Published On: Sun, Nov 8th, 2020

Bermondsey Members Accuse Coyle Of ‘Intimidation’ In Trigger Ballot Process

Members of Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP have asked the NEC to intervene and overturn the result of the recent trigger ballot process, which sitting MP Neil Coyle survived, accusing him and his supporters of breaching party rules and intimidating local members who might vote against his automatic reselection.
The decision not to opt for full selection was effectively made by just 10 people – less than 0.5% of the CLP membership, and angry local members want the NEC to invalidate the result, and oversee a repeat of the trigger ballot process to ensure the rules are followed.
Local Labour councillor Jack Buck said on Twitter: "BoS members cannot accept the result of our recent MP trigger ballot If the PLP are allowed to bend & break the rules of the only mechanism we have to hold them to account there is no democracy"
The below is a letter signed by dozens of local members and councillors – it can be found here.
It is with great regret that we the undersigned call on the NEC & relevant party officers to invalidate the Bermondsey & Old Southwark trigger ballot process. The series of meetings to decide whether a full selection should take place in the constituency concluded last week, with 8 branches voting against a full selection, one returning a tied vote and 1 branch voting for a full selection. The number of branches which would have been necessary under the new trigger ballot rules to initiate a full selection would have been four (33% or greater of total branches). Several of the branches which returned a vote in favour of automatic reselection of our sitting MP as the prospective Parliamentary candidate returned very narrow majorities for this outcome. These results are laid out below: Surrey Docks Ward 13-13 (Tied) Chaucer Ward 13-11 (in favour of automatic reselection) Borough & Bankside 22-16 (in favour of automatic reselection) Rotherhithe 29-22 (in favour of automatic reselection) As we can see from these results the decision not to opt for a full selection was decided by just 10 members (0.5% of the membership of B.o.S CLP) in 3 different branches. As a result it is the view of the undersigned that a number of serious procedural infringements by the Procedures Secretary, the MP Neil Coyle & Executive Officers overseeing the voting process had a material difference on the outcome of the vote as a whole. These infringements are laid out below. 1) Abuse of access to members’ details. The Labour Party’s procedural guidelines state that “no member other than the sitting MP should use membership lists to which they have access to attempt to influence the outcome of the selection.” However, a number of members report being contacted directly by staff members employed by Neil Coyle’s Parliamentary or constituency office, not by Neil Coyle himself. It is a clear breach of internal Labour Party procedures for public funds to be used to influence the outcome of our democratic processes. This is clearly the case where parliamentary staff time has been used to canvass support for the sitting member of parliament. Furthermore, members report being contacted directly by these staff members from withheld numbers (itself a breach of GDPR) which raises the suspicion that phone lines paid for by Parliament (which are always withheld) have been used to make these calls. If so, this would again be a use of public funds & a breach of the party’s internal procedures but also a matter for IPSA around the misuse of public funds whilst in public office. These complaints have been lodged separately with IPSA and with the Procedures Secretary. 2) Access to the time, dates & locations of the branch trigger meetings It came to the attention of members in the CLP that Neil Coyle MP was given information of the time, dates and locations of the branch meetings before notice had been given by the Procedures Secretary to branch officers and grassroots members. This was realised when an email was distributed by the MP to people he believed to be his supporters advertising the meetings, before the details had been distributed to the relevant branch officers. This has given Neil Coyle MP a clear advantage in branches which have returned close or tied results by allowing him additional time to mobilise those who would vote for his automatic reselection. The notices to branch officers & grassroots members were only distributed after a complaint was lodged to the Procedures Secretary raising a question over the integrity of the notice process. As well as this, CLP members do not have confidence that notices for branch meetings were sent out in a fair and transparent way. An anecdotal query of 6 members at the North Walworth branch meeting (who were intending to vote for a full selection) found that 5 of the 6 had not received the time, date or location of the meeting from the Procedure Secretary at all. This clearly raises serious questions into how notices were distributed and whether poor communication, or deliberate mismanagement of the notices, could have had a material effect on the outcome of branch votes. 3) MP intimidation of members. It has come to our attention that Neil Coyle sent personal messages to local members during the trigger ballot process. These messages were intimidating in nature and represented a clear attempt to dissuade them from speaking and campaigning for a full selection. In two separate instances, members were threatened with legal action and party complaints. The messages did not make clear what the basis for any legal action would be and there was no reasonable basis for any complaint. Even if there were such grounds, the appropriate recipient for such a complaint would have been the Procedures Secretary or the London regional office. Members of one branch heard that Mr Coyle sent a text message late at night to a member saying that “the clock is ticking” and that he was looking forward to reading about the position they would be taking when they spoke at the trigger ballot meeting. The meeting heard from the member that they understandably found this text disturbing. The procedural guidelines state that “no member campaigning either for or against a full selection shall do so in a manner likely to cause offense or be seen as applying pressure to any member.” Threats of legal action or sinister references to ticking clocks are inarguably an attempt to apply inappropriate pressure and are therefore clearly in breach of this provision. Members also reported feeling uncomfortable at the presence of Neil Coyle at numerous trigger ballot meetings, including South Bermondsey, Chaucer, Surrey Docks, London Bridge & West Bermondsey, and Rotherhithe. Members clearly have the right to make a decision about full selection without the representative in question waiting outside the doors of their branch meetings. The guidelines state that the MP should not attend any part of the meeting. 