Legal action has been threatened against the executive of the Socialist Environment and Resources Association over claims its members attempted to rig the organisation’s internal elections, LabourList can reveal.
Ballots for elections for positions on the Labour affiliate’s executive were initially issued on June 4th. Three days later, national organiser and returning officer Matt Gaffar emailed members to say the election would be “restarted”, as an “administrative issue” had resulted in two candidates being left off the ballot paper.
Gaffar confirmed that any votes that had so far been cast would be “disregarded” and that members would “shortly receive” new login details to cast their vote.
In letters seen by LabourList, a solicitor acting on behalf of SERA member Harry Stratton alleged that additional ballots were issued on June 7th to people who were not previously considered eligible voters and that voters were being added to the rolls as late as June 22nd, nearly three weeks after the rolls had closed.
The solicitor shared a screenshot of a message allegedly sent by national executive committee member Gurinder Singh Josan, which asked the recipient to join SERA in the run-up to the elections and stated that “any members who join by Wed 22 June will be eligible to vote”.
The message said the elections were “proving challenging” and added: “Do not share this request publicly, only share with trusted colleagues.” Stratton’s solicitor alleged that the additions to the voter rolls were made “for the specific purpose of influencing the result of a “challenging” election”.
Stratton told LabourList: “Certain members of SERA’s executive have repeatedly left opposing candidates off the ballot, repeatedly cancelled the association’s democratic elections and repeatedly made false statements in correspondence with our solicitors.
“All these errors have favoured one side – theirs. At some point, cocking up again and again just stops being a plausible explanation. The inference is obvious: the reason these people won’t reveal the election results must be because they know they have lost.”
SERA’s current executive includes four Labour MPs – shadow climate change minister Kerry McCarthy, shadow environment minister Alex Sobel, shadow energy minister Alan Whitehead and shadow food, farming and fisheries minister Daniel Zeichner – as well as Senedd member Huw Irranca-Davies.
In a letter to Gaffar on June 17th, Stratton’s solicitor raised “serious concerns” about whether due process had been followed in the administration of the initial ballot, stating that “no good explanation” was given for the decision to declare it invalid.
The letter continued: “Its practical effect was to invalidate the votes of hundreds of members who had already voted. Our client is also extremely concerned that additional voters seem to have been added to the voter list, who were not members of SERA when the initial ballots were issued on Saturday 4 June 2022.
“It would obviously be unfair, and a breach of SERA’s constitution, to add previously ineligible voters to the voter list – let alone if the purpose of the addition was to secure a particular result.”
Responding to the letter, SERA co-chairs Jake Sumner and Melanie Smallman reiterated that the initial ballot had been cancelled because of an “administrative issue that led to two eligible candidates being left off the ballot paper”.
They explained: “The decision to reissue the ballot was made to ensure the effective administration of the election in keeping with our articles of Association and seems the only reasonable course of action.”
“Anyone who was a member on 4th June was sent a ballot and the same electorate was sent a reissued ballot on 7th June. Ballots have not been issued for members joining after 4th June,” they added.
After a further email from Stratton’s solicitor, asking to know how many ballots were issued on June 4th and 7th and the tally of votes for the initial election, the SERA executive announced that the elections would be cancelled for a second time.
In an email to members of the Labour Party affiliate, the executive stated that SERA had sought legal advice after receiving a solicitors’ letter on behalf of a member “challenging certain aspects of the executive election process”.
The email explained that a question had been raised over whether it could be argued that the issuing of ballots on the 7th June “could be constituted as an entirely new ballot” and as such mean that the period for voting was less than the 21 days required in the SERA articles.
Smallman shared with LabourList an email sent to members following SERA’s annual general meeting on July 2nd. It stated that an “important function of the [annual general meeting] is to ratify the results of the executive elections”.
The message continued: “Company law does not allow for an AGM to be cancelled once it has been called, so we were advised that in order for us to fulfil our collective desire to hold elections for the executive, the AGM needed to be adjourned until after the election has been rerun.
“Otherwise, if the AGM went ahead before the election, the current executive would have to stay in place until the next AGM in a year’s time.” A motion to adjourn was voted on and carried – with 129 votes in favour, 65 against and 6 abstentions.
The email added: “We appreciate that many members felt frustrated by this process, but as an executive we feel duty-bound to apply the rules fairly, so all eligible members can take part in the executive elections.
“We also want to reassure the members who have been in touch that we are clear that aggression, shouting and similarly disruptive behaviour has no place in SERA meetings – whether in person or online.
“We will inform all members of the new arrangements for the executive elections and reconvened AGM as soon as practically possible.”
Stratton told LabourList: “At the AGM, certain members of SERA’s executive presented members with only two choices – delaying the AGM until 2024, or allowing the executive to delay the AGM indefinitely. Neither option is constitutional. Nor was the motion, which was presented without the required notice.”
He claimed SERA members had been “blocked out of the meeting, prevented from voting and denied any opportunity to debate either option” or argue for what he described as the “obvious alternative” – declaring the results of the election.
Stratton added: “From what we know, the wrongdoing here may not just be breach of contract – it’s also potentially fraudulent. If we have to resolve this dispute through the courts, we will – and we’ll seek findings of personal dishonesty against those found to be involved in the wrongdoing, including any MPs.”
The SERA executive has been contacted for comment.