All Labour MPs should be triggered not because they are bad MPs or we want to get rid of them but because it is the democratic thing to do.
The Labour Party kick-started its trigger ballot process – which gives local members the opportunity to either automatically reselect their MP or start a full selection process – in June, announcing that the votes would be taking place in the autumn.
What is a “trigger ballot”? The term refers to a ballot of branches and affiliates of a Constituency Labour Party (CLP) with a Labour MP who wishes to stand again at the next general election.
It decides either to let the MP stand as the Labour candidate again without needing to face other challengers (sometimes described as “passing the trigger”) or to make the MP go through a full reselection process (“failing the trigger” or a selection “being triggered”). It only happens in Labour-held seats, so the whole process isn’t experienced by about 400 CLPs.
This is not a new process. There wasn’t any time to run trigger ballots in the 2015 parliament due to the snap 2017 general election, but all Labour MPs faced a trigger ballot before every general election between 1992 and 2015.
The idea of a trigger ballot was actually a moderate Labour initiative, before trigger ballots, every Labour MPs faced “mandatory reselection” – a full reselection process with challengers for every MP.
Mandatory Reselection not only gives Labour party members and their MP an opportunity to re-establish their democratic relationship it confirms their relationship and if reselected the MP can continue for the next five years knowing full well they have their CLP memberships backing and endorsement. Labour MPs must not only be representative of the members and their constituents but they must be accountable to them as well.
We have seen in this parliament Labour MPs crossing the floor or leaving the Party. Some have claimed outlandish excuses stating, for example, Chuka Umunna stated: “I never felt totally comfortable in the Labour party” If we had the process of mandatory reselection his concerns and more so the memberships response could have been addressed at that stage.
Given the opportunity in a full selection process where Chuka Umunna related his feelings it may well have been he would have not been selected and today the people of Streatham would now be represented by a Labour MP which democratically that constituency voted for and not a LibDem Cuckoo who sits in that seat without a democratic mandate.
Chuka Umunna defection along with other MPs to Change UK/LibDems highlights how far many PLP members have deviated from their original selection commitments with no sense of accountability or obligation to represent their member constituents. This fuels discord and feed’s a hostile media intent on damaging the Party’s reputation with the general public and on undermining future electoral chances.
Therefore, it is essential that all MPs be required to renew their mandate with their members, in the spirit of unity to mitigate much of the distracting and negative media coverage and ongoing damage the Party. Mandatory reselection or its modern equivalent ‘Open selection’ is not in practice and will have to wait until conference 2020, however the power to bring about a full reselection process for Labour MPs is within the hands of its membership through the trigger ballot process.
By triggering all Labour MPs we will remove the negative stigma attached to what appears to be a rejection from the membership but more so we will build on our relationship of representation where an MP is accountable to their members and stand on their track record to be endorsed or not for another five years.
A full selection process opens the doors to new talent it can motivate even the flattest of Parliamentary members to achieve.
Tony Benn’s very famous quote addresses the relationship between power, representation and democracy. It should be a pillow and principle of democracy that ensure we never fall under the yoke of tyranny or worse still allow a representative to sit in a state of apathy knowing we as members cannot remove them.
- “What power have you got?”
- “Where did you get it from?”
- “In whose interests do you use it?”
- “To whom are you accountable?”
- “How do we get rid of you?”
“Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system,” Benn explained.
All Labour MPs should be triggered and face a full reselection process.
If a Member of Parliament serves the people and has carried out their job well then they will look forward to a long career in representing the people and no doubt be reselected with the added endorsement from the membership.
A politician’s job is a complex it is not just about the person it is about their abilities, again in the process of reselection it allows new talent to enter the arena of public life this competitive form of selection can motivate even the flattest of Parliamentary members to achieve. Most Labour Party members believe that the selection process for MPs needs to change.
At the moment, a party member can’t challenge a sitting Labour MP unless they mount a negative campaign against them.
It’s off-putting to potential candidates and means only a handful of open contests have happened in Labour-held seats in nearly 30 years.
We want a process that gives a fair chance to all candidates and does away with this negative, divisive stage of campaigning – so it’s an open contest from the start, and there are no “jobs for life”.
That way, local members and the sitting MP can compete for the Labour Party’s backing at the general election, and run positive campaigns about issues local voters really care about.
Tony Benn once said that democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world. There have even been suggestions by Labour’s democracy refuseniks that advocates of greater democracy must be Marxists.
They frequently pose that question to anyone who wants to give Labour’s mass movement more say over policy and the power to determine who represents them at elections.
For the sake of democracy trigger your MP a good representative will always be reselected. Being accountable this way could even make them better.