4) Individual ward infringements. At both the St. George’s and North Walworth wards there were infringements with the process. These will be laid out below. St. George’s Ward Labour Party procedures lay out that "No member other than the sitting MP should use membership lists to which they have access to attempt to influence the outcome of the selection". However, prior to the meeting taking place the Secretary of St. George’s Ward emailed all branch members asking members to attend and vote in favour of the automatic reselection of the sitting MP as well as laying out a number of arguments which were replayed across the constituency in a co-ordinated manner in favour of Neil Coyle MP. North Walworth Ward At the North Walworth meeting the vote process was challenged by members after the CLP observer and door steward made a series of serious errors when signing in and checking members’ eligibility. Firstly, the meeting was told that 36 eligible voters were present and could participate and vote. However, when ballots were issued there were 37 members not 36. On investigation, by roll call rather than re-membership check, it was discovered that one member had been allowed access who was ineligible and one person had left the meeting, meaning there should have been only 34 eligible votes, when there were 36 persons present. Rather than go through the sign in process from the beginning to ensure that the number of eligible voters was correct, the chair and CLP observer pushed ahead with the vote despite protestation from members from the floor. This series of mistakes means members of North Walworth can have no confidence in the validity of the outcome of the vote as it is clear members had been allowed access who should not have been and the number of eligible members did not match the ballots that were distributed or votes counted. To summarise, there has been a significant number of procedural breaches, and a small number of votes decided whether the CLP moves to an open selection. The procedural guidelines state that “should a CLP, Party branch, or affiliated organisation deviate from these guidelines, the procedure may be deemed invalid.” While the procedural guidelines do not specify the impact of an invalidation, Chapter 5 clause iv paragraph six of the Labour Party Rulebook states “In all circumstances (i.e. where there is no MP, where the MP has announced s/he is retiring or where the MP is putting themselves forward for re-selection but has failed to win the trigger ballot) the CLP Shortlisting Committee shall draw up a shortlist of interested candidates to present to all members of the CLP who are eligible to vote in accordance with Clause I.1.A above.” Therefore, we the undersigned believe Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP should move to a full and open selection. At the very minimum we call for a reset on the trigger process with the NEC taking direct oversight of the process. However, we note that a re-run would not remedy the breach of the guidelines with regards to the misuse of members’ data, since the unfair advantage obtained by the MP would persist if the process were held again. We call on the NEC and relevant officers to intervene in the Bermondsey & Old Southwark process and ensure any future process is run fairly and within the procedural guidelines as dictated by the party’s rules. Signed, Sam Foster – Newington Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Cllr Jack Buck – North Walworth Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Martin Grandison – Newington Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Alex Brent – Newington Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Zoe Kennedy – Borough & Bankside Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Harpreet Aujla – Newington Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Andrea Tveeikrem Stromskag – North Walworth Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP James Bower – Secretary, Borough & Bankside Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Beatriz Lacerda Ratton, South Bermondsey Ward, Bermondsey and Old Southwark CLP Jordan Follows, Chaucer Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Dee Noonan – Borough & Bankside, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Marcus Bernard – Newington Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP John Kennedy – Borough & Bankside Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Mary Robertson – Newington Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Denise Rose – Faraday Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Aisha Malik-Smith – London Bridge & West Bermondsey Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Sherelle Davids – North Walworth Ward, Bermondsey and Old Southwark CLP Noah Scahill – North Walworth Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Robert Brett – North Walworth Ward, Bermondsey and Old Southwark Sean Rowlands – North Walworth Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark Stefano Vozza – Rotherhithe Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark Oliver Murray – North Walworth, Bermondsey and Old Southwark Jasper Tomlinson – Chaucer Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Anish Patel – Borough and Bankside, Bermondsey and Old Southwark Michal Bilewicz – Rotherhithe Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark Karl Hansen – Surrey Docks, Bermondsey and Old Southwark CLP Padrig Jones – Newington, Bermondsey & Old.Southwark CLP Ronak Patel – Newington, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Martin McGinty – Rotherithe Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Matthew Hurry – South Bermondsey, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Richard Gormley – Surrey Docks Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Adam Thompson – Rotherhithe, Bermondsey and Old Sothwark CLP George Rayner-Law – Chaucer Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Tara E. Millan-Brophy – Surrey Docks- Bermondsey and Old Southwark Hannah Rumney – Surrey Docks Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Catriona McBride – Chaucer Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Sharon Noonan-Gunning – Surrey Docks Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Kate Stephens – Rotherhithe Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Chris Mckenzie – Rotherhithe Branch, Bermondsey and Old Southwark CLP Megan Rees – St. Georges Branch, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Taylor Hynes – Rotherhithe Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Danny Draper – South Bermondsey, Bermondsey and Old Southwark CLP Susan Dellet – Rotherhithe Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Luke Barratt – South Bermondsey, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP Niamh Hayes – North Walworth Ward, Bermondsey & Old Southwark CLP
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