Are female Labour MPs being disproportionately targeted in trigger ballots?

© UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor
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A fourth Labour MP has been ‘triggered’. Party members in four of ten branches in South Shields Labour have opted for a full selection process over automatic reselection of their sitting MP, Emma Lewell-Buck, as the candidate. But the result is disputed because the fourth branch only produced a ‘trigger’ result after a tied vote was rerun and – it is claimed by local sources – an elderly member was “helped” by a councillor to complete her ballot paper. The outcome will be challenged. This particular CLP has previously been suspended, put in special measures and – although those conditions have been lifted – had a regional board rep attend each trigger meeting, so the level of controversy here comes as no surprise. Lewell-Buck has complained before of bullying, intimidation, vote rigging and misogyny in the local party.

How should Labour respond? If the vote is rerun in a separate meeting, as expected by some, it seems likely that the result will be more decisive against the sitting MP, who is out-organised by local councillors. `The party could simply suspend this particular seat’s triggers – but that would lead to calls for a suspension to be applied across the board, with many members angry that triggers are continuing while selections have been paused. Come election time, Labour’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) could simply reimpose Emma Lewell-Buck as the candidate. Members often assume, understandably given the selection pause, that CLPs will not be given the chance to actually follow through on trigger results. (This is one explanation for the low number of ‘triggered’ MPs: why trigger when the next steps have not been clarified?) It is difficult to see how the NEC could replace any of the triggered MPs with new candidates, in fact, unless the ruling body is able to organise short-notice hustings to give members a say. Even that fast-tracked route would provoke uproar among Labour MPs.

The fact that three of the four triggered MPs are women, and those rumoured to be most at risk are also women, has given rise to discussion of double standards. While promoting Labour’s new policy announcement of a universal youth service on Radio 4 this morning, Tracy Brabin agreed that misogyny played a role in such decisions. This comes shortly after a selection race frontrunner (Jas Athwal), an already selected candidate (Steven Saxby) and a Labour MP (Stephen Hepburn) were all suspended pending investigation of sexual harassment cases. (The three men deny the claims made against them.) With misogyny deep-rooted in wider society, it cannot shock anyone that it will manifest itself in the party and lead to women being disproportionately targeted – but just as with antisemitism, there are facets particular to the left that must be addressed. And Labour should hold itself to the highest standard.

To celebrate something positive in the advancement of women’s liberation, it is worth noting that two crucial amendments have been tabled in the domestic abuse bill debated last week. Harriet Harman is aiming to quash the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey defence’, which sees a man charged with murder claim that their partner consented to the violent sexual acts that led to their death. This ‘rough sex’ defence often doesn’t work, but it has done in notable cases such as that of John Broadhurst. It also appears that defendants are using it more often and the courts are increasingly willing to accept it. Harman’s proposed change in the law is hugely important for women. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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