Labour party members and trade unions are set to be handed new powers in the reselection of sitting MPs under a compromise plan aimed at ‘opening up’ contests for Westminster seats, HuffPost UK has learned.
Allies of Jeremy Corbyn are drafting rule changes which are expected to be approved by the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) as a way of reforming the current system – without triggering a fresh civil war among MPs.
The aim is to create new rules that stop short of a return to ‘mandatory reselection’, a system last seen in the 1980s that led to bitter local oustings of Parliamentarians.
The proposed reforms seek to curb perceived unfairness in the system, whereby unions can in theory outvote local members by creating limitless numbers of new ‘branches’.
But they also aim to open up Westminster selections by giving more trade union members more of a say.
A behind-the-scenes battle has been going on in recent days over the precise nature of the proposals. The issue may not be resolved in time for the NEC meeting on Tuesday, and may be dealt with at conference itself.
Some on the Left want a ‘two trigger’ system that effectively forces an MP to face a contest if they fail to simply win a majority of either the members or union branches.
Some unions want a system that would see MPs facing a challenge only if both sections fail to give them a majority.
A ‘third way’ compromise plan would create a ‘weighted’ system similar to the electoral college that used to apply to the party leadership elections.
Under this proposal, two separate sections would be created and union and party members would have a power proportionate to their numbers, while MPs would still need to get more than 50% of their combined support.
The hybrid model was used last week to reselect Sadiq Khan unopposed as the Labour candidate for the 2020 London Mayoral race. The system for local CLPs would be determined by ‘one branch, one vote’ rather than individual numbers of trade union members.
Some constituencies have just a handful of trade union members in one branch, compared to hundreds of party members in a ward branch. The compromise would level the playing field while giving unions a key role, one insider said.
All of the plans would mark a significant change from the current system, which requires a sitting MP to get the backing of 50% of a total branches, both union and member-led.
But the new plan would fall short of the one-member-one-vote (OMOV) system of ‘open selections’ demanded by some on the Left, including the grassroots group Momentum.
And if local parties reject the compromise, the vote at the party conference could be close and ‘mandatory reselection’ could become official policy.
Momentum believes the current trigger ballot system means no one can challenge a sitting MP without launching a negative campaign against them.
The group wants to end “jobs for life” MPs and has a petition to introduce a new system where “local members and the sitting MP compete” for the candidacy for Westminster.
A new survey by Momentum of its delegates for the coming party conference found that 77% were supportive of its idea of ‘open’ selections.
It claims that the success of younger challenger candidates such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the United States proves the merit of having a new system in the UK.
But allies of Corbyn believe such a radical move would spark a fresh backlash within the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) at a time when a united party is vital for taking on the Tories.
The leadership’s recent Democracy Review deliberately left out any proposals on selection of sitting MPs precisely to avoid a fresh row.
Four Labour MPs – Joan Ryan, Gavin Shuker, Frank Field and Kate Hoey – have all lost motions of no confidence voted on by their local parties in recent weeks.
Yet with a possible general election in the offing if Parliament can’t agree on Brexit, there is no desire to return to the selection battles of the 1980s when the party was hit by a raft of bitter local disputes.
The issue is unavoidable at the party conference next week as several motions from local constituency Labour parties (CLPs) calling for mandatory reselection are due to be voted on.
HuffPost has been told senior Corbyn allies plan to avoid a row by bringing forward the new plans to the NEC.
If the local CLPs refuse to withdraw their motions, the NEC is expected to advise delegates to vote for their own plan instead.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell this month told HuffPost he didn’t favour major change from the current system of trigger ballots because “a lot of people are looking for stability now...and bringing people together”.
He said “it’s not hard to keep your constituency party happy”, but later added that he could see the need for a “slightly reformed” system of trigger ballots.
Momentum founder Jon Lansman is understood to be keen on extending democracy, short of mandatory reselection.
“It’s a long way from the Ocasio-Cortez system or the OMOV demanded by some on the Left,” one source said.
HuffPost UK revealed earlier this year an online guide to ‘How To Deselect Your Labour MP’ that has been circulated among activists.
Labour figures came together on Monday for the funeral of former GMB union political officer and Islington councillor Gary Doolan.
Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan were both present at a gathering of 500-plus mourners, with a drive-by by a dozen Islington Council refuse lorries.