Labour members in Bermondsey and Old Southwark have called on the party’s national executive committee to invalidate the local trigger ballot process that took place over the last few weeks and saw Neil Coyle automatically reselected.
The recent trigger ballot votes resulted in eight branches voting to automatically reselect Coyle, with one returning a tied vote and another voting in favour of conducting a full selection. Under the newly changed rules, 33% – or four out of ten branches in BOS – would have had to vote for a full selection to ‘trigger’ the process whereby all eligible members would be able to put their candidacy forward.
Following the outcome of the trigger ballot process, 45 members from the local party have put their names to an open letter, in which they set out a number of complaints against the conduct of Coyle, his staff, and the process carried out in the branches as part of the trigger ballot process. They claim that these alleged infringements had a decisive influence on the outcome.
LabourList understands that Lara McNeill, the youth rep on Labour’s NEC, raised the concerns laid out in the members’ letter with general secretary Jennie Formby on Tuesday. Formby said she would provide a reply in due course.
When approached for comment by LabourList, Coyle said he would not be commenting on the claims until after the result of the selection process had been announced. (He has passed the threshold for reselection, but the final outcome of the process is not yet official.)
But CLP chair Gemma Doyle, a former Labour MP, tweeted: “ICYMI: BOS members, via a properly run ballot, just exercised their democratic right to reselect their MP. Unfounded and factually incorrect smear campaigns against democratically selected candidates only play into the hands of Labour’s opponents and screw working class people.”
In the letter, members claim that there was an “abuse of access to members’ details”, as they were contacted directly by members of Coyle’s staff, rather than by the MP. This would be a breach of the Labour Party’s procedural guidelines, which states that no member other than the MP can use membership lists to influence the outcome of the process. It also prompted complaints about the use of IPSA-paid, taxpayer-funded members of parliamentary staff in a selection process.
The signatories also allege that Coyle distributed times, dates and locations of meetings to people he believed to be supportive – before the Procedures Secretary had made the same information available to branch officers and all grassroots members. They say that this “has given Neil Coyle MP a clear advantage in branches which have returned close or tied results”. One branch had a tied vote and three others were decided by a majority of seven or less.
The letter contains specific examples of alleged procedural infringements in certain wards; ahead of one meeting, they say the branch secretary used the membership list to email all members to ask them to attend and vote in favour of automatic reselection. In another, the members report a lack of confidence in the process at their meeting after the wrong number of ballot papers were issued, and confusion about the number and eligibility of members present ensued.
The complainants have attested that intimidation of members by Coyle took place. The letter claims that the MP sent personal messages to members threatening legal action and party complaints to dissuade them from voting or campaigning for a full selection. One account reports that Coyle sent a text message saying that “the clock is ticking”.
The local activists who’ve put their name to this letter have called for the NEC to invalidate the outcome of the process in the CLP and proceed with an open selection in the seat, or otherwise to consider a re-set of the trigger ballot process.
Although many Labour MPs were worried about the revised trigger ballot rules, the votes across the country so far have not led to the widespread full selections that had concerned some. MPs who were previously thought to be vulnerable – such as Vicky Foxcroft – have been automatically reselected, many with unanimous support from branches and affiliates.