Trigger Ballots and internal party battles

Sometimes the most important elections are the ones that most people can’t vote in.

Over the next few weeks, anyone with an interest in politics will be looking at the local elections coming on May 3rd. Yet for many politicians, the results of these elections are in little doubt, with either safe seats or no hope. It’s elections that have already happened, and elections that will happen later in May, that are the really challenging ones. Behind closed doors, with an electorate numbering around 40 or 50 that can make decisions that can change lives – and the outcome of planning applications.

We can start by looking at the selection process for candidates.

Last week Rokhsana Fiaz won the internal Labour Party process in Newham to decide who will be the party’s candidate for the post of mayor of Newham, beating the incumbent Mayor, Sir Robin Wales. One unofficial, but reliable source has claimed that she won by 861 votes to Sir Robin’s 503, so the votes of 861 Labour members have all but secured the mayoralty for Fiaz.

By the way, Fiaz won support from all areas of the party – ignore the #fakenews that this was a Momentum takeover.

There’s another example of this happening at London regional level, and relates to Sadiq Khan. Later this year, possibly in July, party members will decide whether they are happy to have Sadiq Khan on the ballot paper for Labour in the London mayoral elections in 2020 or if they want Sadiq to go through a selection process alongside other candidates. It’s called the Trigger Ballot. And it is because of this process that you can expect to see Mayor Khan try to keep the Left onside over the coming weeks and months, just as we saw him standing next to Jeremy Corbyn to talk about ballots for estate regeneration projects that would need grant funding.

After the elections on May 3rd, even smaller electorates will gather to make big decisions – the elections that will be held amongst those elected to decide who leads councils, who sits on committees and who is expelled to the outer darkness of total back bench anonymity.

Consider, for example, one outer London council we know well. The council leader has been in post for a while, has done what most people would say has been a good job in difficult circumstances. His election in his ward on May 3rd is pretty much a formality. But he wants to be leader. That’s why he has spent pretty much every Friday evening since New Year either on the phone to or meeting with other councillors and candidates within his party. Because whilst most of us are relaxing on the Bank Holiday Monday that follows the election, he and the other successful councillors will be deciding who runs things for the next four years.

Competency comes into it, of course. As does friendship, favours bestowed in the past or promised in the future and a whole panoply of other considerations, many of which have less than nothing to do with politics. Indeed, considerations on whether potential leaders stand to the left or the right are secondary considerations.

So, if you’re wondering why councillors are behaving odd, or why your scheme is getting the cold shoulder from Mayor Khan at the moment, this could be one of the reasons.  Perhaps you need to speak to us?