Now NEC’s circuits are unfrazzled this morning, selection situation looks better. Here’s how

sleeves up

In the tumult and exhaustion last night after a long day and a debate against a background of high member emotion, the picture painted by members of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) who spoke to the SKWAWKBOX last night was far from disastrous – but it was worse than the real outcome.

Here’s the definitive situation – as far as one exists until the final version is agreed by the NEC on Saturday – and it’s better than many thought.

Putting power in the hands of members

Under current ‘trigger ballot’ rules, an incumbent MP can only be made to undergo a selection process if more than fifty percent of all branches in the CLP vote for it. The ‘all’ includes both the CLP’s own ward-based branches and the branches affiliated to the CLP by unions.

In the current system, every branch has equal voting weight – so two union branches of one member each could outvote a Labour branch of 400 people.

This meant unions could stack the process in favour of an incumbent by registering large numbers of branches – and this is exactly what some right-leaning unions were doing in many areas in the so-called ‘ghost branches’ phenomenon in clear preparation for protecting right-wing incumbent MPs.

Separation of powers

The proposed new rule separates CLP branches and affiliate branches into two separate categories – and each category on its own can cause a selection process. This removes the ability of any union to prevent a selection, because it can only affect the affiliate branch category

Starting a selection process

In order to have a full selection process, members of a CLP (constituency Labour party) will need to vote for one in a third of their branches. Union members can also cause one if a third of their branches – but, unlike the current situation, their vote has no impact on the democratic outcome in the CLP branches.

The branches’ decision will be by a simple majority in each branch – either a majority of the members who turn up to vote, or possibly including postal votes, depending what is agreed on Saturday.

If a third of branches vote for a selection, there is a selection.

The selection vote

Once a selection is called, the shortlisted candidates will be chosen on an OMOV (one member one vote) basis in an ‘exhaustive’ ballot – i.e. with members voting for candidates in order of preference, so that if no candidate wins more than fifty percent in round one the votes of the least-supported candidate are divided on the basis of second preferences and so on until one candidate wins.

What it isn’t

One of the main objections voiced among disappointed supporters of ‘open selection’ last night was that the new system will disadvantage ‘insurgent’ candidates and force them to canvas an unachievable level of support before a selection can be called.

This is inaccurate. Under the system above there doesn’t even need to be an alternative candidate before members can demand a selection, if enough of them are unhappy with the performance of their MP.

And the unvarnished truth is that if there is not enough support for a change of MP for activists to win a simple vote in just a third of their branches, they are highly unlikely to achieve the 50.001% OMOV their preferred candidate would need to defeat an incumbent.

SKWAWKBOX comment:

This isn’t what advocates of ‘open selection’ want. It doesn’t make selections an automatic event every time there’s a parliamentary election. There are good arguments for that – and there are good arguments against it.

But it does set the bar for calling a selection much lower than it was – not just because of the reduction from 50% of branches to a third, but even more so because it separates affiliate branches into a separate category and frees Labour members to achieve a desired result independently.

The ‘open selection’ campaign has played a big role in the change. Right-leaning unions who would otherwise have fought tooth and nail to avoid the system now on the table are preparing to accommodate it, in large part because they fear they might get ‘open selection’ if they don’t.

But they might have been able to defeat that, too, given some of the dynamics and power-plays going on behind the scenes.

Some Momentum people will be unhappy about the new system, but Momentum sent out a pro-OS email a few days ago saying the Labour Party needs to get its house in order when Momentum itself has problems with its internal democracy.

The final details of the new system – such as exactly how it will be work in CLPs that don’t organise on a branch basis – won’t be nailed down until the NEC votes on its final proposal on Saturday.

But the bar in the new proposal is set so low that if members can’t organise to reach it and demand a selection, they wouldn’t win the OMOV selection vote either.

In the end, democracy isn’t ‘whatever guarantees a left candidate can unseat an incumbent’. If enough CLP members want to keep an MP the rest of us don’t like, that’s their democratic choice too.

