ROBIN WALES, the long-standing, perhaps long-reigning would be more accurate, directly elected Mayor of Newham, has finally been deselected as the Labour Party’s candidate in the forthcoming mayoral election. In an Open Selection ballot of the membership, held after Wales was not adopted as the candidate in a second Trigger Ballot, he was roundly defeated, 861 votes to 503, by Rokhsana Fiaz.
Fiaz had been a key figure in the campaign to deselect Wales after he won automatic nomination in an initial trigger ballot, in November 2016, that was subsequently shown to have been compromised by incorrect procedures and the acceptance of votes from non-affiliated organisations such as the Fabians.
Forcing a second trigger ballot itself took more than a year because the National Executive Committee (NEC) accepted a report from the then London Regional Director, Dan Simpson, which proposed acceptance of the initial result, despite detailed evidence of malpractice presented by local Party members. Attempts to reverse that decision through the Party’s internal procedures were simply ignored until campaigners threatened legal action – but even then, the official response went no further than to suggest that procedures for trigger ballots be clarified for future selections.
Party officials backed down and “set aside” the result of the trigger ballot mere hours before legal proceedings reached a decisive point. Although the campaign had called for an Open Selection procedure, the proposal for a second trigger ballot was accepted – on the condition that the ballot was not conducted by officials of the Newham Local Campaign Forum and the eligibility of affiliated organisations was rigorously investigated with the same “freeze date” as the original ballot. The last point mattered because, in the meantime, some 34 branches of the GMB had affiliated and their votes could be cast by just one official of the London Region, who would thus outvote the whole of the membership of the two CLPs in Newham!
The decision to take the legal route, while principled in the circumstances, did have the negative effect of sidelining the local party membership, a majority of whom had voted against Wales’ candidacy in the first trigger ballot. Despite the widespread media reports to the contrary, Momentum, as an organisation, played no role at all in the challenge to Wales, although several activists in the campaign were also members of Momentum.
This highlights a problem that is repeated all over the country; the failure to develop the hundreds of thousands of members of the Labour Party into a coherent and self-organised political force. In many areas, the restriction of Momentum to little more than the traditional Get Out The Vote activity, albeit with more effective techniques, has led to local activists forming ad hoc groupings to pursue immediate, generally local, issues, as in Newham.
Even where these are successful, as they also have been in Haringey, they can never be sufficient to withstand the onslaught of the Right that will be unleashed on the Labour Party whenever a general election is called. We have already had a taste of that with the “antisemitism” campaign and the attacks on Corbyn over the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter.
Newham is a Labour stronghold, there are no other parties represented on the council at present. In all probability, therefore, Rokhsana Fiaz will be the next Mayor and thus the first woman of colour, her family came from Pakistan originally, although she was born and bred in Newham, to hold such an office. That in itself is quite an achievement, but the tasks facing her in office will be even more of a challenge.
The headline policies she promoted in her selection campaign included at least 1,000 council owned homes, let at social rents, rather than the phoney “affordable” rents, within her first term of four years, an end to the selling of 250 council homes every year and to any further privatisations or outsourcing of services. Centrally, she has also proposed a referendum on scrapping the “Directly Elected Mayor” system introduced under Blair to shield Mayors from the pressure of electors through their local councillors.
These are certainly popular measures, but they fly in the face of established central government policy and that is where the presence of an active and mobilised party membership, able to support, or indeed pressurise, her to implement them will be crucial.