vote for an open selection, then that MP shall be deemed to have failed their trigger ballot and a full selection will then begin.

If a branch chooses not to cast a vote, they are not deemed to have taken part in the selection e.g. if a CLP has 9 branches but only 6 branches cast a vote one way or another, only 2 branches would have to vote in favour of a full selection, for the CLP to proceed to one.

Though the rule change agreed by Labour Conference in 2018, have significantly lowered the thresholds required to trigger sitting MPs, the left should not underestimate the advantage and influence that incumbency brings. In ‘early selection target seats’ which have been selecting candidates in expectation of a snap General Election, over 90% of the 2017 candidates who applied again, have been reselected. It seems that despite individual candidates’ politics, many Labour Party members are creatures of habit who strongly favour incumbency.

Add to this the fact that sitting MPs will be allowed to circulate a double sided A4 report/leaflet to each branch meeting and the fact that no individual candidate can openly campaign for themselves during the trigger process and you can see that there are still plenty of hurdles to be overcome for the grassroots members who may fancy a change in their Westminster representative.

It is absolutely vital that members begin organising in their Momentum groups, left caucuses and any other forums available to them NOW, to overcome that incumbency advantage and ensure that they are making the case for full open selections to as wide an audience as possible.

Print leaflets to hand out before meetings, hold informal discussion groups, ring friends and comrades to make the case, and most importantly remember all campaigning must be kept positive!

It is expected that anyone found to be using underhand or negative campaigning tactics against their sitting MP will be dealt with sternly by the NEC, we do not want to see democratic will of the members being averted because one or two people got carried away with their campaign techniques!