Members who want to be able to change their MP aren’t getting everything in their wishlist, but it’s not as far off as some are telling them. Democracy requires effort and organisation and it doesn’t come with guaranteed outcomes. But the organising is about to become hugely easier – and the outcome a lot harder to rig.

The SKWAWKBOX needs your support. This blog is provided free of charge but depends on the generosity of its readers to be viable. If you can afford to, please click here to arrange a one-off or modest monthly donation via PayPal. Thanks for your solidarity so this blog can keep bringing you information the Establishment would prefer you not to know about.

If you wish to reblog this post for non-commercial use, you are welcome to do so – see here for more.


  1. Why maintain the divisive and acrimonious trigger ballot system.

    This is a long, long way from what the members wanted.

    1. Well, it isn’t a “trigger ballot” is it? You can campaign for a new candidate and if you get enough support from members, 30%+, then you can move for a selection contest. What’s so hard about that?

      1. The main point of the open selection call was that Local members could hold their M.P.s to account and even “deselect” them if it came to that.

        This has been delivered. Really, I just do not get why we are refusing to take yes for an answer…

  2. As well as the disagreement that seems to be filling the comments sections on this topic, the Tony Blair/Owen Smith rolling up of the shirt sleeves graphic does not instill trust. I’m confused.

  3. How is the reselection initiated? Who decides that the branches should vote? If I initiate a vote in my branch do other branches have to vote as well? What happens if a couple of branches decide not to vote?
    In short, what is the process?

  4. For me the whole point of this was to hold MPs to account and the automatic reselection every five years was vital to that
    Anyhing else is a sellout and little better than what we have now .
    The whole principle of automatic reselection every 5 years is what was so wonderful about that process
    Come hell or high water the MP would have to face selection .
    For our MPs doing a good job that’s not a problem for those who are shite then out they go
    It was so ssimple and transparent , but now it’s the other way round we have to instigate a vote of no confidence in essence to hold MPs to account,,,,its bollocks
    Question ,,,,,, how does this compare to what we had before in labour before kinnock changed it ?

    1. So having OMOV on selections is no better than the current unjust system?

      Being able to start a selection competition with the aim of removing a sitting M.P. is no better than the current system where it is very hard to do any such thing?

      I think we should stop and take breath.

      In a negotiation, and that is what this is, a negotiation that was always going to be hard fought we got most of what we wanted and yet we still cry foul?

      1. Mark understand your stance but from my POV this fudge simply ” spikes the guns” and defuses a lot of the momentum energy in pushing for proper OS . It’s like ” well we got something better than nothing ” offering . In fact trying to get even 30% to start the process is as bad as the 50% as many other comments have pointed out the impracticalities of making that happen at CLP level.
        Chris Williamson is right 100% OS is not to be feared , it is democracy and a very positive way of ensuring that MPs are held to account to the people they represent , there is no divisive or negative actions required by anyone to make that OS happen , it’s automatic ,whereas now and with the NEC option it is a negative divisive experience for all concerned.
        One hopes that OS will be back on the agenda for next yrs Conf

  5. Well, a bit better than the impossible proposal being presented last night. This is essentially the same as the compromise Momentum model proposal from 14 months ago, which takes us back to a Kinnock style trigger ballot, but without TU ghost branches.

    But you still have to effectively no confidence a sitting MP in order to get a regular selection of MPs.

    1. A no confidence vote will not pass on the votes of 30% of branches will it?

      This is a selection competition, not simply a trigger ballot. You can campaign for a new candidate, or set of candidates or against the sitting M.P. if you wish. All you need is enough support for a selection competition; 30% of branches.

      If you can’t get that, your candidate has no chance of winning the selection anyway.

  6. I’m disappointed by this, and it won’t stop me campaigning for true open selection, but I’m glad to see at least *some* improvement.

    The key thing for me is how confrontational the trigger ballot system is; to push for reselection you have to specifically campaign across your entire CLP to do so, and it feels very much like a vote of no confidence by another name. There’s also the fact that an incumbent can remain in post with support from only a small fraction of all members of a CLP, and individual branches don’t matter. For example, if an MP pisses off one branch in their CLP, that branch would have to convince most of the others in order to trigger a ballot to put forward their own preferred candidate, whereas open selection would mean they would have an automatic right to do so in each election cycle.

    I also want to add that the article mentions open selection occurring with general elections, but that’s not really true; most proposals are for the re-selection to occur a year or so before each scheduled general election, so there’s plenty of time to establish a candidate and, where necessary, hand over from the previous one.

    There is just no good argument in favour of the current system; open selection means that prospective candidates always get a chance to make themselves heard, and CLPs and branches have an ongoing ability to make their views known, and to have the debates on how, and by whom, they are represented. It means that incumbents are encouraged to engage more and make their positions known, because if they can’t defend their actions in parliament to those who originally put them there then they should have no right to be there.

  7. You can find as many pros you’d like, the fact here is that the process is still divisive and complicated when they had everything they needed to make a real change. This half measure from the top doesn’t make up for the bold proposal from the bottom that was first imagined and I find particulartly depressing to witness how the membres are deprived of their fair say. To me this way of doing is quiet sinister and certainly putt a dark shade in the hope many were having about real changes.

  8. I’m not at all happy. I want MPs to be automatically accountable to the members. It’s the members voluntary work that gets them elected. Re the 30% trigger ……. will that be of people at a meeting or of all branch members? With, in my branch anyway, so many “sleeping” members it may be impossible to ever get 30% to respond.

    1. It’s 30% of branches, not members. but the selection process will be OMOV. The proposal allows for postal votes or possibly online voting…

  9. A fundamental misunderstanding in Skwark’s whitewash is that the object of the exercise is not to replace right wing Labour MPs with the young ‘leftish’ careerists of Momentum (whose sketchy devotion to the left is probably just a passing phase on their parts anyway).

    Rather, it is to ensure the ACCOUNTABILITY of Labour MPs to the Labour Party. It is to reduce the power of the PLP and increase the power of the Party in the country. We need MPs’ FEAR of the Labour Party to exceed their devotion to the British capitalist establishment.

    Using this yardstick, a trigger ballot of any description is useless. What is needed is a full, contested reselection once every Parliament.

  10. Blairite RW rebels have spent 3 yrs trying to destroy a democratic elected leader, by undermining the Labour Party’s democratic procedures. They have broken almost every rule in the book but allowed to carry on wrecking the party. If the Labour’s General Secretary, NEC, NCC etc did their job we wouldn’t need to deselect MP’s. Members are fed up with being brushed to one-side. At the moment there are strict rules for members and no rules for MPs who willy-nilly run to the RW press with serious false allegations etc

      The anger I feel at this sell out is deep, deep, deep.
      There is no need to be confused. THIS IS A SELL-OUT – end of .

  11. I stopped reading this half way through as it got too bloody complicated. It’s so be complicated Why not have a simple open selection process with OMOV for goodness sake?

  12. Too bloody right Swawk about Momentum needing to get its own house in order. Dreadful autocratic behaviours on Willsman. No understanding of women in Labour’s concerns about self-identification either,

  13. Well said The Skwawkbox, I didn’t think you were quite so strategically sussed 🙂

  14. The problem is that with any form of trigger ballot the question put will be “Do you wish to reselect X?” It’s hard to get members to say no to that unless the MP is truly dreadful. Open selection removes the negative element and gives members a choice without in effect having to start with a vote of no confidence in their MP.

    1. Actually, what it might be like is the Brexit vote-when people trying to defend or positively laud the status quo suddenly found out how hard that was, hence why Leave won.
      And, by the same token, if any given MP has visibly done very little about constituency affairs ie hospital closures etc, it may well be a majority of members in enough CLP’s will vote against the status quo if they can be persuaded things can be a lot better than this.

      We should also remember we were drifting ever rightwards since Kinnock’s 2nd term in 1987-so we ain’t gonna reverse 28 years of that in just three.

      Another point-anyone who wants a new MP needs to organize from the word go-good starting point will be to get into a union if not already in one, even if it’s just Community-style membership. Preferably the same union as the incumbent, if they are sponsored or member of one.

      See why it matters?

    2. Really? You want to be “nice” about deselecting a sitting candidate and that is your major objection to these proposals?

      Then start the process as a positive campaign for another candidate instead of a negative one against the sitting M.P.

    3. So campaign for another candidate. This does not have to be negative campaigning. If that candidate gets enough support a selection competition can be started…

  15. Okay, will someone please explain to me how the new proposals “betray” the members?

    First, moving to OMOV removes the massive bias toward affiliates in voting on reselection. Making a 50%+ win actually democratic.

    Secondly, since we will need 50%+ to remove a candidate from the running and it only takes 30% of CLP members to trigger a selection process, then who is there that we have a chance to remove who cannot be challenged?

    Campaigning for a selection process can either be on behalf of a new candidate/s or against the sitting M.P., it’s the choice of those moving for selection.

    Further, the costs of automatic reselection process across the party will be wasted in many constituencies.

      1. Okay, I would prefer open selection, but I’m a realist and I’m not going to demand everything is 100% my way or nothing at all. Especially when what was always going to be a tough negotiation ends up giving me most of what I want.

        Really, I’m amazed at the refusal to accept yes for an answer on this.

        The whole point was to allow CLP’s to hold M.P.s to account and even challenge them if they felt the need.

        This has been delivered…

      2. No, it hasn’t been delivered. If it had there wouldn’t be such a negative response.

      3. So how do the proposals prevent a Local CLP from challenging a sitting M.P.?

        Open selection is no magic alternative. Local members would still need to garner 50%+ of votes to replace a sitting M.P.

        What is the real difference?

        That a selection process has to be triggered by a number that any challenge, with a chance of success, would find easy to achieve…

      4. OK MArk I think we can see that you are content with what you have been handed down. So lets just see , shall we , how this 30% option actually pans out over the next year , I wonder just how many if any new socialist MPs will be replacing the likes of Austin , Mann , Eagle , Field ( who is an Independant MP in all but name and is STILL a member of the Labour PArty beggers belief! ) etc etc .The proof they say will be in the pudding

  16. How do we campaign for or against any mp when data protection means we have no access to membership details?

  17. So many CLP lack really effectively operating branches. So how does an ordinary members get access to members in their CLP to even begin a campaign to change a poor performing MP. There is no entitlement or right to know contact details of our membership – this is restricted access.

    1. Exactly. We have been able to rebuild Labour International from a Night of the Living Dead state it had been left in to an active campaigning organisation, but it wasn’t easy and getting more than 20% interest in an activity is pretty impossible.

      1. The work being done by Li is outstanding and full marks to folk such as driscco for making it happen. The sheer geographical distances involved, spanning continents as well as nations are formidable yet I am informed monthly, if not more often, about the “:Doings” of our branch in the Netherlands, and any shortfall in my ability to participate is driven purely by my personal situation, certainly not lack of information. Surely then, the localized CLP’s in the UK should be able to manage themselves in good order.
        If this isn’t possible there could well be a case for streamlining not only the procedures within the CLP’s but maybe a bit more consideration given to simplifying the Rule Book, at least to the point that its not always necessary to engage a Barrister to interpret important issues

    2. The right to call a meeting for the vote will be in the rules. Any secretary refusing to communicate it to members would be in breach and subject to discipline. With new regional directors coming into place in various regions, it’s going to be far harder for right-wingers to get away with anti-democratic tricks

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: